Our very own Mrs Doubtfire’s original title was “The Green Goddess” being the colloquial name for the Bedford RLHZ Self Propelled Pump, a fire engine used by the UK Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS), and thereafter held in reserve by the British Home Office and was available, when required, to deal with exceptional events, including being operated by the British Armed Forces during fire-fighters’ strike (1977) These green-painted vehicles were built between 1953 and 1956 for the AFS. The design was based on a Bedford RL series British military truck.
United Kingdom: 1955 – 1972
Mrs Doubtfire, Cape Town: 2020
Auxiliary Fire Service, United Kingdom
The Auxiliary Fire Service was established as part of civil defence preparations after World War II, and subsequent events such as the Soviet Union detonating an atomic bomb made their presence supporting civilians as part of Britain’s civil defence an important role. It was thought that a nuclear attack on Britain would cause a large number of fires, which would overwhelm the ordinary fire service, so a large stock of basic fire engines was ordered to form a reserve capacity. They were in continuous use by the AFS, until disbandment in 1968 by the Harold Wilson Government.
The Green Goddess machines were not primarily fire engines (AFS members referred to them as ‘appliances’); they are more correctly titled “self propelled pumps”, with some being two-wheel drive (4×2), and others in four-wheel drive (4×4) form. Their main role was to pump huge quantities of water from lakes, rivers, canals and other sources into cities hit by a nuclear attack. The machines could be used in a relay system over a number of miles, with Green Goddesses at regular intervals to boost the water pressure. Firefighting was a secondary role.
Prior to disbandment, the AFS used the Green Goddesses extensively in support of the local fire services throughout the UK. They provided additional water delivery and firefighting capability at times when the regular fire brigades had a major incident to contain. The ability to relay large quantities of water over considerable distances was invaluable in some more remote locations, or where the incident required more water than local water systems could provide. Most UK boroughs had an Auxiliary Fire Service detachment housed alongside the regular brigade equipment.
After 1968, the vehicles were mothballed, but occasionally used by the Armed Forces to provide fire cover in a number of fireman strikes, notably in 1977. They were also deployed to pump water in floods and droughts. They were well maintained in storage, and regularly road tested.
During the late 1970’s, the British Government decided to dispose of the remainder of the fleet and most of the vehicles were sold or donated to fire brigades in developing countries, mostly in Africa. This is how our Mrs Doubtfire ended up at the Bonnievale Fire Station in the Western Cape in 1977. (She was eventually auctioned off by the Fire Station in 2016, after serving the area for almost 40 years).