Grandson of local Fire Officer during the Blitz visits the Geezers

Peter Quilter pointing to his Grandfather outside Bow Fire Station in 1942

Peter Quilter visited the Geezers last Tuesday to give an extraordinarily interesting talk on life at Bow Fire Station during the 1930s and 40s.

After 45 years working for NatWest Peter Quilter retired just as Covid struck. His wife bought him a subscription to Ancestry, and boy did that pay off.

Peter said that his older relatives never spoke about what they had done in life. He told the Geezers that remembered playing with a sword as a child, a real sword. Eventually someone had the good sense to take it off him. It was only post getting Ancestry that he found out that had belonged to his great grandfather on his fathers side. Arthur Quilter had been a Royal Engineer and veteran of the Second Boer War (the sword) and in France in WW1.

Ernest Quilter, Peters grandfather, was born in 1896. He was in the Royal Marines in WW1, on HMS Shannon at Jutland. Ernest then joined the London Fire Brigade in 1919 and became Station Officer at Bow in 1934. At that time Bow Fire Station at 64 Parnell Road was a three storey building where 11 firefighters and their families lived above the station – ready for action.

In 1937 the Germans bombed the Basque town of Guernica at Franco’s request. Peter told us it was a warning of what might happen to London. The Auxiliary Fire Service was setup in January 1938. Sub Stations of the main Bow Station were created and run by volunteers. They were at Wellington Way School, Berkshire Road School, Smeed Road School and Wrights Road School (Roman Road) at the time of the Blitz.

After losing the “Battle of Britain” Hitler and Göring ordered the blitzkrieg on London which started on 7th Sept 1940 and continued for 8 months. Ernest Quilter had a dangerous job to do in the Blitz. In 1940 at Bow he was made District Officer, and then Divisional Officer in 1941.

Our top photo shows Peter Quilter pointing to his grandfather in a photo taken in 1942 outside Bow Fire Station at 64 Parnell Road. He specially printed out lots of hitherto unseen photos to show to the Geezers.

Peter told us a lot of detail during his fascinating and deeply researched talk. He rattled off many familiar local street names which had been hit by high explosive bombs.

His grandfather, Ernest Quilter, retired from the Fire Service in 1948.

Peter is writing a book out of all the material he has amassed, and will send us a more detailed article for OurBow. He said that after WW2 the fire brigade was reduced in size. People who had regularly performed heroic acts requiring great courage went off into civilian life and never told their stories. Peter aims to put that right. He gave the example of a woman (Auxiliary) who drove a mobile canteen around during the Blitz, and another who was delivering a lorry load of petrol to fire pumps. 

If you have any historic information about Bow Fire Station please leave it in the comments below. If you have photos please email our contact form and I’ll get Peter to reply to you.

Alan Tucker

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