Leading Fireman David James Chalmers was born on 7 July 1909, the younger son of Ernest William Chalmers (b.1882) and Louisa Henrietta Chalmers née Stevens (b.1882). His birth was registered in Mile End Old Town, London, registration district.
The 1911 census shows him living at 25 Monteagle Street, Stepney, with his parents and elder brother Ernest William H. Chalmers (1908-1984). His father's occupation was recorded as a Girder Riveter for a Railway Company. The family were still living there on 14 November 1911 when he was baptised at Stepney Parish Church. He attended the Infants Department of Portman Place School, Tower Hamlets and when he transferred to their Junior Mixed Department on 1 November 1916 the family were living at 30 Carlton Road, Tower Hamlets. Records show that he was removed from the school on 25 July 1917, but no indication was given for the reason.
The 1939 England and Wales register shows him as a single man living with seven others at the Auxiliary Fire Service Station, Section 8, Kangley Bridge Road, Beckenham, Kent and his occupation was listed as a Traveller Wholesale Paper Mct. By 1941 he had moved to 10 Maberley Road, Beckenham.
He was killed as a result of enemy action, aged 31 years, at about 2.00am on 17 April 1941. He was travelling on the running board of an Auxiliary Fire Service car towing a pump at Wickham Road, Beckenham. They were returning to their station having been fighting a fire in Chancery Lane, London. As the vehicle turned into Court Downs Road to offer assistance at a fire they had come across, a high explosive bomb exploded about 20 feet behind the car and fragments pierced the petrol tank igniting the petrol and the vehicle was enveloped in flames killing him instantly. He is buried in Beckenham Cemetery and Crematorium, Elmers End Road, Beckenham.
On 29 January 1942 administration of his estate was granted to his mother and his effects totalled £424-17s-1d. He is also commemorated on the Firefighters Memorial and in their Book of Remembrance. His name is also recorded in the Civilian War Dead Roll of Honour that is held near the entrance to St George's Chapel, at the west end of Westminster Abbey.
Research also found a report about the incident in which he died from their chief officer, Mr A. Witherwood, which resulted in the surviving crew member, Carl Edward Taylor, being subsequently awarded a George Medal for his rescue efforts on the night. (The report was found at 'ancestry.co.uk' with the source citation as: The National Archives of the UK, Kew, Surrey, England; inter departmental Committee on Civil Defence Gallantry Awards: Minutes and Recommendations; Class: HO250; Piece 29). Fascinating reading which shows what really happened to the four poor chaps who were killed. The report reads:-
At about 2.00am on the 17 April 1941 a trailer pump unit with Leading-fireman D. J. Chalmers in charge, was returning from a fire in Chancery Lane and seeing another fire at 40 Wickham Road at the corner of Court Downs Road, a house in which members of the Canadian forces were billeted they turned their unit in that direction, to render assistance if required, a reinforcement pump being already at work there.
When turning into Court Downs Road a heavy high explosive bomb fell about 20 feet behind the towing vehicle and fragments pierced the petrol tank igniting the petrol, the vehicle being almost instantly enveloped in flames. Apparently Leading-Fireman Chalmers and Auxiliary-Fireman Beacon who were on the running boards were killed instantly; the driver of the vehicle, Auxiliary Fireman Carl Taylor, by some miracle, managed to open the door and escape, and although suffering badly from shock and other injuries, he, without thought for his own safety, immediately went back to the car, and by an almost superhuman effort, managed to drag Auxiliary-Fireman Maynard, who was badly injured, from the vehicle and then with assistance of a Canadian soldier carried Auxiliary-Fireman Maynard to a place of safety.
Auxiliary-Fireman Taylor, along with this same Canadian soldier, made a gallant attempt to rescue Auxiliary-Fireman Hudders from the blazing vehicle but their efforts were foiled by the volume of flame and by the hose and equipment in the car.
Auxiliary-Fireman Maynard and Auxiliary-Fireman Taylor who, himself, was suffering from extensive burns and wounds in the hands and severe shock, were subsequently conveyed by a Canadian army lorry to Beckenham Hospital.
The Canadian soldier above mentioned was Gunner J. Chambers No.C.1014 of the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery and other witnesses were Bombardier S.A. Campbell No.P.9215 and Gunner J. Davidson No.P.9361 also of the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, who assisted to get the casualties away.
There were three witness statements to support the nature of the events.
Statement of Gunner J. Chambers:
I was standing 50/75 yards from the junction of Court Downs Road and Wickham Road and had seen a fire appliance draw up at 'Johannisbad' just at the junction of these two roads. There was a fire at 'Johannisbad' but I think this appliance was about to leave when a bomb fell right at the junction and exploded. Two fire trucks were almost instantly on fire and when I got to the site petrol was blazing furiously. One fireman, who I now know to be Auxiliary Fireman Taylor, was striving to carry a badly injured fireman to a place of safety. Taylor said he had another mate in the car with him. I went back to the blazing vehicles but neither of us could possibly approach owing to the fierceness of the fire. I noted that one side of Taylor's face was covered in blood as also was the more seriously injured fireman who was groaning with the pain of his injuries. Taylor completely disregarded his injuries and feelings and continuously encouraged his more seriously injured comrade and promised to have him in hospital.
Statement of Bombardier S.A. Campbell:
When the bomb struck and exploded I was coming away from dealing with an incendiary bomb at 'The Vicarage'. I saw two firemen, both injured but one quite unable to stand, and Gunner Chambers in the gateway of 'Johannisbad'. The lesser injured fireman, whom I now know as Taylor, tried to approach the blazing vehicles for a mate he stated he had left behind in the car. He knew his other two comrades were having attention. As both firemen were injured I detailed a driver and truck to take them to hospital. Taylor assisted in lifting the seriously injured fireman into the truck and then himself had to be assisted into the truck. Taylor made no complaint whatsoever of his own injuries and all the time I was with him was continually encouraging his more seriously injured colleague.
Statement of Gunner J. Davidson:
When the bomb struck I was on the top floor of 'Johannisbad' assisting firemen dealing with a fire in the roof. When I rushed out I thought a gas main was on fire but from the back gate I saw it was a car and fire pump and both were blazing furiously. I saw two firemen; one fireman had one arm around the other's waist and he was also taking the weight of the man's head and shoulders. One fireman was obviously seriously injured and the other fireman who was holding him and I now know to be Fireman Taylor, was dragging him away from the blazing cars. I saw another soldier helping Taylor before he was clear of the flames. With the help of this soldier Taylor laid his injured comrade down and when I came along with an old bed he assisted in getting him on to this and into a truck. When he had done all he could Taylor was 'all in' and himself had to be put into truck as I helped to do this I noticed wounds on Taylor's face and hands.
Credit for this entry to: Andrew Behan.