A plaque is to be unveiled at a historic fire station this Saturday in memory of a Leeds firefighter who lost his life defending the city from air-raid fires during the Second World War.
Solomon Belinsky, a Russian-born upholsterer from east Leeds, was one of 3,847 men and women who volunteered for the city’s Auxiliary Fire Service in 1940, serving at his local fire station in Gipton.
Leeds suffered nine air-raids over the duration of the war with its heaviest on the night of 14 and 15 March 1941 when forty bombers attacked the city centre. Incendiary and high explosive bombs destroyed around 100 houses killing 65 people.
Research by Leeds Beckett historian Shane Ewen has revealed that just after midnight Belinksy turned out with his Gipton crew to Park Row where they tried to save the city’s museum after it sustained a direct hit.
However Belinksky was injured by a falling bomb and died 17 days later. The official cause of death recorded as ‘Death from Enemy Action’. He left a widow, Rachel, and four children, one of whom, Anita, also joined the AFS and served in Hull.
The following month, the government nationalised the fire service to provide an improved nationwide system of fire protection. In total, 818 firefighters (including 25 women) lost their lives during the war. Their names have been recorded on the National Firefighters Memorial outside St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, and are remembered every May as part of Firefighters Memorial Day.
Shane Ewen said: “Volunteers made up an increasing number and proportion of firefighters during the war, swelling the membership of the Fire Brigades Union to 66,500; many stayed on to help transform the service into a modern profession after the war.
“Men and women like Solomon Belinsky risked their lives to help make the fire service an indispensable arm in the country’s civil defence; they heroically fought fires while bombs rained down upon them. Many who survived suffered burns and broken bones as well as post-traumatic stress disorder having witnessed multiple fatalities.”
Belinsky’s contribution to the city’s wartime defence is being marked by the erection of a plaque at The Old Fire Station, Gipton, which is now a community hub.
Funded by the Firefighters 100 Lottery, the Red Plaque Scheme is the Fire Brigades Union’s version of the famous Blue Plaque Scheme that marks where famous people have resided, to commemorate those who have been killed on duty.
Neil Carbutt, secretary of the FBU in South Yorkshire, said: “As firefighters we know our history and we never forget the bravery and sacrifice of our colleagues past or present. Solomon Belinsky gave his live serving his community, as so many firefighters have done, and this Red Plaque will help to ensure that his courage and service is recognised and never forgotten.”
The plaque will be unveiled on Saturday 15 September, as part of a series of activities to mark Heritage Open Day at The Old Fire Station. The activities include heritage tours of the building, led by retired firefighters, a mobile gallery commemorating the centenary of the FBU, and two screenings of the Union’s documentary film, which is featured in the programme for the Leeds Scalarama Film Festival.
The Firefighters’ Story, tells the story of the union’s rich history since its formation in 1918 to its current work campaigning for improved public safety in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017. Using a mixture of archival footage with talking head interviews, the film includes iconic incidents including the Blitz air-raid fires in 1940-41, alongside the union’s campaigning activities. The East Leeds Firefighters Heritage Group will also be launching a permanent display about Gipton Fire Station, which was originally opened in 1937, and West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service will have an engine and crew in attendance from Killingbeck for part of the day.
The event is free and open to families. There is a small charge for admission to the film screenings, at 4pm and 7pm respectively, and tickets can be bought in advance: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-firefighters-story-100-years-of-the-fire-brigades-union-tickets-48029577760
Further information about the day can be found on the Old Fire Station’s Facebook page or Twitter.