The Green Goddess

By Brian Burgess 

Origins of the Green Goddess 

The Civil Defence Act of 1948 was the basis on which the AFS (Auxiliary Fire Service) was formed in November 1949. This act came about due to the Government of the day being increasingly concerned with the heightening tensions of the then emerging cold war. The fear rapidly grew that the next war would be nuclear and that the majority of the UK’s emergency services would be wiped out after the initial strikes, and that was when the Civil Defence organisation, of which the AFS was a part, would swing into action.

It was decided that there would be two parts to the response, the first being local (Civil Defence), and the second being the mobile column (AFS)

It was envisaged that mobile columns comprising of various emergency appliances and equipment would be stored away from large towns and cities and then sent (manned by AFS volunteers) to affected areas where they could be used to supplement the, presumed damaged, local authority emergency services. 

So specifications were drawn up by the Home Office, under whom the AFS would operate, for a whole range of vehicles and equipment to be used by mobile columns, with the self propelled emergency pump (a.k.a. the Green Goddess), being the most numerous vehicles and arguably the backbone of the column.

Bedford SHZ & RLHZ Self Propelled Emergency Pumps

The "Green Goddess" became the rather affectionate name for the Self-Propelled Emergency Pump vehicles that were ordered by the Ministry of Works in the 1950's for use by the Auxiliary Fire Service in case of emergencies.  Over 3,000 of these vehicles were built on Bedford 4x2 (SHZ) & 4x4 (RLHZ) chassis/cabs; and bodies were ordered from a number of suppliers including Park Royal.  The chassis/cowl, complete with Sigmund pump, were delivered to the coachbuilders from the Home Office storage depots.

The early models (approximately 1300 vehicles) delivered to the AFS were Bedford S types coded SHZ (S-model, H-fire appliance chassis, Z-outside bodybuilder); these were 4x2 rear wheel drive models with a 400 gallon water tank, two first aid reels and numerous lockers containing basic fire fighting and pumping equipment. Behind the cab was a locker that housed a light portable pump (Coventry-Climax special 4-cylinder short stroke petrol engine). 

The more numerous (approximately 1900 vehicles) were Bedford R types coded RLHZ (R-model, L-long wheelbase, H-fire appliance chassis, Z-outside bodybuilder); these were 4x4 with a smaller 300 gallon water tank mounted more forward on the chassis that resulted in different first aid and reel/locker positions from the 4x2’s. The light portable pump still resided in a locker behind the cab.

There were also approx 400 chassis and cowls that were built and stored never being sent to a coachbuilder; they were sold off and never received a body.  One resource suggests that the total production of Green Goddesses was in excess of 4,000.

Many of the famous, and mainly long gone, British coach & bus bodybuilders were used to supply high quality hand crafted bodies, Plaxtons, Duple, Park Royal, Weymann and Harringtons being typical. The ‘limousine’ bodies provided enclosed seating for the crew of six with storage space for equipment; although, as tragically borne out, provided little or no protection in the event of a serious accident.

In both models, power was provided by the Bedford 6 cylinder 300 petrol engine of 4927cc, 110 bhp, coupled to a 4-speed gearbox with synchromesh on 2nd, 3rd & 4th. Along with the gear stick, there were 2 levers positioned behind the engine cowling. One shifted between 2 or 4 wheel drive whilst the other engaged the Power Take Off (PTO) allowing the engine power to be diverted to the Sigmund pump. Although the official operating handbook states that first gear is used whilst the PTO is engaged, a plate on the engine cowling contradictorily instructs 4th gear to be used.

Both models carried a Sigmund F.N.4 pump, 900 gpm @ 100lbs psi, which in addition to the first aid reels, could feed 4 x 2¾” outlets for fire fighting, or via a 6” full bore outlet, relay pump from/to another Goddess. This relay pumping was a design feature of these vehicles, one of the duties of mobile columns being to restore water to areas devastated by nuclear attack. To this end, pipe carriers, hose layers, dam carriers and a whole host of other vehicles supported Green Goddesses in this, their intended primary role. 

Emergency pumps, along with all other AFS vehicles were painted in a gloss green known as "Deep Bronze Green", BS224 (not olive drab, they are not military vehicles!!!) with AFS wording and logos in "Post Office Red".

Criticism of their apparent lack of success as emergency response vehicles is not justified when their designed function was to have been travelling in mobile columns of around 140 vehicles at speeds of 20 to 40 mph, depending on traffic and road, if any, conditions. 

Internet Group

There is an Internet Group at: The Bedford R Series Owners Lovers Enthusiasts Society that has more information on the various vehicles built using this chassis and many images, especially of the Green Goddesses.  PRV bodied PGW's 109, 127, 144, 146, 151, 152, 160, 162, 163, 175 & 177 are owned by individual members; the largest batch by one coachbuilder in the group.  Membership is free.

Not all Green Goddesses were green!
The Non-Green Goddess.......)

Firefighters Strike of 1977-78
During the national firefighters' strike of 1977-78, the British Army stepped in to answer emergency calls for nine weeks, using the famous "Green Goddesses". Whilst Fire Officers did not take part, they were used in an advisory capacity to the Army service fire-fighters and they grudgingly admitted that the “Self propelled Emergency Pump”, when (Eventually!) at the scene of a fire, was a very competent and well equipped fire-fighting appliance.

This article is dedicated to Rangers Thompson and McLaughlin of the Royal Irish Rangers who died when the Green Goddess, in which they were travelling, was involved in an accident on Oldham Road, Manchester on December 6th 1977 whilst answering an emergency call that tragically proved to be a false alarm.  A plaque commemorating these servicemen was placed in Philips Park near to the scene of the accident in August 2006 with PGW163 in attendance. (Due to water slopping about in the rear, the Green Goddess skidded, lost control and overturned into a petrol station. Ed.)

© Brian Burgess