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Firefighters joy as they are reunited with Smethwick fire engine after 50 years

By Jamie Brassington | Smethwick | In-depth | Published:

A fire engine which once served a Black Country town 80 years ago has been reunited with its former crew members after having been lovingly restored.

It was an emotional day for the former firefighters of Cape Hill Brewery, in Smethwick, who got to see and ride the red Leyland Motors fire truck for the first time since it was sold in 1967.

Former deputy chief fire officer Vernon Fisher, aged 73, said it was touching to see the fire truck 'brought back to its former glory'.

The wagon, nicknamed 'Belinda', was brought into service in Cape Hill Brigade, on September 14, 1937. It served the brewery alongside the town of Smethwick and also saw war time service in the area. But it fell into disrepair after it was sold off and ended up in a scrapyard. However it was rescued and restored by a family in Wiltshire who brought it back to life.

To mark the fire truck's anniversary, a celebratory event was held at Smethwick Heritage Centre on Saturday where its former crew members were invited along.

An exhibition was put on inside the venue where old photographs and newspaper cuttings were on display for guests to see.

Around 15 of the fire truck's former crew attended the event and for them the memories came flooding back.

It was revealed the fire truck also gave way to romance; one firefighter married on the fire truck more than 60 years ago and another met his future wife while polishing it.

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The firefighters hopped aboard Belinda for one final time as the truck was driven from the centre to the former brewery, in Cape Hill, which is now a housing estate.

Vernon, from Harbourne, was among those to ride on board the fire engine. He said: "It is emotional seeing the fire engine brought back to its former glory.

"It was exciting being in the brigade. There was a special sense of camaraderie and belonging. I followed my father into the brigade. He was chief fire officer at one point.

"I started at the brewery in 1965 and became a full time firefighter in 1966. I was the deputy chief fire officer when the brigade was disbanded in 1986. In total I did 39 years."

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  • WATCH: Vernon talks about the restored fire engine
Former Smethwick fire engine reunited with crew after 50 years

Malcolm Parsons, 87 from Warley, married his wife Barbara on the fire truck in 1951.

Meanwhile fellow firefighter Barry Rowlands, 78, met his wife Valerie, who died two months ago, whilst polishing the truck.

One day, Valerie walked passed on her way to the shop and Barry said: "'I would like one ice lolly'. She came back with one and said I hope you like the flavour."

Barry and Valerie got talking and their relationship developed from there. They have three children and three grandchildren.

The fire engine was restored by Chris Wannell, 76, over three decades where he invested thousands of pounds of his own money.

Asked why he carried out the restoration, Mr Wannell said: "When I was a young man I joined the fire brigade in Wiltshire. I remember going to a fire on a Leyland truck and it was such an exciting ride. You thought you was doing 100 miles-per-hour but really it was more like 30."

Mr Wannell bought the fire truck in 1980 from a commercial dealer's yard in Staffordshire. At the time the vehicle was in a derelict condition and in pieces.

But he was able to fully restore the vehicle, an Cub FK6 model, back to life.

His restoration efforts were hampered when vandals broke into his shed and damaged his other fire trucks that were housed there.

He was also able to fulfil a promise he made to his daughter Heather, to take her to her wedding on the fire truck. After a push to restore the truck, it was ready in time for the big day in October 2012.

The anniversary celebration in Smethwick was organised between Chris Sutton, who runs the centre, and Mr Wannell.

The fire engine was transported to Smethwick, from Royal Wootton Bassett, in Wiltshire, on the back of a large lorry.

Chris added: "I would like to thank the heritage centre for putting the event on, I hope it has informed local people about this history. It has been a wonderful experience."

Jamie Brassington

By Jamie Brassington
Trainee Multi-Media Journalist - @JamieB_Star

Reporter covering Dudley, Sandwell and Wyre Forest. Also dabble in sport. Call me on 01384353205 or email jamie.brassington@expressandstar.co.uk.

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