Fireman Vincent Henry O'Grady of London Fire Brigade, the Auxiliary Fire Service and National Fire Service Region 5 (London) passed away at St Mary's Hospital on 3 September 1953 aged 76.
Given Vincent's clear connection to fire services in the capital it may seem odd that he is included in this collection of Island firefighters. He was an Island resident for protracted periods of his life and it was here that he passed away but there is no evidence or even rumour that he ever engaged in firefighting on the Island.
The fact is that he, by association, is a character of historical interest because his younger wife was the infamous Dorothy O'Grady, fantasist or Nazi spy and for more about that I highly recommend Adrian Searle's book The Spy Beside the Sea.
Whether or not his wife were a traitor it is evident that Vincent served his country faithfully. He was born in London's Holborn in 1879. His first service was in the Royal Navy for twelve years and following the tradition of the time on leaving the ships he went straight into London Fire Brigade. He spent twenty-eight years protecting the capital, serving much of that time in the Whitechapel area and recalling to his later colleagues the thrill of thundering through the streets on horse-drawn engines.
His service in the capital saw him thrown in to some other historical events. He was there during the infamous Siege of Sidney Street in 1911 when a gang of Latvian revolutionaries were besieged in a house for six hours which ended when for the first time the Police took the step of requesting the intervention of the military. It was also the first siege in Britain to be caught on camera.
The aggressive action taken by the Army caused the building to catch light. As soon as the gunfire ceased and the building was seen alight the fire brigade were despatched the quell the flames. Vincent was one of the first to enter the building where they recovered two dead Latvians. Shortly after, while still damping down, the building suddenly partially collapsed killing brigade Superintendant Charles Pearson and injuring Vincent who by all accounts had a lucky escape.
A few years later Vincent was honoured with an award for life saving after his individual action, groping through the smoke of a burning public house, saved the lives of five persons including a little boy who he discovered cowering between a bed and the wall.
He married Dorothy (nee Squire), his younger by eighteen years at Maldon, Essex, in 1926.
His retirement from LFB came in 1939, Dorothy and he moved to the Island proposing to enjoy a leisurely life. However world events were to intervene and the man's compulsion to protect his beloved capital overcame all personal concerns.
By now in his sixties Vincent left Dorothy to her Island fantasies (or spying reality), and voluntarily returned to London and the Auxiliary Fire Service, serving through the Blitz and beyond when the auxiliaries were absorbed into the National Fire Service, stationed throughout at Westminster. On one harrowing occasion he was the sole member of his appliance crew to survive an aerial bombardment.
The story of Dorothy is ambiguous, subjective and highly enthralling for all the wrong reasons. Throughout it all Vincent's service to his country was undiminished and unquestionable and for this the IWFBF recognise him as an Island resident who fought the nation's fiercest fires in peace and war.
Rest in peace Fireman O'Grady.