6th August 2019

Green Goddess: Britain’s protector

We’d like to address the elephant in the room immediately. Despite its image frequently conjuring blaze-battling associations and its regular portrayal as such, the Green Goddess isn’t actually a fire engine at all. Based on the popular RL military platform, its official title is Bedford RLHZ Self Propelled Pump, which gives a clue as to its intended purpose.    

It was built from 1953-56 and was designed for use by the newly reformed Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) in the face of a perceived nuclear threat from the Soviet Union. World War II was less than a decade past so the British were still understandably wary. Clean water was deemed to be one of the first things required for a post-apocalyptic world. The Green Goddess was designed to pump water into cities and could even relay to each other over several miles if required. Extinguishing fires was never its primary objective.

Retained by the government until 2004 as part of a reserve fleet, Green Goddesses were famously used by the military during the fire fighter strikes of 2002 and, less recently, 1977 when over 20k service personnel stepped in. It is this association that we think has inspired the fire engine assumption, but the fleet was far more frequently used to pump water during floods or droughts. 1000 vehicles were built and when in service operated by crews of six.

Fitted with a Sigmund FN4 primary pump, Green Goddesses were available in two- and four-wheel drive configurations and could pump up to just over 4000 litres of water per minute. A second 1400l per minute Coventry Climax-powered pump was also fitted and water-carrying capacity was up to 1800l for two-wheel drive vehicles and 1400l for the four-wheel drive variants.

For over 50 years, one of the key benefits offered to the AFS by the Green Goddess was an incredible level of modularity. Its dual-pump system and water-carrying capability was a unique offering, and the vehicles were able to carry a huge range of hardware from plastic or alloy piping, hose layers and foam tenders to transportable water units. It was adept in a range of emergency scenarios.

The 2004 Fire & Rescue Services Act, which stated that primary firefighting equipment must remain available during worker strikes, effectively retired the Green Goddess. Sure enough, the fleet was sold off and vehicles now reside all over the world.

Many Green Goddesses found their way to developing countries to serve as they were originally intended – as water pumps – while others reside in museums and private collections. They’re a reassuringly common sight at classic car shows, often performing demonstrations alongside traditional fire engines.  

Do you have a Green Goddess tale to recount? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

I've seen two or three Green Goddess at Glamis vintage show, and thank the lord the show is back this year after covid. There are not many of them up here in the Dundee area, to me the Green Goddess was well designed. I hope I can find one up here in Tayside or Dundee at some stage, there are too many old trucks and cars getting scraped or just rotting in a field, they are part of our transport history.

Gwyn, 20/04/2022

I worked at the Supply and Transport Store in Branston (once the Branston Pickle factory) where a lot of the Green Goddesses were stored. They looked awesome, all lined up in their building. Happy memories.

Kathryn , 23/09/2020

The cover photo you used is the Goddess I own! PGW 163, she is one of a few that is in Prime Condition and painted in exactly what it looked like in Operation Burberry! With only 7k miles to her name she still runs like a beauty!

Stanley, 06/07/2020

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