Tributes to wartime star ‘Firewoman Bill’

Billie Cobb
Billie Cobb
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A Scarborough lady who was one of just three women to be recruited into the National Fire Service in Scarborough during the Second World War has died aged 93.

Lily Cobb, who was known to most people as Billie, was given the nickname “Firewoman Bill” by colleagues at the fire station, including auxiliary fireman Maurice Cobb who would later become her husband.

Billie Cobb .Picture Richard Ponter

Billie Cobb .Picture Richard Ponter

Originally from Sheffield, Billie worked in a munitions factory in the city as a teenager, narrowly escaping death when the factory was shelled and she was buried in the rubble for two days.

The family moved to Scarborough in an attempt to get away from the bombing and Billie’s life took a new direction when she called into the fire station in North Marine Road with friends.

Her son John explained: “The crew were on their way to a call-out and there was no-one to cover the switchboard.

“She said ‘I can do it’ and the fire officer at the time asked her if she wanted to join the service as part of her war work.”

Billie joined the brigade and was one of just three female fire officers in service in Scarborough.

As well as manning the telephones, Billie would be called upon at times to operate the auxiliary pumps.

She met her future husband Maurice at the station and their son John recalls a particular incident they had told him about from around that time.

He said: “There was a fire my mum had wanted to go to, but wasn’t allowed. It was at a building under the Grand Hotel which had a waxwork exhibition on at the time.

“Dad said she wouldn’t have liked it as all the waxworks had melted and some were quite grotesque!

“An incendiary had caught it and the place burnt down.”

Towards the end of the war, the Maurice was notified that he was being posted to Iraq with the air ministry, so the couple decided to get married.

They were wed in 1944 at St Saviour’s Church in Gladstone Road and when Maurice went abroad, they wrote to each other every day.

Billie continued with the fire service until the end of the war and on her husband’s return, he began work and a building contractor.

Their son John was born in 1947 and Billie went on to become a great grandma to seven.

John said his mum was very proud of her family, adding: “She was a quiet person, not outspoken, and was kind and gentle. She always saw the good in everybody.”

He said that his parents loved trips abroad together and visited Germany, Belgium and Austria, as well as travelling extensively in the UK.

Billie was also a big fan of bowls in her later years and was a member of South Cliff Bowls Club.

She lived independently at home in Grosvenor Crescent until last summer, when she became a resident at Queen Margaret’s Nursing Home.