Ford 21W Fire Brigade Mobile Canteen (1942) | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

Culture and heritage


Ford 21W Fire Brigade Mobile Canteen (1942)

Item details

Name of item: Ford 21W Fire Brigade Mobile Canteen (1942)
Type of item: Movable / Collection
Group/Collection: Utilities - Fire Control
Category: Fire Control Objects (movable)
Location: Lat: -33.74753207 Long: 150.6934504
Primary address: Museum Drive, Penrith, NSW 2750
Local govt. area: Penrith
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Deerubbin


The SHR curtilage boundary is limited to the item itself and does not include the land it is located on or the structure it is housed within.
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
Museum DrivePenrithPenrith  Primary Address

Statement of significance:

The 1942 Ford 21W Mobile Canteen is historically significant, for it demonstrates the process of the development of firefighting resources and equipment. This development is an ongoing process and is a response to the constantly evolving and increasing challenges faced by the Fire Brigade in its endeavour to provide adequate fire protection to the community. This vehicle is an example of the development of operational support appliances, which are vital for the efficient management and support of firefighting personnel, at major emergency incidents.

The mobile canteen has a historical association with the Second World War, which provides both the context and the catalyst for its provision. In particular, it is associated with the now defunct Women's Fire Auxiliary, which was formed as a wartime initiative in response to a diminished male workforce, due to military service - being a wartime expediency, however, the WFA was disbanded at the conclusion of the war. The mobile canteen is also associated with the contribution of women to the war effort, from the home front. Firstly, by relieving permanent (male) firefighters from many of the non-firefighting roles, whenever an emergency incident occurred. Secondly, through their many fundraising activities. Such fundraising facilitated the construction and donation of this canteen as a war emergency unit.
This canteen is socially significant. The firefighting community, as well as fire engine enthusiasts, hold this vehicle in high esteem. This is demonstrated by the maintenance and conservation work carried out by volunteers and enthusiasts. It is also demonstrated by the decision of the Board of Fire Commissioners to hand the vehicle over for preservation and display purposes.

The canteen is a rare item, for it is one of the only two (NSW Fire Brigades) motorised mobile canteens that were purpose built and utilised for operational support. Moreover, Its design was based upon the World War II mobile canteens that were operated by the Women's Australian National Service (WANS). Research has been unable to establish the survival of any of the canteens operated by the WANS, and therefore, this vehicle is perhaps the only extant example of a World War II mobile canteen. The high integrity of the vehicle's fabric enhances its rarity.

The Ford Mobile Canteen is an outstanding representative of its class - mobile canteens utilised in Sydney (and elsewhere) during the war years. The high integrity of its fabric enhances its representativeness.
Date significance updated: 12 Nov 14
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Designer/Maker: Motor/Chassis: Ford Motor Company; Body: NSW Fire Brigade Workshops
Builder/Maker: Motor/Chassis:Ford Motor Company;Body:NSW Fire Brigade Workshops;Interior:Gough Brothers &FG O'Brien
Construction years: 1943-1944
Physical description: The 1942 Ford 21W Mobile Canteen consists of a body (constructed by the NSW Fire Brigades workshops) mounted on a 1942 Ford 'Cab Over Engine' chassis. The motor is a V Type, 90, 8 Cylinder, 90hp engine (No. 3G36649F). Affixed to the passenger side external wall is a brass plaque, featuring the inscription: 'This canteen was provided from funds raised by the Women's Fire Auxiliary with the co-operation of Fire Brigade and friends'. The interior was constructed by Gough Bros (Panelling) and F.G. O'Brien (Interior construction), and comprises:
Inside lining: Three ply timber with cover strips at all joints.
Upper Front: An insulated hot water tank (25 gal), which is filled from an external filler located on the roof; a small window (sliding sash); First Aid cabinet; sink with draining board.
Lower Front: Cabinets with sliding doors.
Upper Right: Ceiling to floor cupboard with hinged door; pie oven (capacity 200 pies) heated using methane gas cylinder supply; portable fire extinguisher.
Lower: Cupboards with sliding doors.
Upper Left: Cupboard with sliding glass doors; cupboard with hinged door; two canopy flaps.
Lower Left: Two counter flaps; one bench extending the full length of the canteen area; cupboards under bench with sliding doors containing racks for 400 drinking mugs; three drawers for cutlery and plates.
Rear: Entry door
Under floor area: Lockers built under floor level to carry spare wheel; tools; hose; etc.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Condition - Fair
Archaeological Potential - Low
Modifications and dates: Three 10 gallon insulated coffee/tea urns with taps and drip tray, and a 4 gallon milk urn with tap, have been removed (date unknown). These were located on the upper right interior.
Further information: Note: Although the canteen was not completed and placed into service until 1944, it is dated by the manufacture date of its chassis (1942).
Current use: In storage for preservation purposes
Former use: Firefighting operational support purposes


Historical notes: In 1942, the Board of Fire Commissioners of NSW noted in their annual report:
Resulting from the activities of the members of the Women's Fire Auxiliary, a sum of (Pounds)3323/7/4 was raised and handed to the Board for the purpose of providing mobile canteen facilities for the NSW Fire Service' (Annual Report for 1942, p. 3.).

The Woman's Fire Auxiliary was inaugurated in June 1940, enabling women to assist in the war effort. Lady Wakehurst (wife of the Governor of NSW) was a driving force in the formation of the WFA, and was subsequently elected president. The first intake of members were recruited from the WANS (Women's Australian National Service) and among other things, were put through an eight week course in Air Raid Procedures, in which they were instructed in such matters as: incendiary bombs; fires in the home; rescue work; first aid; operating chemical fire extinguishers; operating fire alarms; station procedures; and fire station watchroom duties. Upon passing an examination, they were attached to their local fire station, where they continued to advance in their training. They were required to attend a 1 hour drill session one night per week, in addition to one night per week performing watchroom duties. Initially, they were recruited from the 30-45 year age bracket and were supplied with a dress uniform consisting of a tunic, skirt, hat, gloves, stockings, shoes, shirt, tie, and lapel badge. Their firefighting uniform consisted of a duperite helmet, overalls and two shoulder badges. The age restriction was later relaxed, and membership was eventually opened to members of the general public. Records show that the WFA had members attached to Headquarters, and District Stations, as early as 1941. At the conclusion of the war, the WFA was disbanded.

The WFA was heavily involved in fundraising activities. In July 1942, Florence E Rogers, on behalf of the WFA, applied to the Deputy Chief Officer (W.H. Beare) to hold a 'dance at the Paddington Town Hall, on Friday, 18th September, 1942: proceeds to be in aid of a Mobile Canteen for the Fire Brigade' (F. Rogers to W. Beare, letter, 21 July 1942). Two days later, Mr Beare informed Chief Officer Richardson of the WFA's desire to raise money for a mobile canteen, and recommended, 'that monies raised at all future functions be donated to this fund until the objective is reached' (W. Beare to C. Richardson, memorandum, 23 July 1942). On 4 August, at a meeting of the WFA Advisory Committee, it was decided that the WFA should organise social functions with a view to raising (Pounds)1000, to be presented to the Board of Fire Commissioners, for the purchase of a mobile canteen. It was also proposed that, when the mobile canteen was purchased, then members of the WFA should be included amongst the personnel that man and service it - 'according to a suitable roster' (W. Beare to H. Webb, memorandum, 5 August 1942). The Board gave their assent to the first proposal and stated that it would consider the second proposal sympathetically, when occasion arose.
Some 104 functions, including Cocktail Parties, Dances, Housie-Housie, Card Parties, Market Days and Theatre Parties were organised. An Art Union was organised, with the prizes including a refrigerator; a portable radio set; a vacuum cleaner; a 'Vacola' preserving outfit; an electric iron; and an electric hot water jug. The main fundraising function, however, was a 'Queen Competition': consisting of eight contestants (one from each Fire District in the Metropolitan Area). The winner of the competition was Mrs Beryl Lester Balzer of Fisher Road, Dee Why, (who raised (Pounds)812/14/9). She was crowned at a 'Golden Helmet Ball', on 23 October, at Sydney Town Hall. On 4 December 1942, fundraising for the mobile canteen concluded with the presentation of a cheque ((Pounds)3323/7/4) to the Board during a special ceremony, at Paddington Town Hall.

Not everyone had been completely supportive of the fundraising effort, however, for back in September the Board of Fire Commissioners received a letter from the Fire Brigades Association (the firemen's union) stating:
' whilst commending the Women's Fire Auxiliary on their enthusiasm generally the members could more energetically support some more worthy objective of which they are not beneficiaries [and that] it would benefit the war effort more if the money raised was donated to a more worthy cause' (FBA [acting] Secretary to H. Webb, letter, 10 September 1942). Following the conclusion of fundraising activities for the canteen, however, the FBA felt that it should have a stake in spending the money. It forwarded a letter to the Board stating that: 'many members of the Association have worked enthusiastically with the Women's Fire Auxiliary towards raising the funds [and therefore] the Chief Secretary's Department suggests that we approach the Board with a view to co-operating in the expenditure of the funds' (J. McNamara to H. Webb, letter, 11 February 1943).

It appears that the union was under a misapprehension when the above letters were written. The minutes, of a deputation from the FBA to the Board in August 1943, indicate that there had been a lack of communication between the WFA and the FBA, as to the real purpose of the canteen. The FBA's misunderstanding was threefold: 1) that the canteen was being purchased specifically for general fire brigade use; 2) that the WFA should not have commenced collecting funds for this purpose without first consulting the FBA, for as one union member expressed - it 'was making the men an object of charity' (Deputation from FBA, minutes, 11 August 1943, p. 11.); and 3) that the canteen would subsequently be run by a committee comprising the WFA.

The President of the Board (T.J. Smith) criticised the Association for their failure to contact the Board concerning the matter and explained the situation. The WFA was in fact a war emergency organisation, and as such, had sought permission to raise funds by public subscription - for the war effort. Having raised the funds, the canteen was to be presented to the NSW Fire Brigades - primarily for war emergencies. Nevertheless, it might also be used for unusual circumstances connected with general Fire Brigade activities. In other words: the canteen would be part of the fire service, but function as a war emergency unit, in order to assist firemen and anyone else. The Chief Secretary authorised the Board to act as trustees of the funds raised through the appeal, and following the canteen's installation, to administer the vehicle. This meeting achieved a better understanding and settled the matter. It should be pointed out, however, that despite the misunderstanding at official level, many firemen had minds of their own, and in fact worked enthusiastically with the WFA in support of their fundraising efforts.

With the money in a trust account, and the union favourably disposed toward the canteen, the Board of Fire Commissioners instructed Special Officer J. Neville and Stores Officer W. Wiggins to inspect a number of mobile canteen units then being utilised by other organisations. They were to gather information 'to facilitate the construction and supply of a similar unit for the NSW Fire Brigades' (J. Neville to C. Richardson, memorandum, 19 February 1943). Of the units inspected, it was considered that the canteen, used by the WANS, offered 'the best utility so far as dispersing refreshments at short notice' (Ibid.).

In March 1943, a Special Meeting of the Women's Fire Auxiliary Advisory Committee resolved that Special Officer Neville, and Principal Mechanic N. Lucas, should obtain the necessary authority from the Board to purchase a chassis for the mobile canteen. Extensive enquiries were made regarding the wartime availability of suitable chassis, and it was decided that a 1942 Ford V-8 Model T7460 Chassis ((Pounds)490) provided all the necessary features. An order was placed with Hastings Deering Service Ltd; Mr Lucas was ready to proceed with plans for a suitable body plan; and then problems arose - wartime restrictions!
As some weeks have elapsed since the order was placed, enquiries were made from Mr Dunn of the Department [Dept of Emergency Road Transport] and he intimated that all 174" wheelbase chassis have been frozen for construction of Omnibuses' (Board Minutes, 14 April 1943).

Representations were made to the Department of Road Transport for the release of a chassis of the type required by the Board, but the Department replied that, in view of the transport position, it was impossible to accede to the Board's request. Further enquiries with Hastings Deering, however, revealed that there was an alternative: a 'cab-over-engine' model truck. The Board's officers investigated the particular features of the chassis and were satisfied that it would be suitable for their purpose.

The matter was referred to the WFA Advisory Committee who responded favourable to the proposal. The Stores Supply Committee were careful to stress that the quotation submitted by Hastings Deering ((Pounds)471/18/0) was tentative only, and subject to confirmation by the Prices Commission, but nevertheless, recommended that an order be placed for the chassis. Unfortunately - more wartime difficulties!
Delivery of the chassis from Hasting Deering was contingent upon delivery of a cab from the Ford Motor Company. The cabs, however, were held up at the wharfs in Melbourne because wartime 'priorities' prevented them from being loaded. In the meantime, the Board's Bankers were requesting advice concerning the canteen funds, then in a fixed deposit of (Pounds)3305/8/9 and due for renewal - the Board knew that it needed to ensure that funds would be available to meet the cost of the chassis, when it finally arrived!

By 28th May 1943, the Principle Mechanic had submitted his design for the bodywork and equipment, setting out in full detail the arrangement of the various facilities and estimating the cost of construction (Pounds)700). The design was subsequently submitted to the WFA Advisory Committee, which gave its approval. After receiving tenders from several companies concerning the construction of the body, the Stores Supply Committee decided to consider carrying out the work in the Brigade workshops. Workshops Officer J. Morris therefore submitted an estimate on the basis of carrying out the body framing at the workshops, but placing the work of panelling and interior fitting with specialist firms. The Board approved this submission and after taking delivery of the chassis in October 1943, construction of the Canteen commenced.

Whilst construction was underway, the Advisory Council of the Women's Fire Auxiliary contacted the Board with suggestions concerning: the staffing of the canteen; the issue of coupons for 'rationed goods' from the Rationing Commission; a cigarette licence; and enquiries concerning issues such as where the canteen would be housed. In February 1944, with the construction of the canteen due for completion the following month, the Board decided that it would control the canteen as an ordinary unit of the Service. It would be located at Headquarters Fire Station, utilising the engine space adjoining the watchroom. It was decided that separate premises for cooking, stores etc, would not be necessary, as all the stores would be under the control of the Board's officers. The canteen would be staffed by a Brigade driver, who would 'take the appliance to the fire and, if necessary, assistance [would be] obtained from members of the WFA from the particular District in which the fire[was located]'(H. Webb to T. Smith, memorandum, 22 February 1943). The cigarette licence was not considered advisable.

Upon completion, number 1 Mobile Canteen (Registration: PB-991) was installed at Headquarters station on 21 July 1944, at a cost of (Pounds)1968/19/11. The unit operated for the first time at a fire at No. 7A and 7B Wharf, West Circular Quay, on Wednesday 2 August 1944.

Having spent its entire service at Headquarters Fire Station (now City of Sydney), the canteen was withdrawn in April 1974. It was replaced by a new motorised canteen, No. 506, which was installed at Headquarters on 31 July 1975. Numbers 1 and 506 canteens are the only motorised canteens ever used by the NSW Fire Brigades. Number 506 was replaced by a caravan fitted out for canteen purposes. The caravan has since been superseded by a number of different approaches, in an attempt to cater for the needs of firefighting personnel.

After being withdrawn from service, the Canteen was placed under the custodianship of the Historical Fire Engines Association until 1981, when it was presented to the Museum of Fire for preservation.
The Canteen still incorporates the original Brass Plaque, which states: 'This canteen was provided from funds raised by the Women's Fire Auxiliary with the co-operation of Fire Brigade and friends'

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Technology-Activities and processes associated with the knowledge or use of mechanical arts and applied sciences (none)-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Transport-Activities associated with the moving of people and goods from one place to another, and systems for the provision of such movements (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The Canteen demonstrates the process of the development of firefighting equipment, control and techniques. This vehicle is an example of the development of operational support appliances, which are necessary for efficient firefighting operations. This development is an ongoing process and a response to the constantly evolving and increasing challenges faced by the Fire Brigade, in its efforts to provide adequate fire protection to the community.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The 1942 Ford Mobile Canteen is associated with the Second World War, which provides both the context and the catalyst for its construction and service. In particular, it is associated with the now defunct Women's Fire Auxiliary, which was formed for wartime service at a time when the male workforce was diminished, and which was disbanded soon after the conclusion of the war. This auxiliary group provided a significant avenue for women to contribute to the war effort. Firstly, by allowing permanent (male) firefighters to be released from many of the non-firefighting roles, during emergency incidents; secondly, through their fundraising efforts, which facilitated the donation of this canteen as a war emergency unit. It has an association with, and is an extant example of, the ways in which women contributed to the war effort, on the home
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
This canteen is socially significant, for the firefighting community and fire engine enthusiasts hold it in high esteem. This is demonstrated by the volunteer work carried out in conserving and maintaining this appliance. It is also demonstrated through the decision of the Board of Fire Commissioners to hand the vehicle over for preservation.
SHR Criteria f)
The canteen is one of only two NSW Fire Brigades, motorised mobile canteens, purpose built for firefighting operational support. Built and used for this specific purpose, by the NSW Fire Brigades for some thirty years, it's design is based upon that of the WANS mobile canteens of the Second World War. Research has been unable to establish the survival of any of the canteens used by the WANS, and therefore, this vehicle is perhaps the only extant example of a mobile canteen of that class. This qualifies the Ford Canteen as a rare item. The high integrity of the vehicle's fabric enhances its rarity.
SHR Criteria g)
The 1942 Ford Canteen is representative of the mobile canteens used in Sydney, during the Second World War. The design of this vehicle is based upon that of the WANS Mobile Canteens in use at that time, and photographs of both the WFA and WANS canteens provide evidence of substantial similarity both internally and externally. The high integrity of its fabric makes it an outstanding representative of its class.
Integrity/Intactness: High degree of original fabric
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008
57(2)Exemption to allow workHeritage Act - Site Specific Exemptions HERITAGE ACT 1977


1941 21W Ford Mobile Canteen

SHR No. 1900
I, the Minister for Heritage, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, in pursuance of section 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, do, by this my order, grant an exemption from section 57(1) of that Act in respect of the engaging in or carrying out of any activities described in Schedule "C" by the Fire and Rescue NSW or the Museum of Fire described in Schedule "B" on the item described in Schedule "A".

The Hon Robyn Parker, MP.
Minister for Heritage

Sydney, 24th Day of October 2012


The item known as the 1941 21W Ford Mobile Canteen, situated on the land described in Schedule "B".


Moveable heritage item currently stored at 1 Museum Drive, Penrith, Parish of Castlereagh, County of Cumberland.

1. All Standard Exemptions
Reason/ comments:These cover a full range of activities that do not require Heritage Council approval, including Standard Exemption 7 which allows consideration of additional unspecified types of minor works for exemption.

2. Replacement of parts as required to keep the 1942 Ford 21W Fire Brigade Mobile Canteen in good repair and order where the existing parts cannot be repaired and retained. Parts are to be a replica of the original parts except where this can no longer be achieved and will not impact on the significance of the item.
Reason/ comment:To ensure the maintenance, repair and conservation of the 1942 Ford 21W Fire Brigade Mobile Canteen.

3. The disassembly and reassembly of the 1942 Ford 21W Fire Brigade Mobile Canteen for the purposes of maintenance and repair to keep the item in good repair and order.
Reason/ comment:To ensure the maintenance, repair and conservation of the 1942 21W Fire Brigade Mobile Canteen
4. The removal of the 1942 Ford 21W Fire Brigade Mobile Canteen for storage outside the Museum of Fire Penrith for the purposes of maintenance and/or repair/ where an agreement is made to return the locomotive to the Museum within a specified time period.
Reason/ comment: To ensure the maintenance, repair and conservation of the 1942 21W Fire Brigade Mobile Canteen.

5.The removal (on loan) of the 1942 Ford 21W Fire Brigade Mobile Canteen from the Museum of Fire, Penrith for the purposes of exhibition in other exhibition institutions or as part of a travelling exhibition where an agreement is made to return the items to the Museum of Fire, Penrith within a specified time period and where moving will not damage items.
Reason/ comment:To enable the public exhibition of the item.

6. The deaccessioning of the item from the where the item will be disposed of in NSW.
Reason/ comment: To ensure that the SHR item remains located in NSW (notwithstanding temporary periods on exhibition outside NSW)
Feb 25 2013

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0190025 Feb 13 30491&494

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenAdrian, Colin1984Fire Fighting a Century of Service
WrittenBoard of Fire Commissioners NSW1943Annual Report for 1942
WrittenBoard of Fire Commissioners of NSW1975Fire News - Winter (Vol. 2; No 5
WrittenBoard of Fire Commissioners of NSW-1Minute Books - Vol. 98 - 103
WrittenWomen's Fire Auxiliary-7Women's Fire Auxiliary Press Clippings Book

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5061690
File number: 12/06394

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