A plaque has been unveiled in memory of a fallen firefighter, after a fellow firefighter uncovered details of his life and passing nearly 50 years after he passed away.
Wilfred McLaughlan was attending a fire in a factory when the roof collapsed on 25 April 1972. He died later from his injuries. On the day the fire broke out he was three days away from his retirement.
Retired firefighter Graham Bowker was told about the loss of the firefighter when he was posted at McLaughlan’s former fire station five years after his passing. Whilst there has been limited coverage or discussion about McLaughlan’s death in the time since, and he has no traceable family, Bowker never forgot about McLaughlan, and when the site where the fire happened was developed Bowker started researching the story and making enquiries with a view to having a plaque established on the site.
The fire took place at Oldham Batteries in Denton, Greater Manchester. The plaque was unveiled at the factory’s former site, which has now been developed into a wellness centre, on Friday, 19 November.
Graham Bowker said: ‘As firefighters, we are always mindful of the debt we owe to our fellow firefighters who came before us. I first heard this story as a young firefighter, and it has always stayed with me even though it’s been around 45 years since. When I saw the site was being built on I thought it was the right time to start trying to ensure that McLaughlan and his sacrifice were never forgotten. We owe it to him to ensure that that doesn’t happen.’
The plaque being unveiled is part of the Fire Brigade Union’s red plaque scheme, which seeks to memorialise firefighters who died in the line of duty with a plaque near to where the relevant incident happened.
Fire Brigades Union regional secretary for the North West Ed Burrows said: ‘As firefighters we want to ensure that our predecessors are not forgotten. They helped build and develop our profession through their dedication and service, something we all benefit from today. McLaughlan and many other firefighters have made sacrifices which we must remember, and the Fire Brigades Union is honoured to play a part in remembering Wilfred McLaughlan and his sacrifice.’
At the inquest into McLaughlan’s death, in July 1972, Manchester Fire Brigade Chief Fire Officer Harry Lomas said: ‘He was a man who has always had my greatest support and my greatest respect. It seems a terrible tragedy to all his friends in the brigade.’
The Coroner, Donald Summerfield, said: ‘This is a tragic story and I am told this brave man was only a few days off retirement. At every fire, firemen take their lives into their hands but it does not deter them.’