The Green Goddess
I should start by explaining what the hell it is that you are looking at. This giant green thing is called a Green Goddess.
Officially known as a ‘Bedford RLHZ Self Propelled Pump’ it’s a sort of attempt at some preparation for nuclear war. An incredibly rugged fire engine.
In terms of Steve Dilworth’s choice in owning a classic car, this is definitely quite a big one. The 1950s Goddess certainly comes across as a bit of an anomaly at first, but Steve’s ownership comes from the same place as many classic owners - the nostalgia, the family connection.
After WW2, the government saw a need to prepare for the worst. The Auxiliary Fire Service was reformed and equipped with a variety of vehicles: Land Rovers, fuel tankers, hose carriers and all of the other vehicles necessary to somewhat mitigate the effects of nuclear war. The centerpiece of this brigade (not military!) was a few thousand of these Green Goddesses.
"THERE WAS A BIT OF AN ENIGMA ABOUT THEM. A BIT OF AN X-FILES SORT OF THING."
It was thought the first thing you’d need in an apocalypse would be clean water. The plan was in the event of an attack, hundreds of Green Goddesses would daisy-chain up the UK’s road network, pumping clean water at nearly 5000 litres per minute to any ‘ground zero’.
We sat in the cab and chatted with Steve about what it means to have one:
SO WHY DO YOU OWN A GREEN GODDESS?
“There was a bit of an enigma about them. A bit of an X-files sort of thing. The Cold War was a period of history that wasn’t really talked about, almost as if people didn’t want to talk about it. It probably wasn’t discussed much at the time because there was a very real threat of it happening. Now things are beginning to turn the other way, but I think soon after it happened it became politically incorrect to talk about it. Because us and the Russians were all friends again.”
"AS A SEVEN YEAR OLD KID THAT SORT OF THING IS QUITE IMPRESSIVE." - Steve
WHERE DID YOUR OWN FASCINATION START?
“My father was a policeman - he worked for the metropolitan police in the traffic division. In ‘77 when the first fire strike was on, he was detached to a barracks in South London. The military crews weren’t familiar with the area and the Goddesses didn’t have radios, so when they went out they were escorted by a police motorbike.”
“So my Dad spent quite a few months based at the barracks with the guys. He swung a visit there for me when I was about seven. So I was climbing up all over [a Green Goddess] whilst my Dad was saying: ‘There’s thousands of these and they’re hidden away, nobody can see them and they’re in secret storage.’ As a seven year old kid that sort of thing is quite impressive. So I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for them.”
SO DO YOU ENJOY DRIVING IT?
“Kind of. It worries the hell out of me, I probably tend to smile more when I’ve stopped the engine and have got out. As you know, when there’s a [Sunday] Scramble, she’ll be out there. To me it’s probably just the pleasure of showing her off and talking about her. A lot of the time, it’s just to say that I’ve got one.”
“I wouldn’t do a round Britain tour in it (you’re forgiven there Steve). But for local jaunts and laps [at Bicester Heritage] she gets taken out once or twice a month and run up, just to keep everything turning and lubricated - that sort of stuff."
It’s an odd thing the Green Goddess. In a way, it’s sad that we don’t all have more of an affinity with them. It’s not like your usual classic - a first car or a past family wagon. The Goddess is a bit of a white (or green) knight that never saw the light of day other than in an occasional fire strike. The truth is, the Green Goddess not being a nationally recognised hero is small price to pay compared to everyone not winding up dead from a nuclear war.
Next time you go to Bicester’s Scramble, keep an eye out for Steve and the Goddess. You won't regret it.