Image information

ARP Ambulance Station at Corporation Street, with large group of ambulance drivers (mostly female) lined up outside, c. 1939

Map Print
Ref No:y14301
Title:ARP Ambulance Station at Corporation Street, with large group of ambulance drivers (mostly female) lined up outside, c. 1939
Date Period:1920-1939

Information on front and back of photograph suggests that the ambulance staff pictured include Nora Upton (born 16 Jan 1919) known as "Little Uppy", the smallest ambulance driver in the force, pictured in front centre. May Mirfin (1901-1994) is understood to be pictured 6th from right on the front line.

The commander of the fleet at the time is said to have been "Karl Ewing" (from Finland).

May Mirfin (née Raffo) was born on 15 Apr 1901 in Sheffield. She grew up on Martin Street, Crookesmoor and Addy Street, Upperthorpe. In her teens she worked as a 'buffer girl' for silversmiths and cutlers, Gladwin Limited, Lloyd's and John Mirfin's of Arundel Street.

She was a gifted singer with a strong mezzosoprano voice. The high point of her singing (before marriage) was with productions of the Sheffield Operatic Society under Madame Scaife in the 1920s. Notably, her paternal grandfather, Giovanni 'Johnny' Raffo who emigrated from a town near Genoa as a youth was an accomplished violinist.

By the 1930s she was married to Harold and living at Longley. They had one son. During World War Two, May enlisted for industrial war work and got increasingly involved in local affairs including politics. She was a founder member of the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) two years before the outbreak of war in 1939. This predecessor of the Civil Defence organisation led her into auxiliary ambulance duties. Both she and Harold were on regular night-duty assignments during the worst period of the war on the Home Front (he was a local warden and on fire-picquet at his works); and both were on duty throughout the night and much of the following day of the heaviest Blitz on Sheffield in Dec 1940. She was tasked with helping to convey for identification the remains of people burnt to death in the cellars of the Marples Hotel. At home in their small house in Herries Place, they also had to give shelter to May's brother and family whose house on Tenter Street had been bombed-out.

During and after the war, May maintained her link with civil defence ambulance work (first in Corporation Street and later at Hartley Brook School), and was also recruited into industry, working as a supervisor of women workers at Sanders Brothers and Newbould's Steelworks and later at the LMS rail yard and warehouses at Spital Hill/Savile Street.

In retirement, May turned her attention to public concerns. She was a founder member of the Hallamshire Historic Buildings Society - its first venture being the successful appeal against the Council's plan to demolish Norwood Hall (although it later fell into disrepair and was eventually demolished). Another success for the Society was the appeal against the Council for the preservation and refurbishment of Leader House.

She was also involved in the Liberal political movement. She contested the Broomhill ward twice in the 1950s.

She also owned and managed six small houses at Court 2 Channing Street in the Kelvin area between 1954 and their compulsory acquisition by the Corporation in 1968.

Her husband Harold died in 1965. May Mirfin died on 14 Jul 1994.

Original at Sheffield City Archives: MD7348/4/1(iv).