In a 1992 edition of Wight Fire magazine, one of the fire service's modern legends Maurice 'Mo' Fairall, a whole-time firefighter at Newport, wrote the most sincere tribute to his great friend and colleague, former retained Station Officer Len Williams of Ryde Fire Station in the aftermath of his passing away.

That article appears below as written by Mo and which appeared under the title A True Stalwart. Inadvertently it reveals as much about Mo's hard work and perseverance for the welfare of the fire service community as it does of the man of whom he wrote with such eloquence.

A fine example and embodiment of the qualities necessary for a fireman and his duties, my late friend and Benevolent Fund colleague Mr Len Williams was indeed a true stalwart, not only throughout his Fire Service career but also during his retirement years and activities too!

Born at Ryde during the commencement year of the First World War, after leaving school he became an apprentice bricklayer and mason under the supervision of a Mr Day, the owner of a local building firm. However, bricks and mortar were unable to completely satisfy his energetic and enquiring nature and so during 1935 he enrolled in the local Ryde Fire Brigade with a Mr Harry Jolliffe as the then Chief Fire Officer. Perhaps oblivious at the time of what history had in store for the nation as a whole, the next four years of service as a fireman that preceded the eventual outbreak of the Second World War were perhaps a providential preparation for Len and his colleagues, of the dramatic events and experiences that the outbreak of hostilities eventually ushered in. As well as being the start of a distinguished career 1935 was also to prove memorable and eventful in another respect too, as it was on Guy Fawkes night of that same year that Len met his wife to be Betty in (appropriately for them) Union Street at Ryde, with their marriage following two years later on June 26th 1937 within the ancient and historic St George's Church at Arreton.

The young Fireman Williams stood on Ryde's Leyland Braidwood appliance during the 1935 town carnival.

Mobilised along with his Ryde Fire Brigade colleagues into the National Fire Service for wartime purposes and duties, Len participated in both local and mainland active service, with perhaps his most remembered and sobering experience being of his involvement in firefighting operations during a very heavy and prolonged enemy bombing raid upon the Cowes area and shipyards on the 5th May 1942. The effects of this raid became particularly traumatic and heart rending as amongst those who were was the young but courageous 18 years old Colin Weeks who was serving as a NFS Motorcycle Despatch Rider. Blessed with a good and retentive memory, this sad incident was but one of the many wartime experiences that Len was able to readily relate in detail during our frequent encounters and travels together on co-operative Benevolent Fund business and endeavours, and it seems somewhat sad and ironic that, having survived the terrible carnage and destruction of that eventful occasion, Len himself was taken from life during the 50th anniversary remembrance year of the same.

Ryde Fire Brigade photographed in front of the Town Hall in 1938. Fireman Len Williams is fifth from the left.

Reverting back to service as a retained fireman under local authority control after the war, Len progressed up through the ranks and eventually attained the rank of Station Officer and Officer in Charge of Ryde Fire Station, until his eventual retirement after 34 years dedicated service in 1969. These successive years after the war continued to be busy and eventful for Len, and those serving under his command, some details of which have been recorded and illustrated in the "Looking Back" feature on pages 10-12 of the Winter 1989 edition of "Wight Fire" magazine. Lesser men may have decided to "knock off and make up" their active involvement and interest within the Fire Service upon retirement, but Len was of a different calibre, and it was during his latter years that his most notable achievements were probably accomplished. 

 

A committee member of the Isle of Wight Ex-Fire Services Association, he fulfilled this office admirably by his personal concern and visitation of any known former service colleagues or associates who are resident within the Ryde area, and this caring activity was further supplemented by his additional duties as the ex-service personnel representative upon the committee of the Isle of Wight Area of the Fire Services National Benevolent Fund. It was through this busy and dedicated work that Len and I became first acquainted, and thereby began and developed a firm friendship based on mutual trust and co-operation in our joint endeavours and efforts for the Fund.

His constant enthusiasm for every aspect of this voluntary and necessary work, whether it was mainland travel to be involved in National Council or Group Council meetings, fundraising public Open Days at Newport Fire Station, or the comforting of the bereaved widow, was always most evident and Len involved himself in every activity with the same quiet but evident caring and efficiency that seemed so much of his character and personality. Also possessed of a ready wit and a generous sense of humour, he could also be positive and forthright in opinion whenever the occasion warranted the need and expression of the same, with a ready smile to affirm his accord with any ideas or actions that met with his approval. A positive expression of the "family spirit" that characterises the Fire Service, Len was indeed a true officer and gentleman, and he will therefore be greatly missed.

In closing this memorian tribute to dear Len, I would wish to express much sympathyto his widow Betty, his son Arthur, his daughter Margaret and many other relatives and friends who also share in our great and sudden loss of a dear husband, father, friend and colleague and to also extend my grateful thanks and appreciation to ALL those who contributed towards the magnificent sum of £370.00 as a memoriam donation of Len to the Fire Services National Benevolent Fund. I know that he would have been immensely proud of such a wonderful and magnanimous gesture towards the ongoing work of the Fund that Len himself served so well, but please may I also be permitted to make a final plea on his behalf, and more especially to those former colleagues and ex-service personnel that he cared so much for! 

Shortly before his passing it was my intention to work together with him towards the foundation of some autonomous local "town area" social welfare groups of former Fire Service personnel and/or their dependants, with these groups being additional to the I.W.E.F.A. group that is already operational here on the Island, and to advance the local F.S.N.B.F. efforts and endeavours in the location and ultimate assistance towards any former member, widow or dependant who may be in need of the Fund and its resources. The future success of such a project will depend very much on the response to its public promulgation from those to whom it is intended to benefit, so please may I politely request and exhort a positive interest from all those who would like to see such a scheme flourish and succeed, and therefore to be yet another memoriam tribute to our caring and charitable colleague Len in the year of his passing. 

Thank you dear Len for all that you achieved, and for the legacy of kindness and example that you left for us to follow!

Fireman Maurice Fairall

Assistant F.S.N.B.F. Secretary

I.O.W. Area