CFO R.F. Sullivan

Chief Fire Officer Richard Fitzmaurice Sullivan (Sully), Isle of Wight County Fire Brigade, pictured in the Isle of Wight County Press 1961.

Sully was known as the father of the Isle of Wight County Fire Brigade, being considered its first Chief Fire Officer when it was officially launched on 2 April 1948 following the disbandment of the National Fire Service.

However the truth is that despite serving as Column Officer of the Island's division of the NFS (the senior fireman in the County), he wasn't first choice for the CFO role.

In October 1947 the Staff Committee of the County Council appointed A.E. Bowles to the position. Bowles joined Gillingham Fire Brigade in 1933 and just six years later was appointed Chief Officer of Fareham Fire Brigade. In August 1941 on formation of the NFS, at 30 years old he was appointed Assistant Divisional Officer at Brighton, and full DO the following year, transferring to the East End of London in 1943. In 1945 he took charge of an NFS mission to Germany to oversee a survey of the defeated nation's firefighting forces.

Selected as CFO-elect in winter 1947 Bowles was immediately at the centre of a disparity of ideas between the Parliamentary and Railways Committee of the Council, the County Councillors and the Secretary of State. The committee's robust recommendations were scrutinised and undermined as both too costly and unnecessary.

Shanklin Fire Brigade's former turn of the century Chief Officer Oscar Rayner, by now an elderly gentleman, weighed in with a scheme of his own that leaned almost wholly on volunteers. Whilst this was rejected so too was every connotation and compromise offered by the committee. 

The committee were ground down to unwillingly accept a scheme to which they disagreed. The matter became so discomfiting for Chief Officer-elect Bowles that at a meeting on New Year's Eve 1947 he stated "the scheme is inadequate and liable to break down, I feel unable to undertake the responsibility of operating it". He then handed in his cards, stating that he was seeking preferable employment elsewhere. Bowles was only 36 and a high flyer who subsequently became Commandant at the Fire Service College.

IWCC were stuck and turned back to the man that had led the NFS through recent times.

On 24 January 1948 it was confirmed that R.F. Sullivan was the newly appointed Chief Officer-elect. The decision was a popular one. The County Press article announcing the appointment revealed that he had originally applied for the role but had been narrowly ousted by Bowles. 

Sullivan was ten years older, had served in the Royal Air Force between 1921-28, followed by a career with Southampton Fire Brigade where he was appointed Divisional Officer of the NFS in 1941. His appointment to the Island didn't come until after the war in August 1946.

Sullivan's record as CFO, which lasted until retirement in June 1965, was exemplary. The man's energy seemed to know no bounds and he appeared at virtually every brigade event in addition to commanding at major fires. Funerals, church parades, fetes, retirements, Christmas dinners, children's parties and every manner of fire prevention talk and event were either presided by or supported by the Island's indefatigable Chief Officer. The County Press evidences that he was still invited, and attended, many such events for a long time in to his retirement. 

Retiring in Shanklin he passed away on 25 September 1990 aged 89 years. 

Captain A.Farrow

Captain Archibald Farrow, East Cowes Fire Brigade. 

Farrow was originally a fireman of Cowes Fire Brigade first mentioned when competing for his brigade at an IWFBF competition in Shanklin in 1905.

A year later he was 'loaned' to the fledgling East Cowes Fire Brigade as instructor and fire station caretaker. He was first noted in the local Press as captain of the East Cowes brigade in January 1908 when in charge of a fire at the 'Goshawk' yacht store.

Captain T.Richardson

Captain Thomas Richardson, Cowes Fire Brigade (1893-1906 est.)

Chief Officer A.C.J. Carpenter

Chief Officer Alfred Charles John Carpenter was in charge of the J. Samuel White's and Co., Fire Brigade before, during and after the Second World War.

He was mentioned in the London Gazette in 1942 for his brave conduct during enemy air attacks and later received the British Empire Medal.

Captain N.H.T. Mursell

Captain Nicholas Henry Thomas Mursell was in charge of Newport Volunteer Fire Brigade (and the later part-time paid brigade).

He joined as a fireman when the entire brigade was reformed on volunteer lines in February 1893 and succeeded Joseph Shepherd as captain in January 1895, a post he held until retirement in 1928.

In 1924, after the IWFBF had lapsed in to dormancy following the First World War, Mursell resurrected the Federation. He breathed new life and sat as Chairman until leaving for Dorset where he passed away shortly after on 11 April 1942. 

 He was notable in Newport not only for his fire-fighting exploits but as landlord of the Castle Inn for over fifty years.

Captain C.Langdon

Charles Langdon served as Captain of Ryde Fire Brigade from 1889-1895. His tenure was cut short when he resigned on a matter of principle when the Town Council refused to purchase new hose for the brigade. He followed his father John, who was a previous brigade captain and died prematurely when Charles was 17. 

Despite resigning from the brigade Charles remained very influential in Island firefighting having been the founding father of the Isle of Wight Fire Brigades Association (later Federation) in 1894. He remained its Honorary Secretary until 1906 but sustained an interest in the Federation's activities and donated a cup (the Langdon Cup) and prize money for the Escape Drill in 1929, which was competed for until the last Federation competition in 1939.

In October 1935 he was asked by the Federation to act as its President. He passed away in spring 1944.

Superintendant J.Langdon

John Langdon was appointed Superintendent of Ryde Fire Brigade on the occasion of its reformation on 12 January 1864. He remained in post until around 1870. He passed away around a decade later.

His son Charles, just a young boy at the time of his father's death, was to succeed him as Ryde brigade captain many years later.

Captain W.Couldrey

William Couldrey was born in Abingdon, Oxfordshire in 1863 and as a 17 year old lad was commended by the local authorities for his heroic action as a civilian at a fire.

He moved to Bembridge on the Isle of Wight in 1897 and immediately became involved in several local undertakings that he remained involved in until the eleven week illness that preceded his death in March 1942.

His captaincy of Bembridge Fire Brigade was a nominal three years, however his support for the work of the fire brigades across the Island is noted in his politicial undertakings over several decades. It is suspected, but so far unproven, that the Couldrey Challenge Cup, a feature of Isle of Wight Fire Brigade Federation drill competitions between 1926-1939 was donated by him; and to be awarded to the best performing team in the motor-pump drill category.

However great was his support for the work of the brigades it was his association with the Bembridge RNLI for which he was most active and notable, receiving many medals and commendations for his work. He was also a reserve officer of the Isle of Wight Rifles. 

Chief Officer W.H. Brown

Chief Officer Wilfred Harry Brown was a long serving member of Sandown Fire Brigade who also twice served his country, first as a National Fire Brigades Union member of the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital at Deelfontein, South Africa, during the Second Boer War and then throughout almost the entire First World War with the ambulance section of the NFBU.

His service to town, county and country is vast and his commitment incredible. His diaries from 1940 and 1941 evidence that even when well into his 60's he rarely took a day off in his efforts to not only manage the brigade and the sudden and substantial influx of Auxiliary Fire Service members that became his responsibility, but also in preparing other elements of the town for the effect of aerial warfare; training Women's Voluntary Service and Street Fire Party members how to use stirrup pumps and deal with incendiary bombs and identifying, forming and training patrols of fire-watchers.

 

Captain J.Dore

Captain James Dore (later Chief Officer) was one of the Sandown originals when the brigade was formed in 1879.

Roughly twelve months later he was appointed Captain and from that moment on his career was one of dedication to his town but also to the broader matter of promoting fire protection and firefighting both on the Island, the mainland and across continental Europe from where he received honours from France, Luxembourg and Belgium. 

By trade he was a jeweller with a successful shop in the town from where he also expanded a growing photographic side to the business which reflected his own photographical aspirations. Much of his photography, developed on glass lantern slides still survives and its clarity and poignancy carries the stories of the era gracefully to the eyes of the modern viewer. His ability to capture Island life and for it to remain so vibrant and relevant today over one hundred years later is testament to the skill that saw him patent his own photographic devices and cross the Atlantic in 1893 to display his images and devices at the World's Fair in Chicago. 

His capability for networking and bringing the best of the evolving world's ideas back to the Island is unmatched. An invitation to meet Winston Churchill at Westminster is but one example of his winning way and influence across the spectrum of society; whether it was drilling prospective young men vying to join the brigade or being introduced to notable dignitaries he was affable, sincere and at ease. 

His time as Sandown's Chief Fire Officer ended abruptly in 1916. Being a principled man he was shaken that a fireman, a good, capable and courageous young life-saver, should be sacked from the brigade without his sanction or even his awareness by the Sandown Urban District Council on the basis that he was a conscientous objector to the war. 

Despite pleas from the councillors Dore stood his ground and walked away from the brigade that he'd lead with unsurpassed intelligence, commitment and compassion for 36 years.

His long time understudy Howard Barclay Billups took over the role when he returned from the war, and in 1919 under Billups' insistence James Dore's vitality was reinstalled when he was offered and accepted the role of Honorary Chief Officer. 

Chief Officer M.W. Heller

In late 1936 Ryde Fire Brigade's Chief Officer Henry Frederick Jolliffe was over 70, feeling his age but desperate to complete fifty-square years of service.

In an incomparable act of compassion Ryde's councillors pledged to honour his wish but advertised for a new role of Deputy Chief Officer so that someone may be ready to take over within the next year, and in the meantime keep an discreet eye on the things the ageing chief may otherwise miss. 

Max Heller was one of many applicants, formerly a member of the Brighton Police and Fire Brigade he quickly relocated to the Island and made Ryde his home.

Like all local brigade chief officers of the day, in 1938 when masses of men were hurriedly recruited to the Auxiliary Fire Service the Ryde detachment came under his responsibility; effectively multiplying his workload tenfold. 

When the National Fire Service was formed in August 1941 and Ryde Fire Brigade ceased to exist he lost command of his men and was made Assistant Company Officer but within months NFS command realised his capacity and reinstalled him as Company Officer for Ryde; which at that stage also included Actions Stations and additional fire stations as well as the 'Main Station' in Station Street. 

He was a popular and straightforward leader who lead his firemen from a firm footing of practicality and understanding. Sadly after exemplary service during the trying conditions of the war he was to fall ill and retire two months short of VE Day and three months later, on a train from visiting former colleagues in Brighton, he was taken ill and pronounced dead when the locomotive pulled in at Charing Cross. 

Chief Officer O.H.Rayner

Oscar Horace Rayner originally joined Shanklin Fire Brigade as a 13-year old call-boy, progressing to fireman as soon his age allowed. He was appointed Captain (later Chief Officer) on 7 November 1893.

His progressive attitude to developing the firefighting techniques and apparatus available to his men made significant contributions to the evolution of firefighting Islandwide. 

On 10 May 1906 he became the first Island fireman to use a form of breathing apparatus when he demonstrated a Simon's Patent Smoke Helmet in a smokelogged greenhouse at Rylstone Gardens. The councillors in attendance were impressed with the device and the capability it afforded firemen to get closer to the source of a fire and within months Shanklin Fire Brigade were equipped with these and a range of other progressive items of equipment. It is believed, without evidence to the contrary, that Shanklin Fire Brigade were the first Island firemen to use breathing apparatus at an incident. 

Although Shanklin weren't the first Island brigade to sport a steam fire-engine, narrowly pipped to the accolade by Sandown Fire Brigade in a matter of a few days, they were the first brigade to use one at an incident when Captain Rayner commanded his men at a substantial fire at Upper St James's Street, Newport, on 12 January 1908. Rayner was also behind the plan that saw Shanklin become the first Island brigade to possess a motor-powered fire service vehicle; although this wasn't a fire-engine, it comprised a hose, personnel and equipment carrier and was used to tow the steam fire-engine in lieu of horses.

He handed in his resignation from the brigade on 15 February 1915 and retired shortly after. However his interest in Island firefighting was constant, even writing to the County Council after the end of the Second World War to express his view of how the post-National Fire Service county brigade should look. 

 

Chief Officer F.Dennis

Frederick Dennis had been a fireman of Cowes Fire Brigade for decades before finally advancing to Second Officer and in 1936 achieving Chief Officer status. By this stage his elder brother Arthur was Chief Engineer.

Reports that refer to him are regular features in the local Press until the advent of the National Fire Service in 1941 when he disappears from public view; probably like most brigade chief officers of the time he lost his command to the appointment of younger men by NFS headquarters staff. 

Chief Officer F.Goff

Frank Goff was Chief Officer of East Cowes Fire Brigade from (at least) 1926 to 1941; when most probably he lost his command in the wake of the National Fire Service's creation. Tragically one of his daughters was killed during an air raid on East Cowes during the Second World War.

He appeared in the local Press once more on the occasion of his Golden wedding anniversary in December 1962.

(It may be a complete coincidence but a young man by the same name appeared in the first list of Wroxall Parish Fire Brigade firemen published in 1902).

Captain G.H. Harrison

Captain George Howard Harrison was never in command of an Island fire brigade but contributed plenty to the evolution of brigades after retiring from his role as Captain of the Kingston, Surbiton and District Fire Brigade to the Isle of Wight in December 1895. 

He and his family took up residence at Thornton Manor near Ryde, which at that stage was within the boundary of the St Helen's Urban District Council, and throughout his residency Harrison was perpetually advising the Island's most reluctant of Council's to invest in fire protection initiatives; even offering to command the concept he'd created for a brigade as a voluntary captain.

For reasons known only to the Councillors of St Helen's this knowledgeable man was consistently rebuked although later they adopted precisely the plan he'd submitted but without his involvement. 

However Sandown Fire Brigade's Captain James Dore immediately identified Harrison as a man of value and the seasoned veteran willingly became an Honorary (i.e. unpaid) Captain of Sandown Fire Brigade in 1896; whether or not he ever turned out in this capacity is sadly unproven but it is assured that his experience would have been of immense value to the brigade whether advisory, in drills or at fires. 

At some point Harrison must have decided that the Rosenberg painting of a fire in Piccadilly was too large for his home and he donated it to the men of Ryde Fire Brigade. It still hangs in the modern station (opened 1994) to this day, in fact the stairwell of the facility on Nicholson Road was drawn up by the architect specifically to accommodate its impressive dimensions.

Harrison served in official capacities for both the National Fire Brigades Union and the Isle of Wight Fire Brigades Federation for many years and even when quitting those posts remained interested in Island fire brigades, often submitting his ideas to the local Press and Council's. He finally passed away in July 1930.

Captain H.Buckett

Henry Buckett's life was tied inextricably with so much of the town of Ryde during the latter Victorian period that it was almost inevitable that a townsman of such character, strength and poise, whose father was a hero coxswain of a south Wight lifeboat crew, should at some point serve as Captain of the town's fire brigade.

In 1862 he was appointed, ahead of four other applicants, as Town Crier on the basis of a practical test at the top of Union Street which it was said caused windows to rattle all the way down to Pier Street.

By 1864 he was the brigade's Escape Conductor serving under Captain John Langdon and by the time of the notorious Congregational Church fire in George Street of April 1870 he was the brigade captain and was much admired for the decision making at this incident which prevented further destruction where many were preparing for the worst. 

Buckett was a man that seemed to be involved in everything that happened in Ryde, in addition to his main employment as keeper of the Town Hall. His courage at fire incidents earned him critiscism from some who regarded his disregard for his personal safety as reckless whereas his protection of his firemen was indisputed given his tenacious defence of them after even the mildest slight in the Press or Council. 

Remarks made by Councillors of the time illustrate a rough diamond in character and one who made the best of everything including the modest abode at the rear of the Town Hall where he and his wife Ellen raised nine children! The residence was no more than a couple of rooms and shared some of its facilities with the fire station, which in itself was a modest affair opening out on to Market Street. 

Possibly his most notable act of decisiveness came in June 1882 when an eruption of conflicting views among Ryde's councillors in the Town Hall chamber developed to fisticuffs. Buckett, leading some of the men who were drilling outside at the time, stormed the chamber with a charged water jet from an open hose and soaked the lot! Incredibly he wasn't dismissed or even formally disciplined for his actions. 

Controversially in March 1885 he made a remark during the annual brigade dinner, widely reported in the local Press, that it wouldn't be a bad thing for the town to suffer a serious fire to rid it of some of the unpleasant shanties.

The last record of him as Captain of the brigade appeared in June 1888 and six months later the brigade was captained by Charles Langdon, son of John who Buckett had served under in his younger days. 

On 3 June 1896 Henry Buckett passed away aged just 56. Such was his influence and character within the town that his passing was illustrated in the Observer with various poems and stanzas based on his life. 

To see him, after a pretended rescue from a supposed burning building, carry the biggest and heaviest member down the fire escape in his arm, as lightly as if he were a child, always inspired  confidence.

 

 

Chief Officer H.F. Jolliffe

Henry Frederick Jolliffe was a fireman of Ryde for a matter of months less than fifty years.

He joined the brigade as a probationery fireman in 1887 and soon established himself as a keen and fit young member of the brigade well known for his physical prowess during brigade drill competitions and other sporting activities.

Twice married and for 38 years employed as a carpenter and joiner at Ryde pier he was a popular leader of the brigade to whom he gave so much of his spare time.

By 1913 he appears in reports as the brigade's first engineer, by now of the town's first steam fire-engine and a year later he appeared in a Press report as the brigade's Second Officer. 

In March 1920, when the Council considered severing relations between the brigade and police, the latter of whom had been granted management of the brigade for an unsatisfactory few years, he was appointed Acting Chief Officer and made substantive when the severance was formalised in August.

In September 1936, by now 70 years old, he came under scrutiny following a fire at the Union Street office of the Isle of Wight Times. Some decided it was time to put the old officer out to pasture, but knowing his wish was to complete 50 years of service they, surprisingly, showed compassion and granted the old chief his wish.

Sadly, six months short of his target, just days after taking command of his brigade at a fire at Hill Crest, Ashey, Jolliffe suddenly and without warning passed away at his home Glenrosa, St John's Road, Ryde, on Sunday 9 May 1937.

 

Chief Officer F.Meader

Sadly very little is known of Chief Officer Meader except that he was the chief of the Osborne House Fire Brigade, a unit drawn from the staff of the Osborne estate for the purposes of protecting the royal assets therein.

Under Chief Officer Meader, and his predecessors, Osborne House Fire Brigade were the sole non-local authority fire brigade to maintain a long term affiliation to the Isle of Wight Fire Brigades Federation in the pre-Second World War period.

Chief Officer B.Knapp

Chief Officer Bertie Knapp began life with East Cowes Fire Brigade as a call-boy in 1911. He served for many years as Second Officer under Chief Officer Goff until just before the outbreak of the Second World War.

As Chief Officer he lead the brigade in to the early years of the Second World War until ill health prevented him continuing and he retired in 1941. 

Throughout the autumn season of his life he remained a regular contributor and attendee at East Cowes fire station social events. 

Chief Officer S.P. Scott

In May 1915 the County Press reported that Sidney Percy Scott had been awarded a National Fire Brigades Union bronze medal (10 years service) so we can assume he joined by at least 1905 (of interest the article claims he had recently rejoined the brigade after its reorganisation so his actual beginnings may be much earlier).

By February 1916 he was listed as First Fireman in a seniority based numbering system. By September 1923 he was reported as Deputy Captain under Captain Mursell and later Captain P.E. Shields. 

Scott succeeded Shields as Chief Officer in July 1934. He remained in post until 26 April 1939. 

He was most noted for his immense height and a County Press series of cartoons that caricatured the events of a drill competition in the 1930's, includes an image of Scott lowering people by hand from the upper floor of a tall building in lieu of an escape ladder.

Chief Fire Officer R.J. Rooke

Robert John Rooke was appointed to take over from the retiring Richard Fitzmaurice Sullivan, the father of the Isle of Wight County Fire Brigade, in June 1965.

Rooke was previously Deputy Chief Officer in Oxfordshire. Prior to that he'd served in the Royal Navy from 1934-1948, then joined Surrey Fire Brigade a year later. He left to take up a similar position in the Midlands in October 1968.

Chief Fire Officer A.F.S. Perks

Arthur Frederick Stanley Perks took the reigns from R.J. Rooke in October 1968.

Perks originated from Smethwick and was literally born in to the brigade. His father was a fireman in the town and one of the original and truly 'whole-time' firemen; meaning they lived on station with their families and could be called on for duty at any time. 

Perks was born at the fire station and spent the first twenty years of his life residing there. Originally he apprenticed as a gas engineer but then joined the army and served for six and half years through the war as an infantryman, was wounded twice and demobbed, returning to the gas industry.

He joined Birmingham Fire Brigade in 1948, winning the Silver Axe as the best recruit of his course. He finally left Birmingham as Station Officer in 1960 and headed to Southport to serve as Deputy Chief Officer. 

 

 

Captain S.C. Sapsworth

Sidney Charles Sapsworth was Captain of the Richmond Fire Brigade from 1879 to 1894 when he retired from the brigade to move to Ryde, Isle of Wight, where he set up a motor and bicycle business in St Thomas's Square.

When Ryde lost the services of Captain H.V. Carter in April 1897, Sapsworth, who thought he'd never return to firefighting, was compelled to apply and the Town Council were only too happy to accept him as the preferable candidate from those who applied.

Under his guidance and leadership the brigade moved in to their first built-for-purpose fire station in Brunswick Street (later renamed Station Street) and obtained the town's first steam fire-engine in October 1908. 

He finally tendered his resignation from the brigade in October 1910 and left in the following month. He later returned to the mainland, passing away in Tonbridge in 1926 aged 66.