Chief Officer Cecil Charles Matthews of Shanklin Fire Brigade passed away 9 August 1950 aged 76.

 

Cecil was born and bred in Shanklin and lived in the town all of his life. He was born in 1875 to his father Edwin, a mason and builder and mother Sarah. He was appointed as a new fireman on 20 August 1895 and immediately made an impression for his skill and speed of thought and was soon performing regularly in the Brigade's drill competition team.

On 28 February 1900 he married Emily Wheeler in St Helens. She would have soon got used to playing second fiddle to her husband's commitment to the service for in the previous year he was a member of the five man Shanklin team that won the coveted Battenburg Challenge Cup in competition at Ventnor. In 1904, 05 and 06 he paired up with A.Richardson to win the two-man drill competition and in the latter of those competitions this came after his blistering individual performance to win the one-man drill (which his mate Fm Richardson won the year before).

By the census of 1911 Cecil had two children, nine year old Harry (who was to later follow in his father footsteps in the brigade) and six year old Norah. In April 1914 he was one of four firemen selected by Chief Officer Rayner who made the distinct mark in Island history of being the first fire brigade drivers of a motor powered vehicle; a Mercedes converted as hose, equipment and personnel carrier (and used to tow the steam fire-engine) known as the 'Pioneer'.

For reasons unknown he withdrew from brigade duties in 1923 but when his town needed him in 1928 he returned to take the helm as Chief Officer and remained in post until relieved of his command to the acrimony of many when the National Fire Service was formed in August 1941. To his credit he betrayed no bitterness and even stayed on without rank, one suggestion exists that he, by now aged 66, offered to remain with his firemen as station cook.

That was how he came to be inside the requisitioned Gloster Hotel, temporary wartime NFS station, when it took a direct hit from a 500kg high explosive bomb on 3 January 1943. Twelve of his fire service colleagues died in the incident and for considerable time it was feared he was the thirteenth. Eventually after three hours of carefully picking away at the smashed ruins he was recovered, badly injured but alive.

His determination to return and stay within the service was unstoppable. After recovery he again donned his uniform and remained a fixture of the service until finally accepting that he'd done his bit and retiring after 48 years in July 1943.

Sadly Emily passed away three years later and Cecil spent his final years at 7 Western Road and there he died on 9 August 1950. The eulogies and testimonies of his life and achievements evidence what a remarkable fireman and officer he was, one of the founding fathers of the professional service we aspire to be today.

Rest in peace Chief Officer Matthews.