Chief Officer Oscar Horace Rayner of Shanklin Fire Brigade passed away on 25 April 1952 aged 85.


Chief Officer Rayner began his service with the brigade as a 13 year old call-boy, or 'knocker-up'; his job being to ensure the firemen had heard the alarm bell and were on their way to the station. By this time he was also assisting his father at his post office and stationery store.

He was formally drafted as a fireman on 1 October 1889, his enterprising spirit and leadership qualities saw him soon in the deputy-captain role (and brigade secretary) before becoming substantive brigade Captain in November 1893 when he was unanimously elected by the town's Fire Brigade Committee at the age of 25.

His contributions to the development of Shanklin Fire Brigade ensured that they lead the Island in many of the technical developments of the era. On 10 May 1906 he became the first Isle of Wight firefighter to wear breathing apparatus. The rudimentary device, known as a 'Simon's Patent Smoke Helmet' required the user to wear a vinegar soaked sponge over the mouth in addition to the head piece and eye glasses. Rayner wished his Councillors to invest in two such sets of apparatus and to ensure them the money would be well spent he staged a demonstration by entering a smoke-filled glasshouse at Rylstone Gardens and remaining inside for a few minutes before emerging in good health and returning inside for a second spell.

The Council were impressed and the town's brigade soon possessed two 'Simon's' plus two oilskin tunics to be worn by the users who were also armed with a patent fire-fighting branch that not only directed water forward in a firefighting jet but also redirected a small proportion of the flow back over the firemen in the form of a spray. In effect this made Shanklin's firemen the first Island firefighters that could enter a structural fire and fight it at its source.

Oscar married Florence Barber in 1898 and it appears that they suffered the anguish of having an infant who died young and from then on the census returns for 1901 and 1911 show that they lived as a childless couple at 'Eddington' in Shanklin's North Road.

When not commanding the brigade Oscar was well known as the town's Rates Collector. In 1913 Oscar made a not unreasonable request to his Council for the expense of a new fire helmet as the one he'd worn since 1893 was originally issued to his predecessor twenty-five years earlier.

Two years later on 9 February his resignation from the brigade was formally received in Council. However he maintained close contact with the Island's fire-fighting fraternity and even as late as 1947, when the government were planning to impose a costly scheme for the County-wide brigade, he wrote in detail to the local authority of how the Island would be better and more economically served by a mass of motivated and well supported volunteers.

Oscar was one of those who not only cared deeply for the Island's fire-fighting and rescue capabilities, but also had the drive, determination and ability to get things done.

Rest in peace Chief Officer Rayner.

Oscar Rayner as captured in art by his brother Francis Herbert Rayner.