In early March 2019 a very helpful individual who has an interest in the Island's military history shared with me a selection of documents he'd discovered at the National Archives in a file dedicated to the Second World War PLUTO project (Pipe Line Underwater Transportation of Oil).

This particular document was a series of Orders to be followed in the event of a fire occurring at any part of the land based PLUTO facilities in Sandown and Shanklin. Notwithstanding the amusement I felt when realising that the officer of the 311th Infantry Brigade who wrote the Order was named Major Danger, I was intrigued by several references to Woodside

The context is given in the section titled 'Local Assistance', where the Major wrote; No call for assistance will be made by the Military personnel except to N.F.S. at 'Woodside'. 

As I'd never before read of this place amongst masses of other wartime documents of the fire services this begs the question where or what was Woodside? Was it the large property in Wootton, a pre-war naturist camp that is believed to have had some other purpose during the war, or is it somewhere else?

If you know or indeed have knowledge of the location of any of the wartime AFS or NFS stations I'd love to hear from you via the Contact page.

On 2 March 2019 I had the pleasure of meeting with the Vectis 1940's Vintage Group at the Church Close Community Centre in Wootton.

At their request I created a specially tailored talk concentrating on the Island's fire services during the Second World War and was enthralled to see how many of the Group arrived in full 1940's clothing! 

Plenty of questions were fired at me, most of which I was able to answer and at the end I sold several copies of the wartime diary of Ryde Fireman Colin Weeks who was killed in action during the Cowes Blitz. In addition to the Group's incredible generosity I went away from the talk with £130 for the Firefighters Charity, by far the highest figure for a single event I've attended under the IWFBF banner.

Thank you so much to all the Group for being such fun and so generous.

Beverley Corney and me during the evening (Bev is the daughter of the late Leading Fireman Dave Corney of Ryde Fire Station).

26 February 2019 was one of the warmest, sunny and most beautiful February afternoons I can remember which was why it was all the more rewarding to find I was delivering 'Heroism, Humour and the Hump' to the largest audience so far, almost fifty people! 

Given that each had paid a princely sum to be there I was pleased that the delivery and subject matter found favour with those present and it was a personal thrill to be doing so at a place that holds so many happy childhood memories for me.

The mystery regarding whether or not an Isle of Wight fireman travelled to Northern Europe in January 1945 as part of the National Fire Service - Overseas Contingent has been solved this evening.

See the page on IW Firemen at War for details.

When I began my interest in fire service history I intended to stick with the events and characters confined to the town of Ryde, my adopted home and the place where I've served for most of my 22 years in the service so far.

One of the first things I'd wanted to achieve from the beginning was a complete list of all of Ryde's top firefighters, going back from the last Station Officer in the 2000's right back through the brigade chief's, the captain's to the first superintendant. This task eluded me at the earliest stages.

However I can now reveal, without going through the quite dull details of the immense amout of research and cross-referencing required, that Ryde Fire Brigade was established in 1829 and its first brigade superintendant was a Cross Street ironmonger named George Woods. 

So now we have it; the almost complete list of the heads of Ryde's fire service (not including the post-2004 station managers appointed by service headquarters after the rank-to-role modernisation overhaul);

*Superintendant George Woods (Ryde Fire Brigade)

*Superintendant William Woods (Ryde Fire Brigade)

*Superintendant W. Stannard (Ryde Fire Brigade)

*Superintendant John Langdon (Ryde Fire Brigade)

*Superintendant J.H. Burt (Ryde Fire Brigade)

*Superintendant/Captain Henry Buckett (Ryde Fire Brigade)

*Captain Charles Langdon (Ryde Fire Brigade)

*Captain H.V. Carter (Ryde Fire Brigade)

*Captain Sidney Charles Sapsworth (Ryde Fire Brigade)

*Honorary Captain Arthur Teague (Ryde Fire Brigade)

*Acting Chief Officer Robert James White (Ryde Fire Brigade)

*Superintendant Harry Hammond (Ryde Police-Fire Brigade)

*Captain Henry Bertram Hill (Ryde Police-Fire Brigade)

*Chief Officer Henry Frederick Jolliffe (Ryde Fire Brigade)

*Chief Officer/NFS Company Officer Max Heller (Ryde Fire Brigade/NFS 14D2Z)

*NFS Company Officer/Station Officer Edward W. Potts (Ryde Fire Station)

*Station Officer John Collis (Ryde Fire Station)

*Station Officer Leonard Williams (Ryde Fire Station)

*Station Officer Don Williams (Ryde Fire Station)

*Station Officer Brian Collis (Ryde Fire Station)

*Station Officer Burt Southcott (Ryde Fire Station)

*Station Officer Jack Southcott (Ryde Fire Station)

*Station Officer David Potts (Ryde Fire Station)

*Station Officer Geoff Boulter (Ryde Fire Station)

*Station Officer Ian Sartini (Ryde Fire Station)

'Heroism, Humour and the Hump' is the presentation package I'm offering to groups throughout 2019 that want to be entertained with an eclectic mix of the Island's firefighting history.

The main difference with this format is that chronology counts for nothing and the subjects, ranging from the 1700's until 1948, are called out by the audience as and when they want them and I guarantee it will become apparent through the random delivery of what they hear just how much the pre-WW2 Island fire brigades were tangibly connected during a period in which organised mass firefighting never formally existed.

Please take a look at the new Military Interest Section which was appropriately launched on 11 November 2018.

 

Earlier today Mark Young shared this photo on the IW Heritage Group Facebook page, Geoff Pidgeon was quick to spot it and give me the nudge.

It shows the Ryde Pier Head Fire Brigade of the London and South West and London, Brighton and South Coast Railway. 

Prior to today I was aware of a Pier Head fire brigade established during the Second World War and further units provided by Southern Railway in the decades that followed, but this image, suggesting a period of around the First World War, opens up a whole new avenue of research.

The railway system map (pictured above) that remains in pristine condition at London Victoria station, clearly shows that the Isle of Wight's network makes up a key element of the overall network. 

Research into the roots of the railway suggests that the LSW and LBSC Railways jointly took over the ferry service from Portsmouth in 1880. I am advised by a railway enthusiast that Southern Railway took over the network in 1922, so that frames this photograph between those dates. Further research is ongoing.

Today I was invited to speak to the Breathe Easy Support Group at the Respiratory department at St Mary's Hospital.

A good crowd turned up and from the start it was clear that they were keen to listen and be entertained with stories of the Island's firefighting heritage. I was only supposed to talk for 45 minutes but they were enjoying it so much that they asked me to continue and I ended up filling their entire two-hour session. Afterwards one of them said to me I was the best speaker they'd had so far which was nice to hear as it meant they enjoyed it.

They also, without any prompting, carried out a collection for the Firefighters Charity and passed around the brass fire helmet and I was staggered by how much they'd donated between them.

Thanks to the entire group for a really fun afternoon. 

I received an invite to attend the Service of Remembrance organised by Ryde's Social Heritage Group this evening. Representing the Isle of Wight Fire Brigades Federation and remembering the firemen who lost their lives in both world wars I turned out in dress uniform alongside veterans and others representing the military forces and home defence and a large collection of the Society's membership where the Last Post and the Reveille were observed by the standard bearers of the Royal British Legion. The RBL are also responsible for the placing of large commemorative wooden crosses at the staggering number of graves of local men who died in war service 1914-1918 and 1939-1945 who were laid to rest at Ryde cemeteries, including Leading Fireman Herbert James Dewey, Fireman Colin Henry Weeks and Leading Fireman Alfred Buchanan Brown. I would like to especially thank the Legion for including the town's firemen in this act of remembrance.

This evening I had great fun with the members of Ryde's Horticultural Society at All Saints Church Hall.

They'd asked me to come along and given them a potted history of Ryde's fire brigade, that being my patch and the area where my research began it was no difficult task. It was intended to be a forty minute talk but went well past the hour as they were asking questions and wanting more so I kept going. 

A greatly appreciated cheque was received from them written to the Firefighters Charity so all in all another successful outing. Thanks to all who attended.

With sales of the second volume of the Island's firefighting history already going well, work on the third volume 'The Beginning of the End' has already begun and should be available by September 2019. 

This volume follows the Island's brigades as they begin to put themselves back together after losing all their young men to the war. Some returned and resumed firefighting, some didn't return at all and some returned incapable of further service.

For the Island's Chief Officer's the period posed many challenges during an era of social upheaval and still without any clear legislative backing to substantiate their demands for modern equipment. 

One Chief Officer decided it was time to reinvigorate the IWFBF. Newport's Chief Officer Mursell recognised the inestimable benefit to the brigades and those who called for them by the Federation's exploits in the pre-war period. With the war six years in the past he decided it was time to re-establish those links in planning, drills and camaraderie. It was the beginning of a new strain of Federation thinking that led the IWFBF to take a step years ahead of its time in canvassing the Island's authority's to establish a County-wide fire brigade. 

The authority's rejected the Federation's plan but the organisations evolution wasn't to be deterred by politics and its constitution and style of firefighting developed beyond anything that Captain Langdon could have imagined in 1894. The formal creation of an Islandwide fire brigade was still many years off, but the integration and common understanding built between the Island's chief officer's and their firemen ensured that the establishment of partnerships represented, albeit informally and incomplete, a fire response to most areas of the Wight.

While the Island's peacetime firefighters refined their craft, on the horizon a new and terrifying threat emerged and the Island's firefighters were, initially unwillingly, to be encumbered by a whole new breed of firemen and other emergency workers in preparation for the anticipated end of the peace that marked the time between the wars.

It was the beginning of the end for the parish, town and borough fire brigades.

 

 

In response to some requests I have now arranged that 'From Victoria to the Armistice' is available in an ebook format that works with Kindle Fire, Apple iPad and Android based tablets, and at the cut price of £2.99 every penny of which goes straight to the Firefighters Charity. Click on the link below to access the page on Blurb.

 

Ebook

Volume Two of Isle of Wight firefighting history is now available, click on 'From Victoria to the Armistice' to go to the publications page. 

Today Ivan Berryman linked me to a photo submitted to the IW Heritage Facebook group to see if I could identify the subject matter.

I was thrilled to see the image was of Ryde Fire Brigade in Brunswick Street (before renamed Station Street). Careful study of the photo gives an idea of when it was posed. The fire station, Ryde's first built-for-purpose station, was first occupied in November 1904 and the engine in the photo on which can be seen Captain Sidney Charles Sapsworth, is the old manual engine purchased in 1852, not the steam-powered Merryweather Gem purchased in October 1908.

So the image below must be between November 1904 and October 1908. Clearly this was a posed photo as there are no horses tethered to the engine so they weren't going anywhere, so my estimate would be that this was taken soon after the new station opened in 1904. To the right of the photo with a length of rope over one shoulder is Henry Frederick Jolliffe, who later became Ryde's Chief Officer and served until his death in 1937.

Later in the same thread a second photo of the same era was submitted, shown lower down below.