Preceding them was Ryde’s Leading Fireman Alf Rees who departed around 01:00 with the Y9 trailer-pump hauled by the erstwhile coal lorry of Fireman Fountaine who drove, and crewed alongside firemen Bartrum and Hill. Arriving at East Cowes they were held up at an RVP at the Town Hall before receiving the order from Company Officer Max Heller to proceed to the apron of the floating brigade. Their task there was to set the pump into the river and create a single line water-relay. Once the supply to the desired position was achieved Alf directed his crew to set up a second delivery and without further orders he took the decision to get directly involved in fighting the many fires in the houses and other buildings in the immediate vicinity of the pump. They sustained their ceaseless pumping and firefighting operation for a straight ten hours, receiving welcome sustenance from the plucky WVS.
With the bombers having withdrawn back to their fields in vanquished northern France the rescuers could at least operate without fear of further attack. However a number of UXB’s were of considerable concern and none more so than a unit of firemen from Sandown. Proceeding into the town they passed the gates to Osborne House, rounded the corner and were confronted with a large crater in which had tipped a Southern Vectis bus. Carefully they manipulated their pump around the obstacle and carried on to the Town Hall. Being ordered on to one of the blazing boatyards they began setting out their gear until a policeman came running at them shouting that they were positioned adjacent to an unexploded bomb. Fireman Healey clearly recalled; luckily for us we evacuated the site safely and went to work elsewhere in the town – that bomb exploded two hours later.
Company Officer Heller of Ryde had distributed his resources, and those of other stations that tumbled in to his sector, all along the East Cowes bank running parallel to Clarence Road right up to the turn into Minerva Road where the WVS had set up a catering van in the care of 63 year old Alice Hann, proprietor of a butchers shop at the junction of Clarence Road and Yarborough Road since her husband passed away. A principle hazard in Heller’s area was the gasworks adjacent to the East Cowes Sailing Club boathouse and coke store that burned furiously and in alarming proximity to the as yet undamaged gasholder. Further along, close to Minerva Road, Marvin’s yard was in a similarly perilous state and all pumps were thundering furiously to deliver water to men at the branches.
At the sailing club firemen Hilton, Mason, Goddard and Budden were desperate to prevent the gasholder exploding and endured high risk in doing so. They were joined by Ben Coles of the Saunders-Roe Home Guard who assisted at the branch but was shocked at one stage to find the firemen running from the scene in response to an alert of danger, leaving him struggling to control the weighty throw of water alone until he too saw sense in withdrawing.
However the four firemen between them returned to the fray and with such daring that two of them were later recommended for commendation. The testimony of Company Officer Heller, not a man to suffer fools gladly, formed part of the formal commendation documentation; the whole of the buildings were ablaze. A large store of coke was on fire and the fumes from a Plant were sweeping over the firemen as they were at work. Two lines of hose were in use and the operations had to be conducted from a narrow alley-way at the rear of a row of cottages. The men were out of sight from the road.
When I arrived on the scene, one of the firemen had just been overcome by the fumes and taken out into Clarence Road to recover. A second man was sick and the others were suffering severely through the effects of the fumes. I was at once approached with a request that permission be given for the men to withdrawn until breathing apparatus could be obtained owing to the danger of the fumes. I saw that the building against the gas-holder was well alight and that the flames were licking the side of the holder making it essential that the firefighting operations should be continued without delay.
Elementary First Aid precautions were taken using coverings for the mouth and the men were rallied. They then again attacked the fires and by good team work, coupled with extra strenuous efforts, the building that was on fire nearest to the gas-holder was concentrated upon and the fire was brought under control.
Further testimony was provided by a Mr R.E. Hannam; Choking fumes were coming from a burning heap of purifying materials on the water front of the gas works. Four men, who I believe were part of a Ryde crew, were in a particularly dangerous spot, working in a narrow lane at the rear of the cottages between J.S. White’s property and the gas works. Although almost overcome with the fumes they prevented the fire from spreading and eventually reached a large gasholder. Their action undoubtedly played a big part in saving the Gas Works.
Despite the many and varied efforts to save life and extinguish the fires, the ARP commander on the ground felt confident enough now that the bombers had withdrawn to despatch a message to HQ at 02:35 that; situ under general control.
Control of the units responding may have been achieved but there had been losses among the various members of the civil defence services. So far the losses to the fire service had been restricted to appliances, KYF 9113, KYF 9121 and KGW 9501 having been burned out.