Fireman Hugh Baker Dennett of Sandown Fire Brigade was killed in action with the Royal Army Medical Corps near Cambrai, France on 18 October 1918 aged 31.

 

Hugh was born in 1888 to Charles, a carpenter and joiner, and Jennie. By then his father had been a member of Sandown Fire Brigade for eight years so Hugh was raised in the midst of a family deeply affected by the everyday life of the brigade. Three years after his birth the 1891 Census stated that the family home was the Town Hall Cottage. As the fire station was incorporated into a wing of the Hall in Grafton Street and his father's occupation was not only fireman but custodian of the Hall,

it can be imagined that Hugh's formative years were wholly immersed in the culture of the service. His family connection to firefighting was strengthened when his uncle William, Charles's brother, also joined the brigade in 1894. 

Hugh's father was not only a member of the brigade but one of its leading lights who represented his town and service in many drill competitions at home and on the mainland, often accompanied by success. It is noted that when Sandown attended the 1897 IWFBF competition at Newport, Charles was listed as the brigade's Foreman; around a decade later reports refer to him as Second Officer with William now as Third Officer. With this level of family firefighting pedigree it is no wonder that Hugh also joined the brigade in 1914. 

The 1911 Census lists Hugh's occupation as an employed photographic printer. This provides the possibility that he may have been an employee of the brigade's Chief Officer James Dore who was a successful photographer and inventor of patent devices associated with the profession. When he attested to the Royal Army Medical Corps on 18 September 1914 he listed his occupation as photographer which adds a further possibility; that some of the images featuring James Dore which were taken very much in Dore's style, may have been Hugh's handiwork. 

Hugh's military records evidence that he embarked at Southampton on 5 November 1914 and disembarked at Le Havre the next day and was originally posted to the 26th Field Ambulance, RAMC. He was granted some home leave around two years later but was soon back in France giving aid to wounded soldiers and carrying out the high risk task of stretcher bearing on the front-line. His leave may have been in connection with the tragic news that his elder brother Douglas Gordon had been killed in action with the Leicestershire Regiment on 13 October 1915.

He was briefly returned to the Corps' home depot in early 1918 but was soon on his travels again going from Southampton to Cherbourg in early March. By means not detailed he travelled almost 1400 miles to the south-east Italian coastal port of Taranto from where he embarked on a voyage to Alexandria, arriving on 27 March.

He was only in Egypt for ten days before embarking again and this time being deposited at Marseilles. By 22 April he is detailed with one of the RAMC Cyclist Brigade's at their depot many hundreds of miles north from Marseille at Rouen.

While he was serving overseas a debacle in the Council's management of the fire brigade found it without either it's Chief or Deputy Officer. Hugh's father Charles was offered and accepted the opportunity to serve as Acting Chief. 

As the summer of 1918 turned to the autumn the Allies were steadily advancing against a weakening German resolve in a plan known as the 100 Days Offensive. Hugh was continuing to risk his life on the front-line to care for others with the 15th Field Ambulance when, without details, it is known that he was killed in action on 18 October.

At the termination of the war Hugh's remains were interred at Bethencourt Cemetery in the province of Nord, France, 

Another connection with his former Chief Officer was to come to pass. Following his death the Army required certain forms to be returned by his family. By now Charles had requested to be disengaged from further service with the fire brigade and been succeeded by his brother William. The absolute and sudden nature of his retirement after almost forty years service coming so soon after Hugh's death suggests that his father, having now lost two sons to the war, was grief stricken. This is supported by the fact that the Army's required forms were complete by Hugh's mother Jennie. One section required a declaration to be made by a local magistrate who could verify that the family details were accurate. There at the bottom of the page is the unmistakable signature of James Dore J.P., former Chief Officer of Sandown Fire Brigade. 

Whilst we sadly have no specifics of Hugh's service and how he died, it can be assumed that as a stretcher bearer on the front line he would have experienced and seen things so ghastly as to be unimaginable and to have ventured where few men dared to tread, armed not with a rifle and grenades but with a stretcher and a haversack of wound dressings. That takes a very special courage. 

 

Rest in peace Fireman Dennett.