In April 1949 I filled in the necessary forms, passed a medical, and was finally accepted into the retained fire service at Sandown, on 14 April, I was detailed into Red Watch while Peter Thearle, who joined with me, was detailed into Blue Watch. Drill night was every Tuesday, and every other Thursday evening was cleaning night. Station Officer Don Orchard was in charge of the station, and Jack Gray was his sub-officer.
Having served a few weeks, without riding to fires, we were shown the equipment and given the chance to use, and get used to it. The appliances were housed in the station side-by-side. There was an ECU (Escape Carrying Unit), which towed a light trailer pump, and a wartime ATV (Austin Towing Vehicle), which towed a heavy trailer pump.
The first fire call I attended was on a Sunday afternoon - assisting Ventnor brigade tackle a barn fire at Downcourt Farm, Chale. Jean and I had been out for a walk and had gone into the Chocolate Box, St John's Road, for tea when the siren sounded. Leaving her some money, I ran off to the fire station - her first experience of what life would be like as a fireman's wife.
In 1952 a vacancy arose for a Leading Fireman post. Along with some colleagues, I applied for the position, undertook the tests, and was accepted. Fire calls averaged about 100 a year - and this was to be the case throughout my service period.
The Social Fireman
On the social side, we held a flag day each July for the Fire Service National Benevolent Fund, when the fire station was open all day to the public. The old manual fire engine from Newport headquarters was repaired, put in working order and, with a horse towing it, toured the town - later also taking part in Sandown Carnival.
In the winter months, a Mrs Smith, of St John's Road, made a lot of rag dolls and kindly presented them, year after year, for us to sell. Early on flag day morning, we would set up a lean-to shelter by the pier and display the dolls, each of them individually numbered. Tickets were 6d (2.5p) each, or five in an envelope for 2/6d (12.5p). When a purchaser had a lucky number, he or she claimed the prize immediately. We made sure there were winners amongst the visitors, out for their morning papers and cup of tea. They went back to the hotels pleased, and our early morning efforts paid off. After breakfast, we were indundated with people.
During the winter months, social evenings were held at the local stations. Either we would go to Shanklin, or Shanklin would come to us. The same applied with Bembridge.
Until the government disbanded the AFS (the Auxiliary Fire Service), we staged a big exercise once a year at Fort Warden, Totland, which involved the whole structure of the fire brigades, working together on an imaginary incident. Each exercise crew reported to their respective stations at 1600 (4pm) on the designated Saturday, to find the appliance to be used in the exercise marked with a coloured disc, and a number tied to the vehicle, front and back. Booking out to Newport headquarters, we were then given map references which told us where we would meet up with other appliances to form a mobile column. From that rendezvous point, we made our way to Fort Warden Holiday Centre.