Hector Robert Rae and his younger brother Frederick Alan Rae, former Freshwater firemen, were killed in action with seven months of each other in 1940-41.

The boys were the only sons of Robert Denham Rae and Gertrude Ellen who lived at St Eloi, The Avenue, Totland. They were preceded by an elder sister Olive (1911). Hector was born two years later and Frederick in 1918. 

No records have been located to suggest what work Frederick was involved in when he first left school but by 1935 Hector was a member of the Freshwater Rover Scouts Fire Brigade that attended a serious fire in the bar of the Royal Standard Hotel on 2 January 1935.

No doubt Frederick was impressed by the activities of his senior sibling and soon followed suit. When the Freshwater and Totland Joint Fire Brigade Committee formed a combined brigade in March 1938, colloquially termed the West Wight Fire Brigade, Frederick was appointed the role of Second Engineer, quite an achievement for one so young.

Both brothers were to be enticed away by other service. Hector joined the Royal Navy and by December 1938 Frederick left to embark on a full-time career with London Fire Brigade. It is known that he served at Southwark Fire Station, station No. 60 of the LFB, and was resident at the station with dozens of others when the 1939 Register was taken of the premises at 94 Southwark Bridge Road. Around the same time Hector was appointed as Petty Officer aboard the ageing battlecruiser HMS Hood. 

The old Southwark Bridge Road Fire Station, one of those closed in 2014 by the then Mayor of London Boris Johnson.

By the time the Blitz began in early September 1940, Frederick was an established member of the Southwark crew and would have experienced the shock of those early days of intensive bombing which included, on 7 September, the horror caused by a direct hit on the Ewer Street air raid shelter just a short distance from the fire station.

In October the Resume of the Naval and Military Air Situation reported to the War Cabinet that;  On the 15th October the enemy reverted to the dropping of parachute mines. New devices reported were a combined incendiary and explosive bomb. About three-quarters of the night attacks were directed against London. Damage to civilian property and public buildings has been widespread in London and in other areas. A feature of the damage has been the number of huildings of national importance which have been affected.The approximate figures for the week ending 0600 hours, 16th October, are 1,567 killed and 4,634 injured. These figures include the estimated figures of 1,380 killed and 3,729 injured in London.

A day later Frederick and two of his colleagues were killed when a bomb struck the mess room that they were using adjacent to the fire station. His Superintendent wrote to his parents soon after; We have lost a good comrade who will be very much missed by us all. 

 

The report in the Birmingham Mail of 18 October 1940.

The report in the Middlesbrough Daily Gazette of 18 October 1940.

Frederick's remains were returned to the Island. His funeral was held on 24 October at Freshwater's All Saints Church. His parents were supported by a representation of London Fire Brigade whilst Hector was unable to attend as HMS Hood was by then relieved of its position as flagship of Force H, which carried out the destruction of the French fleet at Mers-el-Kebir, and reposted to Rosyth alongside battleships Nelson and Rodney to be in a better position to intercept the anticipated German invasion fleet.

Frederick's coffin was borne to the grave by his friends and former colleagues of the West Wight brigade including Second Officer F. Benham with Firemen F. Cook, F. Cleverley and L. Young. 

The sadness of losing his firefighting brother must have been compounded by the inability to attend the funeral for Hector but his time was occupied with a variety of operational tasks aboard the Hood with roles in Operation Catapult, pursuits of infamous German ships such as the Admiral Scheer and Scharnhorst and deployments to both the Bay of Biscay and the Norwegian Sea. 

When the Bismarck made a run for the Atlantic in early May 1941 the Hood was among those sent in pursuit.The British squadron spotted their target at 05:37 on 24 May and the Battle of Denmark Strait opened fifteen minutes later when the Hood fired upon the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. In response the overwhelming return fire from the combination of German ships was concentrated on the Hood, she took a hit on the boat deck between the funnels and a large fire developed involving the ready-use anti-aircraft ammunition. As the Hood turned to unmark her rear turrets she was struck again with a salvo from the Bismarck. The massive fire and subsequent explosion broke the back of the ship and she sank within three minutes, it being noted that she went down with her bow near vertical in the water.

The Bismarck in the act of firing on HMS Hood.

The last moments of HMS Hood as photographed from a German ship.

HMS Hood went down with her crew of 1418 men of which only three survived. Eighteen Isle of Wight men went down with her including Petty Officer Hector Robert Rae.

Annually for at least ten years after their deaths Robert, Gertrude and their elder sister Olive, posted a memorial to them in the County Press, alternating the dates of the posting between the dates of their deaths.

From the IW County Press of October 14 1950.

Rest in peace Fireman Rae and Petty Officer Rae.