Fireman John Ambrose Garraway passed away on 13 January 1953 aged 85.


John's life was one of service and it began in 1868 when he was born in Bristol to parents Ambrose and Mary. His father was employed as a messenger for the Excise Office and by the time of the 1881 Census, aged 13, John was working as an errand boy. 

Before the next Census John had relocated to the Isle of Wight, for reasons unknown and was earning a living as a shoeing and general smith. He had also married Mary Mouland and at the time the census was taken they were living with Mary's parents at 6 St John's Road, Newport alongside their daughter Ethel who was just a few months old, and four of Mary's siblings.

In 1893 a poorly executed pay dispute ended with the Newport firemen effectively sacking themselves when the Council called their bluff concerning a threat of mass resignation. The result was the hasty formation of the Newport Volunteer Fire Brigade. As the title suggests these firemen were entirely unpaid. John wasn't one of the original recruits but had certainly joined by at least early 1895. At the brigade dinner of 26 February that year he was one of a number of firemen who rounded off the celebration with a solo singing performance.

John was a keen sportsman and threw himself into many of the events staged by the brigade at Polars on 29 June 1896. The Press acknowledged his efforts in the one man drill and the four-man-and-officer drill. Later the same year he received a Mayoral award for being one of only two Newport firemen to attend 24 of the 25 drill sessions during the year.   At another sports day in September 1897 he was selected by Captain Mursell for the team that eventually won the £1 prize money.

By 1899 John and Mary had had six children, five daughters and a John Ambrose junior. Shockingly three of the girls had died in infancy. Of those that survived infancy, Edith Clara was to live for a century, passing away in 1992.

World events were to take John away from his family in the coming months. On 2 January 1900 he made the short trip to Parkhurst and attested to the Royal Field Artillery. Just over three weeks later he departed for South Africa, the scene of the Second Boer War.

His records confirm that at the time of attesting to a Lieut. Colonel of 1st Royal Berkshire Regiment, he was 32 years old, just over 5' 3" tall, with a fresh complexion, blue eyes and fair hair. A doctor of the Royal Army Medical Corps declared him fit for military service. His declaration was recorded on Army Form B.267 'Long Service Attestation' tying him to the colours for twelve years. However his original Statement of Services indicates that his service as a farrier with the RGA terminated in January 1901. 

Accordingly the 1901 Census of four months later shows him living at Field Place, Newport, with Mary and their three surviving children. John remained working as a blacksmith and later the same year the family were joined by Ada May and in 1908 Lilian Kate, both of whom lived until 1976.

John's name doesn't reappear in Press reports or other records of the brigade but at the time of his death the County Press stated that he'd served sufficient time to receive a long service medal so we can assume he returned to the brigade and maintained that commitment for some time to come.

However when war returned he didn't hesitate to return to the colours and volunteered for a Territorial Force Attestation on 23 September 1914. This time aged 46, he volunteered for service with the Hampshire Carabiniers but his entry in the First World War Medal Roll and his own Medal Card evidence service with the 110th Heavy Brigade of the Royal Garrison Artillery. 

A battery of RGA Heavy Brigade on the move in Northern France.

John sustained a service ending injury in August 1915. His discharge papers cite John's own words; Whilst trying four fresh horses in limber wagon, the pin of pole came out throwing me in the road and limber on top of me. John require extensive medical attention before finally being discharged on 30 September 1916. He then returned home, 123 Arthur Street, Ryde.

John never returned to firefighting after sustaining those injuries, but he did continue working until shortly before the 1939 Register which located Mary and him at  36 Hill Street, Ryde with his occupation listed as retired blacksmith. 

John and Mary around the time of their diamond wedding anniversary.

In May 1950 John and Mary were featured in the County Press on account of their diamond wedding anniversary. The report began; When our correspondent called on Mr John Ambrose Garraway, of 36 Hill Street, who celebrated his diamond wedding on Thursday, his reply to an inquiry about his health was "I am going to join up next week". The couple reflected warmly on their wedding day; at St John's Church, Newport, and remember the blazing hot day as they took a trip to Brighstone in a wagonette drawn by two greys.

Despite the injuries sustained as a result of the accident of 1915, John and Mary were noted as keeping an immaculate garden and being keen walkers; Last year they walked to Arreton and back, a remarkable feat for people of their age. 

Sadly Mary passed away later the same year and John's death of 13 January 1953 at St Mary's Hospital was said to have been sudden. They were survived by five children and twenty-five grandchildren at the time of Mary's death.


Rest in peace Fireman Garroway.

As an aside to the story of John Ambrose Garraway; in late 2017 I commissioned talented local artist Ivan Berryman to produce an image of two Newport firemen of the mid 1890's. One was to depict the Captain of Newport Volunteer Fire Brigade and the other a fireman of the same brigade. I deliberately didn't specify which fireman but showed Ivan a photograph of a fireman of the era with a numbered patch sewn on to the left breast of the tunic. Most brigades of the period in question numbered their firemen in this fashion. Ivan randomely selected the number '11', unknown to me until he revealed the art ready for use in an IWFBF publication. 

Fireman '11' of the Newport Volunteer Fire Brigade turned out to be John Ambrose Garraway and here he is on the right as brilliantly represented by Ivan to whom I'll always be grateful.