The Sandown Fire Brigade team that won the NFBA National Manual Shield in 1920; Fireman Draper is the chap standing to the right.

Fireman Ernest William Draper of Sandown Fire Brigade passed away on 16 March 1980 aged 91.

Ernest ('Pop' to his family) was born on 21 June 1888 in Ventnor, the fourth son of Maurice, a farm labourer from Carisbrooke, and Rosa from Bonchurch. The 1891 Census placed the family at Apse Heath with the four brothers joined by a sister Ellen, just a few months old.

By the time of the next Census the family had relocated to an address closer to Sandown on Lake's Newport Road. Two of Ernest's elder brothers had by now left home and the one elder brother, Percy (14) was working as a gardener. Ernest was also gardening for a living by the time of the 1911 Census and was the eldest child living with his parents at 22 years of age. Below him in the ages remained Ellen, now 20, plus 13 year old Harold. The family home was also shared with his maternal grandparents James and Ann Rayner, both 84.

Two years later Ernest joined Sandown Fire Brigade as evidenced in the brigade's Annual Report prepared by Captain James Dore. He wasn't to remain for long as the First World War intervened and Ernest volunteered for service overseas with the British Red Cross, rising to the rank of sergeant-major. He was one of four Sandown firemen who departed on 23 October 1914 for Red Cross service. He wasn't demobilised and returned home for over four years, arriving back in the town on 3 March 1919 with an admirable Mention in Despatches to his name. 

Ernest resumed duties with the fire brigade and soon worked his way in to the brigade's already successful competition drill team. In that capacity on 17 July 1920 he travelled with eight colleagues to Eastbourne to take part in the National Fire Brigade Association's competition. The serious side of the gathering occurred on Monday 19th with the National Manual competition. The report that appeared in the IW Chronicle sets the scene; There were ten teams competing and Sandown was the last competitor. This was a disadvantage because the ground becomes more and more miry as the successive teams drill, but, on the other hand, it was an advantage to know what times had to be beaten.

During the war years the competitions were curtailed so the shield for the National Manual had effectively been held by a team from Birchington since 1914. On that occasion they'd won with a time of 42 1/5 seconds. The opening performance on this day was that of Molesey Fire Brigade who left the field aghast with a challenging time of 41 1/5 seconds. Molesey looked good for the win until a Hailsham team, entering the arena as sixth in line, reduced the target to 40 2/5 seconds. This target remained until Sandown stepped up as the final competitors. The team comprised a formidable selection of some of the Island's most proven and experienced firemen; W.H. Brown (later Chief Officer), C. Smith, B. Holbrook and Ernest. 

The Chronicle correspondent continued; For this drill the competitors sit on the engine till the signal is given and then jump off, fix two lengths of suction, and put the strainer into the dam, run three lengths of hose, and knock down the target. Sandown had never done this test as a wet drill since before the war.

The drill was beautifully done with lightning speed and absolute precision, everything being timed to a fraction of a second. It was a pretty sight to watch the watch the water rushing along the hose and reaching each coupling instantly after it had been made. Without the aid of a stop watch, even, it was possible to tell that Sandown had won. The time was 39 3/5 seconds. 

The return of the successful team to Sandown on the following evening was met with joyous and admiring crowds amid something of a carnival atmosphere headed by the Sandown Town Band as the firemen were paraded with the substantial and eye-catching shield. The crowds followed and gathered at the fire station in Grafton Street where Chief Officer Billups addressed those present. Cheers for the brigade and singing of the National Anthem rounded off the celebrations.

Ernest's service with the brigade ended in 1923 in his thirty-fourth year. A family member described to me that his experiences in France during the war, the memories and the trauma became too much and he suffered a breakdown as a result. His employer at the time, Mr Drabble of Los Altos (now the Broadway Park Hotel), offered to send Ernest and his family to Argentina to manage one of his cattle ranches as a form of recuperation. The offer would have been appreciated however Ernest preferred to remain on the Los Altos Estate growing orchids and prize chrysanthemums.

He remained resident in the district and was located in the 1939 Register as living at 19 Heath Road. His son Wallace, 19 at the time of the Register, had already begun to follow in his fathers footsteps with the Auxiliary Fire Service, then the National Fire Service and in the post-war County fire brigade he achieved the position of Sandown's Station Officer, a post he held until 1975. 

Ernest passed away peacefully at Shanklin Cottage Hospital on Sunday 16 March 1980 at the age of 91. 

Rest in peace Fireman Draper.