This painting of Second Officer R.J. White carries a caption dating it to 1906. Many people I've spoken to who have associations with the old Ryde Fire Station going back many decades can't recall a time when this painting didn't hang on display at the station. When the station was relocated to Nicholson Road in 1994, the painting went too and was for many years displayed at the top of the stairs. Unfortunately around 2005 a careless workmen caused what seemed to be irrepairable damage to the canvas but in 2017 local artist Ivan Berryman, on becoming aware, donated his time and skills to bring the painting back to the standard seen in the image above and it has since hung in the station's new wing looking over the Ryde firefighters of today in the station mess room.

Second Officer Robert James White of Ryde Fire Brigade passed away on 16 June 1921 aged 63.

Records are ambiguous concerning Robert's birthplace in 1858, either Southampton or Shorwell. For sure he was baptised at Shorwell on 17 November 1861. His parents were Ellen and Isaac who was inn keeper of the Crown Inn at Shorwell.

In 1878 Robert married Sarah Woodcock from Yorkshire at the Registry Office and they had one son, Robert George who was baptised on 28 December 1879. The family settled at 5 Bedworth Place, Ryde, and Robert earned a living as a gas fitter and tinsmith. He was first mentioned in regard to service with Ryde Fire Brigade when attending the annual dinner in the Justice's Room at the Town Hall on 13 February 1888.

Between 1891-1900 the family were relocated to Brunswick Street and it was here on 24 September 1896 that Robert was, for obvious reason, one of the first to respond when the home of fellow fireman Williams, No. 24 Brunswick Street, was subject to a fire which he and Fireman Langdon were able to cope with while still in the early stages thanks to their close proximity.

In 1898 records show that Robert has been promoted to the role of escape-foreman, indicating that he would have been in charge of the crew dedicated for operation of the wheeled escape ladder and for carrying out rescues or firefighting from height. Within twelve months he was promoted again, this time to the position of Second Officer. However he retained responsibility for commanding the escape ladder and was often referred to as the escape foreman in the Press reports after his elevation to Second Officer. 

This image of Ryde Fire Brigade outside the station in Brunswick Street (circa 1908) features Second Officer White sixth from the right, peering from behind the steam fire-engine.

On 21 May 1906 Robert was one of two Ryde firemen who were visited at the fire station by the Mayor F.W. Randall and Councillor Arthur Teague of the Fire Brigade Committee, and presented with 20 year long service medals from the National Fire Brigades Union. However two months prior to this Robert has suffered the heartbreak of losing his wife Sarah who passed away at their home address 6 Prince Street, on 8 April aged 49.

6 Prince Street, Ryde, as it appears today.

By now Ryde were also sporting the fashionable Pompier ladders, similar to the hook ladders used later but featuring a single centrally positioned string with the rounds sticking out of either side like spokes. As the brigade's ladder expert Robert would no doubt have had great experience of using these fearsome devices to scale the outside of buildings. 

Despite approaching his fifties he was an active participant in the brigade's sports and drill competition held at Partlands on 10 September 1906, coming third place in the two-man manual pump drill alongside his colleague Charlie Williams. 

For a protracted period during the following year the brigade captain Sidney Charles Sapsworth was away on the continent, for reasons undisclosed, and Robert was temporarily elevated to the position of Acting Captain. In 1909 his duties were extended when the entire brigade were compelled by local politics to be sworn in as special constables. It was one of the early moves that eventually led to the brigade being the only one in Isle of Wight history to function as a police-fire brigade. This was not uncommon elsewhere in the country but resulted in years of instability that was eventually abandoned just after the end of the First World War as a failed experiment. 

Robert experienced another period as Acting Captain in 1911 but by 1913, when the brigade was fully integrated with the police following the retirement of Captain Sapsworth, Robert, who by normal standards of the time may have expected to be appointed permanent Captain, was instead given the new title of First Officer but served under Chief Officer Harry Hammond, who in fact was clerk to the Chief Superintendent to the borough police force. Despite this Robert was often in charge of the brigade at incidents but was perhaps unfairly critiscised for what some perceived as inefficiency as the lack of skills being displayed was largely among the police element who were notoriously absent when it came to drill sessions.

To add to the administrative muddle, the loss of so many of the younger policemen and firemen during the First World War, in 1916 the borough struck up a relationship with the resident 1st (Reserve) Garrison Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment, flocks of whom would attend fires when called in support of the brigade but who would only take orders from their own commanding officers. 

By the end of the war, those who returned from the western front resumed their firefighting duties and by now Hammond had left for Margate and a former special constable, Mr Hill, had been appointed over Robert to the position of Chief Officer of the Fire Brigade. However there was already a strong contingent among Ryde's councillors who were doing their best to dismantle the police-fire brigade arrangement. That contingent caused a storm at a council meeting on 9 December 1919 when it was announced that Chief Officer Hill had appointed Police Constable Swann to the role of Second Officer without any apparent consideration given to the role of Second Officer White or indeed to those whom had served many decades in the fire brigade and who may have been a preferable selection for the role; senior fireman Henry Frederick Jolliffe was one of those names added to the mix. 

This move by those that were driven to maintain a police-fire brigade proved to be the nail in the coffin and within weeks the eight year experiment was unravelled and disbanded. After 36 years service Robert was finally offered the role of Chief Officer. Tragically due to his decreasing health he was compelled to refuse the appointment and instead was named Honorary Second Officer on the reserve.

On the occasion of his death the Isle of Wight County Press eulogised him as a well known and greatly respected inhabitant. He had served a tinsmith apprenticeship in the town with Messrs. W. and J. Woods of Cross Street. He was a long term member of the Clarence Lodge of the Royal Antideluvian Order of Buffaloes.

The funeral service was held at All Saints Church five days after his death and his body was conveyed with full brigade honours to his last resting place, with his late wife Sarah, at the parish cemetery. The entire brigade attended, so too did some of the former police firemen, and a strong contingent of the brigades in Sandown, Shanklin and Ventnor. 

Rest in peace Second Officer White.