Fireman Charles Edwin Downer of Shanklin Fire Brigade passed away in July 1914 (precise date unproven).
Charles was born at St Lawrence in 1860. When the 1861 Census was taken he was just six-months old and the third child of Henry, a labourer, and Emily.
Little is known of his younger life and he is next discovered as a 30 year old, married to Mary from Gloucestershire and the father of two toddlers, Edith and Alice. Although at the time of the census the family were residing at Shanklin's Sibden Road, both the children, the youngest of which was one-year old, were born in Wroxall, suggesting they'd only recently relocated to the town.
At the time Shanklin's formal fire brigade was only five years in the creation (there had been an informal volunteer brigade before 1886). Charles's recruitment to the brigade remains unproven but soon after the establishment of the IWFBF his name began to appear regularly as a member of Shanklin's drill competition team and at fires.
In January 1902 he was one of eight men who put their head above the parapet and formally submitted their concerns to the Town Council regarding the imposition of a new set of brigade rules. Despite the rewritten rules receiving the approval of the National Fire Brigades Union, the men pressed their case and waited outside the council chamber on the evening of 21 January in the hope of having their grievances heard. On a vote of 7-2 the firemen were refused access to the chamber which only heightened their anxieties but eventually they had to admit defeat and signed their allegiance to the new regime.
In September of the same year Charles evidenced a love of sport and particularly cricket. He was one of the brigade's best in bat with 20 runs and took a wicket or two when they heavily defeated Ventnor Fire Brigade at Steephill on the 27th. Several years later on 12 April 1908 he became one of the first Island firemen to use a steam powered fire-engine at a fire when he was part of the Shanklin crew to respond to the call for help from Newport when a fire that originated in the premises of Messrs. Jordan and Stanley threatened to destroy an entire block of buildings at Nodehill. The matter was far beyond the capacity of Newport Fire Brigade's ageing manual appliance but the arrival of the horse-drawn steamer that was already producing sufficient pressure as they thundered through Shide, made the critical difference and a disastrous fire was prevented from being an all-consuming one.
When the 1911 Census was taken Charles was 49 years old and he and Mary had added three further children to their fold, the total including Edith (22), Alice (21), Mabel (17), Charles (12) and Phylllis (6). The family were residing at Basingville in Victoria Road, a short distance from the fire station. This probably accounts for the fact that when the chairman of the town's Fire Brigade Committee, Mr C.E. Moorman, decided to hold a surprise response test in January that year, Charles was recorded as the first to reach the station in 1 minute 45 seconds after the alarm first sounded. Despite the local council being overjoyed at the overall response of their firemen and their action in responding to the pretend fire, one can imagine the firemen being less than impressed that the councillors chose midnight on a Saturday to stage such an event!
Charles remained a loyal and active member of the service for many years. No records have been located to prove it but he must have been entitled to the National Fire Brigades Union 10 and 20 year (bronze and silver) long service medals.
On 23 June 1914 he was one of the men who boarded the paddle steamer Monarch and set off for a brigade outing to Swanage.
No details have been found regarding his death, how it happened or on what date. What has come to light is a letter written by Mary in mid-July to the council and read by the Clerk in which she thanked them for the letter of condolence from them regarding the death of Charles, on whom they remarked for his service of many years standing.
Rest in peace Fireman Downer.