The aftermath of the huge fire at J.S. White's on 2 February 1911 at which Captain Billows commanded the brigade. The gentleman in the foreground is wearing captain's epaulettes and is most likely Billows.

Captain Joseph James Billows of Newport and Cowes Fire Brigade's passed away on 18 October 1943 aged 83.

Joseph was born at Newport in 1859 and spent his youngest years living in Orchard Street with his parents Edward and Caroline, elder siblings Albert, Ann and Fred and younger sister Caroline, in addition to their paternal grandmother Ann. In 1871 they were located in Chapel Street and in April 1881 he was still living with his parents (aged 22) and two elder siblings in Holyrood Street where his father was landlord of The Three Tuns. Later the same year he married Louisa Elizabeth Sheath and by 1891 they had set up home and business in the High Street where Joseph was a tailor and Louisa a dressmaker. By then they had two daughters Florence and Ruby.

In New Year of 1893 when Newport's firemen had their bluff called by the council when they threatened to resign over a pay dispute, Joseph was one of 24 men who volunteered to form the new Newport Volunteer Fire Brigade that took over with effect from 18th February. Just over a year later on 21 May 1894 he was one of the volunteer firemen that attended a large conflagration at the Albany Barracks sergeant's mess. As no horses could be obtained he was among the firemen who physically struggled the manual fire engine up Hunnyhill to the barracks to begin firefighting. He was listed in the Press report as Second Engineer under the tutelage of Newport's legendary First Engineer Ernest Hayles; quite an appointment for a tailor as the elevated status of the engineers was normally awarded to men with a mechanical background. At the brigade's annual meeting on 30 September 1895 he was congratulated for being one of the brigade's most committed members having attended 31 of the 32 drill sessions held in the previous twelve months. At the same event he was elected to the brigade's new Management Committee which was to steer the direction of the brigade for many years.

In the 1896 he was presented a Good Attendance Medal for attending every single drill session. When presenting the medal to Billows the Mayor, Mr. Francis T. Mew C.C., made reference to Billows' wonderful commitment and that he was a shining example to all aspiring young firemen. 

His wife Louisa suddenly died aged 40 in 1898. This compelled Joseph to reconsider his life and he moved his family, which now included a young son Ivan, to Watch House Lane in Cowes where he established himself in his late father's trade as landlord of the Union Inn. In 1902 he married Susanne Weber and remained living as licensed victualler at the Union.

In May 1906 he returned to firefighting when Cowes Fire Brigade were in need of a new honorary (unpaid) captain. The Council appointed him to the role on the 15th. Less than a year later his command at incidents was severly tested when a huge fire broke out and spread rapidly through the Marvin and Lallow jetties and wharves. 

1907 fire at Marvin and Lallow.

During the period of his captaincy he evidently suffered bouts of poor health. On the night of 2 February 1911 a fire of immense proportions gripped the J.S. White's shipyard. Joseph was so poorly that his doctor had advised him to remain bedbound, Deputy Captain Ernest Willsteed commanded the brigade. As the situation deteriorated with support coming from other brigades plus the navy, Billows ignored medical advice, donned his uniform and attended the incident which is marked as one of the largest peacetime fires in the town.

He finally resigned from the brigade on 11 April 1914 aged 55. 

Joseph passed away at home, 1 Bligh Mount, Bellevue Road, Cowes on 18 October 1943 aged 83 with Susanna at his side. 

Rest in peace Captain Billows.