Fireman Hedley Richard Dick Brown passed away on 27 May 1957 aged 59. Hedley, born on 28 May 1897, was the youngest of eleven sons of William Brown, one of the first members of Sandown Fire Brigade when it was founded in 1879.

Hedley’s early service as a fireman is shrouded in controversy which he later overcame in all respects to become one of the town’s most admired individuals, both as a fireman and in local political life.

Being a teenager of deep religious conviction Hedley proclaimed himself a conscientious objector against the fighting of the First World War. While Sandown’s Chief Officer James Dore struggled to maintain an effective firefighting force due to increasing numbers of his firemen marching off to war, Hedley, having been raised in a firefighting family, elected to do his bit in protection of the town from fire. As an 18-year-old he was the youngest member of the brigade at a time when Dore was desperately recalling to duty veteran members long since retired, stood out in the service for his youthfulness.

He performed to Dore’s satisfaction, courageously and efficiently, alongside a motley collection of men too old to fight in the war and those who had retired from firefighting before the conflict broke out.

When the Military Service Act came into force in March 1916, Hedley found himself in a position where choosing not to fight was not an option and he was required to appear before a local Military Tribunal and state his case in order to be awarded a Certificate of Exemption. This he did with the backing of Chief Officer Dore.

When Sandown councillors heard of the facts of Hedley’s exemption and support he received from Chief Officer Dore, there was a ripple of unfettered rage and contempt across the chamber. Without consulting Dore, Sandown’s councillors voted to sack the ‘cowardly’ teenager from the brigade. When Dore learned of the decision the following day, he was equally outraged. Being undermined by his councillors Dore resigned from the service he had captained since 1880 on principle.

The councils appalling arrogance and handling of the matter left the once proud Sandown Fire Brigade in tatters, leaderless and without its one young fit and capable firefighter.

Hedley left the brigade but had been granted a Certificate of Exemption by the Military Tribunal. He continued to serve an apprenticeship as a bricklayer in his fathers’ firm, William Brown (Sandown) Ltd., and later shared his time as partner to a seafront business. Hedley was a keen football fan and took a great interest in the fortunes of Sandown F.C. in addition to regular trips to Fratton Park.

Finally, over twenty years later, Hedley achieved his wish to protect the town and continue his family’s long association with firefighting by volunteering with the Auxiliary Fire Service and continued to serve through the Second World War during some of the greatest trials that Isle of Wight firefighters have ever encountered.

In 1955, following the death of his elder brother Wilfred, who had served for decades with the brigade and as its admirable Chief Officer for many years, Hedley was elected to the same Council that had at one time besmirched his character and according to the local Press – discharged his duties with conscientious zeal – one wonders if the IW Chronicle correspondent used that phrase deliberately.

On Monday 27 May, the day before his sixtieth birthday, Hedley had been loading deck chairs into his car from his firm’s store at Avenue Road. A short while later a local resident found him slumped in his blue and white Ford Consul saloon. The attending doctor confirmed that he had passed away.

At the funeral, held at York Road Methodist Church, those attending heard Rev. R.C. Stonham pay tribute to Hedley’s sense of civic duty and that the large gathering reflected the great esteem in which he was held.

Rest in peace Fireman Brown.