Firemen’s Night Out

Surprise for Michael

Searching through the “Rye’s Own” archives we came across this interesting piece in the very first issue of The Rye Gazette ‘October 1982’ We have added “Rye’s Own” pictures to Mary Oliver’s article.

Michael Bourn and his wife Sheila, of Udimore Road, went out on Saturday evening. It was, they thought, just one of the Rye firemen’s regular social get together’s but the rest of the Rye firemen didn’t think so.

Rye Fire Brigade 1966
Rye Fire Brigade 1966

In the largest reception room at Peppers, enjoying a buffet and disco, the Bourn’s found almost the entire Rye Fire Brigade with their ladies, plus the Divisional Commander Mr. Foster (two divisions cover all East Sussex), Mr. Foster’s predecessor Mr. Beaumont and the two Divisional Officers (Mr. Noads and Mr. MalIion) to whom Mr. Bourn turns for advice on Rye Brigade matters. Sub-Officer Michael Bourn is, of course, the Officer in charge of Rye Fire Station; and without his knowledge, the evening had been arranged to celebrate his 25 years in the Fire Service.

The New Rye Fire Appliance 1937
The New Rye Fire Appliance 1937

Naturally there was a presentation to be made, and Mr. Foster made it. It is traditional in the Fire Service for the fireman’s own axe to be presented to him, but Mr. Bourn’s is still very much in use. So another was polished up and mounted, together with two cap badges – one of the current issue, and one dating back to the days before the larger Borough brigades were all merged with East Sussex, and cadged from Mr. Bourn senior, since Michael’s badge had gone to Rye New York as part of a swap.

Michael Bourn joined the Fire Service as a lad of 17, following in the footsteps of his father and his grandfather; his uncle was also a fireman and so, rather unexpectedly, was his sister – not as a firefighter but busy back at the station keeping the records; Margaret married a fellow-fireman, Arthur Tiltman, and their son Alec now keeps up the family tradition. Michael’s son Gary would like to be in the brigade, but his eyesight is marginally below that demanded by the very high standards of the fire service – not that it hinders him when he plays cricket or football for Rye or for Sussex junior teams – but there is always young Philip on the way up.

It is in fact 27 years since Michael went to his first fire – at Walter Stocks in 1956, pedalling madly along from his home in Rope Walk at 2 am with his boots on the wrong feet – but of course there were two years spent doing national service; then back to Rye, and incidentally to great success in the various firemen’s darts leagues, though he has now put his darts in his pocket and is leaving the laurels to the younger members of the brigade.

Rye Fire Brigade 1952
Rye Fire Brigade 1952

We thought we might be allowed a little more history? Michael Bourn took charge of Rye Fire Station four years ago from the late Michael Fagan. Mr. Fagan’s predecessor was Frank Davey, who did the job full-time. He came from Bexhill (but in due course retired to live in Udimore Road, a very popular address for Rye firemen). Before Mr. Davey the Station Officer was Michael’s father, Frank!

The Town Hall’s 1933 Directory gives the names of the Rye firemen of fifty years ago. The Captain was W.J. Burnham of Landgate, the Lieutenant W. Bourn of West Street, the Engineer R.O. Bayley of Wish Street. The firemen were J. Tiltman of Watchbell Street; A. Devonshire, Gas Works; W. Hicks, Albion Place; A. Pope, Bridge Place; F. Bourn, Adelaide Terrace; T. Pope, Bedford Place; F. Kirby, Watchbell Lane; A. Frampton, Ferry Road; G. Small, Wish Street; G. H. Bourn, The Mint; J. Tanton, Tillingham Avenue; T. Wood, Bath Buildings; and P. Cook, Bedford Place. “The first alarm of Fire must be given by ringing the Fire Alarm Bell fixed in front of the Town Hall, which is in electric communication with all the members of the Brigade, and await the arrival of the Captain. Keys are kept by the officers)’

Rye Fire Brigade - Among this group are many from the list for 1898

In 1898 the Captain was W. Wright, and even then he was in “electric communication with all members of the Brigade. The list of names includes three Bourns, two Southerdens, two Morphys, and Henbrey, Blunden, Huggett, Bayley, Almond, Pulford and Hopper.

To complete the record, the present Rye Brigade (1982) is as follows. Michael Bourn’s Leading Firemen are Bill Paige, Alan Thomas, Malcolm Turk and Dennis Turner. Firemen are David Catt, Graham Cole, Michael Crafer, David Giles, Derek Hanwell, David Paige, Clive Paine, Terry Pankhurst, Roger Polley, Andrew Polley, Bob Rogers and Alec Tiltman. The communication nowadays is electronic rather than electric, and it is no longer necessary to race up to the Town Hall if your house is on fire. But the job is basically the same – dangerous, frightening, dirty and with unsocial hours; the firemen are just as dedicated, with equally dedicated wives backing them; and whether or not it is ever for us that the bleepers go, we are very grateful indeed to all of them.

“Rye’s Own” January 2016 Copies still available Tel. 01303 814874

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