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Page last updated at 18:40 GMT, Wednesday, 14 July 2010 19:40 UK
Hampshire firefighters remembered at memorial unveiling

By Stephen Stafford
BBC Hampshire and IoW in Eastleigh and Winchester

Firefighter at memorial

As Hampshire's fire service 'family' came together at the service's headquarters in Eastleigh, they passed four striking bronze statues.

Portraying firefighters in different eras, they were a timely reminder of ever-present dangers.

Equipment, technology and safety regimes may be very different, but the challenges and selflessness of firefighters has not changed.

The gathering was to unveil a memorial stone, etched with the names of all those who had died fighting fires in Hampshire since 1900.

Unveiling memorial

Statues in the memorial garden show firefighting through the years

At the forefront of everyone's mind were the latest two names added to the memorial.

Firefighters Alan Bannon and James Shears who died of heat exposure when they attended a fire in Shirley Towers, Southampton on April 6.

In a sad irony, the memorial was originally due to be unveiled on 30 April - the day of the funeral of James Shears.

Their colleagues from Red Watch at St Mary's fire station in Southampton stood alongside the memorial stone throughout the short ceremony.

A member of Red Watch, Ali Hickes, laid a wreath on behalf of the city's firefighters.

In the centre was a photograph of two fun-loving friends - nicknamed 'Bert and Britney.'

It was a picture which would otherwise have been on a Facebook page or a mobile phone, but now sits alongside the other official floral tributes.

Sixty names

Floral tributes
Floral tributes to Alan Bannon and James Shears were laid

Fundraising and research for the memorial had been led by former deputy chief fire officer Alan House since 1995.

Mr House said: "It's been a long-held ambition to recognise the men and women who have died and to recognise their sacrifice.

"It's time due recognition is given to everyone who has died in the service of the community."

After the unveiling, performed by Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire, Dame Mary Fagan, Mr House read out all the names.

The roll of honour started with William Harris from Aldershot Fire Brigade in 1902.

It extended through World War II when 42 men and women lost their lives tackling blazes following the heavy German bombing of Portsmouth and Southampton, through to those who died responding to peacetime emergencies.

As a fire station bell was rung, firefighters past and present joined with family members and the public in paying a silent tribute.

Earlier, chief fire officer John Bonney told BBC Radio Solent: "The loss of firefighters is mercifully infrequent, but when it does happen, it has a big effect on us.

"It's reminded us of the motivation, why we do the job - protecting others, sometimes putting ourselves in danger because others need us to.

"We carry it with us wherever and whenever we attend an incident."

At the unveiling he spoke of the "deep pride, but also sorrow, for the sacrifices that were made" by firefighters through the years.

For families of generations of firefighters, it was an emotional day.

Michelle Sibley, cousin of James Shears said: "It's hard - you don't expect to lose anyone so young. I think it's lovely to have somewhere come to remember him for what a brilliant man he was, and so other people can see he was thought of.

Dorothy Jupe, daughter-in-law of William Henley who died fighting a fire at Southampton docks in 1936, said: "I'm feel honoured that a member of my family did something really, really brave and the memorial has his name on it for others to see."

Cathedral service

A guard of honour
A guard of honour welcomed guests at the memorial service

Those sacrifices were again remembered later in the day when Winchester Cathedral was the venue for a memorial service for Alan Bannon and James Shears.

Many of the guests at the Eastleigh unveiling joined other dignitaries, firefighters from around the country and representatives of the other emergency services.

A guard of honour and two fire appliances provided a flash of colour against the giant cathedral front as small groups gathered on the green to listen to the service relayed on loud speakers.

Among the mix of Winchester residents and tourists listening, there was unanimous support for the work of the fire service.

"We wanted to stand a while and pay our respects," said one onlooker.

"Its important they know people care," said another.

One woman who made the journey especially, said: "I wanted to say thank you to all those unsung heroes. When you see someone who actually loses their life to help others, that it really chokes you up and makes you feel very humble."

Tower memorial for firefighters
11 Apr 10 |  Hampshire
Firemen died from excessive heat
09 Apr 10 |  Hampshire

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