Rare fire bike replica reminder of blitz
Christchurch fire service veteran Colin Rae’s replica of a Merryweather fire bike used in the blitz in World War II has proved more of a rarity than expected.
Believed to be the only one in New Zealand, its very existence has caught the interest of the Fire Service Museum of Victoria, which showcases one of the largest collections of fire-fighting memorabilia in Australia.
On a visit to Melbourne last month with a photo of his replica, Rae discovered the ‘‘brotherhood’’ had never heard of the fire bike which could manoeuvre into small spaces inaccessible to big vehicles to extinguish blazes during German bombing raids.
‘‘They called in their mates to come and have a look. It created a lot of interest,’’ Rae said.
The Merryweather fire tender is coupled to a 1956 James motorcycle Rae bought at a swap meet. His unit with its small bike was only suited to a slow-moving parade or a static display rather than as a fire fighting tool.
‘‘During the blitz in 1941 these small units would have been invaluable to extinguish the small fires that were started by the hundreds of incendiary bombs dropped by the Germans,’’ he said.
The idea of incendiaries was to spread as much fire as possible to give the main bombing force an aiming point.
‘‘One cannot help but think about the firefighters who turned out to stem the fire spread while bombs were falling around them,’’ Rae said.
The same type of tenders were now being used in big cities such as Tokyo and Berlin as first responses for rapid arrival times, ‘‘proving they got it pretty right almost 80 years ago.’’
Rae, who describes himself as ‘‘a bit of a handyman with a mechanical bent’’ has already built two fire engines and restored another.
One, which he built out of 1926 Buick parts, is now displayed in the Wanaka Transport Museum.
The other, an old 1930 model equipped with a water tank and portable pump, was bought by Kirwee’s chief fire officer.
Rae traces a 74 year family connection with the fire service and has won a number of awards for the restoration of old vehicles.
These include a 1918 Buick roadster which gained 3rd place in the New Zealand Classic Cars prestigious Meguiars Awards.
Colin Rae on the fire bike he replicated from a photo of the original which was used during the Blitz in World War 11.