Rare fire bike replica re­minder of blitz

Christchurch Mail - - GARDENING - ANNA PRICE

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.

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