William Bartlett

THE recognition William Bartlett received in his later years was as the oldest retired firefighter in West Yorkshire – but for his family and all who knew him, he was more famous for his friendliness, courteous manners and solid good sense.

In 2004 former sub-officer “Bart” Bartlett – by then a 90 year-old – was officially honoured at a ceremony at the Birkenshaw headquarters of the West Yorkshire Fire Service.

He had been a firefighter for 30 years, and he recalled that one of the best moments was when a small boy tugged at his tunic and thanked him for saving his pet from a fire.

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William revelled in the feeling of uncertainty each time he reported for duty.

“You never knew if you’d finish your last sentence before being called out on a job,” he recalled.

To be described as a “smoke eater” by colleagues was, he added, the best compliment of all.

William Charles Bartlett who has died aged 96 was born in Hull, the son of a master shipwright. He left school at 14 and joined the railways.

As for many teenagers of that period, cycling and walking were essential parts of life, and recreations too. Without any preparations, William and a pal pedalled their heavy sit-up-and-beg roadsters from Hull to Betws-y-Coed in North Wales. Then relenting, they put them on a train to Manchester, and cycled home from there.

William joined the Docks Police, and after that, the Railway Police, travelling on the trains between Hull and York.

He had one serious concern: the lack of a pension.

He heard that the civil police did have a pension scheme, and he applied to join the police in Leeds. A job offer was made, so he resigned and in 1938, aged 24, he presented himself at the police station where he expected to work, only to be told that the vacancy had gone. At that time, the regular police also ran the fire service, and the dismayed young man was told that if he wanted it, there was a job there for him.

“Does it have a pension?” he asked, and told that it did, he said he would take it.

It turned out to be a job he loved, and not least because he got on so well with those he worked with.

His favourite recreation now was horse riding, and through a mutual friend who also rode, he met Hilly Denison. They married in 1940.

He retired from the Fire Brigade in the mid 1960s and afterwards worked as a fire prevention and health and safety officer for a number of firms including Wallace Arnold, Cattons steel founders in Leeds and Plessey of Huddersfield.

He finally retired when he was 65, and such was his longevity that he was retired for more years than he had been a serving firefighter.

Active until just the last few years, he continued to drive until he was 90.

William Bartlett is survived by his wife Hilly and by their children Simon and Sue, and three grandchildren and one great grandchild.