In 1922 Henry Tom Brooks was appointed to the position of Superintendent of the Hong Kong Fire Brigade. His task was to modernize the fire service in Hong Kong which was considerably out of date. He gradually improved things and by the time he retired, as Chief Fire Officer, he had established two main fire stations and eleven sub-stations in the Colony. One of his initial achievements was to provide training facilities for the fire-fighters.
Henry was with the London Fire Brigade for 18 years. In 1908, when the first petrol driven fire engine appeared, he was one of the first to be trained as a driver. During that time Henry had been a member of the Royal Fleet Reserve in London and when WWI broke out he served on HMS Sappho - in the North Sea patrol. He was then transferred to the War College at Portsmouth on special duty. However, he was recalled to the London Fire Brigade owing to the air-raids.
When Henry arrived in HK with his wife Emily, son Roland, and daugher Doris, he was iniitially stationed at Kowloon Fire Station. The family moved to the Hong Kong Central Fire Station on its completion in 1926. It was a substantial six storey square building on the waterfront, on Des Voeux Road, overlooking the Vehicular Ferry Pier. In the centre of the building there was an open-air courtyard which was used for training of personnel. Several large doors at the front of the building allowed for quick exit of the fire engines - and also the ambulance that was housed there.
On 18 July 1925 a landslip occurred at Po Hing Fong - destroying many houses and causing 73 deaths. For his exceptional courage in rescuing victims Henry was awarded the Venerable Order of St John of Jerusalem Medal (Note: Another landslip, the Po Shan Road disaster was to occur some years later half-a-mile away.)
Henry retired from the Fire Service and returned to England in 1937 with Emily. His farewell function at the CFS received front page coverage in the South China Morning Post. Henry died in Exmouth, Devon, of a heart attack in 1940.
His son, Roland Henry John Brooks (Ron) also joined the HK Fire Brigade, as an officer in 1931, and became Deputy Chief Officer before leaving in 1955 to live in New Zealand.
So excited to find this site!
My grandmother was Edith Brooks, Henry's sister. I had always heard about my great-uncle who had been a fire chief in Hong Kong and we have a photo of him in his uniform. Yesterday while at lunch with my parents I decided to see what I could find on-line, because my brother just became a grandfather and they named the new boy Henry.
It was pretty exciting to read aloud to them so much information about my dad's uncle Henry, especially about the medal, as no-one seemed to remember that part.
Thank you for making our day!
Hello Laurel !
Finally! A contact from the 'other side'! I am the granddaughter of Henry. My dad Roland (Ron) was his (only) son and once dad passed away we lost all contact with any relatives in England. Dad only had the one sister - Doris (Zoe,) who died in New Zealand with no children.
For sometime I had been trying to locate relatives in England - Somerset, Devon, Dorset - without success. I know that Edith had two sisters - Ellen and Ethel.
If you follow along this Brooks line on Gwulo you will find more about the English side (my mother is French and we know all our French relatives - just 'lost' the English ones! Check out Emily Brooks (my Grandmother - dad's mum) - and Doris Brooks - his sister - do a search on Gwulo.
Where do you live - in England I presume? I am in New Zealand. I would like to be in touch with you - I will ask David Bellis - the site owner - to give you my email. Love to hear from you!
Check out the Galery - 'Brooks Family' - lots of pics of our time in HK
PS: DAVID COULD YOU PLEASE PASS ON TO LAUREL MY EMAIL ADDRESS, THANK YOU.
Thank you so much for your reply. I have a bunch more pics that I was able to get copies of a couple weeks ago, but was waiting to hear from you to see if you wanted me to post them here or not. I did look at quite a few of the pages on Gwulo and showed them to my parents.
My grandmother (Edith) and her family were in New Zealand for a year or so (I think one or two of my aunts and uncles might have been born down there), but they came to Canada in the early 1900s.
My parents talked about the fact that someone from New Zealand used to write letters to my Grandma and I'm sure it was your dad. They remembered the name Ron, so we were all a bit confused at first when I read that Henry's son was Roland, but a few more pages and we figured it out. :) They also did not know that your family stayed in Hong Kong and that your father was also in the Fire Dept there. How proud you must be of the bravery of them both; I wish I could have known them.
I am looking forward to further conversations via email!