A BRAVE and talented ex-firefighter who helped rebuild one of the world’s most famous ships has died.

Bill Newton, from Maldon, died aged 69 following a long battle with prostate cancer.

More than 400 mourners, including family, friends and residents, attended his funeral service in Maldon last Thursday.

The service was attended by current and ex-fire service colleagues with the funeral cortege lead by a 1994 Dennis Sabre fire engine.

Mr Newton was born in 1950 in Chelmsford and lived in Maldon all his life.

He began his 32-year career as a fireman in Maldon before moving to Basildon fire station.

During the latter part of his career, he held the position of station officer and was highly regarded throughout the service for his professionalism, bravery and excellent leadership and mentoring skills.

He retired from duty in 2005, aged 55.

He also worked with TS Rigging and the Tall Ships Youth Trust.

In his spare time, he worked as a ship mate and maintenance crew member on the sailing barges at Maldon’s quay.

He was also part of the team that re-rigged and rebuilt the world-famous Cutty Sark in Greenwich following a fire in 2007, and was often found at the top of her mast and yardarms over the past ten years.

In an incredible mark of respect, Maldon’s sailing barges and the Cutty Sark herself flew their flags at half-mast in tribute.

Cutty Sark's Shipkeeping Manager said: "Bill worked for best part of a decade restoring and maintaining the rig of Cutty Sark with TS Rigging.

"He was even at the ship throughout his treatment when he was able.

"Bill always had a story to tell and had a great amount of maritime knowledge which he was happy to pass on.

"He will be sadly missed by all who had the pleasure to meet him."

Mr Newton’s son, musician Ben Newton, 39, of Maldon, said his father had a great outlook on life.

Ben said: “He passed away in his home where he wanted to be, and it was a serene passing.

“He made an impact in a lot of areas in Maldon and was very well-respected by his colleagues.

“People never had a bad word to say about him – he was a special guy.

“He was very knowledgeable, and he knew everything – he actually did the London Knowledge just for fun.

“It was great, you could phone him up and he could do it over the phone.

“He wasn’t an extrovert, but he was very sociable and lived to talk to people.

“He was always there for me and my sister and he was very proud of us.

“He would just drop everything and be there for you – he was just so dependable.”

The funeral procession did a tour of the town, turning around at Promenade Park where Mr Newton spent a lot of his time as a boy.

The procession ended at All Saints’ Church where there was a fire service standard bearer, followed by a 20-man guard of honour made up of Maldon firefighters.

The service was taken by Rev Canon Stephen Carter as his very last engagement before his retirement.

Ben added: “It was incredible, the weather report was totally different from the two days either side of it.

“It was supposed to be cloudy, but we woke up and it was clear blue sky.

“The canon even said there were more people here than their Christmas do – there were so many people inside, there were people waiting outside.

“He was such a great person and we will miss him.”

Mr Newton is survived by wife Stella, adult children Ben and Justine, and two grandsons.