It was a busy war for Mary

Mary Wilcox n�e Callaghan as a new recruit to the National Fire Service, aged 18 in 1942.
Mary Wilcox n�e Callaghan as a new recruit to the National Fire Service, aged 18 in 1942.
Staunton Country Park. Picture: Paul Jacobs

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A few weeks ago I wrote about the Canadian volunteer firemen who came over to assist and release men to fight in Europe, or so it was thought.

I then received a call from Mary Wilcox née Callaghan who tells me that my suggestion was not quite right.

Mary with some of the off duty Canadians.

Mary with some of the off duty Canadians.

Mary, now aged 91, used to work in the control office of the National Fire Service (NFS) in Southsea.

She tells me that the men from Canada came over to relieve Portsmouth firemen who were thought to be needed to assist Allied invasion forces after D-Day.

The Portsmouth firemen were to follow the main force if the Germans tried to raze every village and town to the ground as they were retreating.

Our boys would have been there to douse the flames.

At Havant fire station, believed to have been in Potash Terrace. Mary is the first one on the left.

At Havant fire station, believed to have been in Potash Terrace. Mary is the first one on the left.

Mary started work in the Food Office at Cosham in 1940 whilst living at Cowplain with her mother.

They had moved there to escape the bombing of the city.

One day, one of the local firemen asked her if she would like to assist them part-time.

Bored of the country life, she jumped at the chance, and after a year was asked to join the NFS as full-time employee working in control.

Mary in retirement in Fareham.

Mary in retirement in Fareham.

She worked at offices in Havant, Fareham and Southsea where she met the Canadian firemen.

The control office was in a hut behind Auckland Road East and the firemen billeted in a requisitioned house.

‘They were lovely men, and very professional,’ Mary told me.

‘They had never seen anything like the bombing devastation at Portsmouth. I think many wrote home telling friends and family what the people of these islands were putting up with.’

The Duke of York, later King George, VI making his address from HMS Victory in 1935.

The Duke of York, later King George, VI making his address from HMS Victory in 1935.

Mary joined the Portsmouth City Police after the war.

She told me that women were only allowed on the beat until midnight.

Portsmouth city centre was a pretty wild place to be back then with hundreds of sailors and locals making their way home.

Mary got to know the ‘girls of the night’ quite well and they used to call out to her ‘Come on Mary, come and join us. You’ll make a lot more money!’

She declined the offer.

After a year or so, Mary quit the force and joined the civil service. She married and had two children and now lives in retirement in Fareham.

True Pompey Blue, Mike Parker and his wife Meryl who have recently celebrated 50 years of marriage.

True Pompey Blue, Mike Parker and his wife Meryl who have recently celebrated 50 years of marriage.

The King’s Speech did not do the duke justice

I wonder how many of you have seen the film The King’s Speech and thought it was a Mickey-take, as I did.

I am sure that not so many years ago the producers would have been done for blasphemy.

Perhaps he did have a slight impediment but the way it was portrayed in the film you would have thought the man could not be understood at all.

I am sure that if the Queen Mother were alive she would have had something to say to the directors.

If you go onto Pathé News website there is film of the then Duke of York later King George VI making a speech from the starboard bow of HMS Victory in 1935 at the start of Navy Week.

Believe me, there is little wrong with his speech, albeit a little slow between sentences.

In his speech he said: ‘I am very glad to be here today and have the opportunity of launching for Portsmouth the Navy Week which means so much to the senior home port.

‘I hope that Portsmouth with her two sister ports will reach a record this year of the King’s Silver Jubilee.’

He said it at dictation speed and I could type it as he was speaking.

I think it was very wrong to portray him as if tongue tied.

Trips to Wembley were a family affair

A few weeks ago I was writing about a cup match in 1965. It was for the Oscar Owers Trophy, played at Fratton Park when Crusaders beat Cosham 2-1.

The captain of Crusaders, Michael Parker who now lives in Salford Quays, Manchester, contacted me after a friend sent him a cutting from my column.

Although now a United supporter he has a lifelong allegiance to Pompey and watches them if they play in the area.

Mike lived in Copnor, North End, Drayton and Cowplain was his first married home. He also worked in America for two years.

He tells me he watched his first Pompey match in 1949, sitting in the North Stand with his parents, grandparents, brother, aunts and uncle. A real family affair.

They always stood in the same spot at each game but they had to get to Fratton Park by 1.30pm for a 3pm kick-off, such was the support.

Mike saw Pompey win the First Division title two years on the trot, 1948-49 and 1949-50. His son, Simon became a sports reporter for The News in the Mike Neasom era.

He is now the chief football writer for the Bradford Telegraph & Argus.

Mike attended Wembley in 2008 and 2010 with his son, making five generations of the Parker family to attend Wembley with past members, watching Pompey beat Wolves 4-1 in 1939.

Floral clock is older than we thought

In March last year I wrote about the floral clock in front of Southsea Castle and my gardening colleague Brian Kidd thought it was placed in situ about 1949.

It was said that it was presented to the citizens of Portsmouth for their bravery during the war.

In fact Mark Newman tells me it is some years older.

His late father John, who later became a police constable in the city, told him he went off to Dunkirk as a 12-year-old in a tug to assist in the rescue in May 1940.

Mark went off researching the story but could find nothing but did find this photo of the clock. It was published in the Portsmouth Evening News in 1940.

The clock must have fell into disrepair during the war years and refurbished and presented once again in 1949.

Oddly, spelt out in flowers is Horatio Nelson’s famous signal flown at Trafalgar with a slight difference. it reads: England Expects This Day That Every Man Will Do His Duty. Where ‘this day’ came from can only be guessed.

I know it’s a long time ago but can anyone remember the clock when first presented to the city?

The date of the houses

In last week’s column I asked if anyone knew why there was a difference in design to houses on the corner of Chichester Road and Funtington Road, Copnor.

A colleague at The News lives in one of the houses and he has asked me to try and find the reason. As ever, a reader, this time Stephen Pomeroy, has come up with an answer.

At 78 Chichester Road on the corner of Drayton Road we have the Pelham Arms which was built for Pike Spicers Brewery by 1896.

At the junction of Farlington Road at 182 Chichester Road is the Lord Chichester which was built for the Brickwoods Brewery in 1906.

Now the interesting bit, at 280 Chichester Road on the corner with Funtington Road the land was reserved for a Portsmouth United Breweries pub - the other large brewery in Portsmouth.

For some reason they never developed the site and it was later sold it off for housing.

That is why the houses on the corner are newer than the others in the road.

Thank you Stephen.

Bedhampton history

Ralph Cousins has produced another booklet in his collection of local histories.

This one is all about early Bedhampton and it can be obtained at from The Spring Arts and Heritage Centre in Havant.

This is the 50th booklet compiled by Ralph and although he writes much of the material, several local historians assist including John Pile, Graham R. Eeles, Mavis Smith and Bob Hunt. I will publish some pictures from the booklet midweek.

Looking back

40 years ago

The government upheld a Portsmouth City Council’s compulsory purchase of land in an attempt to relieve North End shopping centre of traffic congestion.

20 years ago

An appeal was launched to raise £1m for a body scanner for Portsmouth’s hospital’s following warnings the waiting list was ‘unacceptable’. The scanner would have reduced the need for X-rays.

10 years ago

Two buildings in Knowle Avenue near Fareham were torched within minutes of each other in the early hours of the morning. A cricket pavillion and house were gutted in the fire which the fire service said was a result of arson.

1 year ago

Ukip supporters were celebrating after the party won its first seats on Fareham and Havant borough concils in local government elections. Ukip also made gains in Gosport, but the Tories kept overall control of all three councils.

Mike holds the Oscar Owers Trophy aloft with his wife, Meryl, below with blonde hair.

Mike holds the Oscar Owers Trophy aloft with his wife, Meryl, below with blonde hair.

Here we see the original floral clock in Southsea about 1940. This photo was sent in by Mark Newman.

Here we see the original floral clock in Southsea about 1940. This photo was sent in by Mark Newman.