The boy made good - Syd’s rise to MP despite adversity

Syd as a boy when he was adopted by his grandparents.
Syd as a boy when he was adopted by his grandparents.
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If there was ever a case of ‘local boy made good’ it must apply to Syd Rapson, former city councillor, county councillor, lord mayor of Portsmouth and MP for Portsmouth North.

Syd was born in the Isle of Wight yet lost his father Sidney almost from birth. He was killed on July 26, 1942, when part of the 517 Coastal Battery, Royal Artillery. He is buried in Milton Cemetery, Portsmouth. Syd junior was raised by his mother until he was five.

Syd's last day at Fleetlands. A cartoon drawn by one of his workmates.

Syd's last day at Fleetlands. A cartoon drawn by one of his workmates.

You may have seen the recent photograph of Newcomen Road, Portsmouth, after the VI had landed on Tipner in 1944. It destroyed houses in Newcomen and Winstanley Roads.

Syd had grandparents living in Winstanley Road and their house was wrecked. After a while they were rehoused at 58, Jessie Road, Southsea.

Syd’s mother Doris was unable to cope with a young child and Syd was adopted by his paternal grandparents Sidney and Lily. They already had two sons, Roy and Leslie, and daughter Eileen. His grandparents became his mum and dad and his aunt and uncles became brothers and sister.

He had a very happy upbringing in Southsea, but after suffering from rheumatic fever the family moved to Paulsgrove for health reasons.

Syd with his mementos from his time with the Royal Marines.

Syd with his mementos from his time with the Royal Marines.

He attended Paulsgrove Modern School, now King Richard School. In later years he and wife Phyllis became governors and Syd chairman of governors.

Although having a formal education, he left without any qualifications and joined Fleetlands as an aeronautical engineer apprentice in Gosport.

Here he became a strong trade unionist and convener. He was popular with both the workforce and management and Syd was awarded the British Empire Medal.

In 1969 Syd thought he would take the chance of becoming a local councillor. Councillor John White assisted him in canvassing for votes and at the election he was unsuccessful. But not downhearted he stood again in 1971 and was elected along with nine other Labour councillors. Syd represented Buckland.

Syd escorts her Majesty the Queen from Portsmouth Harbour station

Syd escorts her Majesty the Queen from Portsmouth Harbour station

In 1977 there was a change in boundaries and Syd lost his seat, the only time he ever lost in local elections. However, he bounced back two years later, becoming a councillor for Paulsgrove.

In 1990 he became lord mayor, a position he relished although it was very hard work. It was not until he explained to me what it was all about that I appreciated the amount of work that goes into being Portsmouth’s first citizen.

In 1997 he was chosen by the local Labour party to be a parliamentary candidate for Portsmouth North. He won with a 3,000 majority.

Syd used to travel to London on a Sunday night, working all week in the House of Commons and returning on a Friday. His work was not done as he then had a busy weekend with a surgery and visits.

Many would think that the working day for an MP was short, but Syd tells me he could be in his office, in the House or at meetings from 8am until 11pm and sometimes all night.

In 2001 he stood for re-election and won, doubling his majority. He worked tirelessly for the people of Portsmouth.

I asked him if he ever had the chance of making it to the Cabinet. He told me he was given the impression he was to have been made chairman of the defence committee or a junior minister if he had stayed on, but having promised Phyllis he would stand down, he left Parliament happy.

I asked Syd what his memories were of being an MP. Without stopping to think he said serving a year with 42 Commando Royal Marines. He and several others served alongside them in Northern Ireland, trained in jungle warfare, and also in Arctic Norway and also learned how to fire a gun. ‘It was the most outstanding period of my time as an MP,’ he said proudly.

I asked Syd what one thing he would like to be remembered for as an MP. He said: ‘Being a parliamentary private secretary to the defence minister helping to ensure Portsmouth part-built and was to become the home port for our two new aircraft carriers.’

Syd retired from the Commons in 2005 and after a lifetime of civic duties he still attends council meetings to keep an eye on events in his role as an honorary alderman.

He has just been chosen unanimously to have the title Freeman of the City of Portsmouth bestowed on him.

What does he think of this? ‘It’s the highest honour my city of Portsmouth can award. I share it with Phyllis, without whose love and support I could have done none of these things.’