If I told you of some of the true events readers relate to me of conditions many years ago, you would think I am a liar or in another world.
In fact, the latter would be nearer the mark as back before, and just after, the Second World War it was another world compared to living standards today.
Mind you, even in the late 1950s and early 1960s I knew some very rum characters which made me worldly before my years. As my grandmother used to say, ‘Bobby, you’re old before you’re young.'
Last week I had the pleasure and honour of meeting Tony Davis whom I was privileged to be on first name terms with.
Tony is aged 90 but going on 50. He is as sharp as a blade and has the voice of a man many decades younger.
Tony, born in 1928, grew up in the Charlotte Street area of the city, at the junction of Commercial Road where his father lived over the Monarch pub which was owned by Councillor Charles Percy Brown.
He also had another three pubs, a fish and chip shop on Bonfire Corner, plus three restaurants, including the Corner House in Commercial Road.
When Tony’s brother joined the RFC during the First World War he told the recruiting officer he was 18, in fact he was under 16 years of age.
His mother tried to have him released but to no avail, until Mr Brown intervened and the boy was demobbed.
Tony’s parents moved into the upstairs flat above the Monarch and when he was aged about eight he had problems with his tonsils and adenoids.
The Wall’s ice cream salesman would pass under Tony’s bedroom window and call out.
When the window was opened he would toss a choc-ice up to Tony and then go into the bar for payment.
Two local doctors, John and Philip Green, called round and told Tony to lie on his bed.
He then had a cloth placed over his face and was told to count to 10. Of course, the cloth had chloroform on it and Tony had been put to sleep.
When he awoke he was given a dish with his tonsils and adenoids in.
Yes, the operation had been carried out there and then in his bedroom.
Tony remembers a giant of a black man who used to drink in the pub called ‘Black Fritz’ who was a travelling medical man, for want of a better phrase.
He would call into the Monarch for a drink and ask if anyone had teeth which needed extracting.
This was then done on a chair in the corner of the public bar, I kid you not. He was also a podiatrist and dealt with punters’ feet, for a drink of course.
Tony also told me of an incident during the war. A Free French sailor named Bobby was courting one of the barmaids. Bobby was based in Victory barracks along Edinburgh Road and one evening was called out with the naval provost to attend some goings-on in Broad Street, Old Portsmouth.
The men were in a van of some kind and the weather was atrocious with thick fog. Driving along Broad Street the driver lost his bearing and drove straight into the sea at The Point where the car ferry arrived. All were drowned.
Another event at the Monarch was when a drinker was away and died in Cairo, Egypt.
In his will, which was read out in the pub, the drinker had left a large amount of money for a round of drinks to his great friends at the Monarch.
Any sailor found drunk in the pub was knocked out with one punch and then laid outside against the wall.
Tony’s dad would then ring the barracks and tell them a sailor had fallen over and could they collect him.
This saved the sailor getting jankers and the pub being reported for serving someone who had had enough.
Some marvellous tales from Tony of times past. Thank you.
Businessman conscientious objector
In the third year of the First World War Portsmouth councillor and benefactor Councillor Charles P Brown appealed against being called to arms.
Mr Brown was the licensee of four public houses, including the Golden Fleece, Southsea. He also owned a fish shop in Bonfire Corner, Portsea and the fabled Corner House restaurant in Commercial Road.
He was 35, single and Grade 1 until December 1. That meant he was not to be called up until the given date.
However, it was pointed out by Mr Brown that although his businesses had managers, a firm hand was still needed to run them.
Mr Brown told the National Service representatives he put in a great deal of time at a local Red Cross Hospital and had done a great deal in paying for entertaining the wounded, both privately and in the capacity of chairman of the sub-committee of the Wounded Heroes Committee.
Mr Brown became exempt from call-up for another year and in the end he remained a civilian doing many good works for the people of Portsmouth.