NOSTALGIA: Growing up the hard way on Portsmouth’s mean post-war streets

The cover of Ian Tungatt's A Portsmouth Living Legend.
The cover of Ian Tungatt's A Portsmouth Living Legend.
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If you want a book that is violent in the extreme, shines a light on corruption in amateur boxing, the bullyboys of remand homes and approved schools  brought down a peg or two, and of the hard times of living in Portsea after the war, this is the book for you.

Add to that the heartache of having a young daughter taken away to Australia from her father and by a con trick, the bruising bloody boxing bouts at the Connaught Drill Hall, being a minder more dangerous than anything seen in the television series and life in Portsmouth in general in the 1950s and 1960s. 

The trains on the Southsea miniature railway were not always steam-hauled. In 1964 a diesel loco took control. Picture: Kevin Munks

The trains on the Southsea miniature railway were not always steam-hauled. In 1964 a diesel loco took control. Picture: Kevin Munks

A Portsmouth Living Legend by Ian Tungatt will not be to everyone’s taste. There is much strong language but the man is telling it how it was and to leave much of it out would only weaken the story.

Ian was born in Gosport and his family moved across the water to Portsea when he was five months old.

He was the youngest of eight children, five boys and three girls. His father was often drunk and violent treating Ian and his brothers to such violent punishment that today would see him end up in prison.

Ian tells of one incident of his father hitting him with a cane and splitting the ends of his fingers open then running from the house in bare feet, jumping over the back garden wall lined with barbed wire and running over a bomb site bruising and cutting his feet open. To this day he still has a problem walking on uneven ground. 

He tells of the awful life of living with the toilet at the bottom of the garden, sharing a tin bath that was topped up after each child had had a bath. Of stale bread used by his mother to make bread pudding; having an OXO cube broken into a bowl and hot water poured onto it and then having to dip bread into it just to make a meal. Many older Portsmouth people will recognise this way of living in the years after the Second World War.

He was also something of a criminal in his teenage days. Along with his brother Reg, they would break into Working Men’s Clubs and steal cigarettes and cigars,anything  that could raise money. The goods were then given to his father to sell on with Ian receiving a small percentage of the return.

Ian became an amateur boxer and was successful until he had a championship fight stopped by the referee. He was beating his opponent when he was caught by a hard punch and went down. He says he was all right after the eight-second count but the referee stopped the contest and awarded the fight to the local boy who had much support in the hall at Crawley.

Ian was also jailed in Winchester for a hitting a woman whom he thought was a man attacking him from behind with a bottle. While in Winchester prison he had to mix with child offenders which did not please him one bit. You will have to read what occurred.

The book is very readable, especially if you come from Portsmouth and as long as you can stand the blood and guts of the story and the hard and violent life which this man has led.

Some of the well-known Portsmouth names in the book will be instantly recognisable, as will the pubs and street names. A few more dates of events would have made it more understandable but all in all the book is an easy read especially if you are a Portsmouth person.

The book is available direct from the author on silverview@btinternet.com at £14.99.

• Doreen, of Elmwood Avenue, Waterlooville, has sent me a memory of troops lined up on the old A3 London Road and its side roads awaiting for the invasion of Europe in 1944.

She lived with her parents and three brothers at 4, Swiss Road, Waterlooville, and lorries were parked all along the road. Her dad had the young men indoors one at a time for a cup of cocoa. They slept under their lorries and then after one certain night they all disappeared, heading for France – not that anyone knew that..

• Alan Wallbank is making a film about Southsea miniature railway and tells me that SMR stood for Southern Miniature Railways Ltd. The company started  in 1945/6, building three engines, Vanguard, Victory and Valiant, the latter working at Southsea and later Victory arriving from Bognor Regis in 1951. Vanguard worked on a line at Poole from 1949 until 1970.

Alan says: ‘My main interest is in the Southsea line from about 1960 to closure in 1989. I have read that when steam finished, it was converted to a 17in, third rail system, later being re-gauged back to 10-and-a-quarter inches in 1985. I need information on diesel engines that worked there in the 1960s, the third rail system, trains after 1985 and any photos please. Any snippet of info would be helpful, even a memory of travelling on the line.’ 

Contact him via alan46exdriver@virginmedia.com.