A Cockney Abroad


Personal Stories

On a frosty morning in February 1962, 23 years old Police Constable 819, David Dew, of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Constabulary was on duty in uniform and standing proudly and contentedly on the corner of High Street, Fareham, outside the Post Office on the corner of Osborne Road. He had transferred from the Metropolitan Police only a few days before and could not believe his good fortune. It was a beautiful morning and to the east he could see out across the meadows beside the River Wallington to the side of Portsdown Hill beyond.

To his right was the old town church with its untidy gravestones and ancient yew trees. PC DEW, a native of Bethnal Green, had never imagined he would be standing in such a tranquil spot and getting paid for it. “This beats bloody Blackwall Tunnel” he mused, recalling that at about noon one day the previous week in East India Dock Road as PC 137 ‘H’ he had arrested a drunken seaman who had stripped naked and was excreting on the pavement. What a difference.

I, for it was I, had been born in the East End and spent all my life there including nearly five years on ‘H’ Division. Everyone else in our families had moved to Essex but Shirley, my Wapping born wife, and I broke with tradition and moved from “bogeys buildings” the police flats in Jamaica Street, Stepney to the wilds of Hampshire.

There was a climbing rose on the wall of the old Post Office and darting about in its bare branches were a couple of tiny birds. They were a blue grey colour with yellow fronts and black markings on their heads. Now I should explain that as a boy I had worked for several years on a stall in Club Row, the Sunday morning animal market off Brick Lane in Bethnal Green close to my home.

I was well acquainted with such pretty foreign birds. There were hundreds of them for sale in cages on Club Row. I had seen them most Sunday mornings but had paid them little regard, as my special interest was tropical fish. My own father-in-law was a bird keeper and it was a popular hobby in East London.

” Allo, Allo, Allo” I thought, as I gazed at their antics, “somebody has lost some birds from his collection”. I commenced enquiries by going into the Post Office and asking the two “old dears” behind the counter whether anyone locally had an aviary from which said birds might have escaped. “No knowledge” said they and we all trooped out to get a look at these birds. But the birds had flown. “Never mind,” said I to the ladies “I shall make a report back at the police station” and off I toddled.

At the ‘nick’ there were two or three of the country boys in the canteen having breakfast and I regaled them with my amazing story. “There were these two little birds” I said, “Pretty things, sort of blue grey colour, yellow chests and black on their heads. Must have escaped from somewhere. They won’t last the day in this weather.”

I can still see their faces as almost in unison they yelled, “They were blue tits, you pillock, and there are thousands of them all over the place.” Policemen are not always polite to each other. ” No, no” I said and dug myself a deeper pit by adding, “You don’t get coloured birds in this country”. I was glad when that shift was over.

Postscript.

I was not completely convinced so when I finished work at 2pm, I popped into the local library. There, in the first bird book I opened were illustrations showing my ‘foreign’ birds. They were indeed common blue tits. Shortly afterwards I bought my own bird book and a pair of cheap binoculars and soon became familiar with most of the common British wild birds as well as pigeons and bloody sparrows.

Dave Dew

Dave served in Hampshire for 25 years, retiring in 1987. He started with the police in September 1956 as a Senior Cadets in the Mets. On his 19th birthday he became a constable at Poplar and in February, 1962 he transferred to Hampshire.

After eight months at Fareham he was moved to Cowplain. He stayed at Cowplain for the rest of his service except for a couple of years 1982 to 1984 when he was officially posted as a uniform PC to the Fraud Squad.

He had in fact been seconded to Fraud as an exhibits officer since 1979. In 1984 the big enquiries he was involved with came to an end and John Wright said he had to return to a station.

He asked to return to Cowplain and stayed there until he retired. He was in the first group of Hampshire PC’s to form the Tactical Firearms Unit and in the 1970’s he worked on the security at HQ, at HMP Winchester and on every one of the IRA trials in Hampshire.