Close Encounter of the Canine Kind

By Terry Swetnam

I joined the Portsmouth City Police Force as a cadet in 1950. Following two years National Service in the R.A.F. (Police), I rejoined the Force as a Constable on 26th March 1955.

Having served at “A” Division, Central Police Station, which was housed in the old St.Michael’s Road Vicarage for about three years, I was then posted to “C” Division Southsea Police Station, Albert Road, Southsea. After a couple of years, I found myself serving at Eastney Police Station, situated at the junction of Eastney Road, and Essex Road. Eastney was looked upon as a type of sub division of the main Station at Albert Road.

This Police Station was built in about 1906, and in part of it’s history it was manned by a Constable and his wife, similar to a village Police Station. Even today, although Eastney Police Station was demolished several years ago, the surrounding area still maintains a “village” atmosphere, as it did when I was there in the late 1950s.

lt was here that I spent some of the happiest times in the Police Force- It was such a friendly area that most of the residents knew all the officers from that station by their Christian names. So much so that I doubt that I could have gone a couple of hundred yards, without being greeted,” Hello, Terry, how are you?’.

Each relief at the station, comprised of one sergeant, one station duty P.C. two motor cyclists, one of which covered the Southsea area, plus three or four PCs on foot patrol. Such was the working “togethemess” that whenever there was an incident the entire relief would attend, without having to be instructed.’

Whilst on night duty there on 12th November 1959, a call was received that a baby had been snatched at the I.D.H. (Infectious Diseases Hospital ) The entire relief attended via bicycles, jumping on the platform of a passing bus, or whatever means possible. The l.D.H. as it was known is now part of the East Wing, St. Mary’s Hospital, and the site of the 1.2 ward, where the baby was snatched, is now occupied by the recently built Milton Cross School.

But back to this incident in 1959. Having discovered that the baby in question, had been recovered sate and sound at the foot of a nearby tree, we immediately started a search of the hospital grounds and buildings. During this search I found myself, with another P.C. (I think that it was Brian Porteous) alongside the 8 foot high wooden fence on the south side of the hospital that separated it from the Milton Cemetery.

As the search of the hospital grounds had proved “negative”- I decided to climb over this wall and start a search of the cemetery grounds – As I surmounted the top of the fence I whispered to Brian Porteous “ I’m over’ to which I thought at the time, he replied, So am I “. I was later to discover that his actual words were So what?”.

So there I am in the pitch darkness, crouching from tomb stone to tomb stones, searching on my own for the culprit of this baby snatch. After several minutes later I found myself approaching a very large tomb stone, from which, on the other side I could clearly hear the sound of heavy breathing. “Right”, I thought,” I’ve got you, you bastard”.

Imagine my absolute horror when peering round the tomb stone, and using my torch for the very first time, I found myself face to face of the snarling jaws to Mount Browne Ingot- Portsmouth Police first Police dog, with his handler P.C. John Tolcher.

Bearing in mind that this incident was before the introduction of radios for police use, neither of us, knew of the existence of the other, searching the grounds of Milton Cemetery. Fortunately for me, John had very good control of his dog, so that I was able to leave in one piece.

POSTSCRIPT

1. Despite this episode, by the early 1 960s I was to become the third member of the Portsmouth City Police Dog Section, along with John Tolcher and Joe Garvey.

2. Towards the end of his life, “Mount Browne Ingot” (Inky, to his friends) made history in so much that he was fitted with leather boots, as the pads of his feet had became badly worn.

3. Unfortunately he had to be put to sleep in 1966 and was buried that the Police Dog Compound at Bur fields Road, Portsmouth.

4. After retirement Joe Garvey, went to live in Spain, where he died in April 2000.

5. Similarly, John Tolcher died in January 2001.

6. There I am the sole survivor of the original Portsmouth City Police Dog Section.