HE will be remembered as Hampshire’s finest post-war boxer.

Boxing hero Vince Hawkins punched his way from bullied schoolboy to fighting champion.

Next Monday friends, family and fans of the will gather to pay tribute to Vince, who has died aged 85.

Losing just three of his 99 bouts, the shy Eastleigh railway worker let his fists do the talking during his six-year career in the ring.

His proudest moment came in 1946 when, aged 23, he slugged through an epic 75-minute battle that saw him beat Ernie Roderick and be crowned the British middleweight champion at the Royal Albert Hall.

His success brought Eastleigh to a standstill as thousands lined the streets to welcome home their young hero as he enjoyed an open-top trailer tour of the town.

Just two years earlier Vince had captured his first championship, the Southern Area Title, having first donned the boxing gloves as a teenager.

His dad had introduced him to the ring at Eastleigh Boxing Club, to learn how to protect himself from the playground bullies.

Realising he had a flair for the fight, he continued boxing after leaving school at 16, while working as a reserve firefighter on Eastleigh’s railway works to make ends meet throughout his career.

After tasting glory in his debut fight as a professional at the old Sportsdome in Southampton, Vince travelled the world, fighting in Switzerland, France and South Africa.

He reigned as British middleweight champion for 18 months after b e a t i n g Roderick, until he lost to Dick Turpin, the first black boxer allowed to fight for the title, during a rain-sodden bout at Villa Park, a match which Vince always insisted should have never been allowed to go ahead.

The defeat destroyed his love of boxing and despite a brief comeback six months later, he hung up his gloves aged 27 in 1950.

He married Marian Lucas three years later and spent the next 30 years working as a prison officer at Winchester.

They had a son and a daughter, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

His daughter Mandy said: “He always said that that match should have never been allowed to go ahead. I remember him saying that it was so wet that their gloves were slipping off and it just wasn’t safe.

“His stock answer to any boxing question was that it was a mug’s game. ‘Why would anyone want to get paid to be banged around the head?’ “The thing about my dad was that he was quietly proud. He wasn’t always banging on about it despite it being a big thing back in those days.

“The sad thing was that he only ever won the Lonsdale belt twice and to keep it you had to win it three times. It would have been lovely to have as a memento of his great fighting career.”

Vince died peacefully in his sleep, after a long battle with Alzheimer’s last week.

Friends and boxing fans are invited to attend his funeral at Southampton Crematorium, on December 8, at 1.45pm.

See this Saturday’s weekend magazine free with the Daily Echo for a nostalgic look back at Vince’s career.