• Brian Simmons

Believe it or not, I join the police ! - and learn how to use a stirrup pump.


Following the fun and games described in recent posts about my time cruising the world with P&O I decided that a serious effort was needed to make a second start on a career with a future. But what might that be?


Dad was an area manager with a Keymarkets, a supermarket chain, and described their management training scheme suggesting I might give it a try. Frankly, it didn't really set me on fire but I needed to earn some money so decided to look at it anyway and following a couple of interviews was taken on.


Sadly it didn't work for me and I started to look around for something else to which end I found myself heading for an interview with an insurance company in Dorking but couldn't find their address. By complete chance I found a policeman to ask directions and got chatting about his job. In the event I never went for the interview but submitted an application to join The Met.


Training at Peel House


Monday 6th January 1964 and I’m on the platform at Epsom station having just been dropped off by Dad. Today is my first day of service with the Met police and I’m en-route to the recruit training centre in London and making my own way as Dad couldn’t get the time off to take me all the way.


On the train it occurs to me that this is the day I really am leaving home for a new life; having concluded on reflection, that the few months with P&O didn’t really count in the leaving home stakes.


As the realisation dawns, I start to wonder what I’m letting myself in for. Unlike my arrival at Southampton eighteen months before with my two new found friends, this time I really am flying solo.


Mum and Dad have given me a few pounds to keep me going and suggested that I get a cab from Waterloo to the centre which is over the river in Westminster. Not a long way but far enough with the huge case I’m lugging along.


I don’t know London and I’m not exactly the ‘man about town’ yet, so having the confidence to simply wave down a cab like they do on the films isn’t second nature, but I do. Amazingly it works, and a few minutes later I’m on the way.


We sweep out of Waterloo, along the Embankment with the Houses of Parliament opposite, over a very mucky looking river and it occurs to me that as a London policeman I might one day have to pull someone out of it. (dead or alive) I hope not.

All too soon my new ‘man about town’ moment is over and I’m on the pavement in Regency Street looking up at Peel House and suddenly my heart feels as heavy as the case beside me.



The six storey Edwardian edifice looms above me, its once impressive red brick façade now grimy from the polluted air of 1960’s London. (It has since been converted into extremely expensive apartments).


Standing there, my accustomed confidence ebbs a little as I behold what is to be my home for the next three months and I contemplate how different this is going to be from the fun and games of life on board ship and to my comfy family life in Ashtead.


Climbing the two or three stone steps, I drag my case through a pair of glazed doors into a hall with a reception window to one side.


I give my name and a moment later a uniformed sergeant appears with a clip board, ticks off my name and ushers me through a door into a large room with a bunch of twenty or so equally apprehensive looking rookies.


What a mixed bunch we are, ranging in age from ‘wet behind the ears’ 19-year-old kids like me who are in the majority to one or two who are clearly nudging the 30 year age limit. There is also a seriously tough looking guy who must be best part of 40 and who it turns out is ex-army so allowed to join later than the rest of us.


Dress is an interesting mix too. Starting a new job I imagined that most people would turn up in a suit and I would have worn my new Burton’s made-to-measure if I hadn’t ripped the pocket out of it in Long Beach last year. My only other suit is the Hong Kong Special which Dad hates.


He reckons the short jacket and shiny fabric make me look ‘queer’ and he doesn’t want me turning up to join the Police looking like a poof. So I’m in this dog’s tooth check sports jacket and a pair of smart slacks which I reckon looks OK. Certainly, compared to a few of the others who have turned up in everything from jeans and jumpers to what look like gardening clothes, I feel quite superior.


Apart from a list of required kit to be brought along, including two pairs of black boots, civilian clothes for off-duty time and outside visits, sports kit, swimming gear and personal toiletries; the joining instructions were quite explicit about hair being cut short and tidy. However, looking around, some of the others are clearly hoping to hang on to their longer styles.

I guess we’re all quite apprehensive and perhaps a bit shy too so there’s not a lot of conversation apart from among three lads who have clearly arrived together. Meanwhile the rest of us carefully avoid eye contact while we contemplate what’s likely to happen next.


We don’t wait long before ‘clipboard sergeant’ reappears, runs through a roll call of our names and all being apparently present says,


Today gentleman your new life begins. It is not going to be easy, especially for those of you who haven’t been used to any sort of discipline. In here you will jump, sit, stand, march, speak and maybe even shit when told but if you approach it in the right spirit you will enjoy it. And that’s an order” he adds.


I detect the hint of a smile just visible and it occurs to me that he is probably not quite as severe as he sounds. Also that perhaps the marching and saluting we did in the scouts all those years back and the strictness of the Captain’s inspections on the ship might have had their uses after all.


“Right.” he says, “On your feet and let’s show you around a bit. Bring your bags and we’ll get rid of those first.”


And so it began. Like a file of ducklings we dutifully followed him out of another door and down steps into a large internal quadrangle which was pretty dingy anyway on a bleak January day but was robbed of direct light by the high surrounding walls.


This, we were told was the parade square where we would shortly be learning to drill like soldiers. Although, as he pointed out, it also had painted road markings, street signs, a pedestrian crossing and traffic lights which the sergeant explained was where we would also be learning traffic direction, the application of traffic law and how to deal with incidents ranging from road accidents to fighting drunks.


I think that even by this early stage one or two of us were in some doubt about the wisdom of signing up for this particular course. I for one didn’t like the sound of the fighting drunks.


Diagonally across the square, stone steps with black painted handrails led up to the ground floor and into a lobby with stairs rising to the four floors above. A notice board had signs showing fire procedures, exit routes and timetables for what looked like three courses running in the school.


There was also a small cartoon of a large mushroom cloud above what was intended to be a crater with a little pin-figure of a policeman stood on the edge and a speech bubble from his mouth with the words,

What has happened here Sir please?” I eventually found out what that was about. Very funny – I’ll explain later.


The sergeant said “This is the main classroom level. The canteen is also on this floor. Downstairs you’ve got the gym and changing rooms. Ok keep up.” And he headed for the stairs.


My room was on the third floor. Well, I say room. It was actually a cubicle in a dormitory containing a dozen such spaces.


It was effectively an open plan arrangement with dividing partitions rather than walls. These were about eight feet high with a gap of a few inches at floor level – presumably to facilitate cleaning and whilst high enough for visual privacy that was about the limit. Of course, there were no mobile phones at the time or I imagine life would have been impossible with the constant intrusion of other people’s conversations.


(Have you noticed that no-one seems able to talk quietly on a mobile? I wonder why that is). Radios were banned although a couple of chaps had them, albeit with headphones.


Toilets and bathrooms were apart (not much good for me now in my prostatically challenged state), but each cubicle had a hand-basin and mirror sufficient for basic ablutions, chest of drawers, a curtained hanging alcove, bedside cabinet with reading light and a small desk. So for most purposes I guess that if not exactly four star, it was adequate.


The privacy was however a bit of an illusion because of the way sound and vibration carries. So if someone, thinking his mates were all asleep, should give in to what the priests at school delicately referred to as the temptation of self-abuse or, not that uncommonly, the tears of homesickness they were likely to be treated to a round of applause or hoots of derision.


Whilst most of the cubicles had a window there was one on the inside of the building whose window also served as the access point to the fire escape leading down to the yard which I guess was fine in the event of a fire because the occupant could be the first out. Unfortunately for the same occupant, he was left in no doubt that he must never shut the window because it also served as the illicit way back into the building for anyone who stayed out past locking up time.


On such occasion the trick was to hop over the rear gates, scoot through the shadows around the parade square and simply nip up the fire escape to your floor. So if the occupant, either inadvertently or out of sheer cussedness were to lock the window and refuse to wake up, late arrivals were left with no choice but to surrender to the night porter and take the consequences.


Once we had dropped our bags off we had to gather for an address by the Commandant, a Chief Superintendent who welcomed us to the school, introduced our instructors that included a couple of Inspectors and several sergeants. It was a bit like being back at school again with our own dedicated Inspector as Course Director, a class Sergeant who seemed to teach general studies and other sergeants who taught various more specialist subjects.

The only other one and the only name I can actually remember was Sergeant Castle who was to be our drill, PE and self-defence instructor. Known as ‘Punchy’ due to his broken nose and boxing background Herbert Castle was a man we would come to fear and respect in equal measure.


His former army service and years policing in the East End had prepared him perfectly for the job of knocking raw recruits into shape and helping to build the confidence needed to carry some authority on the streets.


That afternoon we were issued with a number of books the most important of which was Moriarty’s Police Law which was to become our bible, and a book of definitions which was to become our bête-noir as they would all have to be learnt by heart and tested daily. The last one was The Metropolitan Police Instruction Book. Known at the IB it was more in the nature of procedural guidelines or as one of the instructors described it, “A catalogue of a million cock-ups.” As he explained it, whenever a copper had done something wrong over the years, someone then wrote a procedure in an attempt to ensure it didn’t happen again.


Surprisingly after the book issue we were sent off to ‘settle in’, find our way around the place and were not required again until the following morning when we were assured “We’ll really get started.” I couldn’t wait!!


From the following morning the course was in earnest and absolutely full-on. The first things were haircuts and uniform issue. A barber arrived who was clearly briefed to accept no entreaties and so in a few short minutes the few who had hoped to retain their slicked 60’s hair styles were reduced to short back and sides all round and almost to tears in a couple of cases. Even my own recently trimmed locks didn’t escape although my experience was less traumatic.


Following the haircuts, we were bussed over to Lambeth where the Met’s Central Stores were located and we lined up to be measured first and then progressed through to receive our uniform issue.


Apart from two or three sets (I can’t quite remember) of tunic and trousers in the typical dark blue serge we were also issued with one ceremonial set which comprised an old-fashioned high-collar tunic and trousers in a really heavy fabric that was almost twice the weight of the daily wear. I dreaded the day I might have to wear it.


Half a dozen blue cotton shirts came as part pf the issue but also in those days, loose collars to go with them which had to be separately starched and carefully pressed if they were to ever look any good. There was also a heavy greatcoat, raincoat and even a cape.


So much for the clothing but then of course came the famous helmet that so identifies the British ‘Bobby’ world-wide. These are much lighter than they look, being fashioned from cork segments and inside there is a light string and leather web that sits on the head and is adjustable for fit.


There is nothing I hate more than the badly fitted coppers’ helmets that are invariable present on TV programmes depicting the police, and sometimes sadly on real ones.


They either look too big like some sort of comic inverted flowerpot or they perch like a pea on a drum and look equally silly. In either case they have the effect of making the wearer look totally gormless and with about as much authority as PC Plod of the Christmas pantomime.


From top to toe and the question of boots. Boots were not issued as each recruit had been required to bring two pairs. It was explained that one pair was for daily wear whilst the other was to be highly polished and retained for parades, inspections and other special occasions. Police Regulations specified that officers were paid a ‘boot allowance’ for this purpose. It was however also explained that whilst the regulation pattern boots were fine for normal use some officers also chose to buy some soft-soled black footwear that would enable them to move more quietly around the streets at night. For this purpose, the most popular style was the unhappily named thick – soled, black suede ‘brothel creepers’ favoured by the Teddy Boys of the time. No good at all in the wet but perfect for nights and very comfortable. It was left to us and I did get some later.


Along with the uniform came what were known as appointments. These were your ancillary items and included pocket notebook and holder, another wallet for the small catalogue of forms we had to carry, and a set of handcuffs. The issue also included the truncheon, a stout weapon about an inch and a half in diameter by fifteen or sixteen inches in length and fashioned out of a tropical hardwood known as ‘lignum vitae’.


The truncheon was turned on a lathe to be slightly thicker at the business end with a ribbed grip at the other. We were told that some of them were made by prisoners learning woodworking skills in Dartmoor, an irony that was obviously intended to appeal to our developing policemen’s mentality but I’ve no idea if it was true or not.


The uniform trousers were cleverly designed to incorporate a long truncheon pocket located down the outside and slightly behind the right thigh. It was not in the least uncomfortable and completely invisible but the position on the outside of the leg did give the lie to the jokey line “Is that your truncheon or are you just pleased to see me?” The line was apparently coined by street walkers to wind up their local beat officer although adopted by any number of comedians ever since.


Another appointment was the whistle that was attached by a chain to the top tunic button. It really is quite laughable in this modern world of efficient radio communication to realise that such a short time ago the only communication system available to the beat officer in an emergency was the whistle and I can quote from the instruction book (IB) that I was issued with at the time:


To raise the alarm or call another officer to your assistance, blow three loud blasts on your whistle. At night, or to call for assistance without raising the alarm an officer should signal with his lantern in the direction that another officer is likely to be. “Not exactly high tech but that really was all we had and I can only marvel at the comparison with the sagging belts of today’s beat officers laden with handcuff pouches, radios and Tazers, not to mention the stab vest and so on.


The only other items issued were two keys. One for the handcuffs and the other for the police boxes. Yes that’s right, the TARDIS of Doctor Who was still very much a part of the police communication system as I shall describe in more detail later.


Once the uniform was issued it was made very clear that we were responsible for getting it pressed and into tip-top form for our first drill session and inspection in a couple of days’ time. By the crestfallen looks on some of the faces it was clear that most didn’t have a clue where to start but here in common with the ex-service chap I had some advantage.


Dad had always had a thing about appearance and not only encouraged but insisted that whenever I went out, certainly anywhere that mattered, I should be properly turned out, which as far as he was concerned meant pressed clothes and shiny shoes and to that end he had passed on a trick or two from his own service experience.


He had, for example, shown me how to press a pair of trousers using a damp cloth to avoid making them shiny and also how running a bar of soap down the inside could make a ‘knife-edge’ crease that would last longer. Having had to prepare uniform in both the scouts and as a waiter on the ship I was no stranger to using a hot iron whereas some of the lads scarcely knew where to begin.


Between us, the former squaddy (who’s name I sadly cannot recall so I’m going to call him Dave) and I instructed the whole class in the practices of pressing and brushing.


He in particular was able to coach all of us in the fine art of ‘bulling boots’ or creating a mirror like polish on the toe caps of our best boots and a well above average finish on our regular ones. It really was done with spit and polish and only Kiwi ‘Parade Gloss’ would do. I still use it today but not quite so conscientiously.


The result was that when the first drill parade arrived Punchy Castle had very little to complain about, at least as far as the uniform was concerned. However, as far as our bearing and how we carried the uniform was concerned, it was a very different matter.


There are those, especially today, who would say that drill and military style discipline like saluting and so on has no place in the modern police service and to the extent that the service is not and should not ever appear militaristic, they would be right.


However, the police always used to be and I think should have remained a disciplined service to the extent that there is a clear rank structure and people should expect to do what they are told and when. Because in difficult situations it is only by having an organised and functioning command structure that things get done correctly. Time enough for questions at the de-brief.


Unfortunately in recent years modern democratic and participative management systems have encouraged a more laisser-faire attitude to the rank structure, and it seems to me that to a significant extent the discipline of the service has suffered. I include here self-discipline and pride in appearance because by and large modern police officers are nowhere near as smart as their predecessors. Many are overweight and clearly unfit with scruffy ill-turned out uniform and they have nowhere near the bearing and presence required to command either authority or respect on the streets.


Sorry about that little rant and back to the story!


Punchy may have been happy with our uniform but as he explained it was his task to get us looking the part and that was about more than wearing the outfit. So the first thing he said was about how to stand, your bearing.


“Think tall.” He said “And you’ll become tall. Think strong and you’ll be strong. Wear this uniform with pride and you’ll carry it all the better and if you can do that there are not many who’ll want to argue with you. And that after all is the object of the exercise. You represent authority and the law but you also represent safety and fairness. Carry your uniform well and you’ll be able to do it all. Now brace up and let’s see some straight backs.”


It may not be word perfect but I will never forget that little speech by Herbert Castle. It was to inform my attitude to the rest of my police career in both the short and long term.


I got to like drill and soon got into the swing of it and it really did make me feel good. By virtue of his previous experience, Dave was made our drill leader and was really helpful to those who had trouble with marching. It’s fascinating; we all walk naturally and swing our arms in the right arm – left leg rhythm but ask some people to march and they immediately want to do the same arm – same leg.


Others seemed to have no idea of left from right but eventually we all got the hang of it and could put on quite a passable show.


Another thing ‘Herbie’ Castle was responsible for was teaching us self-defence which in those days was based largely around the Japanese unarmed combat system known as Aikido. In this technique an attacker’s movement and momentum is used to deflect, throw and immobilise the person or at least that’s the theory. But to be good at it requires a great deal of time in practice which unfortunately we didn’t have.


As a result the best we could really hope for was to be able to get an arm lock on an attacker and this was only realistic with a person of relatively slight build who was not putting up too much of a fight.


I can recount from bitter experience that twisting (or even getting a hold of) the arm of a fifteen stone fighting drunk labourer is actually not a possibility and a much better result was usually achieved by the combined weight of six or seven colleagues assuming they happened to be on hand. In my limited experience in a one to one confrontation like that, talking the situation down almost always worked for me apart from on a couple of occasions when a sharp tap with my truncheon or even its appearance worked wonders.


Herbie did cover use of the truncheon which can be used to great effect as a last resort. The instructions were very clear that they were only to be used in extremis and that “officers should aim at the parts of the body least likely to suffer severe or permanent injury” which is all very well if you actually have time to think about it.


I must say that initially it struck me that a sharp tap on the nut was likely to get the best immediate result but as Herbie told us “Do that and you’ll be writing for weeks.”


His advice about the use of the stick was “Go for the bits that are going for you.” By which he meant that if a person was reaching out a hand to grab or otherwise attack you, it’s the easiest bit to hit. And in his experience a sharp crack on the hand, wrist, ankle or knee caused a lot of pain and usually enough to give an attacker pause for thought, drop a weapon and enough of a pause for you to either escape or get some sort of hold on depending on circumstances.


Back in the classroom we studied the history of policing. We learnt how in 1829 the Metropolitan Police Act authorised the establishment of the force and how Sir Richard Mayne, joint first Commissioner (never did quite understand that) of the force enunciated ‘The Primary Objects’. These were a couple of paragraphs that I suppose today would be called a mission statement and which we had to learn by heart – the first of many such statements and definitions.


A major part of the law we had to take on board was under The Larceny Act of 1916. This well-drafted piece of legislation with just a few amendments had over the years managed to deal pretty successfully with just about all offences against property until it would be replaced more than 50 years later by the Theft Act 1968.


Other pieces of law were the Offences against the Person Act of 1861 which covered assault both minor and serious and even dealt with such bizarre crimes as infanticide, concealment of birth and child destruction. Not exactly the sort of thing you’d meet every day on London streets but ‘hey-ho’, it’s all knowledge and as they say knowledge is power (and confidence). I must say that by the end of the course we were pretty well walking law books and could recite far more law than a newly qualified solicitor. Whether we fully understood it was of course a different matter.


Then there was also the (now infamous) Vagrancy Act of 1824 that dealt with begging and similar street offences, which included simply being on the street in suspicious circumstances, and became known far more recently as the hated “sus” law.


There was a bit more to it than that, but not a lot and it was undoubtedly appropriate for the time of its introduction in the 19th century for dealing with ‘sturdy beggars and vagabonds’ that were roaming the country after the Napoleonic wars. However, to my certain knowledge the act was much misused back in the 60’s when I joined up and well before we had the ethnic minority groups who in later years would allege their victimisation under its ‘stop and search’ powers.


For all their faults when viewed through 20th and 21st century eyes, these old acts had a lot going for them to the extent that they were meticulously drafted and took a long time to enact.


This meant they had fewer loopholes than more modern legislation that often seems to have been drafted ‘on the hoof’ or as a knee-jerk response to circumstances with far too little thought. (My personal view stated here but one I have heard expressed more than a few times by people who should know.)


Sudden death is something that sooner or later every police officer will have to deal with whether as a result of a road accident, ‘murder most foul’ or simply sudden and unexpected death at home or in the street. The law places a responsibility on police officers becoming aware of such a death to report the matter to a Coroner unless a doctor can certify the cause with reasonable certainty.


And we should all be grateful for this because it is a measure that exists for our protection and helps to ensure that we don’t go around bumping off our neighbours willy-nilly.


Given the young age of most recruits, the majority of us had never seen a dead body close to and fewer still would have been exposed to the sometimes horrific appearance of murder or accident victims. Part of our training therefore was a visit to the mortuary at St Thomas’ Hospital just across the river in Lambeth and to actually observe a post-mortem although this latter was not obligatory.


For the instructors this was a heaven-sent opportunity to really wind up the more sensitive recruits by ensuring that they were in the front and closest to the action so to speak. I think they had somehow involved the mortician, a grizzled white haired and somewhat stooped old gent who revelled in the name of Grinstead. I don’t know why but somehow the name just seemed incredibly apt. “Grizzly Grinstead”.


It was bad enough that he was eating a sandwich when we were all shown into the mortuary. However, I couldn’t believe it when in order to point out where he would be making incisions on the cadaver laid out in front of us, needing both hands free he calmly put his sandwich into the palm of the dead hand saying “Hold that a minute mate.”.


I always assumed it was done for effect but maybe that was something he did every day. Whatever, it was a moment I’ll never forget for its casual insensitivity. However, as I was to discover over time police officers and other professions that have to deal with emotionally difficult situations frequently develop a kind of black humour as a form of barrier to protect their own sensitivities.


Road traffic law also had quite a high priority as did the Motor Vehicle Construction and Use Regulations that dealt with everything from noisy exhausts through defective tyres and lights to parking and driving under the influence.

However in those pre-breathalyser days ‘under the influence’ had to be proved by the testament of an officer that the alleged offender, “smelled of alcohol, had glazed eyes and was unsteady on his / her feet”. Such facts were usually tested by requiring the suspect to walk along the white line in the road or stand on one leg, either of which carried out beside or along a road carried its own risks.


It was still common practice at the time for police officers to be allocated to ‘traffic points’ during peak hours, the theory being that by controlling traffic manually, they could ease congestion or perhaps at least deter some of the bad driving induced by frustration.


If the truth be told, except as a last resort, it was a practice best avoided as interference by a police officer almost always caused more congestion than it solved especially if the officer concerned was not very skilled or lacking in confidence.


It takes some personal courage to walk out into the centre of a busy road junction and effectively take control of four or more lanes of traffic. Which is why in the back yard of Peel House we were often to be found shuffling around in little ‘crocodile’ processions as we pretended to be vehicles on the marked out road junctions whilst one of our number attempted to establish a bit of order.


As you might imagine this could easily get out of hand once we started playing about a bit with the intention of deliberately confusing the luckless officer on the point. You always got your own back though, because on another day it was going to be someone else’s turn on the point.


Road traffic accidents were regarded as very much part of the beat officer’s daily life and knowing how to deal with them was an important skill to master. (Always assuming your own poor traffic control was not the primary cause!!) This included placating the often irate drivers, to the point on occasion, of threatening arrest for Breach of the Peace (extreme, but always worked well), as well as working out who was at fault, identifying witnesses, recording details and reporting the offending driver(s) as appropriate.


Sounds easy enough but quite difficult remembering everything especially the first few times, hence the importance of practicing in the yard at Peel House before we were unleashed on the unsuspecting public.


We were taught a more or less standard form of approach to any incident we might encounter on our beats which was, (and there was obviously room for individual variation) that one should the approach the scene in an unhurried manner and in a calm but authoritative voice say -

“What has happened here Sir, please?” or something similar. (So long as it was not “What the F**k is going on here?”)

I know it sounds awfully Dixon of Dock Green and in fairness it was around the same time, but at least they didn’t tell us to say “Hello Hello.” or “Evening All.”


Something else we were advise to say in a loud confident voice on arriving at a scene was "Did anyone see what happened?" This may not sound significant but it puts you in charge and often encourages the shy witness to come forward.


Back in those days and it is still to some extent true today, the basic unit of police protection was the constable patrolling his beat which is the area for which he/she is responsible whilst on duty. Therefore, part of our training also concerned what was known as ‘beat craft’. It certainly was not rocket science but did include a few tips that one might not immediately think about.


Firstly we were advised to remember that a principal role was to help the public and to deter offenders so to that end we were instructed to walk on the outside of the pavement in order to enhance our visibility.


That was all very fine back then, when 5’ 10” was the minimum height requirements for male officers. But I reckon quite a few of the current crop could easily be lost in a crowd even with their helmets on which sadly today seems often to have become an optional extra. Also, working a beat in a random fashion and avoiding a fixed pattern of patrol was advised so that potential offenders would not know where or when you might appear next.


Conversely at night, we were advised to walk on the inside of pavements and seek areas of shadow in order to observe without being seen and hopefully to surprise miscreants with a loud “Gotcha!”


If this sounds a bit light-hearted it is intended to be but it is also true that the British public are as much in love today with the George Dixon image of the ‘Bobby on the beat’ as they ever were. So the challenge of modern policing is to give the public what it wants in terms of that visible presence despite the fact that it is an almost total waste of time and manpower!


Bold statement? - Maybe, but look up the records if they exist for the number of offenders captured by beat officers just ‘happening’ on a crime in progress and the number will be extremely small. It is hard however to evaluate the deterrent effect of the patrolling officer and the public ‘comfort factor’ is so important that forces are obliged to maintain a level of beat patrolling despite the huge cost.


Back in 1964 it would be true to say that the east - west cold war was still very much an issue and the police were responsible for what used to be called Civil Defence but by that time had become Home Defence. Apart from the name I don’t think a lot else had changed. It was still pretty much a Dad’s Army sort of arrangement with local wardens and tin hats.


The primary police role, at least at a local level was the Warning and Monitoring system. Every police station had this sort of squawk box or loudspeaker on a shelf somewhere near the front office and a red telephone which, if the nuclear balloon ever went up and normal communications were down, was supposed to provide the back up.


This would pass messages of impending fall-out and in response some local officer would have to go and sound the alarm which had moved on from the wailing siren of the last war to the firing of maroons (exploding rockets) to warn the populace to take cover. Sounds awfully hit and miss doesn’t it and the truth of the matter, certainly viewed from today’s perspective and more advanced knowledge, is that it was.


So, to return to Peel House and the training in Home Defence; among other things, we had to learn some basic firefighting skills. So given the assumption that come the big day, all power would be down and fire brigades would be stretched to the limit fighting big fires, the idea was that it would be down to wardens, police and whoever else working together as ‘Stirrup Pump Teams’ to deal with local fires.


Now for those that don’t know a Stirrup pump is a vertical double-action hand pump intended for pumping water out of a bucket that has a bracket going down outside the bucket to the ground which the user stands on in order to steady the thing. Hence – ‘stirrup’. A hose comes off the body of the pump which can then be used to direct a jet of water wherever it is required. To get an idea of this thing in action look it up on-line. Amazingly they can still be bought today, albeit somewhat upgraded.


The team comprised four people identified unsurprisingly as No 1. No 2. No 3. No 4. Number One’s role in fighting a fire was to run forward towards the fire, getting as close as safely possible and dragging with him the nozzle end of the hose attached to the Stirrup Pump. This would ideally be kept back and away from the fire and preferably around a protective corner to shield No 2, who was the pumper from the heat. It was also suggested that No 1 might use an upturned chair or similar item as a heat shield for himself. (Naïve or what !!)


No 2’s role as ‘pumper’ required him to pump like mad whilst no’s 3 and 4 were the runners whose task it was to refill the bucket by running a chain of buckets from the supply and pouring them into No 2’s bucket. If this is beginning to sound a bit Laurel and Hardy, you’re right but it gets better yet!


So the team in action went something like this:


No 1 runs towards the fire and casts himself before it and No 2 shouts “Alright No 1?” to which No 1 responds “Alright No 2.”


No 2 then shouts the question “Water on No 1?” to which the response is supposed to be “Water on No 2.” However a more predictable reply might be “Just pump the f***ing water No 2.”


At this point No 2 begins pumping like a mad thing whilst No’s 3 and 4 begin their supply chain which is OK if the source is not far away. However, if its more than a few yards the system soon starts to falter as buckets arrive half empty because No’s 3 and 4 keep slipping on the water they are spilling on the way. It is of course also the job of No’s 3 and 4 to take over from No 2 when he is all pumped out.




The photo is included to show the stirrup pump being used by just two people – presumably just for demonstration because it does not show team member 1 who should be prostrate in front of the fire, nor number 4 who would also be fetching the water to refill the bucket.


Now I wouldn’t want to paint too ludicrous a picture for you because many a home was saved from fire during the last war by the practised use of the Stirrup pump and there are some excellent on-line references and even a video of a team in action. However, back to Peel House.


Prior to my arrival in January 1964 the fire-fighting element of the Home Defence training involved students in donning much faded and mostly oversized boiler suits, wellies and tin hats and being bussed a short distance to a nearby derelict site where there were the remains of an old (appropriately) bombed building.


A couple of hay bales were tossed in, soaked in paraffin and set ablaze. Students then had to take it in turns to form stirrup pump teams and using the above procedure set about extinguishing the fire whilst the Inspector in charge, notionally to add a touch of realism but actually for his own amusement, wandered around tossing Thunderflashes into the building and scaring everyone witless in the process.


In fact, as an exercise in team-building and an illustration of the intensity a fire can display it worked very well, even if the likelihood of them ever having to actually do it was minimal.


Unfortunately for my own and subsequent intakes, at the end of 1963 as part of the efforts to reduce London’s infamous pollution, this area of London was made a smokeless zone so prohibiting at a stroke the lighting of bonfires etc. including the Met’s Home Defence training at Peel House.


So by the time it was my turn for training we had to go through the same procedure, running round like demented creatures in a shack on an old bomb site, yelling inane expressions and squirting water all over a non-existent fire. Really, Laurel and Hardy had nothing on us.


On a more serious note, other elements of Home defence instruction included information on the levels of devastation and loss of life that even a small nuclear strike on London would cause. We learnt about fall-out and how long it might last, radiation effects and how to measure it and some realistic assessments of what it would mean for the country if the nuclear button ever was pushed and we became the target of even a few strikes.

Whilst the story for public consumption was that government had it all in hand with this great Home Defence strategy in place we were left in no doubt by our Inspector (probably breaking all the rules) when he said “It’s all complete bollocks.”


It was apparently someone on the previous course to ours who, seeing the whole thing for the charade that it was, drew the cartoon that I’d seen on the notice board of the policeman standing beside a nuclear crater saying “What has happened here Sir please?”


I felt tempted to add another speech bubble with the supplementary question “Did anyone see what happened?” Not much chance of an answer there.


Another trip out during the course was to visit a local magistrate’s court and the London Quarter Sessions in Southwark which is what the Crown Court used to be called.


Quite a lot of our training involved learning to give evidence as credible and unflappable witnesses. So it was very useful for us to go along and sit for a few hours in the back of the courts to generally get a feel for the procedures and the rather awe-inspiring atmosphere especially in the higher courts full of the lawyers in their wigs and gowns etc.


Towards the end of the course we all returned to the local Magistrate in order to be sworn in as Constables, promising to “uphold the law, keep the peace and prosecute offenders without favour or affection, malice or ill will.” or words pretty much to the same effect. Quite a moving moment really.


Part of the police conditions of service included a number of restrictions on the private life of a constable, one of which was that you have no other employment; nor could a constable live in licensed premises and no close member of an officer’s family could be a licence holder.


There were various other conditions too which whilst appearing a bit draconian at first were quite logical really as they were intended to ensure officers were able to carry out their enforcement duties without being affected by conflicts of interest arising from family connections and so on.


The Police Discipline Code was hammered home relentlessly during the course and there appeared to be a million ways where by stepping out of line just a fraction you could find yourself in trouble.


A major one of these however seemed to be around the issue of drinking on duty and entering licensed premises without due cause. This became easier to understand when some years later I was able to browse through some historic discipline records. From the number of officers who found themselves in breach of this particular rule you might be forgiven for thinking the country was policed by a bunch of drunks which in the early years of the police service was not far from the truth.


With all this emphasis on the ‘evils of the demon drink’ it was not surprising that whatever little transgressions we might have imagined ourselves committing, those relating to drink would be the last. How wrong can you be? I would find out within weeks.


And so, in no time at all it seemed the course was over, we were sworn in, had our little passing out parade, lined up in the yard for the course photo and were packing our bags ready to move out to our respective postings, which in my case was M Division and Kennington Road Police Station.


This is my 'end of course' photo . I am middle row - first right of centre.


Well I'll say "Good Evening all" now and continue next time with my experience of policing around Lambeth, Waterloo and the Elephant and Castle in the '60s.

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