When you live , or, work in an old town or city, it is easy to overlook historical buildings and landmarks.
This happened when I was first posted to Bethnal Green Police Station. The area was a mixture - tall, ugly concrete blocks of flats - typical for the the late 1960's. Rows of old terraced houses and and tenement blocks - built-in the 1880's to try and improve the area and cover the shame and bad publicity that Jack the Ripper's murders had caused. There were also many small and medium sized factories and workshops.
Walking - or, driving in a car on duty, it was easy to see just the people and the streets - however, once I was on night duty I had the opportunities to really see what made-up this 2000 year old area of continuous occupation. There will be other occasions when I will be able to go into detail - however, as an example, there was a short cross street between Brick Lane and Commercial Street named Fournier Street. Basically, it was a row of joined houses dating back to the 18th Century and in the style of the 17th Century. Most of them were derelict.
During the time of King Charles 2nd - who was restored to the British Throne in 1660 - his French counterpart was the 'Sun King' - Louis X1V (14th). Following the urging of Cardinal Richelieu, he barred the Hugeonots - or, Protestants - from practising their Religion and they were forced to flee overseas. Many to Britain. My Mother's family name was Bozier - a Hugeonot descendent.
The French silk weaving industry really depended on their skill, and when they left it fell into decline. Their loss was England's gain - the area the silk weavers chose to live was the same Fournier Street in London's East End. Many of the old houses have now been renovated and are shown as they used to be - workrooms on the ground floor - living accomodation above. There are several museums and it is an area worth a visit.
Inside of one of the houses - the marks on the beams were for silk weaving machines
Map of the area - Sever's House is now restored for the public.
THE MECHANICS OF A 1960'S POLICE STATION
I can only talk about the running of a Police Station in the 1960's/70's. I would think little had changed over the previous 100 years - and, quite frankly, if a system works why keep making changes. This seem to be the prevailing attitude today - change for the sake of change - or, is it just me getting old ?
'HB' or Bethnal Green Police Station, was not the Divisional Station - however, because of the large population in the district it had a complement of some 200 Police and civilian staff.
The commander of the Station was a Chief Superintendent (equiv. to a Lt.Col. in the Army). He was assisted by a Superintendent.
The CID (Criminal Investigation Department) numbered about 25/30 - under a Det. Inspector.
There was a Process Dept., under an Inspector for dealing with Summonses. When you reported someone for an offence, the paperwork was reviewed in this Dept. to ensure there was enough evidence to go to Court. When you made a direct Arrest the Sergeant dealing with the Charge also, had the responsibility of ensuring that it was a legitimate arrest - with the evidence to prove the Act the arrest was made under.
The Station also had a detachment of Special Constabulary - who at that time were only allowed 2 hours duty a week. I remember one old Special who was an Estate Agent. When on duty he parked his Rolls Royce in a side street.
We had a fully staffed canteen and after 8p.m. we had facilities in the sitting area to make tea and light meals.
The uniformed Branch numbered some 120 men - split into 3 Divisions or, Reliefs. These were identified as 'A' "B' and 'C' Reliefs - each under an Inspector and two sergts.. The system was changed some time ago, however, the above had existed for very many years.
A 9 week cycle was followed. Early Turn was 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.. Late Turn was 2p.m. to 10 p.m. and Night Duty - 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.. You did 6 weeks of alternate Early and Late Turn and then 3 weeks continuous Night Duty.
You paraded 15 minutes early to be told what was happening, receive special duties and who was wanted. You also Paraded Appointments . This was to show you had your whistle, truncheon and report books.
You have to remember that Police are a disciplined Force and subject to the Rules laid down by Parliament and your Commissioner or, Chief Constable. For example - you don't decide which variation of uniform you will wear - Dress of the Day is shown in Force Orders. With holidays, sickness, time off and Court appearances the Relief rarely paraded more than twenty men - and sometimes much lower. Just meant we worked harder.
Hopefully, this brief outline will give you an idea of the set-up. With so many people with-in the Station you really worked with your own Relief - and the men on the other shifts. I was on 'B' Relief. Being so dependent on your colleagues for help in an emergency, you tended to become close friends - on and off duty. Although, as often happens you tended to have your own group.
When I finished learning Beats with Jock, my Relief was about to start on 3 weeks of Nights. This meant I would be Patrolling my assigned area - or, Beat - on my own. Being the East End, away from main roads the back streets were poorly lit.
Let me say right now - you don't know the meaning of ' Being on your Own ' until you have patrolled for the first time at night - and on a freezing February night....
Radios had only recently been introduced - and we did not have enough to go around. I'm fairly sure that friends I had made, had ensured I had one that first night. They were Swedish Stornos and quite powerful. The unit went in your back left pocket and the microphone was fed up to your tunic or, greatcoat lapel. You could hear all station calls and if you wanted to speak you pressed a button on the top. Messages went to our Reserve Room or, Communications Room. This was manned by two PC's and an elderley , retired PC, manned the switchboard.
We were supposed to return by midnight for refreshments - but, in the dark back streets I got hopelessly lost. It got to about 12.30a.m. and I knew I was a long way from the Station and knew that people would be wondering where I was. I didn't want to use the radio - I knew I would never hear the last of getting lost..........
The decision was made for me - I was looking in my A-Z wondering where the 'hell' I was, when 4 drunk yobos found me !
They were very cautious at first - then got 'cheeky'. I wasn't nervous of them - perhaps a little intimidated. There were 4 of them and I only stood 5' 8". I decided that I'd better call in for directions - doing so, it slipped out that I was having a little trouble.
Before I could turn round 5 Police cars and the van - plus some 20 police had arrived to see "what I was 'up to' " The whole canteen had turned out. Very embarrasing - but I knew then that I had friends.
The yobs got a quick lesson in having respect for their local Police - and I got lots of different lectures in letting people give assistance when it is needed.
I learned a lot from that incident - and of course - with time and experience you become a more confident person. However, like all of the Services - Military and Civilian - you have to learn that you are part of a team.
Next time - a few more incidents. Some years ago I was asked to write for a local Radio Station, some humerous memories. Having recently found them in the move from the shop, I will add one to each future post.
HUMOUR IN UNIFORM
One of the duties of a London Policeman is Reserve Duty. This is where , once in a while, you man the communications room and make sure that there are always a few uniformed men around the Station.
One quiet Sunday afternoon I had 'pulled' this duty and was thankful as it was a cold, wet afternoon in winter. About 3 p.m. the Duty Sgt. called me into the Front Office, where there were two men who were covered in mud. They said that in the morning they had been clearing a site (they were building workers) and had found two large iron objects. Thinking to sell them for scrap they had loaded them onto their open flatbed lorry. When they had gone for a drink someone said they looked like bombs and to bring them to the Police.
Needless to say I was very grateful !! One look told me that they appeared to be large shells or, even bombs without fins. Beating a retreat wouldn't have helped - if they had gone-up so would half the East End of London - I tried Bribery ! Take them to Commercial Street police station I said - they won't take so long to deal with them !! Not likely - they wern't moving an inch and expected me to deal with them. Eventually we managed to get them into a corner of the station yard and covered them with sandbags - the London Police have always been good at immediate action to to re-assure the public !
The 'bloody' workmen left and we had to evacuate the Station and the surrounding area until the bomb squad came to take them away.
YES ! They were live and very unstable - had to be detonated in a nearby park. They were 1st World War 8 inch Naval shells. Heaven alone knows what thay were doing in the East End of London ?
A couple of years ago - in Durban, I was asked to value and identify a deceased estate with militaria. The friend who was with me spotted a mortar bomb and picked it up - ' look', he said 'it's a Chinese one. Oh my God, it's live with it's detonator and it's sweating '. We retreated very quickly and the SAP bomb squad had to detonate it. Please, please - no-one bring me any more shells or, bombs.
I have split this post into two parts of 7 pictures each. The last time I tried to post I reached 13 - pressed the wrong
button and wiped everything - my language was quite 'bad'......
The Thames River Police were one of the earliest Forces set-up in London - in the 1790's. Their main purpose was to protect the West India Docks - which were constantly having attacks on the different ships valuable cargoes. Today they patrol all of the Thames area.
Another view of the Communications Room - remeber that all air traffic had to go through this room. I don't suppose it has changed much in the setting - just the modern equipment. I think it would be good if someone had access to a picture of the room now ?
The crew for the high speed area cars, was a driver and wireless operator , plus for certain times a plain clothes officer in the back to follow suspects on foot. I was actually trained as an operator for the radio - not easy trying to call a chase to the ops. room while doing 80mph in traffic.
I hope you have found these 50 year old memories of some interest - I think they have come to a natural conclusion and whilst I could continue the wise author knows when his audience is 'flagging'.Thankyou for reading
Sorry for the short delay - I have decided to retire and closing South Africa's top Collectors' Shop (Militaria, silver, porcelain, prints etc) has been a major undertaking after 24 years in the shop. Nearly finished and then things will - hopefully - get back into a routine.
We have talked in these past few blogs about my time in the Metropolitan Police - a period in my life that I greatly enjoyed. I am often asked by people about what would be a good career for their children - dependent on the child, if he/she is of a confident nature - then I always say that a job as a Police Officer is both a challenge and a satisfying way to spend your working life. There are many dangers - however, you have the companionship and friendship of your fellow Police, and there are many different careers within the police that you can apply for. Not everyone in this World has to be a high flyer - many of my friends were quite happy to remain as uniformed constables. They enjoyed the inter-action with the public and the salary allows a good standard of living. The choice is up to the individual to pick the Branch they wish to serve in - and to take the exams if they want promotion.
So, having given my short recruiting speech, I must remind you that I joined 46 years ago - and the Policing of those days was quite different then today. Not in a bad way - just that things are more technical today. One example would be the new pullover daily uniform. I hated it when I first saw pictures - now , I realise it is part of the modern way people dress and probably more functional then the heavy tunic. Daily life has changed and evolved and a modern Police Force has to do the same. Friends I am still in contact with after all these years always say - 'Mervyn, you would hate it today - so much paperwork and so many petty regulations."
I possibly would - we had a lot of freedom and discretion in those days to do our job. However, change is inevitable and most Countries today have pressures that didn't exist fifty years ago.
I came across a recruiting book that I was given when I first applied - so , probably printed 50 years ago. I am going to show some of the pictures - just to remind you of times past.
Dress of the Day - 'A' Division - in front of Houses of Parliament
The light m/cycle on the left is the Velocette air cooled Beat Patrol Bike. The main use was for delivering messages and attending to routine calls - however, they made many arrests. The m/cycle on the right is a patrol one for Traffic Division. Note the different headgear. The Velocette driver wore a standard helmet with extra re-inforcement.
A Member kindly told me recently, that this Blog is a part of Social History. I hadn't thought of it in this way - however, I suppose it will prove of interest to some Police researchers and perhaps, younger Policeman. The simple fact is that this happened to me personally, 47 years ago !
Since I was to spend the next 7 years there - here is a little history on the area.
The East End of London is to the left of the Tower of London - if you were facing the River Thames. Originally - in the time after King William 1st. (1066) it was reserved as a hunting area for the King. Gradually, it became a number of small market gardens , producing fruit and vegetables for London. However, large parts still belonged to the Sovereign and were administered by the Crown Estates.
The whole area was quite run-down and in 1968 large parts still had serious bomb damage from WW2. Despite the poorness of the area, most people were still staunchly Royalist - and some-what grudgingly, accepted 'us' , as 'their' police. I have always found it strange how people's opinion of the Police changes quickly when they need help.
The Royal Mint Map in 1833
The Royal Mint in 1833
The Royal Mint used to be on the left of the Tower - and was there for many years , before going to Wales in the 1970's. Prior to that it was with-in the Tower. The area around the Mint was an ancient one - still known today as the Minories - it was in fact an Abbey for the Minor Prioresses of the Order of St. Mary - created in 1494.
Sometimes distinguished people who were beheaded in the Tower , were allowed to be buried with-in the Minories. This beheaded scull is believed to be that of the Earl of Suffolk -- Lord Grey. He was the Father of Lady Jane Grey who seized the Thone for nine days. They were both beheaded.
When I was at Bethnal Green, the Governor of the Mint had the 'bad' habit of calling an 'Emergency' and then standing at the gates with a stopwatch. You had 3 minutes to get there ! I can remember some very frightening 80mph (140kph) across the East End to avoid an enquiry . The Area Car for HB had the call sign 'Hotel 2' - perhaps it still does ? It was one of three fast pursuit cars for the Division. They were Jaguar 2.4's at that time.
Moylan Police Section House was on a small turning off of the Ratcliffe Highway . This was an old road that ran between the Tower and the Isle of Dogs and the West India Docks. Because it was an important road - with numerous cross-roads it became known for it's illegal burials.
Suicides and executed people were not allowed to- be buried in Consecrated soil. The few that were allowed at the Minories, probably cost a great deal of money. The next best thing was a cross-roads - with it's shape as a Cross. Also, in this vicinity was the important Parish Church of St. George's East - it lay alongside the Highway. Over the years many bodies were buried at night - and are still often found when the road is dug-up.
St. Georges in the East - 1729
These two tipstaves for St. Georges date back to 1848 &9. Given each year by the Churchwarden to the in-coming Parish Constable
Having always had an interest in History I found the whole area to be full of old monuments and buildings. Should we continue with the Blog I will talk about some of the 'hidden' areas - the thing with London is that we have over 2000 years of continuous habitation and in the older parts so much of it has survived.
I START DUTY
Having settled in at the Section House, I had quickly discovered one serious problem. No under- cover parking. I had a Triumph TR4a sports car with a canvas hood at that time and quickly realised that it wasn't suitable. I changed it for a Singer Vogue - same as the Hillman Minx , but a little more varnished wood on the dash. A great car and although I missed the exhaust note of the TR - and the acceleration, it never let me down and with a friend from the Station we took it on a trip right through Spain and Morocco.
With the Section House we each had our own rooms, a nice canteen , TV room (if you liked Football...) laundry rooms and a small yard for cycles. A Sergeant was in overall charge.
These Houses were an idea from Victorian times - they gave young constables somewhere to live - and in an emergency a considerable body of men were available at short notice. We shared large bathroom facilities and I have quite fond memories of the place. We were from Stations all over the Division so, it was a way to make friends - and find out the 'gossip'..............
Bethnal Green's call sign on the radio was in the military alphabet - 'HB' - 'Hotel Bravo'. This stood for Bethnal Grren Police Station and 'H' Division. The Station has moved now, so this may have changed. However, I will in future use these initials for Bethnal Green. Incidentally, a Bethnal - in medieval language was a mental hospital.
Any new person , to any job, is wise to take things slowly and let people get to know you. I think this is advice some of new members on GMIC should remember. I know it took a few months until all of the older PC's gave full acceptance.
For the first month new Constables are posted with an older, experienced Constable. This period is called 'Teaching Beats'. He sets the hours and you are separate from normal activities. The idea is for you to learn the streets and the area. Also, to deal with as many different incidents as possible to give experience.
I was with a 20 year service Constable - we will call him Jock. He was to become a good friend and knowing the 'job' so well, was a great mentor. He certainly knew every place we could get a cup of tea on a cold, wet day !
I was amazed to find that we had three of Jack the Ripper's murder sites on our Ground (meaning our Station's area) There were always members of the public asking for directions - and if we had time it was nice to spend a little time telling them local history. One site - the house in Hanbury Street - was still exactly the same as the full page drawing in the Illustrated London News from 1888. This was where Annie Chapman was dismembered on 8 Sept. 1888 - the address was 29 Hanbury Street. Developers later pulled it down - but, I have been told that it is to be re-built ?
29 Hanbury St. 1888
The backyard. She was killed at the bottom of stairs.
We were walking back to the HB one morning when we spotted a big old Cadillac - mind you, it was probably new in those days. Bright pink and with the tall tailfins. It was parked outside a house in Vallance Road - where the Kray Brothers Mother lived. We walked over and were looking at the car when the Kray twins - Ronnie and Reggie - came out. We spoke generally and they wished me well. They hated the CID but, were very careful with Uniform Branch - we could have stopped them every few yards.
The Kray Gang was at it's peak at this time. Enormous investigations were being made of the various murders. I was told that Police believed they carried out far more then could be traced back to them - but, that's just gossip. Jock had shown me the bullet holes - still ringed with Police chalk circles, in an old wall where Jack 'the hat' McVity had been killed quite recently. There was also a search for one of their hitmen who had gone missing. Rumour had it that he was dropped into bridge foundations on the M1 .
A Pub in Mile End Road - The Blind Beggar' - used to have a framed bullet found behind panelling. This is where they claimed he had been shot. The owner's claimed the Police missed-it. Who knows ?
Next Chapter I join my 'Relief' ( the name for the patrol unit - at that time there were three giving 24 hour coverage) at HB and go on Patrol on my own.
I saw on TV that London has been subjected - yet again - to public disorder. I suppose a capital City will always be a target.
Probably the worst riots that London ever saw were the Gordon Riots of 1780. Lord George Gordon stirred-up a great deal of sentiment about the Catholic Relief Act of 1778. This allowed Catholics to join the Army without taking the religious Oath. The British Army was short of men, being actively engaged in the United States War of Independence , plus other areas, this Act was intended to help recruiting.
Demonstrations turned into violence and attacks on property and three prisons were broken into and the inmates allowed to escape. This made the situation even more violent and after three days the Guards and other Regiments were ordered onto the streets. Their order, discipline - and firepower brought things quickly under control. 285 rioters were killed. This was a lesson not quickly forgotten.
http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_06_2013/blogentry-6209-0-37423900-1372082849.jpgclick GORDON RIOTS - painting by John Seymour Lucas
During the Industrial Revolution - aprox. 1800's to 1850's - the Midlands and Northern Regions suffered from many outbreaks of violence and destruction. With really only the isolated local Constables, many Parishes swore in Special Constables from their citizens - often in the hundreds. They were usually equipped with a truncheon.
http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_06_2013/blogentry-6209-0-47176800-1372083205.pngclick Peterloo Massacre - 1819 - by Richard Carlile
When serious trouble occured and the Constables and Beadles lost control - the alternative was the Militia. The 16 August 1819 saw a very bad disturbence in Manchester - with many thousands in the crowd. The local authorities lost their nerves and ordered the Cavalry to charge. This became known as the infamous Peterloo Massacre - you cannot have a cavalry charge on men, women and children - mainly unarmed - without serious consequences. 15 were killed outright and between 400 and 700 maimed and injured.
These two outbreaks of lawlessness - even though 40 years apart - caused the Government to think seriously on the reform of Policing in the Country and eventually the Home Secretary, Sir Robert Peel - with the backing of the Prime Minister , the Duke of Wellington and from the Lord Chancellor , the Lord Lyndhurst - introduced the Act which led to the formation of the Metropolitan Police and their going on duty in 1829.
People often ask me how the Met. Police can be regarded as the first Civilian police force ?
Dublin and Glasgow did pre-date the Met. - however, there were also numerous small towns who had formed Town Forces. Many of their truncheons still survive. However, none of these worked in the same way as London - or, with an Act of Parliament (apart from Dublin ). The organisation that was created to administer such a big area and with so many men, was a totally new concept.
London and the Metropolitan Police can rightly be considered the first Civilian Police - and with it's distinctive style, was copied throughout Britain and very many other Countries - this also, included cities in the United States.
London must still be the only City of it's size, where the greater majority of the Force do not carry firearms. For me, this must be a main criteria for a 'civilian force' - and, of course, this applies to most - if not all - of mainland Britain. Our Police are citizens of their communities and are probably the mainland defenders of our British way of life.
Finally - week 13. We had exams to taken and - of course - all of the assessments made on us during the course were taken into account. I seem to remember that I came 2nd. or, 3rd. - really, it was not important - we had all come through together.
http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_06_2013/blogentry-6209-0-24335500-1372085462.jpgclick Class Photo - I am 3rd.row - on right.
We were issued with our truncheons and whistles at this point - to be followed with our Divisional numbers and Letters when we knew where we would be posted. We also had the class photo taken.
The truncheon was 17 inches long (37cm), with a wrist strap at the end. Sewn into your trousers on the right side was a long pocket - this was behind the usual pocket. Most of our class could be seen - after issue - practising 'quick draws'. They looked like something out of the old 'wild west'. I was lucky to be issued with a dark coloured 'stick' - as they were called. Made from heavy lignum vitae - a South American wood - it probably dated back to the 1880's, as did my whistle.
We had been asked to write down our Division of choice - however, it was explained that the final decision would be on which area needed replacements. Parts of the Met. area are quite rural - so, it is the Central Divs. that are preferred by most younger Constables.
I had asked for 'B' Div. - that is the Knightsbridge area (Harrods !). I thought it would be interesting. What did I get - 'H' Division - London's East End. They nearly had my letter of resignation the same day............ Fortunately I didn't and it was a great place to work - always something happening.
Epaulette insignia were now issued - they had to be on the uniform when you first went to the Divisional Station. Each letter and number had to be pushed through the cloth and then screwed-on - with so many jackets and coats it took forever. I expect they have a better way now ?
I had become Police Constable 'H' 639. A number that was to become well known.
I think my Course finished in Dec. 67 and I reported for duty early in January 1968. The acting Div. Station was Arbour Square Police Station - and it adjoined the famous Thames Magistrates Court. Commercial Street Station had been closed and the new Div. Station was being built at Leman Street. A very old street and a very old name. A Leman was the medieval word for a prostitute - very fitting.......... Leman Street has now been closed and my old station has been moved and is now the new Div. HQ.. Don't you just hate-it when you get old and everything keeps changing !
I think that there were three of us there that first morning - and the Chief Superintendent saw us separately - a very courteous thing to do. He explained that I was to be stationed at Bethnal Green Station - which was probably the heart of the East End. He also told me that I would have a room at Moylan House - Police section house - named after a former Commissioner. I was to be there for about eighteen months.
'H' Division was fairly small - approx. 2.5 miles x 2 miles (approx. 4 Kms x 3). Very denseley populated and at my time , still mostly 'cockneys'. Many have now moved to Essex and the 'Green' now has a very mixed population - with the famous Brick Lane area being mostly of Bangladashi descent.
For my next 'thrilling' episode - Jack the Ripper - and, I meet Reggie and Ronnie - the infamous Kray twins.
http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_06_2013/blogentry-6209-0-02187400-1372088014.jpgclick My original epaulettes for 'shirtsleeve order'
We seem to be progressing quite well with the story - and to my surprise seem to have a small following.
Episode 3 produced some debate and comment on the Commissioner and the Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police - this is good and helps to clarify points that might have caused confusion. You have to remember that I just sit down and type as memories return to me - I am bound to have a few lapses.
Twenty eight years ago I wrote a book on the History of Policing in England - this was mainly to show the background on the equipment of the past. Whilst there are many Force histories, I believe this still to be the only general one for collectors.
The routine continued and now - halfway through the course - it was all coming together and making more sense. The weather had been cold and we had a number of snowfalls - however, the winter uniforms and greatcoat had many years of practical design behind them and were warm and comfortable - just heavy.
I mentioned that the exhaustive background checks on new recruits were thorough - but, at first hand I was to see examples of where trainees were already in the system before it all caught-up with them.
One of these was in a class further along and his habit of keep disappearing to the Loo caused comment. Both his classmates and the staff noticed and eventually it was found that he was using a drug. Needless to say we never saw him again.
I have to be careful with these memories that I don't identify anyone by name - at least, those who had done wrong. I am still bound by the official secrets act - which binds all police officers. However, incidents I mention happened long ago.
The other incident was weeks later - we were having our mid-morning break in the canteen when the Chief Superintendent came-in - followed by two military police sergeants. They went straight to the table of a class that was close to graduation and arrested one man. This really took us by surprise - shock ! horror ! probe ! - what had he done ? Turned out he was a deserter from one of the Services. They caught-up with him just in time - he would shortly have been on patrol.
When you think about-it - if you managed to join, you would have a fairly good hiding place. I don't think it would be easy and eventually, they would be caught out.
I understand that from our original class of twenty, only six were still serving after our two year probationary period. The shift system is not to everyone's liking and certainly limits friends. I think it is why many Police marriages fail - and also, why many go out with and marry, nurses who understood the pressures.
We had regular classes showing restraint holds for prisoners - based mainly on wrestling moves. I found in training and later on the streets, that unless they held still I wasn't very good at applying them. My Father had done wrestling as a young man - but even he gave-up on me. The hold that did work for me was to hold their their right arm under my left one and grasp their hand under mine. If they struggled you could exert pressure to immobilise the wrist.
When I first went to Division handcuffs were carried around the steering columns of police cars - however,PC's took the keys for themselves and you could never use them. They are now issued - however, I solved the problem by buying my own - saved a lot of struggling.
They also instructed us - briefly - on the use of the wooden truncheon. 17 inches overall, (37.5cms) for constables and sergeants - and a shorter version for Inspectors (they were more expendable....) A very effective weapon, they were made from teak, ebony or lignum vitae. All very dense woods that don't float. Nowdays they use the extendable steel baton - which is based on a German WW2 commando version.
The only instruction that I remember being told, was never to hit anyone over the head. This is common sense. If your opponent is armed then the best place to strike is the arm holding the weapon. The 'hit' of choice is the collarbone - the arm justs drops.
Despite popular myth, most police could do their entire service without drawing their truncheon from the special pocket that ran down the right side. I probably used mine more for breaking windows when looking for people who hadn't been seen for a while. However, I did have occasion - on a number of times - to use it - and will cover those in future posts.
I GET INTO TROUBLE
We used to get Sundays off and the weekend before we started class 13 , I thought how was I going to get everything back to Bournemouth (100 miles or 160kms) away. I decided to go to Bournemouth by train and bring my car back for the week. I had a TR4A sports car at that time and since the ex-commandant's house had a big parking area - which other people used, I thought it would be OK. WRONG !
I was summoned to the Superintendent's office on the Wednesday. "Why is your personal car parked on Police property - which doesn't have insurance cover for your benefit" ? I was quite 'gobsmacked' - and then something happened which still makes me laugh today. The phone rang - he answered - and it must have been someone senior. He sat up straight with his left arm down his side at the attention position. I have never seen this done before, he was on a phone. After a further lecture he told me to remove the car at once. I replied that if I did , then I would keep driving and he could have my resignation. Shame - I was looking forward to going on duty. He was obviously of the 'old school' and I don't think anyone - particularly not at Hendon - had stood up to him. Reluctantly he told me I was not to resign and could keep the car until I left the following week. Some common sense at last.
I think the next chapter will cover my final days at Hendon - and then the first weeks after they released me on an unsuspecting public....................
One of our Members kindly commented that the Tower Blocks at Hendon Police College - a photo was shown in Part 3 - have been empty for a number of years. With that being the case, why were they built in the first place ?
The first home for the Metropolitan Police was Great Scotland Yard. This was on the Embankment of the River Thames - across the road from the Houses of Parliament. Before Scotland and England were joined in 1603 , when James the 6th of Scotland also, became King of England as James 1st. following the death of Queen Elizabeth 1st. - Scotland Yard had been the home and Embassy for the Scottish Ambassador.
The building was rebuilt for the Met. by the famous architect , Norman Shaw , in the later part of the 19th Century and was re-named New Scotland Yard. This building is still in use - however, the name moved to the new building in 1966/67.
When the planned move back to the Embankment takes place the name and the famous sign will be attached.
With the Metropolitan Police first 'Marching Out' in 1829, the whole concept of having a large disciplined force in place over a big part of Central London caused great concern. Until that point only some 4000 Parish Constables, Beadles and Night Watch were in charge of over one million people. There was little communication between them and events in one Parish would not be known in another.
The French Revolution and the oppressive policing by Napoleon's para-military forces caused fears in England that our New Police would act for the Government. This led to a number of crowd attacks on Constables of the 'New Police' - as they had become known. There was also constant bad publicity in the papers and from the pamphlets that used to be sold on the streets.
(by Bob Marrion-Plan drawer H Div.)
Quickly though, it was seen by the middle classes that this was a civilian orientated Force - and formed to keep them safe and the English way of life - preserved.
With only a thirteen week course there was an enormous amount of work to get through. The classes covered many subjects - the most being our knowledge of the Law , how we should question people , forms and statements etc.. I think the sheer volume of paper work daunted all of us.
All of the above was then tested on us with staged incidents. Great Fun - if you weren't the one being tested.
The class would be taken by your Sgt. to an area specially set-up for demonstrations. You might find two old cars pushed together as an accident scene. A man in civilian clothes (another instructor dressed-up) lying unconcious on the ground and behind the steering wheel of one of the cars a man slumped over.
Our instructor might shout out - ' Constable Mitton, you're on duty, walk around a corner and find this scene - what do you do ?' We all did the same thing - PANIC !
But then training took over - we had been taught PRIORITISE - deal with any violence first - then assist the injured. Call for help - if required - and find witnesses.
I walked over to the man on the ground - unconcious - and blood on left leg and on ground. You must remember that this was in the days before cell phones and police radios - which were just being introduced. Ask one of the crowd - there is always a crowd, even in Instr. classes - to run to a shop and call Police and Ambulance. Turn him on his side - make sure airways are clear and that he isn't bleeding to death.
Then - to the man behind the wheel - drunk out of his mind and mumbling. Fine - ambulance is on the way - see if they think he needs hospital - or, if I can take him to Police station. Again, there was no Breathalyser at this time. I'm checking for witnesses and a distraught woman runs out of the crowd - 'Thank God I've found you Officer - my sister is having a baby'. PANIC - PANIC ! Where is she - is someone with her - has an ambulance been called ?
While your'e sorting all of this out, there will be other staged incidents - and all the time notes are being kept on your handling of the situation and points given. Sometimes, I felt it was easier being a 'vagrant' on the bus.......
There is nothing like this to give you better training and an understanding of your new job - I clearly remember , we all thought this was just to teach and test us. However, when you go on duty you quickly learn that real life is far more stressful and multiple events regularly happen. Because you are the man with the 'pointed hat' and the blue uniform you quickly find that most people standwell back and wait for you to do 'something'.
You have only to see the pictures of the murdered soldier in Woolwich to see how the crowd formed a circle very well back. However, had a Constable been present, I am sure you would have seen him run forward with only a truncheon to 'do his duty'.
I have gone into some detail with the training - ex-police and soldiers in the Forum, will nod knowingly - we have all experienced the pressure. Hopefully, others - and our Google readers will find it of some interest. Once again - please remember that things are different 47 years-on.
TIME OFF FOR GOOD BEHAVIOUR
The routine was varied with some outside trips. For one day the Class was attached to a regular Police Station and we were individually taken on patrol. I remember walking around Camden and thinking - 'I hope I don't get posted here " . My early instincts were to arrest anyone under 20 - but, the Constable walking me round said I needed a reason - more damn red tape !
The other interesting place we visited was the Met. Police Museum. This was above Bow Street - the Divisional Station, and had a wonderful collection of early Met. related historical items. When Bow St. was demolished the Museum was closed and the collection went into storage.
The Museum has now re-opened and I understand has been very well done. Perhaps someone can tell us if it is open for visits - and if the answer is 'YES' - is there a contact number ?
Recruiting doesn't always get the right people and next time I will tell you of some incidents that took place during my thirteen weeks.
I said in Part 1 that Peel House may have been the first Metropolitan Police Training School. I was right and a little research showed that it was first opened in 1907. Strange that I was there for it's final two weeks in 1967. I think it may have been kept for Police offices and was only sold a few years ago for a large new flat development. One has to compare all of these sales of Police property as 'selling off the family silver'.
Over the years I have seen so many 'bright' new officers arrive - all with one idea - get noticed. First it was armbands - then an attempt at whistles - then truncheons. These are just the noticeable ones - but, the effect is the same. When you have changed all the traditions - sold all the buildings - changed the teaching disciplines - what are you left with. 32,000 men who have lost their links with an important historical past - and the morale which uniqually made them one of the most important Forces in the World.
The new Peel House is the Admin. building at the re-built Hendon Police Training College. I am showing a picture of the very impressive central tower - totally different to the Hendon of my day - then it was mainly one level buildings and in a smaller area.
Built-in the 1930's the first College was the idea of Lord Trenchard who was the Metropolitan Commissioner at that time. Like very many senior ex-service officers' of that period, it was thought that only people from 'background' should be officers. He set-up Hendon as an Officers Training School - along the lines of Sandhurst - but for training officer's of police.
There were quite a number who graduated as Inspectors. However, World War 2 happened and Hendon was closed. When it re-opened after the War it was for training Constables.
The Police have always promoted from with-in their own ranks - although the Commissioner and Chief Constables were often brought to the Rank from senior Army officers. When I first joined the Commissioner was the first to be promoted to that rank from starting as a Constable. His name was Simpson and he was a very good influence on the Met. and highly regarded. I think all senior positions from that time have been police promotions - although, often from other Forces.
The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police is the most senior officer in England and Wales - he is followed by H. M.'s Chief Inspector of Constabulary and third in seniority is the Deputy Commissioner. Chief Constables rank below these officers.
WE ARE EVICTED.............
I think my class were the very last ones at Peel House - unfortunately, Hendon was still not ready for us. We were put into temporary accomodation above a Police Station in North London - still bussing it daily like a group of uniformed vagrants.
After about five weeks of this nonsense Hendon found us a billet - they had quickly taken over the Commandant of Cadets house in the officers section, and installed the twenty of us at 4 per room. One bathroom and one toilet between us - I'm still not sure why I didn't run away ! I used to get-up at 5 a.m. to have a bath. As for the Commandant of Cadets - I never did find out what happened to him - they probably had him in a tent in the park......
Life could now settle into a harried routine of classes , studying in the evening and then preparing uniforms and shoes for early morning parade. How this must 'ring a bell' for all of the servicemen in the Forum who will have gone through something similar.
One of the larger items we were given with our uniforms was the ' dreaded' Instruction Book. This probably weighed well over a kilo and had ring binders. A large envelope was attached with all of the revisions - endless evenings of work. Even worse, we had to learn - word perfect - the provisons of the various Acts.
When you make an arrest you do so from your knowledge of the Law. Lawyers have the luxury of being able to prepare their cases with plenty of time. A Police Officer does not have this - you may have only seconds to make a decision - get it wrong and there will be serious problems. So, it is vital that a Constable knows his law and understands what powers he has been given. I should add - that often , having made a decision, you then find yourself fighting them amongst parked cars.
When I joined, the course to become a Constable was thirteen weeks in length - then two years as a probationary Constable. This was under the supervision of a designated Sergeant, who was your advisor - and, you also attended for two days a month, for instruction - this was at special buildings attached to a Divisional Station.
The end of Week 13 had a passing out parade - your official class photograph - and the posting to your Division. We were allowed to ask for the Division you would like to be posted to - and we all had our own thoughts on this.
This was still in the future - for now, I was just a number.
Several people have asked me why I decided to do a Blog on this subject. There is no particular reason - I
have mainly started it to support this Forum section - we haven't had any longer ones for a while. I also
thought that members who have not served in the Police might find it of some interest ? Police are the most
visible of our support Services - in fact we take them as part of everyday life - however, few people know
the training and experience that goes into doing the job well.
Whilst I write from my own experiences - every young Policeman has gone through virtually the same learning
curve. Experience and knowledge come with training and with help from your colleagues. Please do remember
that my training days were a long time ago - things have greatly changed since then.
So, one summer's morning in July 1967 saw me at the Metropolitan Recruiting Centre in Borough High Street, on
the South Bank of the Thames. They gave me enough forms to fill a small bag and I went off to fill them-in. This
was quite a task - every period of my life had to be accounted for - and addresses and contact information given.
I was 30 at this time and had worked and been at School, in a number of Countries so, this was no easy task.
Eventually it was completed and sent off - and I stalled on the job in HongKong to see what would happen. Month
followed month and I had heard nothing - I phoned to see if they wanted me - "Yes, we do - but where were you
for 6 months in 1963 ?" I hadn't a clue - back to old desk diaries - and Yes, I was saved. I hadn't been in Prison
for 6 months as they must have thought , but had been on 6 months paid leave from Thailand. They checked on this
and I was accepted after a medical.
This wasn't the usual quick one - but was very thorough. I had an op. scar behind one ear - could this cause problems
if I was hit on the head - I had no plans to be hit on the head - so didn't think it would be a problem. I ended up having
tests of some type and all was well.
Late in September I packed a bag and reported to Peel House. This was one of the original training schools for the Met.
- if not the First. It was a very dingy old building - in a street of equally unpleasant old houses behind Victoria Railway
Station. I think that if I had known what was ahead with accomodation I would have run off to HK.
We were welcomed and warned that we would be bussed to Hendon Police College every morning - and return to sleep
at Peel House every night. The bus trip took over an hour each way. Peel House was as rough inside as it looked outside.
However, my 'class' were delightful - and in the face of adversity we 'bonded' and shared our problems. Forty seven
years later I am still close friends with several of them - and even a 'Godfather' to one of their children.
The nicest thing about Peel House was that the walls of the Hallways were covered with old decorated truncheons and
tipstaffs. I spent hours looking at them and working out which areas thay had been for. Later, after the building was
demolished they were taken to Bramshill Training College (for senior police around the Country). When I visited there
to research my book I was able to see them still stacked in the basement.
There had been a period for the Police in England and Wales when recruitment was put on hold - rather similar to the
present situation. I was in the first in-take after this ruling was relaxed - and we were a double class. exMilitary were able
to join up until their 38th year - we were 20 in total and the appointed classleader was from the Welsh Guards. He was
a great help to us all - I often wonder what happened to him - he would be 84 today.
Came the Monday morning and we were on a bus trying to cross London in rush-hour. When we reached Hendon - way
on the other side of London - we were met by our class instructor. Nice chap - he was a sergeant and if I remember had
a young family, so he had volunteered to be an instructor for a few years - this way he could keep normal hours.
The first job was that we were taken to stores and issued with our uniforms. The Met. take pride in having well fitted
uniforms and tailors were on hand to arrange any alterations. Two helmets, one flat cap, winter uniforms, summer uniforms,
winter greatcoats, summer raincoats , car coats, leather note book covers - and so the list went on. I remember that I
didn't walk out - I staggered. And we still had to get it back across London on a bus. We did not have whistles, armbands
or, truncheons at this time . Neither did we have a warrant card. The numerals on our shoulder straps were TS with the
number underneath. This stood for Training School - we were warned not to get involved in any police actions - as we
weren't one yet.................
We had a week to fit our uniforms and get used to wearing them - imagine 20 of us trying to get access to the iron ! Like
any body of recruited men, these times of worry were the founding of friendships for years to come.
The following Monday we were checked for correct uniform and marched to a classroom. We were shown how to sit at
attention - shortly after were called to stand at attention and an Assistant Commissioner was escorted into the room by the
Chief Superintendent of the College. He welcomed us - wished us well and proceeded to 'Swear' us in as Constables
of Her Majesty's Police. This was known as the Attestation Ceremony and from that point on we had the same powers
as trained Police Officers.
For better - or worse - certainly worse for any criminals I was to come across - I was now a Policeman.
Good God - what had I done.......................
This being a quiet Sunday afternoon - overcast and cold (19o C this morning) - it seems a good time to start this new Blog entry. My earlier ones have had good readership - the one on Wartime years is now over 8000 views. I appreciate that many of these are from Google - virtually everything we write is picked-up and published under different headings.
I have had this idea for a while - and perhaps our Members will find it of some interest ? I joined the Metropolitan Police in 1967 and served for 7 years in London's East End. This makes it 46 years ago and a lot has happened in that time. The Police of today do not have a great deal in common with those earlier years.
One quick word of explanation - these days Police tend to call themselves Police Officers. Technically, this is correct. Police are Officers of the Court. All Police have the same basic powers of arrest - be they very senior officers or, constables. The intermediate rank is Sergeant - followed by Inspector and up-wards. From Inspector they are Officers of Police, since they have supervisory rank.
In 1829 the Home Secretary, together with the PrimeMinister - the Duke of Wellington - and the Lord Chancellor, brought into being - through an Act of Parliament - the Metropolitan Police. The Dublin Police had been the first Force and had been succesful - there had also been a few other early small Forces. However, Policing as we know it, really does start with the Metropolitan when they first 'Marched Out' in 1829. They were the first civilian Force and grew to be very much part of the Community they lived-in. Previous overseas forces had been an arm of the Governments i.e. para-military units.
When I first joined there were some 28,000 uniformed and plain clothes Police - plus - approx. another 15,000 civilian staff. I am not sure of the totals in 2013 - however, even with the cutbacks it must be higher.
The rank of Constable is a very old one - and is still used in a non-police capacity. For example - the Governor of the Tower of London - always a very senior retired officer - is the Constable of the Tower. It is thought the word is of Roman origin and was possibly the Comes Stabuli or, Count of the Stables for the Emperors. I do not intend getting too technical - these are just quick explanations to give you a background.
The British are a very conservative people and our earlier Policing has come down directly from the Anglo-Saxons. There are still words and traditions being used that are over 1200 years old. The US Sheriff and the Sheriff's Posse are in fact English and the Sheriff was the King's representitive in the County. Parish and Town Constables were the main form of public control and in 1829 the one million inhabitants of London were under only some 4000 Night Watch and Parish Constables. The first time the word Police was used officially was with the Dublin Police Act of the 1790's.
Scotland has just become one unified Force and I expect the politicians would like to do the same for England and Wales. Hopefully, they will be stopped. Separate Forces that understand the inhabitants of their areas are - in my opinion - greatly preferable to one conglomerate.
MY POLICE STORY
My family had emigrated to Australia after World War 2 - as did many British people . I had cousins in Australia and through them my Father was able to get me admittance to Geelong - Australia's senior Public School. I have always been very proud to have been there and to be able to call myself an Aussie. Very unpretentious people - but so friendly. When I left School I didn't want to go to University - the pressures weren't the same in those days and I couldn't see the point of a degree when I wasn't going into a profession. Instead I was accepted by the top Advertising Company in the World - J.Walter Thompson. In my entire life I have never been asked for a ref. or to produce any previous work. A telephone call was all it took from your boss. How different the World is today - my god-daughter spent the whole of last Saturday taking 4 accountacy exams.
Cutting a long story short - after all, I am leading up to why I joined the Met. Police - I worked 4 years in South Africa in the 1950's - returned to live in Brisbane and was 'headhunted' to work in Thailand for 3 1/2 years - in advtg.. I returned to the UK on 6 month's home leave and was again asked to run an advtg. agency in Sierra Leone, West Africa. I was there for two years - still a safe place in those days - but I still have recurring Malaria from those days. I returned to live in Bournemouth and was considering an offer of another overseas posting - however, I was 30 at that time and you could not join the Police in London unless you had British citizenship, had been 6 months in the Country and were not over 31.
This forced me to a serious decision. I had wanted to serve in the Australian Army and had been selected for Duntroon (their off's trng. school) . My Father had refused to sign , so that went 'out the window' - however , the British Police - particularly London had always been an interest. Hesitate - and I would be over acceptance age.
The Battle of Isandlawana in 1879 was the worst defeat inflicted on Britain in a Colonial War. For that reason
alone, this old newspaper report is a valuable document. However, it is far more then that - the details given
make it a valuable historical document, and it for this reason that I am posting it on the BLOG section. This
will allow it to be read by nonMembers who can access it from Google.
Basically it is the story of Mr. W.M. Adams - who died in December 1916 at the age of 96. The report of his
death and a short history of his life appeared in the Pietermaritzburg (Capital of Natal) "Natal Witness" of Dec.8th
1916. The story was written by a close friend of his and is therefore accurate - making it a rare historical
document from an earlier time.
Mr. Adams was born in England in 1820 - 7 months after the death of King George 3rd. He came to Durban at
at 22 years of age in 1842 - which makes him one of Natal's earliest pioneers
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..................................................................THE LATE MR.W.M. ADAMS........................................................
.....................................REMINISCENCES OF ISANDLAWANA................................
Mr. William Adams Snr., whose photograph appears in this issue ,so well known in the Northern Districts as one of
the old pioneers, passed away on November 28th at the ripe age of 96.
I had known him intimately for some years and it is difficult to believe that the genial old gentleman, who strongly
held his own for half a century, and who so succesfully faced the hardships and perils of those early days, has at last
relinquisheed the struggle and answered the call to his long rest.
Mr. Adams landed at the Port of Durban in 1842, arriving in the 'King William' which accomplished the journey from
England in 3 1/2 months. He was then 22 years of age. Durban hardly existed in those days and ' McDonald's
Hotel ' where Mr. Adams took refuge was built of sods ! The young man became a trader and hunter and in the
course of his wanderings for 30 years he visited almost every part of South Africa, at one time venturing as far North
as the Zambesi.
Natal was then a hunters paradise and lions and elephants often fell to Mr. Adam's gun . Once an elephant
attacked him with such suddeness that he could only fall flat on the ground to avoid the charge. The animal's
feet actually missed by inches, but luckily the impetus carried the elephant sufficiently ahead to enable Mr. Adams
to recover his gun and as the animal returned to the attack he shot it dead.
Another time, Mr. Adams was being carried across the Tugela River by a native and just as they reached the bank,
the unfortunate native was seized by a crocodile and killed - Mr. Adams barely reached the bank.
In 1853 he married Maria Elizabeth Strydom. It was a happy union. She cheerfully with him the perils and the
privations of those early days accompanying him in his journeys proving herself a true helpmate and a good
mother to his children. She has survived him and is now 82 years of age.
Lattererly they have lived in a small cottage near the Helpmekaar Magistracy, with one of their Grandsaughters
as a companion. The home was not an elaborate one but it was spotlessly clean, and the old couple seemed as
contented with one another's society as they must have been when first married.
Their honeymoon took the novel form of a hunting trip to Zululand, in which they had an exciting experience.
One day a couple of lions stalked out of the shrubs ahead and barred the path. Their manes bristled and they
showed every indication of an attack upon the frightened oxen. Mr. Adams and two of his natives rushed
ahead, covering the lions with their guns - and shot them dead.
The young trader was well acquainted with the famous Dick King, and he often related the story of how one
winter's night he and Mr. King rode from Durban to Botha's Hill, the latter told him of his stirring ride to the Cape'for reinforcements. It was a wonderful story and Mr. Adams always spoke of Dick King as a ' fine fellow'.
One of Mr. Adam's earliest ventures was the establishment of a trading station at what is now Bond's Drift.
Here he met the veteran Dutch pioneer, Piet Hogg , and they had an exciting experience with the warlike Zulus.
It was just about the time that Cetywayo and Umbulazi were disputing for the headship of the Zulu Nation. One
day an armed party of Zulus swept down upon the traders , carried off the oxen and left the owners and their
families stranded. The plucky traders went off in hot pursuit, caught up the marauders and at great personal
risk demanded the return of the oxen. They were succesful and wisely decided to immediately trek South until
matters became more settled.
A year or two later found Mr. Adams and his family settled about four miles from Rorke's Drift. The country was
then a native location, there being only four white families in the district. One of those was Mr. Rorke, whose name
will live forever in history, on account of the famous drift named after him.
When Cetywayo finally became King it was apparent to Mr. Adams - living as he did on the border - that serious
trouble was brewing. He joined the Border Mounted Rifles, and at the outbreak of war held the rank of
Quarter Master Sergeant.
.........................................................http://gmic.co.uk/uploads/monthly_08_2012/blogentry-6209-0-38958400-1344782858.jpgclick to enlarge...........................................
There was no adventure which he told so freely as those which befell him in the Zulu War. He and his son were
present at the fatal battle of Isandlawana. He was one of the first to realise the danger on that disastrous day.
The small British force was scattered, and as the mighty Zulu Impi, half moon in shape sprang out of their hidden
dongas and began advancing on to the doomed band, Mr Adams pleaded with the Imperial Officers to concentrate
and form a laager. His advice was unheeded. He fired to the last and as the 'horns' were closing round, he and
others , seeing that all was lost, dashed through the opening and made for Fugitives Drift. He was pusued most of
the way and just managed to reach the Buffalo River in safety. A few days later he had the joy of meeting his son
whom he had given up as lost and who had escaped at a drift lower down. ' How did you manage to escape ' I
more then once asked him and the old gentleman - with a twinkle in his eye - woulkd reply ' Funk and a good horse'.
Mr. Adams also took part in the first Boer War, this time in the Transport Service. At the close he returned to
Rorke's Drift, where he remained until the outbreak of the second Boer War. He was taken prisoner by the Boers,
sent to Pretoria, but subsequently released and he ultimately arrived via Delgoa Bay. Later he was joined by his wife who
though 60 years of age, evaded the Boers and in a small waggon crossed Zululand and entered Natal through
He was fond of telling of the changes that had taken place in Durban since he first saw it. Then it was a collection
od sand dunes and thick bush and these had now given place to an up-to-date and prosperous seaport , with trams,
macadamised streets and all those things which mark the advance of a 20th. Century civilisation.
He returned to Rorke's Drift, but in 1910 after a residence there of 54 years he sold out and purchased a small home at
Helpmekaar, where the old couple spent their declining years. He took a keen interest in the present European War
and enjoyed good health to the last. We all hoped and believed he would reach his Century.
He was born 7 months after the death of George 3rd. of England and so lived during the reign of 5 Sovereigns.
On the morning of the 24th November he looked ill. Mrs Adams sent for the Doctor who pronounced the illness
to be of a serious nature. He never rallied but passed peacefully on the 28th ultimoo and was buried in
Helpmekaar the following day.
In addition to his widow, he leaves 6 children (living) , 36 grand children and 10 great granchildren.
I hoped you enjoyed reading of this early pioneer - of people such as this the British Empire was set-up.
I am sorry for the delay with the Police novel. I am actually 2 chapters in hand - and will
re-commence soon. I will also add a couple of entries for my WW2 memories - surprisingly
I have had several requests - including from Google readers.
What if :
This will only be a short post and really stems from a conversation I had with someone in the shop.
We were talking of developments in the communication field and started to think of where the present
day World would be without these modern inventions we all take for granted.
For example - how would we communicate without computers and cell phones ? Just 25 years ago
most telephones were still operated by a dial - faxes had gained a lot of use after the long postal
strike in the UK in the 1970's. I spent a week doing a course on how to operate a 'Ticker tape' machine - the only means we had to contact Motor Registry at Swansea. Today they are hardly used - just endless emails and a
proliferation of scammers trying to send you 2 million dollars they don't know what to do with.........
However, the changes are a lot deeper then just the equipment. Everyone has become an instant
'expert' with google. A very useful tool to look something-up - but, it certainly doesn't make people
experts - that still requires years of experience.
This carries forward with the growth of media networks such as Twitter and Facebook. Obviously
they serve a need and I am sure can help with all sorts of friendships and research. But, the question
is - do they actually serve any purpose ? Should they all be closed down tomorrow - would the World
be a 'poorer' place ? Personally, I think not.
Age has a lot to do with modern applications - the older we get , I suspect, the less we are willing to
embrace these new gadgets. I do think the cell phone was a wonderful invention - in Countries like
South Africa where the old Government had not allowed phone lines into rural areas , the African
communities were cut off from famiies and also, medical or, police help. Cell phones have re-united
families. Having said that, I want the use of the phone - I don't want to send SMS's which are better
as an email.
Whilst risking having myself called an 'old fossil' , I have never sent an SMS - or, stood waiting to use an
Really, it is within the space of my lifetime that all of these changes have happened. When I was born in
1936 England was still virtually as it was at the end of Queen Victoria's Reign. WW2 was the catylist that
brought changes. Who could imagine life without kitchen paper - a cloth over the kitchen taps was the
forerunner. TV - if you had the money , was a large box with a small 8 inch (20cm) screen - and B&W. Now I
even have a large colour monitor to watch the four sides of the house.
Just thoughts from the past - but, ones that make you wonder what will be available in a further 75 years.
Make a 'comment' and tell us what you think will be the future ? Mervyn
There have been some delays in finishing this Blog. The extension to our Photographic Competition took longer then we had expected. However - here are the final two parts to this section of my life - the younger part !
THE END BEGINS...............
I covered in earlier chapters the damage to life and property created by the German V1 and V2 rockets - looking at the map
which shows detonations I am amazed that any of us survived. However, after the D-Day landings in 1944 the German schedule was interupted and gradually the Rockets became less frequent.
Shortages were something that we had learned to live with - which was just as well since they continued to get worse - not better. School and the usual activities of an active group of schoolboys did not allow for introspection - we just got on with life.
With the Allied and US advances continuing the press seemed to give out more details and we all followed events closely on large maps. I remember at school that in the main Hall we had a particularly large map and everyday map pins - in different colours - were used to show advances and set-backs. I don't think I ever saw it without a crowd around and we certainly knew our European Countries.
HOW LIFE HAD TO CHANGE:
Even with clear memories of the period I still find it difficult to describe a total absence of any lights at night - of public
transport being fragmentary and really only used in daytime - at least by us younger ones. My Uncle - who was a wealthy stockbroker , used to take me to his home in Somerset for a few weeks each summer. We had to travel on a steam train - which would be packed to capacity with servicemen. He and his City friends were - of course - First Class and we had seats. I always thought this was wrong and even at 8 years old used to say we should let people into the carriage.
The other thing we learnt to live with was the terrible bomb damage - wherever you looked buildings had gone - streets
were in tatters. Paint was very scarce - so, buildings all looked dirty and decayed. Even during the War , my parents would take me once a year to central London to get school uniforms and look for presents. My favourite shop at that age was Gamages - who had a lovely pet section. I think it was for Christmas 1944 we made the expedition - only to find it had been bombed totally flat - just gone !
Victory in Europe Day had been building for quite a while - the newspapers and the radio were reporting our succeses
and the atmosphere was 'not if' - but 'when'. This still didn't really mean a lot to us - we just had no idea of what 'normal' life was. For example - I had never seen or, eaten a banana. I had never seen a coconut - just so many things.
May 8th 1945 the War was declared over in Europe - that evening lights were switched-on. That was a shock to a small boy who had never seen street or, car lights. My Father had a small petrol allowance for the business and he had saved some coupons. A few days after, we joined heavy traffic to drive to the West End of London and see Piccadilly Circus - and with all of the old pre-war neon signs on. WOW ! We were easily pleased.
The crowds outside of Buckinham Palace and Downing Street are still something used for comparisons. I will show a number of pictures from this time. The story will continue for one further chapter to 1949 when we emigrated to Australia.
A V2 rocket on display in Trafalgar Square in 1945. St. Martin's in the Field and South Africa House in background
There has been some problems with the software - I have deleted photos that wouldn't show and will post them all in this section.
Re-reading the last section I may have given the impression that we all walked around like shaking jellyfish - this would not be correct. The whole business of the War - from my point of view as a small boy growing-up, was quite surreal. I had no memories of times before these - so, strange as it may seem - these were part of my life. I think it would be true to say that everyone was worried - but life has to go on - and we , as British people, had a determination to survive and maintain our way of life. Perhaps that sounds a strange thing to say for a 7 year old boy - but we knew what was involved - we knew our heritage - and at that time in our history, we were united populations standing behind our King and Mr. Churchill.
Sometimes it takes a time of great peril and danger to cause a great Country to come together. I think - even with hindsight -
that this was such a time. We all felt it and yet 67 years later I find it difficult to describe why we had these feelings.
This is a V2 rocket - shown at the Imperial War Museum in London
Another view of the rocket with details
This map shows the central area of London. You will see the rriver Thames, the central area and suburbs. Lewisham will be seen and just above and to the right - Blackheath where I lived
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Each of the yellow bursts represents a V2 explosion. You will find the HAM in Lewisham - where I lived is buried under the explosions !
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Finally, this map shows a much larger view of the London area. Was it by accident that the City and inner suburbs had the worst of the Rockets ?
How the World has changed from these early days of WW2. Blitzkreig in 1940 - V1 Rockets in 1944 and V2 Rockets in late 1944 . Today we are so used to modern remote controlled weaponry - Tomahawk Cruise Missiles can fly hundreds of miles and land within a few metres of their targets
The point I am making is that we had suffered 4 1/2 years of intensive bombing - damage that was quite unbelievable -
and deaths by the tens of thousands. This was followed from June 1944 by the V1 rockets - known to everyone as
Buzz Bombs. We have already covered how their Buzz signaled motion - when that stopped you had about a minute before it landed. This in itself was problematic - high winds, not as much fuel , glidepath - all changed directions and distance. When it stopped we ran for the nearest shelters.
This was to change even more drastically from September 1944.
British Intelligence had known about the development of the V2 at Peenemunde and the RAF had made several daring bombing raids. However, the first ones landed as a complete horror surprise. This was war on a different level - and,
we - in London - were very frightened.
WAS THIS THE END ?
The problem with the V2 was that it was fired vertically - ascended to a height of some 60 miles and came straight down at over 2000 miles per hour (2800 kms). It carried a ton of high explosive and you had no warning at all. London was the main target - again they were primarily being aimed at the London Docks - which stretched for miles along the River Thames. However, as with the V1 they had primitive - by today's standards - steering, and could land in an area of some ten miles from where they were aimed.
One never knew when a V2 would hit - we all slept in shelters again - but , if one hit you didn't have much chance.
Mordern Road was hit at each end - but at different times. The damage was very bad and the first time my Father was involved. I can't rmember what day it was - probably a weekend - I do remember we were having a sandwich for lunch -
without warning there was an explosion which stunned us. Windows broke and we could hear crashing everywhere - I was in total shock. My Father rushed off to try and help and was gone for some two hours. The rocket had landed near the end of Mordern Road - near to the remains of the Paragon, which I mentioned in an earlier posting.
Workmen had been working almost exactly where it came down - I think they were repairing a water main - damaged in a previous attack. There were quite a number and nearly all were killed. I shall never forget my Father coming back in a state of total shock and covered in blood - this was from trying to dig out bodies. He would never tell me about the scene.
Later , we were hit by one at the other end of the Road - at night - so, casualties were not as bad - however, I think some people were killed. All security and school activities were curtailed and the streets became even more empty of traffic.
Our problem was that Blackheath was at the right distance and angle for overshoots from the dock attacks.
I haven't really thought what I'm going to write about today. I think we have started to get towards the last two years of the War - and that was not the quiet time that we might have expected. I will probably cover it in two parts.
I have enjoyed writing this - even if it is a little time consuming. I intend continuing until I was 12 and we left to live in Australia. I will cover the trip and stop when we arrive in Melbourne.
I have said before - and will probably continue to annoy you by repeating it at frequent intervals - there is no way to tell how many are reading the blogs. Unless you comment, it could be just the writer !
I was brought up in Australia - did my Military service there. We then moved for four years to South Africa. After returning to Aussie in 1960, I worked in Brisbane for 4 months and was then 'head hunted ' to work for 3 1/2 years in Thailand. I went back to UK and was then asked to run an advtg. agency in Sierra Leone - West Africa. I then served for 7 years in the Metropolitan Police - eventually running the family business when my Father died unexpectedly. My home in Sth. Africa was a holiday place to visit - but, a few years ago my heriditary Muscular Dystrophy got worse and I am now unable to leave this Country. I have put these details in for a reason.
Would any one of my two readers (?) like me to continue in chapters and cover the different Countries I lived and worked in ? Remember we are talking the 1960's/70's and 80's. The World was a lot different - travel was easier and everything wasn't blocked with tourists. Should I live that long, I envisage the different sections would take about 12/18 months.
Eventually, they will probably be taken to publish as a book - after some polishing.
So, the question is - do you want me to continue this as a series ?
WE ARE HIT
When I started this blog I was 2 3/4 and the War had just started. Now we have reached 1943 and I am about 7 - this is an age when you understand what is going on around you - and I, and my friends certainly did. We read papers, we listened to the radio and at school were given sensible up-dates. No-one treated us as little children - we were all in the same danger and it was appreciated by adults that we needed to know for our own protection.
There were still sporadic bombing attacks and much damage - very few houses were undamaged. Our bedrooms were in the basement and my Father had made shutters to protect us from blast. Sometime during this period we had a severe night raid - I have always slept soundly and sometime in the middle of the night awoke to hear my parents in my room talking to each other. I asked what was wrong and they said the house had been badly hit - and I had slept right through all of the noise. Houses around had also been damaged, but most of the bombs had hit he edge of the Heath and it was blast that had caused the damage. Being Victorian, all of the house glass was 1/4 inch plate (1 inch = 21/2 cm.) The back of the house windows survived - everything else was just splinters - including my lovely pond yacht. That, I never forgave them for.
Needless to say - with all of the shortages - it took weeks / months to get the glass replaced. We were all just thankful that we - and our friends and neighbours had survived. The funny thing was that my little Cairn 'Tess' had not even barked.
WHAT YOU HAVEN'T HAD - YOU DON'T MISS !
There were no carbonated drinks in those days - soda water used a special bottle that was filled at the factory and you took the empty bottle - with it's lever action to the off license for exchange. All bottle were glass - no drinks used tins. The
usual drink was an orange or, lemon cordial which was watered down in the glass. If we wanted a 'fizzy' drink we used to put in 1/2 a teaspoon of Andrew's Liver Salts. Quite tasty - it fizzed and probably kept us 'regular'.
I can remember you could buy Heinz tomato sauce and there was a pickle called Pan Yan - which you can still buy and I am quite fond of. Coca Cola and all of the other things taken for granted today , were just not available. I think they started to come into the uk when the US joined the War and their men wouldn't fight without it. Sweets - as I said - earlier were very rationed. We would usually buy 'Bulls eyes' as they lasted longer.
With clothing being heavily rationed and my allowance going on my school uniform, things like underclothes, shirts and socks were kept in repair and seemed to have a life of their own. I have never worn a pir of darned socks since I started work. The other thing that is taken for granted today is all of the ingredients for a cake. Dried fruit had to come from the West Indies and the ships brought food that was so desperately needed. You know - thinking about it - I don't remember any fat or, overweight people. Other then perhaps people who were ill. The experts say we were the healthiest in our history.
I think Fish required points - but small things like winkles could be bought freely - if they were available.
Things had settled down at school and I was doing fairly well - I was never a brilliant student - I really only remembered the things I had an interest in. English I enjoyed - history is a given and I loved Geography. Maths, I liked the basics - but, algebra and geometry a total no-no. However, I learn't the basics and today can still add up a bill faster then I could on a calculator. For all of the ever present problems I was happy - as only a small boy can be if he has food, shelter and love. This was about to change.
This is an aerial picture of the first rocket to attack Britain. It carried one ton of explosive and was quite devastating in it's destructive ability. Everone knew them as Buzz Bombs - they droned with a steady buzz. However, they had enough fuel to take them over London - when this ran out they became silent. You had approx. 1 minute to take shelter.
They were not a joke - although we pretended they were. They were quite terrifying - whole streets were destroyed by them - and you were in great danger since you didn't know where they would come down. All of a sudden our freedom of movement was gone. Parents were too worried to let us roam anywhere. Fortunately, the RAF learnt to shoot them down - and also to flip their little wings and throw them off course. This helped, but since London was the target we were badly hit.
June 1944 was the start of the V1 Buzz Bombs - we would have voted to keep them had we known the sheer terror that was about to strike London from September 1944. This was the V2 Rocket - which came down from a height of 60 miles
(100kms) and at a speed of over 2,200 miles per hour. There was no escape and thousands were to die - they nearly forced an early peace.
I was pleased to see a couple of friends have made comments - I was getting rather discouraged. There is no way of knowing if anyone is actually reading any of this - or, if any visitors are getting through. I intend at the end of today's post to show a number of wartime pictures. I was lucky enough to buy a bound volume of Picture Post - the main weekly magazine which showed the public pictures of what was happening. This covers part of 1940 - but, I have been promised the next five volumes, which will be most interesting. The Govt. placed great importance on this magazine - as can be seen from it having 65 pages - at a time when newspapers had just a double page.
The illustrations will be back a little in the time scale of this article - but cover the Battle of Narvik and also show how the British 'faced-up' in a crisis. We have done this throughout our history - slow off the mark - but determined to fight for our way of life. With so many millions of immigrants in the UK I am by no means sure the same Spirit would prevail - but, in the Falklands I was surprised at the patriotism. Many immigrants are proud to now be British - unfortunately we do seem to have let in a 5th column that could cause many problems in the future.
Enough waffling - what was this little 6 year boy up to ?
When I first went there I had to walk - usually with friends who lived around. Summer was fine - winter, very dodgy. London still experienced dreadful fogs in thos days - mainly from all the coal fires. I can remember us getting lost on many a freezing morning - and we would have to try and find a shop to take shelter. Sometimes people would see us and take us into their homes. Telephones were rare - and not a lot of people had them at home - this meant you could not easily call for help. I sometimes wonder if 6 year olds today would cope as well as we did ? There were some public telephones and my Father always made me keep tuppence (two pennies) in a separate pocket - that was the price of a public call. We were lucky and had inherites a fixed phone line.
The other problem that faced us was slippery ice and snow. Salt was hard to get and it could be dangerous walking.
Having reached school, there was very little heating - they did their best but it was heavily rationed and being an old school the windows were 18 feet high (6m). These poles were very dangerous - one or, two of the teachers would balance them on their desks - which were on platforms. When they asked you a question they moved the pole over you -
get it wrong and they dropped it ! 6/7 years old and we had a heavy pole dropping some 25 feet onto our heads. Looking back, I realise that some of this was unnecessary brutality. One teacher - the maths - carried one of the old ebony rulers - make a mistake and he smashed it over your hands. I often wonder how many of my classmates suffer today with arthritis ? The worst was our Latin teacher - a small French refugee - he carried a long length of hosepipe in his robe. Make a mistake in a Latin declension and he would seize us by our necks and strike us all over our bodies.
This came to a head when I was about 7 - I still used to wash in the kitchen sink - it was one of the warm rooms in the house. Naturally, we had just put up with this violence - however, my Mother saw the double welts a hosepipe leaves and called my Father. I had at least 12 serious double bruises. He was up to see the headmaster the next morning and ended up taking him by the throat to get action. Brother Polyanthus was quickly transferred and the bullying slowed down. This is why I said earlier I had mixed feelings about St. Joseph's. My family are High Church Protestant but, the
school was Roman Catholic they did not want Protestants and we were exiled during the first period Religious study.
Funnily enough - I have only good feelings about the Cathoilc Faith - I nearly converted at one time - I think it was just a lack of discipline and boredom that led to the ill treatment. When I was a Home Beat Police Officer (Community Constable) in the East End of London I always paid particular attention to the children and would question them if they had marks or, bruises.
The Germans wern't bombing us every day - and we had adapted over the years. There was nothing untoward in running to a shelter when the sirens went off - we recognised the different bombers and we knew all of our planes and cheered them on. I have watched many egagements fromt he back garden. Food shortages were part of life and were rarely mentioned - usually only when we had a special treat.
I eventually learned to ride a bicycle and had a kid's 1/2 size one. My friends had also learned and this gave us mobility to visit each others homes. One of my friend's from those days funnily enough a David Wolfe - owns one of the biggest clothing chains in Greenwich but, someone told me this - I haven't seen him since I was 12. We both collected Dinky toys and there was great competition between us - he got more pocket money then I did, so was usually ahead.
The popular sport was Rugby and that was where I learned to play. I wasn't very good at it - I wore corrective glasses with prisms and they were difficult to focus. I do remember we were on the rugby field playing a knock-up game when bombers were spotted overhead - the sirens sounded after we saw them - which was not unusual. They were dropping their loads and all hell broke out. 40 or 50 kids had to be rounded up and dragged off to the school shelters. Whistles were blowing all over the place and all of the teachers had turned out to get us - we thought it was good fun ! That is
what I mean when I say even the strangest events can become common place over time.
Life - as it does, continued for us over the next year. THe British were preparing for the Invasion of France and , of course, the US had joined-us. Very welcome as I think we had begun to run out of steam and resources. Rationing had
become more severe and it was a struggle to be fed and to have decent clothes. One advantage I had, was that near the school was an ABC Cafe. These were opened by the Govt. and were intended to help people have a decent meal at least once a day. Schoolchildren were particularly welcomed - along with pensioners and people doing manual labour.
I don't remember the food being terribly good - but, it was nutritious and healthy - and if I remember cost 6 pennies. (six pence.)
I will close for today - I need space to show the pictures from 1940. However, the next chapter will cover my experiences when the bombardment of London re-commenced with the V1 and V2 Rockets. This really was a terrifying time for everyone - civilian and service personnel - something those of us who went through it, have never forgotten.
Whilst I have come to terms with the ordinary German people who were the prisoners of their own Government - I have
never forgiven the deliberate attack on London and the lives that were lost so viciously - the perpetrators should have all been shot out of hand - but as seems to be the way of the West, most got off with small sentences and the Americans
actually gave Walther Von Barun - the man who invented them - sanctuary in the US - he was never even brought to trial.
This was one of the great pictures of the time. It showed we were still a powerful Nation.
Winston Churchill when he was First Sea Lord and we had just fought the Battle of Narvik off Norway
Some of the German ships we sank at Narvik
This was the German Admiral at Narvik
Winston Churchill the day he became Prime Minister
A cartoon by the very famous cartoonist LOW. Showing all the members of the cabinet behind Churchill
German paras - probably in Norway
Their Majesties King George and Queen Elizabeth at a special service at Westminster Abbey
We must have moved to Blackheath towards the end of 1942 - a big thing to happen to a small boy. I had left all of my old friends behind and would be years before I saw some of them again. I think, initially, I was sent to a local prep school which was a short distance away in another part of the Heath. The English school system is quite different to most others.
You start off at kindergarden - progress to your prep school and then enter your main school. There are no junior and senior schools as in the US - although, many major schools have a separate section for younger boys.
I don't remember how long I attended the Prep. - probably not long as I have no clear memories. The War put a different complexion on nearly all activities and the school you went to had no bearing on your parents' wishes - you went to the one closest to where you lived. This turned out to be St. Joseph's - a Catholic school run by the De La Salle Brothers. They wore long black robes with a doubly white collar that hung over the front. Because Southern Ireland - or Eire , was neutral
during WW2, many of our teachers were Irish citizens - and young ! This was something I was not used to seeing - most of the people you saw working were middle aged or, retired. Our young men were all fighting for their Country.
I will talk on the school another time - I have both good and poor opinions of my time there. At this point in time I was learning new routines in a much bigger area then I was used to moving around-in.
What a wonderful place to live-in - although I am sure it is much changed now. I said previously Mordern Road was all large houses in their own grounds - at the end of the road was - or, had been - one of the architectural gems of London
- The Paragon . Completed in 1806 it was where Royalty and the aristocracy from all over Europe lived. Alas, by the time we moved it had been bombed heavily and was rubble.
This applied to at least 2 - and probably 3, of the houses in our road. It was why my Father was able to buy so reasonably. I have always been an easy person to get on with - I make friends easily and work to maintain the friendships - I still regularly see - or, have contact with friends I have known for over 60 years. The most surprising was about 5 years ago when a boy at my school I had known when I was 8 found my website and tracked me down. Rather sadly we had little to talk about - too long a gap. The reason I mention this is because I soon made friends with the local
children of my age - and , with the regulations - we were all , or would be, at the same school
I will show some pictures of the Paragon at the end of this post - they have restored it exactly as it used to look. The whole area had suffered - the original Manor House - whose land this had all been hundreds of years ago , had been destroyed with a direct hit. Everywhere you looked houses were damaged or gone.
Having bought this big old 29 room house, my Father had quick and serious decisions to make. With the number of homeless people the Councils would billet total strangers on you if you had spare rooms. We converted the top two flats into self contained flats and found two nice families who desperately needed a place of their own. The first floor were a couple with grownup children and I used to go and visit them. The elderley couple on the toip floor - the original children's floor - were retired senior civil servants from the old Indian administration. They would have been better staying in India and annoying the locals - they certainly annoyed my Father. Nothing was ever right , and if I had friends to play we had to make no noise. They never came to speak - but rather sent orders by notes - I suppose that was how they were used to living in India. No wonder we lost the Empire !
The Heath was magnificent - many square miles in size it was quite untouched in the central areas. Every year a circus
would set-up camp and had a big fair with-it. When we first went there I was too young to wander - but later, with my new friends we would explore all of the woods and pits.
Tucked away in a dip was the small village - and it was a village. There was one garage still running - a post office - the
Railway Station , opened in the early 1900's - one butcher - one greengrocer and, one grocer. There were a few other shops selling women's clothing, hairdressers and- very importantly, a toy shop. I have no idea what he actually used for stock - but, I do remember adding to my Dinky cars there.
When I described a grocer's shop in an earlier blog - I was actually thinking of the village one. The windows displayed no stock - and for the butcher - if my memory serves, there were plaster cast of bull's heads in the window. Very little meat was shown - they never had enough. Sausages, offal and birds could be sold without points - but there wasn't much of them. Thinking back it must have been dreadful for the butcher - everyone wanted to be his friend to try and get a little more Ours used to have a list of regular customers and allocated these extras in a fair way - I always remember one day when he said - your turn Mrs. Mitton to have a chicken. Everyone was so excited and were hugging and congratulating my Mother on her good fortune.
We take the riches of life so easily these days - even now I will always try to avoid waste
All little boys have to have a pet - we had brought our black and white cat Sooty with us - and following my Grandmother's orders he had his paws covered with scarce butter and was kept indoors for two days. This was to make him remember where he lived - I think witchcraft was still in existence - and as for wasting butter ! Anyway , he lived a happy life and was much loved. However, my Father decided I should have a dog - but , a small one as food was difficult and we didn't leave much. So, one day a small rough coated Cairn Terrier - called Tess (we weren't very original in those
days) appeared in my bedroom. Now, for those who don't know, a Cairn was bred to be carried in the saddle bags of the hunt master and was put in fox's lairs to drive them out - with the foxhounds outside - you will understand why a sensible fox stayed put and fought the cairn terrier. Ours was prone to false pregnancies and would prepare 'nests' for her non-existant pups. Unfortunately, this involved tearing strips off the wallpaper - which could not be replaced in the War. We had to keep her locked up wheh these phantoms happened.
I should have mentioned earler that when the house was converted we kept the basement and ground floor. Bedrooms and bathroom were downstairs and on the ground floor, the kitchen, enormous lounge dining room and study. There was also a large entry hall and all the glass was 1/4 inch thick plate glass. This will come-up again. My Grandmother had decided to stay in her house - probably safer, but it caused a lot of worry and trips when petrol was almost non-existant.
She was 69 at point in time.
Whilst all of these happenings were going on, I have overlooked to tell you that the Germans were still bombing us on a nearly daily basis - daytime and at night. We had a re-inforced small room in the basemment - and hoped for the best.
Next episode - I start 'big' school - I bet you can't wait ?
One of the strange things that keeps coming to the surface with this article on my early War years - is the comparitive
normalacy that existed with ordinary - day-to day life. Yes, we lived in fear of the bombings and everywhere you went were bombed out or, damaged buildings. Yes, we also had severe rationing and shortages. But ordinary life went on - schools opened, business' were run, shops opened and we found ways to get around.
Just before we moved I developed a serious ear problem - something to do with the mastoid bone. I spent three months in hospital - for something today that would probably have you out in 3 or 4 days. They did not seem to have childrens' wards - at least I was in a general ward . Some civilians - but most were injured servicemen - some still in recuperation from Dunkirk.
You can imagine - I was thoroughly spoilt by everyone - I suppose I reminded them of their children or, brothers. When I was well enough to walk I used to help the nurses take medicines and drinks around. When the airraid sirens went off, those that could walk had to go to the shelters in the basements. Those in beds had to take their chances with the nurses staying.
Newspapers and magazines continued to be published and there was a great public demand for out of the ordinary items.
My Father had a two acre site in Greenwich (on the River Thames) growing fruit trees and bushes. There was great demand for these by mail order - and the Post Office still delivered very quickly. A large Nursery in Greenwich came-up for sale and the Ministry of Food asked him to buy it and produce tomatoes for London. With the loss of the Channel Islands usual supplies were gone and they were a much needed part of a staple diet.
My Father agreed and so he bacame the owner of a five acre (over 2 hectares) market nursery - which consisted of five
enormous greenhouses and many smaller ones. We were on the bombers' path so for the next 4 years he had to battle with special glass allocations to have them repaired after raids. He eventually had a shop built and supplied green grocery to the surrounding areas. I can remember going with him to Covent Garden Market early in the mornings to get supplies. It is now a street market for general goods. We had a Ford 10 cwt van (1/2 ton) and a i ton Old Morris van to move things around - with a minute petrol allowance for the two. Every week the famous old Humber car that Sir Winston Churchill rode-in would come to the nursery for tomatoes for 10 Downing Street. My Father showed me the rear window that was covered in small scratches and almost impossible to see through. The chauffer explained that it was the diamond rings of the Society women who mobbed Churchill whenever he was out
All of the above - and the difficulties of travelling - meant that we had to move closer to Greenwich. Blackheath is probably the most up-market area of London and indeed probably in the UK. It was developed in the mid 19th Century - although it is from when the Railway Station was built-in the early 20th. C. that it became so desireable. From Blackheath to Central London was less then 1/2 an hour - but, even with a horse and carriage it was probably under an hour.
Surrounding the large Heath were the houses and Mordern Road and the adjoining Paragon - a curved matching row built in 1806. were the most sought after. On the corner facing the Paragon is the famous Mordern College - this was built-in the late 17th C as Alm Houses for retired sea captains - although I saw on one stupid estate agents list that it was for retired Turkey farmers !
Mordern Road had been bombed badley - there were at least two - or, more - totally destroyed houses. This had happened in the Blitz and the rubble had been removed to be re-cycled for building material.
When Father was looking for a property he was offered this lovely Victorian house on 4 floors - 29 rooms in total. An elderly titled lady lived there and was desperate to go and live with relatives in the Country. Father made an offer of 1,000
pounds (I think the $ was on par then, so $2,000) and she accepted immediately - no-one was buying, everyone wanted to leave London. It had a large garden divided into two with trees in the middle - the far end was for greenhouses and vegs. and at the far end were the stables and staff housing. I see now that these have been separated and new houses built.
I have found this on the net - I have no idea if it was ours - but, it looks the same. Now days they are all flats. Father had the two top floors made into independent flats to help people who needed accomodation and we lived in the Ground floor and basement. The house was a paradise for a small boy and she had left all the toys in the nursery - so I found myself with a four feet long pond yacht - which I could hardly carry.
Well, in my usual way I seem to have 'rabbited ' on for pages - I do hope my one faithful reader had not become too despondent and jumped off a bridge. Next time - a different view of the War - and I start to grow-up.
I would like to make a personal observation - this blog on my very early life , necessarily deals with the Blitz and the dreadful and casual bombings of defenceless civilian areas. I am old enough - and well versed enough in history
to realise that the blame was not to all German citizens. There was a totalitarian regime in place and ordinary people really had very little control of what was happening. I have many German friends and have visited the Country on numerous occasions. We are dealing with historical events, that hopefully, will never be allowed to re-occur.
I realised yesterday, when checking Google under my name, that already these blogs have been re-printed. I have no problem with that - but, if it is possible to have a counter of visits it would let us know what is happening ?
This is a 250 kg German bomb - probably the most common to be dropped in the early part of the war. It would have contained nearly 440 lbs. of high explosive - allowing the remaining weight for the casing.
Along with the heavy bombs the Luftwaffe added very considerable numbers of Incendiary bombs and also of high explosive 'butterfly' bombs. These were both dropped together and caused the worst of the damage. The incendiaries
were a mixture of chemicals and could not be extinguished with water. Also, because the explosive Butterflies were dropped at the same time, you were killed whilst trying to put out the fire. Householders did their best - but most of the time the Fire Brigade couldn't even assist.
Every house was issued with two metal buckets for sand and a water bucket and stirrup pump. For anyone who has never seen one, they are used today in greenhouses. The long part of the pump goes into the bucket - you pump the handle to force water under pressure through a short hose you held in your right hand. The sand was to try and smother the incendiaries - the water to try and put out the blaze it had started. If it didn't upset me so much to write this - I could just laugh at the absurdity of it all.
Yes - we did practise - Mother was i/c sand buckets - Father was the pumper - me, at 4 years old was the supplier. I had to get sand from a heap in the back garden - water from the bathroom and, keep running next door to see my Grandmother was alright. Most houses burnt down when they were hit - the bombs settled in the lofts and people couldn't get to them. And, Yes - we were hit ! An incendiary hit the roof - came right through the ceiling and landed in the upper hall. My Father got sand on it before it did more then scorch the wallpaper. We were very lucky.
A typical Incendiary bomb.
Although the usual age for school was 5 years - looking at dates I think they must have allowed us to go sooner. Every
morning all the little children in the road met and then we had a short walk alongside the golf course to get to school. After the first few mornings parents stopped coming with us - it was a matter of a few hundred metres . I think it was one of these mornings that I knew I was destined to be a Constable............
We had a very heavy raid the night before and all of us were a bit shaken - I suppose there must have been 5 or 6 of us - all about the same age. While we were walking down the lane to the school I noticed strings of bombs hanging from trees just inside the golf course. We had regular lessons teaching us to recognise all these different things and I knew at once that they were Butterflies. I remember shouting that we had to run at once to school - which we safely diid. However, it was days before our area was declared safe - they were everywhere and many houses had been damaged or burnt.
I suppose to small children it was all a bit of a game - but, I think we did understand how serious it all was.
Some final memories of this house - we moved from Bexley to Blackheath in about the end of 1941. I mentioned earlier that we did not have an air raid shelter. When the daylight raids started in Sept. 1940 there was an urgency to having one. We started off with a Morrison Shelter , whilst waiting for the Anderson to be delivered. The Morrison was designed to be a table in the daytime - it had a metal top - also on the bottom. The sides were steel mesh and you crawled through a small door. It was horrible ! Try three of you sleeping in something the size of a single bed.
Anyway, we had to put up with it for a few months whilst the Anderson arrived and my Father and neighbours dug it's pit.
The War seemed to 'pull' people together and when something big , like the shelters had to be built - then everyone joined-in. The Anderson was six curved sheets of steel that had to be bolted together at the top. There was a metal backpiece and the front had a door opening. You made a hole about 3'6" deep (approx.1 m.) and built the shelter. The top was then covered with the earth you had dug out. They actually provided good protection - but they were damp and cold. Fortunately, my Grandmother had selected a brick shelter with a concrete roof and this was more comfortable. We used this one most of the time.
First thing in the morning - when Father opened the shelter doors - I had to rush off and look for shrapnel. Sometimes it was from bombs but, mostly from the anti-aircraft shells. All the boys collected this and by the time I moved must have had a pile about 3 feet high (1m)
When we into the shelter at night , there was always a steel box with all the family papers - insurance ID's etc. This was the only time in our history that British people had to carry an identity document.
OK - next episode, dear reader I shall be in another house - a very grand one ! The only problem was that Hitler kept trying to destroy it........
This was a Butterfly bomb - wings opened and it 'twirled' down.
A file picture of a Morrison shelter
A file picture of 2 Anderson shelters in different stages of completion
OK - I've dallied enough - time to get on with part 4 ! I expect most of you are familiar with Blogs - I'm not, and I find it
very strange typing these old memories into space - and having no real idea if anyone is reading them - or, more
importantly - finding them of the slightest interest ? I don't expect comments, but , it would be nice if there was a counter.
I would like to just say, that I have found a few Google pictures of things I am referring to - I will post where appropriate.
I can't find my early photo albums - which is a pity. Please remember, that I am writing this from the viewpoint of a small child - there was history being made all around me that I was not aware of at that time.
LIFE ON THE HOME FRONT.
So,what was the terrible surprise my Grandmother made for me ? A small uniform of an aircraftsman in the RAF. It had a tunic, trousers and the sidecap - and the trousers were held up with tape in a bow at the front. More of that later. All small
boys in Britain were put into these type of uniform - it showed our support for the troops. Why the RAF - they were the ones fighting on a daily basis to defend Britain and were the heroes of the hour.
This is what you musn't overlook - whilst it was the 'phony' war in Europe, England was being bombed on a daily basis.
These were daylight raids and this was the Battle of Britain. Basically, they were aiming for the docks and industrial areas and we were not too badly affected - although many houses were hit when they missed - or, just dropped their bombs without caring. We were always kept close to home - and of course, at this time I was not at school.
There were virtually no cars on the roads - mainly military vehicles. My Father had obtained a bicycle and it had a child's seat on the back - I remember sitting behind when he took me for a haircut. Aircraft overhead were common and I often
saw aerial dog-fights - we would all cheer for ours and I remember seeing one shot-down - to a small boy that was a dose of reality.
Britain was just so short of everything - every park had it's railings cut down to be melted. Didn't matter - no-one went out at night. I remember my Mother's Grandmother being ill and we had to catch a bus. Total darkness - torches had to have a cover with the tiniest of slits - buses had a tiny light inside and the headlamps also, had tiny slits. We made it, but
my Mother stayed the night, I was too frightened to go back in the dark. I was only about 3 1/2. I was not to see street lamps or, cars with headlights until after VDAY in 1945.
Aluminium was the sought after metal - we needed it for aircraft. People would come to the door asking for old saucepans -
in the end my Mother had to say no, and hung onto what we had.
Because we lived just outside of Central London no-one - as far as I remember - had air raid shelters. We had practise of going into the cupboard under the stairs - which the ARP Wardens said was safest (Air Raid Precautions). Apart from these incidents, life went on as normal for a small child. This was to shortly change.
One point I would like to make - Britain had double summertime during the War - this meant that the clocks were put back 2 hours to take advantage of daylight. That meant it was light at 4 a.m. and in summer dark at 8p.m. However, in Winter
it meant we were in total darkness by 2-3p.m. in the afternoon.
Normal regulations were suspended to allow the keeping of poultry - also, people were encouraged to support the War Effort and grow their own vegetables. We had a small flock of about 8 or 9 Ducks - about a dozen hens , which of course only lay in the Summer. Forget eggs at other times - we are all spoilt today with battery chickens. A chicken was a luxury food that was not rationed and my parents had to learn how to kill and prepare one. How many people could do that today ? We would have one on very special occasions. We also kept rabbits. This was a problem - I grew too fond of them and played-up when one was to be killed. I was allowed to keep one white one - and he actually won a small cup - which I still have over 70 years later !
To preserve eggs over the winter my Father had buckets filled with Isinglass in the spare bedroom. They didn't taste like eggs we know, but that was how they were preserved. I have no idea what Isinglass was. He also obtained an incubator
and at the right time would put eggs in to hatch and we raised them in the garden.
With the two gardens opened-up - the fence was taken down between them - we had potatoes and all of the green and root vegs. I have read articles in later years that say this was the most nutritious food the British had eaten and we were stronger and fitter for the limited diet. You rarely saw obese people - not like today will all the fatty foods.
We certainly needed to supplement our food rations. I think at this time an adult - on his ration book , got about three rashers of bacon a week. Butter was about 2 0zs. (64 gms.) eggs - 1 or 2 a week, Meat about 4 ozs a week (125gms.).
Of course ration books were saved and therefore for meat , we could have a whole 3/4 of a lb between three people (375gms). My Grandmother was a great cook and remembered the meals from the 1st WW - when food had also been short. Eggs changed when America entered the War and started sending powdered eggs - we also got Spam - and I still like it.
One of the most strange memories for me is that I remember a grocer's shop before supermarkets and processed food.
Tins were on shelves at the back - a front food counter held the perishables - and biscuits were weighed from the tins they came-in. Oh, Yes ! You also queued for everything - meat, veggies, groceries, sweets. There was always a line outside - even early in the morning. And, when word went round that something that had been out of stock was back -
then see the women move. When I was in a push chair I could go as well, but after that it was too long for me to stand.
THE WAR CHANGES FOR CIVILIANS
The Battle of Britain - despite horrendous for our young pilots, was won by the RAF - coming to a head when we shot down over 200 German planes in one day. Numbers are contested by both sides - but, it was something around that figure. The German Airforce could not sustain losses of that size and they changed tactics.
Flying at night was difficult in those days - pilots were never sure exactly where they were - hence the importance of no lights showing. From our point of view it also made it very difficult for our planes to locate the enemy. London was ringed with heavy ack-ack guns - 3,7" and also lighter 40mm Bofors guns for lower flying aircraft - strangely, 14 years later in Australia I was to be an instructor in Sydney on these light anti -aircraft guns. Giant searchlights were also installed to
support the ack-ack and when a beam caught a bomber all of the other lights closed-in as well. Then the guns opened-up. It was strange to see this small plane in the middle of the guns and puffs of smoke going off all around.
From Sept.7th. 1940 to 10th May 1941 - 76 consecutive nights - London was bombed by consecutive waves of German bombers. The damage was unbelievable - the casualties horrific. There was no quarter given to Civilians and it was this time that Children were permanently evacuated throughout Britian - some never to return home until after 1945. We left to an Uncle in Watford for a few weeks, but both my Mother and I had a 'meeting' and decided we would go home.
This was the period of the famous London Blitz. Many people left for outer areas at night - but we stayed put. Because - like many others , we had not installed a shelter, we were very vulnerable. The Germans were trying to hit the Pool of London - West India Docks - Deptford - Greenwich and Gravesend. However, in the dark they were very inaccurate and the houses and towns around were very badly hit. Several houses around us were hit and destroyed and many fell on a golf course which was at the end of our road.
I clearly remember my Father carrying me out of the shelter one night - that is when we had one - and the whole skyline from left to right was a a red colour. This was the famous night when London was nearly destroyed - when St. Paul's Cathedral stood alone in the flames - the night that is usually credited with British people saying - Enough - we will not be destroyed ! This was in December of 1940 - I was 4 years old - and I will never forget.
Next thrilling instalment on Wednesday - is there any one out there ?
My apologies to Irishgunner and to Frank, who I left off the list of regular bloggers , posted on the Lounge.
I was hoping to persuade a few more of our Members to join-in and make regular posts. Everyone has something happening
in their lives - let us be part of it ...............
Well, at the end of part 2 we had reached Dec. 1936. Neville Chamberlain was Prime Minister - King George 6th. was on the Throne - and Hitler was busy taking over bits of Europe that no-one was contesting.
War was declared by Britain against the German 3rd. Reich on September 1st. 1939 - the ostensible cause being Germany's invasion of Poland. I was at that time 2 3/4 years of age - so, you will forgive me if my memories are not too solid.
During this time Britain was not idle - our armed forces were being re-inforced - civil defense units were set-up and our police,ambulance and fire brigades were trained in possible future events management. The problem was that despite happenings in Europe no-one had any idea of the horrors that were to follow.
I have clear memories of my Mother making blackout curtains - one of the laid down civil defense measures. They were hung inside of normal curtains and had to be fully light proof. I can also remember being taken to the local clinic - with the proximity of war, essentials started to be in short supply and youngsters under a certain age were entitled to free orange juice and cod liver oil - I think I also had another unpleasant one called malt extract. We used to go to the clinic every 2 weeks and I enjoyed seeing the other youngsters.
During this period my Father was badly ill with a duodenal ulcer and spent nearly three months in hospital with an operation. I can remember being taken to see him regularly, either by my Mother or, Grandmother. My Mother did not work , as was normal in those days. Probably such an ulcer would not be so serious today - however, the drugs were not invented then to deal with it. He was left poorly for a long time and I don't think ever fully recovered. He was not allowed to be 'called-up' as it was termed then and died in 1974 at 64 years old.
THE WAR STARTS
I have very clear memories of the thousands of troops travelling down the Rochester Way - which we overlooked, going to Dover and embarkation to France. Part of the BEM - British Expeditionary Force. I was too young to go down the wooded slope to the road - but did on many other occasions. Tanks - on the backs of lorries would take ages to go past - they were slow. The soldiers often stopped and the men came-up to our row of houses for water - again, I clearly remember my Mother and Grandmother - and all the other ladies making sandwiches and tea - leaving everyone short but, this was important.
Neither side seemed in a hurry to engage and there was the period known as the 'phony war'. Nearly our entire army was in France and Belgium and yet there was no real fighting. This was to change with the attacks on Belgium and Holland - and our army retreated towards Dunkirk (UK spelling). From May 26 to June 4 1940 our army was evacuated by the great armada of small boats, ferries and old warships. I was 3 1/2 now and understood a lot more. I can sense now the worry in my parents - everyone was listening to radios all the time and I can remember the men in the area having meetings - although many of the younger ones had gone to join-up. When the call for volunteers was given on the radio all of this groups went to Gravesend to try and help. I believe some did go as crew to France - Father was rejected as being not fit enough, This upset him for many years to come.
CIVIL DEFENSE - IN THE TRUEST SENSE.
So, this was it. We were in grave danger and invasion was a real possibility. With the frightening example of Rotterdam all adults knew civilians would not be spared. Evacuation for children out of London became a reality - my Mother refused to let me go - and we didn't think we were in danger as Blackheath was the other side of Greenwich and about 10 or 12 miles from Central London. How wrong we were !
Humans are a strange species - we can read signs better then most and knew the possibilities. However, life has to go on and even the Wall's ice cream man still used to visit once or, twice a week. The cycle had a big insulated container on the front and we all waited patiently for him - he wasa lovely old man - used to tell us about the 1 st WW.
What had changed was that rationing had come into force - food, furniture, clothing - even cigarettes and drink - were now on a points system and we all had a ration book with the coupons for different periods. Even sweets had gone - I think they were what I missed most.
Another thought - we had to go to the local school to collect gasmasks - it was compulsory to carry them at all times. I can remember my childs' version - the bit over the face was of mickey mouse.
Oh yes ! There was one other piece of equipment I was given by my Grandmother - that will be in the next installment...... I will try for Sunday.
Well - that was a surprise - I got my two readers - so, I have no excuse not to continue !
SOME PERSONAL HISTORY
I was born in early December of 1936 - I didn't know it, but I was to be an only child. Like many married couples my parent's feared the war and held off adding to the family. A pity, I would always have liked a brother or, sister.
From both sides of the family there were military people. My Grandfather had been a senior NCO with the Leicestershire Regt. and was commissioned as a Captain/Quartermaster in 1914 with the Gloucestershire Regt.. He left with the rank of Major. My Father had three brothers - one a regular army officer - one a leading stockbroker - and the other one went to Singapore in 1935 and was missing from the family until 1956. A story for another time. My paternal Grandfather died in 1933 - paralysed - we believe from WW1.
My Father being the youngest son had to stay at home to help my Grandmother look after him.
The Mitton side of the family goes back to the 7th Century - we were invading Angles - later to be joined by the Saxons.
The word Angle - a tribe who settled in Scandinavia from central Russia - gave the name England. My name means the junction of two rivers and that was where the tribe settled in Shropshire. The village of Mitton still exists, as does the Manor House and the local pub - The Myton and Mermaid. Phoentic spelling gives differences - but, we are all related -
although I must say I have never visited - just too many generations apart.
The above picture shows my Father as a 4 year old (born in 1910) - at the front. My Grandparents - the one on the left is Arthur - at the back is George - who went missing - and not in the picture is the eldest brother who had joined-up. My Grandmother was born in India in 1873 and I have recently discovered that her Father at that time was a Sergeant in the Essex Regt. - I have never found out his final rank. She often spoke to me in Hindustani and I still remember a few words.
I have no idea what his final rank was. He was of Welsh descent and in deference to this I was named Mervyn. This is
one of the oldest name in Welsh and means 'son of the sea' - I think I was badly named - I've nearly drowned three times in my life and am not at all fond of water - the exception being that it should be shallow and about the usual temp.
of my bath ! I find Kenya ideal.
When I was born, my Father was involved in horticulture and we lived next door to my Grandmother - a pair of the big 1930 's semi-detached houses that you could buy for about 500 pounds - $ 750. We lived just outside of Bexleyheath - this was originally a country market town and the nearest big centre was probably the City of Rochester. Actually, not a
big place - however, it has a Cathedral and is therefore a City. A very quiet area with not that many houses - we were in a single row, that ran along the top of a steep wooded embankment - at the bottom of this was the Rochester Way.
The embankment and the main road will feature as it was the main road to Dover - a main embarkation point for troops.
This happened in1939/40 and again in 1944 with the re-invasion of France.
So, you now know a little about me - where I lived , and my immediate family.
Now - we get to the important bit - December 6th , 1936 - ME !
You will have to wait - with bated breath - for the next instalment .
When Nick first told us a few weeks ago that he was setting up a special Blog for GMIC members - I must be honest and
say my first thoughts were - ' whatever for - we have the Forum' for that purpose'
Well, I've thought it over, I've read the blogs from other members and have enjoyed them - and now I agree with him, that this gives us a freedom of expression that is not available on the open Forums. Thinking of a subject has been difficult - but, I do
wish to support Nick - he runs the backbone of this special Forum almost singlehanded - the Mods. are mainly his
watchdogs and committee.
I would like to make it clear to anyone who does read this, that it is new to me. I have made a few pages of notes with regard to early memories - but, that's it ! I am - like many of our members - a published author in the non.fiction World and this does give me an advantage as I enjoy the expressiveness of English and it's descriptive abilities. However, as with my posts on GMIC I write as I go along - I rarely do a lot of research - therefore, I will have the odd spelling mistake - or, go off track.
As I write memories will come back so, I may well go off at a tangent to explain a point. Bear with me - you may even find this old history interesting ?
THE PLOT THICKENS......
So, my heading says 'Memories of World War 2 ' . Your first reaction could well be - but, it's all been done before -
everbody and his dog have written-up the battles - the regiments - the heroes. Well, that is what GMIC is all about, so at least I know I will have knowledgeable readers. Well, probably all one or, two of you ?
There is one important detail you have missed - in 2 months I will hit the distinguished old age of 75 ! I was born in December 1936 - and am therefore in a unique position of being able to cover ' my bit of the War ' from the perspective of a small boy who lived in London for the entire 5 years of WW2.
(i AM PAUSING AT THIS POINT TO SEE IF ANYONE WOULD LIKE ME TO CONTINUE. i THOUGHT AT WEEKLY
INTERVALS ? DON'T BE FRIGHTENED OF TELLING ME TO B........ OFF !
ALSO , I HOPE IT WILL GIVE MANY MORE MEMBERS THOUGHTS OF THEIR OWN BLOG - 2ND BUTTON AT TOP)