Story by PC 629 Michael Smith - Bucks Constabulary Special Memories
I joined on the 16th April 1963 and did my basic training at Eynsham Hall. My first hour in uniform involved the morning parade under the guidance of the awesome Sergeant Vincent. Having done my unmilitary best to balance the unfamiliar uniform in some sort of order, I waited with the other recruits for his inspection. Standing straight as a plank with a row of medals on his chest he glared disapprovingly around the parade ground. My heart sank into my less than shinny boots as he headed in my direction, to my relief his target was an Essex Bobby who was standing next to me. “You look like a silk stocking full of diarrhoea, done up in the middle”. He growled at the hapless heap.
|PC 629 Michael Smith
I have always had trouble controlling my laughing gear when under pressure and this occasion was to prove no exception. A barley suppressed hysterical chuckle escaped from under my outsized helmet, Sergeant Vincent was on me in a flash.
“ Big girls giggle”. He hissed at me menacingly. “ Not Policemen”.
I felt like a very silly grinning idiot, which of course is exactly what I was, but at least he gave me the honour of demonstrating to the rest of the course the tradition of running up the long main drive as a punishment for parade ground indiscretions.
I was posted to High Wycombe on the 12th August 1963, unfortunately just missing the initial excitement of the Great Train Robbery. My first day is etched on my memory as I still have my faded pencil inscribed pocket book to remind me.
The dubious honour of accompanying me on my first patrol fell to P.C. 1 Sheldon Bressington, as I walked self-consciously along the High Street I felt as if I had two heads. On reaching the Public House we went inside, presumably to check that the Landlord was complying with regulations.
“Come on Landlord clear this bar”. Demanded P.C. Bressington who was clearly a stickler for the enforcement of such regulations, the bar cleared as if by magic. We then approached the Landlord who was busy pulling three pints of bitter but instead of the formal caution I was expecting, we informally accepted his hospitality. So there I was just twenty minutes into a thirty year career, sitting at a bar supping ale. Not being an experienced drinker the alcohol reached my legs before I reached the door, memories of the next hour or so are rather hazy. Nobody had told us at basic training that drinking on duty was compulsory.
There are many things I remember about the old High Wycombe nick but the two main features for me were the sleek black Mk2 Jaguars of the Divisional Traffic Department and the mortuary in the corner of the back yard. I have happy memories of the occasional duty in a Jag. With the likes of Bernie Twist, Acker Floyd and Joe Fell. Unfortunately the memory of my first visit to the Mortuary hunts me still, when together with another young Probationer I was required to move a rather large gentleman from the refrigerator and place him on the table. He was on the top shelf and there was no mechanical aid for lifting him down. We carefully slid the tray from the shelf but failed to calculate the full effect of gravity, the body slid from the tray and pinned my colleague to the wall. Our first reaction was to try blind panic but that did not seem to work very well at all. We had of course been highly trained in the art of restraining violent prisoners but had never been taught how to deal with less than co-operative corpse, on this occasion the corps won.
The golden age before the introduction of personal radios we made fixed conference points each hour, Wycombe had the luxury of several strategically placed Police Boxes. These structures were later immortalised as Dr. Who’s time machine but the original Police ones provided generations of Bobbies shelter from the eliminates and a place for a quick smoke out of sight of the Inspector. They were about four feet square and were lavishly equipped with a bench, telephone, three thousand dog ends and a blue flashing light on top. I once occupied such a box with tree other large Bobbies and was reliably informed that they could accommodate up to six as long as nobody broke wind or smoked Old Shag.
My first tour of unaccompanied patrol was a night shift but at least there’s fewer people about to witness my stumbling attempts at pretending to be a Policeman. At midnight I was contacted on my point and told to investigate a report of hideous screams coming from the toilets behind Murrays Store. As I made my trembling approach, the darkened facility took on the menace of Draculas Castle. It was about this time that I discovered the limitations of the Police issue torch, I had initially been impressed with this particular piece of equipment, especially the red and green lens that could convert into a set of traffic lights. With considerable trepidation I entered the toilets, the half candle power light of my torch produced only flickering shadows which combined with the smell of a thousand dead camels did little for my confidence. I had expected to find a hideously mutilated corpse, so I was not in the least surprised to see a pair of very stiff legs sticking out of a cubicle. Desperately trying to remember the definition of murder I cautiously opened the door, there on the floor I saw the hideously mutilated bottom half of a tailors dummy. As I emerged from the scene of the crime I listened in vain for the sound of approaching reinforcements but heard only a distant chuckle.
One lone patrol I stumbled across a large scale punch up in a dark alley, half the yobs in Wycombe seemed to be involved. Although I knew that I would have to deal with such incidents I had rather hoped it would not be quite so soon or involved quite as many people. I was approached by one of the combatants wielding a broken florescent tube but my boyish good looks were saved by another protagonist who shouted. “Don’t hit him Geordy, he’s only a lad”.
There has never been a golden age for Bobbies but I guess the 1960s came as close as it got.
One fine evening I was standing in the High Street congratulating myself on having nearly completed a whole shift without embarrassment or humiliation. A Rolls Royce pulled up at the nearby traffic lights and a group of scruffy young men climbed in the back, I was rather surprised that they should warrant such prestigious transport. The driver lowered his window and requested that I remove his unwanted passengers. As I approached they tumbled out laughing and with all the authority of my four weeks service I ordered them to leave the area.
“We are waiting for a bus”. They said.
I had failed to notice that they were standing at a bus stop so I decided to keep the peace somewhere else. As I walked around the corner I met the large elderly frame of P.C. Danny Mayles. T I told him of the Rolls Royce incident and he suggested that we return to speak with the youths involved. As we approached one of them saw us coming.
“Look out”. He shouted to his companions. “That Coppers back and he’s brought his dad”.
In 1965 the first personal radios were issued, called the Lancon it was about twice the size of a modern multi channel set. They were carried in a sort of Sam Brown holster and some members of the public though that we had been armed with revolvers, in fact they appeared disappointed to find that it was only a radio. On this historic day I was sent out along the London Road to test the reception and range of this state of the art equipment. Whilst standing at a busy road junction my test call was interrupted by a nearby traffic accident. I immediately requested the attendance of an ambulance and was feeling very pleased with this early use of the new equipment. After an unusual delay for the attendance of our highly efficient Ambulance Service I repeated my request. I later learned that my original message had been received loud and clear but had unfortunately been interpreted as an over enthusiastic test call. The new radios quickly became indispensable and the days of the lone Bobby going missing between points was a thing of the past.
On the 20th November 1967 we were posted to the rural beat of Lacey Green, I say we, because in spite of giving birth to our daughter within days of moving in, my wife was expected to fulfil the unpaid but vital support role of a country Bobbies wife. Lacey Green Police house was built in the 1930s for £350.00, the previous Police hovel which was situated opposite was still standing but only just. The house had a small office which was lavishly equipped with a Mk 1 typewriter, telephone and a hand cranked air raid warning siren. The latter was essential equipment as we were situated just half a mile down the road from the worlds main nuclear target at R.A.F. Strike Command H.Q. and this was the cold war 1960s. There was also a large filing cabinet which contained a set of occurrence books dating back to the 1930s and included such entries as the recapture of escaping German prisoners of war.
The very best piece of country Bobbies equipment was a gleaming black 350c.c. Triumph twin motor cycle. I could not believe that the Force had given me such a splendid machine on which to carry out my rural duties. There was no radio fitted to the bike and personal radios did not work in rural areas, so I was back to making fixed conference points in such spooky places as Hampden Common and High Wood Bottom, or Highwayman’s Wood as it was appropriately named in olden days.
My first knock on the office door was a local farmer, in the gloom he was a strange rural sight, complete with an old sack over his head to keep the rain off. He spoke in some strange rural dialect, I failed to understand a single word he said and likewise he couldn’t comprehend my Slough accent. As he trudged of into the rain I realised that although I had only moved five miles up the road, I was now in rural England, as a country Bobbie.
PC 629 Michael Smith on his 350cc Triumph twin motor cycle
On our first night we were shaken out of bed at 0200 by a three thousand decibel telephone alarm which was situated just above the bedroom door. In a state of shock I Staggered downstairs for my first real taste of a country Bobbies life. One of my parishioners had lost her cat, it was most fortunate for that moggies health that I had no idea where it was. Using a large hammer I made a slight adjustment to the alarm bell and it never disturbed us again but just as I feared, it appeared to hasten the birth of our daughter.
I occasionally wondered how a lone country Bobbie patrolling on a radioless motor cycle might deal with prisoners, then one night I found out. In a quiet lane I came upon a brace of thieves ripping the radio out of a car. The nearest telephone was about a quarter of a mile away, so it was necessary to persuade them to walk quietly in front of my bike. Initially they were unsure of co-operating with there own arrest in this manner but reluctantly agreed as an alternative to being run over by a rather heavy Police motor cycle. On reaching the telephone I was able to persuade one of them to dial 999 and request the attendance of more suitable transport. This particular team of hardened rouges were named Vivian and Beresford, I just thought that you should know that.
One very cold winters day I was sent to keep observation on a house where the occupant had gone berserk with an axe and disappeared after he converted the furniture into firewood. After several hours he returned to the house and I boldly went forward to arrest him. Unfortunately the cold weather had aggravated my old back injury and I was suddenly locked double in the bad back position. The mad axeman on seeing my painful predicament helped me into his damaged but warm front room. Whilst waiting for reinforcements we chatted about bad backs and 101 things you can do with an axe. A Bobbie needs to be lucky but a country Bobbie sometimes needs to be very lucky.
The amalgamation was greeted in Bucks with universal apprehension, our small but tidy County Force was to be swallowed up by the Thames Valley Constabulary as it was initially known. My old Skipper at Princes Risborough Bert Buggey, was quoted as saying.
“Bucks is Bucks and as far as I am concerned will always remain so”.
Such a sentiment echoed many thoughts in those early days but a few Royal Ascot and Henley regatta duties helped to soften the blow. At the annual divisional dinner that first year after amalgamation the guest of honour was a certain recently retired Chief Constable named Brigadier John Cheney, he received a five minute standing ovation and although clearly embarrassed he must have been a little touched to realise what affection he commanded from his old Bucks boys.
I am proud to say that I completed thirty years Police service but my first five years in the Buckinghamshire Constabulary hold very special memories for me.
Michael Smith joined the Bucks Constabulary on the 16th April 1963 he retired from Thames Valley Police in the rank of Sergeant 0n 16th April 1993
Story by Police Constable 80 Francis Cooke - The Good Old Days.
I Joined the Bucks Constabulary in January 1934, and did 12 weeks at the old police station in Exchange Street, Aylesbury. For the first two years the pay was 62/- per week ( a farm worker received about half of this).
PC 80 Francis Cooke
On leaving training school we constables were experts in scrubbing floors, cleaning windows and lighting fires. My first station was Stony Stratford on the Watling Street (A5). The police strength at the time was one sergeant and three constables, however, for most of the time there were only two constables, because in spite of widespread unemployment we were always short of men.
The sergeant lived in a house adjoining the police station, and the married constable in a flat underneath the courthouse at the opposite end of the complex. I lived in what was termed “single men’s quarters”, which consisted of a single room which contained a folding table, chest of draws full of woodworm dust and mounted on a brick at one corner due to a missing leg, and a bed which had the distinction of being covered with a Khaki blanket on which was stamped broad black arrows!
The court was a joint affair used by Bucks and Northants Police. I always understood that the upkeep of the court and single men’s quarters was undertaken jointly by the two authorities.
The tours of duties in those days were as follows:- the man on early turn worked from 8am to 11 am and 5 pm to10 pm; the man on middle turn worked 11 am to 2 pm and 10 pm to 3 am, and the man on late turn worked from 2 pm to 5 pm and 3 am to 8 am.
In the event of there being only two constables available for duty, the following turns were worked:- the early turn man 10 am to 1pm and 6 pm to 11 pm, and the late turn 2 pm to 5 pm and 11 pm to 4 am. It was the duty of the early turn constable to clean the guardroom, remove the ashes and light the fire. If for some reason there was no-one on at 8 am, it fell to the lot of the single man to undertake these tasks, go for his breakfast and report for duty at 10 am as usual.
The single men’s quarters, briefly described, were somewhat lacking in facilities; an old sandstone sink was used jointly by the single man and the prisoners for washing. For shaving, the constable was obliged to go into the sergeant’s kitchen and use his kettle and gas ring for hot water.
The single man was responsible for answering the telephone at night, regardless of whether he was on duty or not. If he was not on duty, it meant he had to descend a flight of stone steps and walk along the cell passage to the guardroom, often only to find the call was about the description of a stolen cycle from Gerrards Cross or elsewhere!
In case of an accident (and there were man,, I attended eight in one day) a stretcher was kept in a cell for use whenever needed. Should an ambulance be called unnecessarily, the caller would quite likely have to pay for it, there being no National Health Service in those days. Watling Street became very busy with traffic between the hours of 3 am and 6 am, one firm alone used to despatch a convoy of between sixty and eighty vehicles all on solid tyres from Birmingham to London.
When unlucky enough to be on late turn, I booked off duty at 5 pm, would cycle six miles to, say, a first aid lecture at Bletchley, then back again for dutyat 3am. If I was due to come off duty at 8 am, it was useless going to bed on court days, as names of defendants were called from directly outside the bedroom door. Shouts of “Any more cases for Bucks?”, followed by “Any more cases for Northants?”, were heard.
Those were indeed the Good Old Days!
Francis Cooke joined the Bucks Constabulary on the 29th January 1934, he retired on the 9th March 1959. Frank died on the 13th November 2007 age 95 years.
Story by Detective Constable David Davies.
As a young Detective Constable part of my duty was as fingerprint search officer. Attending a store breaking at Denham I searched a newly built house that was complete except for gloss paint, neither was it glazed. I found a fingerprint at the scene, which was subsequently identified as that of a David Joshua Clack, a member of a notorious criminal family in Uxbridge. Clack had an identical twin brother they dressed alike and had the same mannerisms. Clack was arrested and the property stolen recovered. He was charged with the offence and appeared at Aylesbury Quarter Sessions. Although pleading not guilty he was found guilty and sentenced to 2-½ years imprisonment. (He had several previous convictions) At the court was his total family mother father, sisters and his twin brother. When taken down to start his sentence. He turned to me, pointed and said, “I’ll get you when I come out!” There was a mumble of discontent from his family who was told to be quiet by the Chairman.
Years later (about 1966) on the crime squad at Rickmansworth it was circulated that David Joshua Clack’s twin brother had escaped from the London prison where he was serving his sentence. A few weeks later I received information that each of the Clack brothers has a small café they were running one near Watford the other in Harrow. We attended the address of both the cafes and two teams from the squad arrested the Clack brothers at the same time. They were brought back to Rickmansworth Police Station and questioned. Neither of which would admit being the prison escapee. I told them that they would remain in custody and the next day they were brought before a magistrate and a request made to take their fingerprints and a remand in custody until New Scotland Yard had identified the escapee. That no doubt due to their obstructive manner the escapee would have his sentence extended and David Joshua would go down for obstructing police etc. At this Clack’s brother (the escapee) admitted his identity. Before David was released I recalled him to the Denham offence and his subsequent sentence and why he had suggested I had ‘stitched him up’. He remarked “Be fair, I couldn't admit leaving my fingerprints in front of my family could I?”
David William Royston DAVIES joined the Bucks Constabulary on the 21st January 1947. During his service he attained the rank of Superintendent retiring from Thames Valley Police on the 5th June 1975. He died on the 23rd August 2001, aged 80 years.
Stories by PC 573 Donald Bowler's wife Carole.
1) Donald was coroners officer from 1977 to 1987
Whilst the regular Pathologist was on holiday, an elderly locum Pathologost was deputising at Wycombe Hospital. After a few days he whispered to Don that he had recently lost an old friend and that Don should perhaps arrange for another Doctor to carry out the post-mortem. Don was not sure how to break the news “ You did him yesterday, Sir!”
2) Whilst cycling home for lunch along Langley High Street from the police station, a builders lorry passed by with overhanging planks of wood. As the lorry rounded a corner the wood knocked Don off his bicycle sending his helmet flying. Fortunately, he was unharmed by this undignified accident, but rather amused when a few minutes later the lorry returned with a very flustered driver who had been quit unaware of what had happened. A car driver following had chased the lorry, flagged it down and told the driver of the incident !
3) Don Bowler was 6 feet 6 ½ inches tall and each year won the prize at the Police Annual Dinner Dance held at Pinewood Studio, for the largest sized feet (size 13)
Donald Bowler joined the Bucks Constabulary on the 11th September 1961. He retired from Thames Valley Police in October 1987 on medical grounds, he sadly died on the 8th January 1988.
Stories by PC 256 Dennis Humble
1) I was working night duty in Winslow at about 11pm when I heard a loud bang. To me it was obviously a shotgun bang. I ran round a corner to a Pub called ‘The Bull’ The Landlord was outside and said “ Someone has tried to kill me” He explained, he was in his bar when he heard breaking glass. He walked down a passageway and was turning to his left towards his back door. He found that the glass in the door was broken and he saw twin holes sticking through the glass. He stood back and the gun went of peppering the wall in front of him. That left me searching the local streets in the dark with a bit of wood ( truncheon) in my hand. No luck so I called the dog handler. The dog found a trace and we tracked over three miles across fields to the village of Mursley and to the door of a council house. The dog handler said “ We do not know where the gun is, you knock on the door and stand back and I will let the dog in” Well I knocked on the door and it opened immediately. The dog jumped and pushed me straight in. Lucky for me the chap stood there with his hands out waiting for the handcuffs.
2) I was on patrol in Quainton, Bucks when I received the following complaint. A member of the public living in Station Road complained of a neighbours alarm clock waking the whole street up in the early hours. On investigating the complaint I went to the neighbours house. ( I knew the man concerned) I asked him if I could hear his alarm clock and he went into his bedroom and switched it on. I very nearly jumped out of my boots. His alarm clock was a submarine Claxton and when it went off he still slept through it. Consequently it woke all his neighbours. I sent this story to the Force newspapers and it ended up in the national press as well as on the television.
3) I was on patrol on the M1 at Newport Pagnell Service Area when I heard this terrific crash. I was at the scene within seconds and found a large lorry had run into the rear of an Army Transporter. On opening the drivers door of the lorry I found the driver was trapped by the legs. His seat having been pushed down by the collision. The metal bars on his seat were resting across the terminals of his batteries and were starting to glow red. Fire was nearly imminent. Other drivers had stopped and I asked if anyone had a crowbar a driver brought one from his vehicle and I used it to break the terminals off the batteries this prevented the fire and saved the driver. About one week later I was on duty at Newport Pagnell Police Station when this chap walked in and asked for PC Humble. I said you are talking to him. He said “ I am the Transport Manager of the firm whose lorry was involved in an accident and I believe you dealt with it” I said “Yes that was correct” He said “ What I want to know, who is going to pay for the new batteries you smashed ?”. I could not believe what I was hearing. I said “Your batteries come with me” I took him to the Inspectors Office. I said to him “ Will you repeat to my Inspector what you have just said to me”. Which he did. My Inspectors face was blue then red then he exploded. That Transporter Manager just crawled out of the Police Station.
Dennis Humble joined the Bucks Constabulary on the 12th January 1953 and retired from Thames valley Police in June 1978. Dennis died on the 17th October 2001
Story by PC 275 David William Baggott
In the days before police computers and personal radios - it seem s a long time ago now - the town where I was a probationary constable was having problems with a spate of burglaries on council estates. Five or six houses were entered every night and cash and small disposable items were being stolen.
We tried hard to catch the villains, but without success. We had plain clothes observations all night but the estates were too large and every morning the usual phone calls came in. The villains became so confident, or perhaps they were unaware, that they had broke into two or three police houses.
Our shift was on nights and as it was winter we were getting fed up with observations with no results. We needed some help desperately. So desperately, in fact, that somebody suggested the supernatural. I had never been to a séance before, but if it saved me from those observations I was willing to try.
Our small mess room was prepared. The table was polished to a fine sheen. The duty officer made a set of alphabet cards and slightly larger cards with ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. Luckily the barman had not cleaned up properly and we found a suitable glass. The witching hour had come - 1.50am as it happened.
The sergeant decided he wanted as many as possible and both meal relief’s could participate. We had night lamps in those days, not modern torches, but those with red and green filters.With the whole shift gathered around the table and us all bathed in red and green lights from several night lamps. Mac, the seance leader was appointed by the sergeant. He had performed before apparently and so the session began.
Fingers on the glass” we were instructed.
Is there anybody there?” wailed Mac. No response.
Is there anybody there?” Still no response.
Is there anybody there?” More urgency this time.
The glass moved. I felt cold. Surely somebody is moving the glass I thought. I looked closely. I couldn’t be sure. It moved slowly towards the card bearing the word ‘Yes’. The hairs on my neck stood on end. Somebody gasped. The glass stopped and remained stationary.
Is anybody there?” pleaded Mac again.
The glass moved straight to ‘Yes’.
Identify yourself “, implored Mac.
The glass moved very slowly around the table stopping at letters on its way. Mac spelt out the letters as it went: LEE pause OSWALD (about two weeks previously Lee Harvy Oswold had been shot in Dallas, USA, following the assassination of President Kennedy).
Half the participants gasped, the other half laughed. The glass paused then started to move again. Was this another message? It moved round the table. Nobody could have been pushing it, it moved faster, round and round. It was gathering momentum as it went.
Fingers were leaving the glass until eventually it was going round the table so fast that nobody could keep their fingers on it. Finally it fell on its side and rolled to the side of the table. It stopped before it fell to the ground by one of us who realised what was happening. He replaced it.
We’ll start again,” said the sergeant, “Nobody must laugh, we were getting somewhere that time”
Is anybody there?” said Mac.
Is anybody there?” No response. “Is anybody there?” Still no response.
Despite many more tries there was no success.
I have often wondered if we had in fact contacted Lee Harvy Oswald and what he could have told us. Would we have been privileged to know the truth about President Kennedy or would he have been able to help us in our problem, and given us all information leading perhaps even to a commendation?
We, not our shift, did eventually manage to catch our breakers, but we had to use traditional police methods, namely plain clothes observations.
David William Baggott joined the Bucks Constabulary on the 6th March 1965 and retired from Thames Valley Police on the 28th June 1991. He attained the rank of Sergeant (the picture shows him in his TVP uniform). David died on the 20th February 2012.