MY TIME AS A POLICE CADET AND CONSTABLE.
After writing my first blog I decided to move on to my eighteenth year when I was accepted as a Metropolitan police cadet in London. It turned out to be the most exciting time of my life so far.
I turned up at 201 Borough High Street where the rest of the next intake for the Hendon Police College gathered. At that time of my life, I was quite a smart dresser and was wearing a light-colored trench coat, paisley scarf and Austrian Tyrol trilby. I already must have been dreaming of being a detective. As I walked into the main hall where we all gathered, somebody who didn’t know me called out in a posh accent, “I say chaps Morris has arrived”. From that moment on, until we all scattered from Hendon after our three-month spell at the college, I was called Morris. Our numbers thinned as cadets began to realise they were not up to the training, but I must admit I enjoyed it and rarely went home for the weekends.
LimeHouse Police Station. The Section House was at the back, where I lived.
When our training was finish and we passed out, I was stationed at Limehouse in the Eastend of London and also lived at the section house behind the police station. This part of the Eastend of London was famous for its Chinese restaurants, one of the best-known being “The Old Friends”. The consulate and embassy staff and others would often be seen there. It was just across the road from us.
As a non-drinker, I found ‘The Prospect of Whitby” one of the most interesting pubs in the Eastend of London.
Being a police cadet was the most interesting job I had ever had. I was never expected to do shift-work. Although I spent a lot of my time in the office at Limehouse, I was regularly sent out on familiarisation with different departments of the Metropolitan Police. Some of them were extremely interesting, such as the Flying Squad, River Police and the Old Bailey plus a brief visit to Scotland Yard, where I never got past making tea! It was fine with me. For years I would tell stories of my outrageous experiences among the elite of the Met. In the end, I could never remember what was the truth or my imagination. Regardless, I have the fondest memories of this period of my life.
All went well until my 19th birthday and I was made a constable and the job became serious. I was transferred to Poplar police station, not far from Limehouse. I still lived in the section house. Shift work became the norm, morning, afternoon and nights. I never did get used to the hours, although the work could be exciting and I settled into the life as a London Bobby. When we reported for duty each shift the Station Sargent would inspect our appointments (pad and whistle) and allocate our duties for that day. The thing I found most interesting about these times was the Sargent asking for volunteers for special duties anywhere in the Met. I volunteered for almost everything, I remember volunteering to fight the Mau Maus in Kenya, but I had to have completed probation before I would be allowed to go. The duties were never boring, although sometimes dangerous however better than doing beat duties around the streets of Poplar. The married men rarely volunteered as they had a wife to go home to and a warm bed. The times I remember most was the Paddington rent riots and apartheid riots outside South Africa House. I was also on duty for a special screening of “Ben Hur” in Leicester Square, which I found quite exciting. We had two uniforms one of which was our number-ones. I only got to use the dress uniform once, when President De Gaulle made a state visit and was accompanied by the Queen in an open carriage to Buckingham Palace. I was on duty down the Mall. A proud moment.
It was customary for probation constables to have a three-monthly interview with the area Superintendent. I will never forget the time when I was in his office and he asked me if I was happy at Poplar Station and I, in my stupidity, replied, “I am, but I thought my attributes would be better used at somewhere like West End Central” (Mayfair). He looked at me straight faced and said: “Let me think about it”. I left that meeting thinking, what a stupid thing to say. I didn’t have to wait long, as a couple of weeks later I was given a stint of the night shift on “The Isle of Dogs”. Although part of Poplar’s jurisdiction, it was a U shape in the river made into an island by docks and canals. Not the most exciting place in London. There was still a lot of war damage as there was along most of the river, it didn’t have its own Police Station at the time, just a police phone box. It was winter when I was there and I remember wearing my greatcoat with the collar up and my large rubber torch poked down the front as I wandered the deserted beat all night. The only defense I had was my rosewood truncheon, which I practiced doing a fast withdrawal from a special side pocket in my trousers. All the time I was in the force I never saw a gun or was given training in handling one or knew anyone who had. Even to this day, I have never fired a gun.
There were some detractions, – I always enjoyed walking through the foot tunnel that went under the river Thames to Greenwich. I would do a circuit of the “Cutty Sark” and return the way I came. I never saw a soul. I often wondered what would happen if I had trouble. We didn’t have personal radios in those days. I wonder what the “The Isle of Dogs” would be like today. Probably a fashionable part of London, with a view of the river on all sides and marinas surrounded by fashionable townhouses and apartments, with the view of Greenwich Marine College across the river.
Although I had some exciting and interesting times in the force, the most interesting was while on night duty, I came across a car that appealed to me. It was a black 1948 Rover 75. I don’t know why I was so attracted to this car, and at the time I didn’t have a license. I would dream of owning such a car. Dreams don’t seem to be affected by whether you have the money to buy such a thing. I would make a point of passing the parked car on every shift until one morning I was passing the Rover when the owner was approaching. Without giving it any thought, I said “ good morning. Are you interested in selling your car”? He smiled and replied, “No”. As I continued on I turned and said, “I love your car”.
This is a 1948 Rover 75, although mine was black. I saw it at a vintage car rally, not far from where I live.
It was several weeks later when I was in the area and the owner noticed me and smiled and said: “Are you the policeman interested in buying my car”. I boldly said, “Yes, how much do you want for it?”. He replied “I would take 300”. Where the hell was I going to get 300 pounds. Probation police officers didn’t get paid a lot. I got his address and said I would be in touch. The first thing I did was to visit the local bank and was curtly told the amount was too high and they may consider 150. I mentioned the problem to my Dad and he said he would ask his bank. They agreed but I couldn’t afford the repayments. My Dad had never owned a car, so he suggested he pay one third and could use the Rover when I was on afternoons or night shift. So, began a great partnership. As he worked in London, he would pick the car up after work and drive it home to Essex and later return it. I have owned many beautiful cars in my life, but never have I had the affection I had for the old Rover.
Mostly I enjoyed police-force life and always dreamed of being a detective and joining the CID at the end of my probation. I had been approached by CID as I had been involved in a couple of cases that were beyond my normal duties and they were always on the lookout for new recruits. I was troubled by the thought of spending the rest of my working life in London. So, after just over two years and for that reason, I decided to leave. It was a sad moment, but when I look back at the amazing life I have had, there can surely be no regrets.