A Policeman’s Lot 23….A funny thing happened to me on my way to Wapping!

After four and a half years on the Diplomatic Protection Group, I began to feel as if I needed a change of role and scenery….The next (and as it happened) final chapter of my police career would see me move from policing the diplomatic community to policing the River Thames….I was about to apply to join what was then called the Thames Division of the Metropolitan Police.

This was hardly a spur of the moment decision….By the time I actually arrived at Wapping in April 1988, I had already been in the police for almost 15 years……But the original seeds of this move were sown in the very earliest days of my police career….In fact on the first afternoon of my very first day at West End Central in early August 1973.

On that particular day my class left the Training School at Hendon and we were driven by coach to our allotted police stations…..Upon my arrival at West End Central, I was directed to the canteen, told to grab myself a cup of tea and await a call from the Divisional Clerks who would take me in to see “The Guvnor”…..About twenty minutes later my name was called and I was taken before the Chief Superintendent who welcomed me to “C” Division and told me that I was about to embark on a “new and exciting episode in my life”….He then started to talk about a career of possibly thirty years that was stretching before me…..At that point I think I may well have inadvertently lost concentration because NO nineteen year old can even remotely imagine what the future might resemble thirty years hence!…..When I regained my concentration and composure my new senior officer was verbally running through a long list of possibilities that might exist in my future police career….I remember he suggested that after my qualifying probationary period of two years had elapsed, I might consider taking promotion, or perhaps applying for a ‘Specialist Department’….Perhaps CID? Traffic Patrol?….He then laid out several other possibilities….By the time he got to Mounted Branch and Dog Section, he had definitely started to slow his delivery down considerably and it was only then, that I suddenly realised he ACTUALLY wanted me to display an interest in one of his suggestions….CID, I didn’t much fancy, I couldn’t drive, so Traffic Patrol was a non starter, I had no intention on riding a huge horse….Police Dogs had sharp teeth….I was starting to get desperate….I had images of him kicking me out of his office as a “Time wasting no hoper!” …..Then came salvation “What about Thames Division?” He said.

“Thames Division, Sir?”

“Yes, you know, the River Police?”

My mind worked rapidly…I really could not think of anything against a career in Thames Division and before I knew what was happening I blurted out “Yes Sir, Thames Division….That sounds REALLY interesting!”

Suddenly a broad grin spread across his face. “Really? Jolly good show!….I’ve never had anyone show an interest in Thames Division before!”

I was happy because HE was happy….I wasn’t going to be dismissed from his office ignominiously after all and we both grinned at each other like a couple of Cheshire Cats as we shook hands…..As I left his office I was thinking “Wow, I got away with that one!”…..What I failed to realise of course was that all of these interviews are written down…..And at every annual interview for the next ten years, the senior officer behind the desk would unfailingly ask “When are you thinking about applying for Thames Division, then?”

To which my answer was always “Oh, not quite yet Sir…..I think I need to build up my experience of ordinary policing here before I consider specialising.”…..That was ALWAYS a good and acceptable answer!

Now fast forward fifteen years…..I am sitting in an office at Tottenham Court Road undergoing my initial annual appraisal report with my sergeant. “Are you happy to stay another year, Bob?”

“To be honest Sarge….I was thinking about applying for something else.”

“You’re approaching half way through your service so now might be a logical time to consider a change….What are you thinking of?”

“Years ago I thought that Thames Division might be interesting and I have seen that they are inviting applications in this week’s Police Orders….I thought that I might give it a try.”

“Yes, why not?…..Knock out your application and run it past me before sending it to the inspector.”

The next day I sat in front of a typewriter and laboriously typed out form 728 headed “Application for Thames Division”…..I duly listed my police career to date along with some of my interests, read it through and took it into my sargeant….”Here’s my application, Sarge.”

He read it through and curled his lip….”Erm….It’s a bit ordinary, isn’t it”?

“It’s an application form, Sarge….Not a novel.”

“Yes….But you still need to grab the reader’s attention….There could well be dozens of other applications just like this….You need to lift yourself above the others to get a board…..Listen, leave this with me and come and see me again tomorrow. OK?”

Next day I returned to his office and he grinned as he handed me a new and rather different application form…..In which he had made one or two alterations….”Read this!”

In my original I had listed my marine experience as having done some canoeing on the River Lea…..In his version I sounded like a cross between Horation Nelson, Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake….Only possibly, a bit better than all of them! “That’s certainly more interesting Sarge….Though (technically speaking) not perhaps strictly true?”

“Trust me, mate….I am something of an expert at these things….Truth has absolutely nothing to do with it…..THIS application WILL get you through the paper sift…I guarantee it!….This will get you onto that final board…..After that…It’s all up to you!”

And the sergeant was as true as his word…..A few weeks later I received notification that I had been selected to attend a board at Wapping Police Station to join Thames Division.

To be continued……….

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