A Policeman’s Lot 25….The Road to Wapping Pier.

I paraded for my very first day of duty at Wapping on a Monday morning in early April 1988 along with five other successful applicants; we were to become “The Class of ‘88.”

This was to be the beginning of our probationary year as Thames Division officers during the year we would undergo an intensive course of training that would prepare us to work professionally on the Thames as police officers. We would have to learn how to operate all the various craft then used by the division, from the fast twin engined launches used at Wapping to rubber inflatables with outboard engines and, of course, the good old station dinghies……In addition we would also undergo classroom based training that would bring us up to sufficient standard to pass the various Royal Yachting Association exams that we would sit during the year….. It would all mean that in addition to the various practical skills that we would be required to learn….We would all be required to grasp various academic skills….This would prove a challenge as most of us had left our classroom learning days long behind us…..But at the end, if we passed the final boat test….We would all be awarded the coveted ‘Boatmaster’s Licence’

To assist us in this learning process we would first undergo a two week basic boat handling course…..The six of us were split into two boats….One of the boats would be under the tender charge of Sergeant Rod …..A larger than life ex Royal Marine….The other crew (which included me) were placed in the care of PC Kevan, the very same chap who had been critical of my knot tying skills on the day of the selection board…..I had rather hoped that Kevan might have forgotten about my dodgy rope work….Obviously though, that was never going to be the case!

Before we were let loose on the river we would be given a welcome talk by the divisional chief inspector….Clive…..He began his talk by inviting anyone who wished to smoke to do so….as he personally didn’t agree with the station being designated a Non Smoking area! He then welcomed us to Thames Division and advised us that any and everything we had done previously in our various police services would count for very little at Wapping…..Because (as we would all very quickly discover) Thames Division and the world of ‘Real Policing’ had very little in common….EVERYTHING on Thames Division was different…..Starting with the uniform…..We were all fitted for Thames Division tunics these ‘Reefer’ style tunics were based on a maritime style that harked back to the very beginnings of policing on the Thames in 1798…..Clive, and indeed ALL the officers on the division were fiercely proud of the division’s history and that it was generally recognised as being the very first organised body of police in the world…..In later years I would become intimately concerned with that history….But that history, is very much in the future (if that makes sense?)

One of the most difficult things for me to get to grips with in my early months on the river with was that EVERYONE on the Division was on first name terms with everyone else…..Even the senior officers….This was because ALL the senior ranks had at one time started on the river as PC’s (something that is no longer the case)…..As a PC in the Met. Police, I was used to calling everyone above the rank of Sergeant “Sir”….To now be calling the superintendent, Ted; the chief inspector, Clive and my relief inspector Dick took some getting used to.

Eventually we were allowed out with our tutors to get our very first taste of boat handling….We were using the single engined launches used mostly on the upper reaches of the river and we began the process of “Bumping and Grinding”…..We would drive up and down the river, each recruit taking control of the launch in turns. Kevan would show us how to go alongside a pontoon or perhaps another vessel….This may sound straightforward but it must be remembered that the Thames is a tidal river which means that the river will flow in different directions during a tour of duty…..and sometimes the wind will hamper navigation….It all seemed very confusing….But it was a new adventure and great fun.

One of my own biggest handicaps was that I had never before been required to take control of any powered vehicle. I had never driven a car or even had a driving lesson (something which all my classmates found remarkable) so the concept of controlling a steering wheel and throttle (or throttles, in a twin engined launch) was completely alien to me….But for those first two weeks all I had to worry about was a steering wheel and one throttle lever.

Kevan gave us many pearls of wisdom in that first two weeks but perhaps the most important and valuable was that “Every time you come alongside a pier or another vessel you are colliding with it…..Remember that the slower you are going, the less damage you risk causing….And if you ALWAYS instruct your crew to have the rubber hand held fenders ready for use when you are coming alongside something…..Then you should never cause any damage at all” These turned out to be wise words that I (years later) passed on to other recruits when I took other probationers out on their ‘Bumping and Grinding’ exercises.

Towards the end of our basic course we were all told which relief we would be attached to when the basic course ended….I would be attached to ‘C’ Relief at Wapping and I was also introduced to the PC who would be my relief trainer (or Sea Daddy), his name was Garry….It would be Garry’s job to supervise my day to day training and to work in conjunction with the Divisional Training Unit in getting me ready for the various tests and exams that I would be required to pass in the coming year…..Both Garry and the Training Unit would have their work cut out with ME!…..But I can now say, all these years later, that I could not have selected a better instructor than Garry….He was a gifted and talented instructor with the patience of a saint (that I would often test to the limit) and what he didn’t know about boats really was not much worth knowing….And he very quickly got the measure of my many shortcomings and failings…..He also had a way of turning training exercises into games and challenges……and I will discuss that further in the next blog.

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