So far I have covered the very earliest time of my life “On the Beat” in London’s West End but today I thought I might cover the circumstances that led to me finally pursuing a career in policing.
I was brought up in an area of North London known as Stoke Newington within the London borough of Hackney. My early memories were happy and completely lacking in dramatic trauma. Likewise, my schooling was completely unremarkable and I eventually left school aged 18 years old with a very average set of ‘O’ Level qualifications….My first job was in an office of an insurance company in the City of London and it took me only about four months to realise that “This is not for me!”
I began looking for something that I might find more interesting, I considered a career in the armed forces….Travelling the World in search of adventure definitely attracted me….But patrolling the streets of Ulster did not appeal to me in the slightest…..I spoke to my Dad and I think it was him who suggested a career in the police….I believe that it was something that he had seriously considered as a young man, but other opportunities and WWII took his life in other directions.
I really had no knowledge of policing….None of my family had previously served as police officers as far as I was aware at that time….Although I was later to discover that a great uncle of mine had indeed served as a police officer and had ultimately lost his life in somewhat heroic circumstances during an air raid in 1917…..But those facts were unknown to me at that time…..I must have had positive mental images of the police from childhood fixed in my mind and I can vividly remember as a young boy recovering from a serious bout of pneumonia and being allowed to go outside and feed carrots to the police horses being exercised from the stables at Stoke Newington Police Station. My poor mother nearly had a heart attack when I insisted on running underneath the horses, to the great amusement of the Mounted Branch officers.
So it was that in the Autumn of 1972 I walked up to Stoke Newington Police Station, presented myself to the station sergeant on duty and asked if he could provide me with details of how I might apply to be a Metropolitan Police Officer…..I must say that the sergeant did look at me rather closely….As if he was trying to work something out in his mind…..But finally he asked me to wait in the foyer….And after a short while he returned and handed me a navy blue folder embossed with a silver coloured police badge and bearring the slogan “Wear The Badge of Courage”….I can remember how impressed I was with that folder….Even though he had to blow the dust off it before handing it to me….”There you are son….Everything you need is in there….Good luck.” I smiled and was aware of his intense gaze upon me as I turned away and left the building, clutching my prize….’Wear the Badge of Courage’….”That’s for me!” I thought.
I carefully filled in the forms, attended interviews, passed a couple of entrance exams and by March 8th 1973 was working out my notice at the the insurance company where I was employed….That date is easy to recall as just before 3pm, the building was rocked by what I innocently thought at the time must be a ‘Sonic Boom’ caused by Concorde…..As our building was being evacuated (a bit over the top for a sonic boom, I thought) I can remember seeing the shattered windows and blast injuries caused to the typist’s pool on the opposite side of the building from our office, caused by the IRA bombing of The Old Bailey….. Looking back, I think that perhaps that should have made me wonder what I might be letting myself in for….But it didn’t….Perhaps I was just too young to take it all in?….And certainly over the first few years of my service I found myself worryingly close to several terrorist explosions……But I was too young, too innocent and probably too stupid to worry about such matters.
As I have related in a previous post, I joined the police on May 14th 1973….From that date, fast forward in time a couple of years to December 1975. The West End was still considered to be a prime target for the IRA bombers and the Met’s response was to flood the West End with as many police officers as possible to deter and hopefully catch the bombers. It became a standing joke that you could barely walk around a corner without bumping into a copper….Buses full of police officers came in from all over London in what became known as “Operation Santa”….Obviously, all of these officers had to be fed and the large canteen at West End Central was doing a roaring trade turning out meals for the local officers plus all the others that were cramming into canteen….On this particular weekday I was waiting in a long queue of hungry officers….The officers around me were from ‘G’ Div but I didn’t really pay them much attention until one of them tapped me on the shoulder and when I turned around said “I see that you made it then, Son!”
The sergeant asking me the question was unknown to me “I beg your pardon, Sarge?”
“I said. You made it then, how are you getting on?”
I was completely puzzled. “I’m sorry Sarge, you have the advantage over me. Are you mistaking me for somebody else?”
“No, Son…I don’t think so….A couple of years ago you walked into Stoke Newington Police Station and asked me about joining “”The Job””…I’m just saying, You made it!”
“Bloody Hell, Sarge….You have a remarkable memory!”
He smiled back and said “No, not really….I think you are the only person ever to come into my station and ask about joining the police and to be honest I thought at first you might have been taking the Mickey and I seriously considered kicking you out for being so bloody cheeky!”
It’s been said countless times that the rank of sergeant is the most important and probably the most underrated rank in the entire world of policing….I suspect that particular sergeant would have been a wonderful example of the rank and I would very much have liked to know him better….But our paths never crossed again.Recommended2 recommendationsPublished in