ALL THINGS CONSIDERED: The adventures of a rookie bobby
Born in 1925 in Croydon, England, Ed Pearson volunteered to join the British Royal Air Force at the age of 16 and during World War II served in India and Burma. His blog continues here upon his return to the UK, where by now he is a fresh graduate of the UK Police College.
Newly graduated from the London UK Police College in late 1947, I was anxious to forge ahead and procure my first arrest. Alas, like all green constables, I was immediately put on duty directing traffic. This was a daunting task, as never before or since have I seen such monstrous traffic jams equaling those of post-war London. After that stint, I was assigned a beat and before long an opportunity came along to make an arrest.
They say a policeman never forgets his first arrest and I’m no exception. In fact, it took a couple of years to live it down.
I’d been approached by a concerned citizen and informed that a couple was fornicating in a bus queue. My investigation determined that the claim was not exaggerated and, after separating the culprits, I marched the intoxicated duo down to the station house. My first arrest having been made, I now looked forward to my first appearance in court.
Given the circumstances, I was embarrassed to see a female magistrate would be hearing the case. After answering her query as to the details of the disorderly conduct charge, she snorted, “Don’t be ridiculous. You can’t have sex standing up!” There was a moment of deafening silence before the courtroom erupted in riotous laughter.
One of my fellow graduates also had an inauspicious start to his career. He was walking the beat in the area where a number of women had perished at the hands of Jack the Ripper. There were still veteran officers on the force who, as very young constables, had worked the unsolved case. They filled the young officer’s head with morbid details and suggested that the alleys might be haunted by the ghosts of the ill-fated women.
Feeling an eerie presence, he spun around to see two bright green eyes staring at him through the fog only to discover it was a cat sitting on a wall. Frustrated at letting himself get spooked, he flung his Billy club at the feline, but the truncheon bounced off the wall and went straight through a plate glass window. There went his first week’s pay packet.
The fact we lacked sensitivity training was brought home in those early days on the job. In one instance, my partner and I were sent to investigate the report of a missing couple. On entry to their apartment, we were greeted with the gruesome sight of their bodies hanging in the doorway in an apparent suicide pact.
After composing ourselves from the shock, we went to the landlord to inform him of the tragedy. My partner opened the conversation by complimenting the apartment building and expressing his desire to rent a unit. When the landlord told him there were no vacancies, my partner rather callously informed him, “There is now.”
Post-war London, especially the notorious east end, was not only where young constables were sent to learn the ropes, but also a breeding ground for disenchanted youth and bitter returning servicemen who lamented the lack of paying work. They were quick to learn the skills of thievery from larcenists who’d been plying their trade before and throughout the war. Most I came across were unashamed of their chosen profession and would, when brought into the station for questioning, answer “burglar” with a mixture of pride and defiance when asked their occupation.
On a more innocent note, we were told to keep an eye out for escapees of the institution officially named The National Association for the Reclamation of Destitute Waif Children, and more commonly known as Dr. Barnardo’s. While some of these young kids seemed intent on securing their freedom to make their own way in the world, there were a couple of habitual runaways who never ventured very far and pretty much hid in plain sight.
The pair was an adolescent girl and younger lad she’d taken under her wing. I came to the conclusion they considered their short escapes more of an outing than anything else and knew they looked forward to a trip down to the station house for a cup of cocoa and a couple of biscuits before being escorted back to the home. Knowing the time between visits would be short, we made sure the biscuit tin was never empty.