Cold War duties in 1976

1976: Simon Nelson: When I joined Surrey Constabulary at the end of August 1976 I was held back from training school as there was no vacancy for me. I then had to wait for the next intake in September before I eventually went down to Ashford, and so I completed two induction courses!

Whilst waiting I was employed in the offices situated around the top of the new force control room which was in the final stages of completion and given odd jobs to do. In our office was Inspector John Buxton who was the force "War Duties" officer, and part of his duties included checking the early warning sirens and monitors which were at strategic sites all over the county.

We were in the "Cold War" and the threat of nuclear attack from the USSR was still a real possibility. The sirens were activated from a central point to give members of the public warning to take cover. In every Police Station front office there was a small grey box on the wall with a receiver and small loud speaker and on/off switch. When switched on it emitted a low peeping sound. The idea was that if there was an imminent threat of attack the device was turned on and if the peeping sound changed to a single humming note this meant you had a few minutes to take cover!

During probationer training days we were told about radiation and that particles called Roentgen were blown by the wind and it depended on the amount of these particles you absorbed as to how fast you would die of radiation sickness. So if the bomb or shock wave didn't get you the radiation soon would. Living so near London was not a good place to be!

I remember Inspector Buxton took me out on one of his inspections of two sirens. One was situated facing Guildford town from the edge of the cemetery on The Mount and the other was in a corner of Dunsfold Airfield.

Finding the one at Dunsfold was not easy and I remember meeting up with the Cranleigh Sergeant, Bob Bartlett, who had local knowledge. The sirens were tested by turning them on at the site and quickly off again before they could build up speed and noise. At the end of the Cold War the sirens were removed and the little grey box in the police station was no longer there to check.

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Recruitment in 1976

1976: PC 1053 Simon Nelson : Application and Recruitment to Surrey Constabulary: I was born in East Africa in 1957, where my father had decided to take up farming after leaving the RAF at the end of World War Two. My childhood had been spent in Kenya which was a British Colony at that time. I was twelve in April 1970 when Dad decided to return "home" to England after an absence of twenty three years, and to start with we lived with his brother's family in Hook Heath, Woking. This was my introduction to England and the county of Surrey.

By the time I was about sixteen I had decided I wanted to join the police and because my home was in Surrey, the Surrey Constabulary was an obvious choice. The entry requirements for the Surrey Constabulary at that time were that you had to have a minimum of five O-Levels (GCSE now) including English and Maths or pass the Police entry examination if you did not have English or a Maths O-Level. Men had to at least 5 feet 8 inches tall, and I think Ladies 5 feet 4 inches.

I think it was sometime in January 1976 when I was eighteen, I walked from Guildford town to Sandy Lane and up the hill to the Surrey Constabulary Headquarters at Mount Browne and asked at the reception about joining up. Within about five minutes a uniformed Sergeant appeared with some forms and ushered me into a small interview room. He introduced himself as Sergeant Ray Hussey and my impression of him was of a very jolly man, friendly, and with a good sense of humour, which put me at ease at once. I thought I would not be getting this treatment if I was joining the Army!

After checking my height (I was exactly 5 feet 8 inches and had another inch yet to grow) I was told that as I did not have a maths O-Level (I had a maths CSE "Unclassified") I would have to take the combined English and arithmetic test. He then produced the test papers and said he would be back in half an hour.

I sailed through the English test and then I started sweating as I crawled through the arithmetic questions. I had no slide rule and I think calculating machines were yet to be invented. Anyway Sergeant Hussey appeared again and he waited until I had finished the last few questions and then went away again to mark the papers. About ten minutes later he re-appeared with a smile on his face and told me I had passed, and that I had just scraped through the arithmetic test!

After asking me a few questions about me and why I wanted to join up he thanked me and told me that I would hear from them in due course. I subsequently received a letter signed by the Chief Constable Peter Matthews dated 22nd January 1976 with an application form, which I duly completed and returned as requested.

I then received a letter dated 17th February 1976 signed for the Chief Constable by Superintendent Kirton informing me that I had definitely passed the Police Entrance Examination and that there were a number of enquiries to be made.

A letter dated 5th March 1976 then arrived inviting me for an interview at Mount Browne at 8.45 am Monday 22nd March 1976. It stated that if this was satisfactory I would be medically examined by the Chief Police Surgeon at 2 pm the same day. "The Chief Police Surgeon has requested that all candidates for medical examination should have their ears free from wax. It is essential that you should see your own doctor prior to this medical examination in order to make sure your ears are free from wax." (No cotton buds in 1976?) "A sample of your early morning urine in a sealed and labelled bottle will also be required."

Monday the 22nd March 1976 dawned dry and bright (start of the long hot summer of '76) and I duly peed into my labelled bottle and secured the top. I think I had provided about half a pint of the stuff in an old pop bottle, and put the bottle in a plastic bag. I then attended Mount Browne and met up with Sergeant Hussey who took me along to wait in the front hall of the original house where a few other nervous looking characters were sitting in their smartest outfits.

Just imagine the 1970s long hair, flared trousers, wide brightly patterned "kipper" ties, and jackets with huge wide lapels. I was in my school uniform and tie with my best blazer which was the smartest clothes I possessed at that time. I had even had a hair cut.

I waited while the candidates were led in turn into the Chief Constables office, which reminded me of my younger days outside the headmasters study waiting to be caned. At least there was no sounds emitting from his office of anyone actually being caned, but the wait was just as terrifying.

I was last to go in and before I knew it I was sitting directly facing the Chief Constable, Peter Matthews, who was flanked on both sides by high ranking officers peering over their spectacles at me. It is possible that one of the other officers was Superintendent Kirton. I remember the office was on the ground floor in the south corner of the house overlooking the gardens, a lovely relaxing view.

The content of the interview is a bit hazy to me now but started off by Peter Matthews asking me in his Scottish accent "Well laddie, why do you want to become a Police Constable?" I then launched myself into my carefully prepared speech which lasted about three words and rapidly came out as a stream of on the spot improvisation. I said something along the lines of "I wanted to serve the people of Surrey, to keep them and their property safe and to keep the Queens Peace and lastly to do my best to detect and apprehend offenders."

There were some general questions fired at me from the other officers probing into my background and character. I told them I was used to discipline having been in the Army Cadet Corps at school and I enjoyed games like rugby and football. I am not sure how long the interview took but the next thing I knew I was being asked to wait outside where I joined the others who were all asking each other about how their interviews went.

About an hour later I was invited back into Peter Matthew's office and was greeted with broad smiles from all three officers. Peter Matthews said something like "Well I have decided to appoint you as one of my constables, do you have any questions?" I asked him about where I would be stationed and he told me that Sergeant Hussey would ask for preferences but there would be no guarantees. And that was that, only three months from initial enquiry to being accepted.

I think all the candidates passed and we all went directly down to the uniform stores to be measured up for uniforms. After lunch in the canteen we were directed by Ray Hussey to a dark blue Ford Transit bus and he drove us to a doctor's surgery at Boxgrove Lane Guildford which is now a children's nursery. I produced my urine sample and after a quick examination by the Police Surgeon, Sergeant Hussey drove us to Mount Alvernia Hospital at the top of Harvey Road in Guildford where we all had chest X-Rays.

Throughout the day we had been entertained by Sergeant Hussey and of course all his war stories about his time in the police were related, confirming to me that this was a good decision I had made to join up!

By this time it was about 3 pm and we were all dropped off in North Street opposite the Horse and Groom Public House. I remember the pub was still boarded up as a result of the IRA bomb blast there 2 years earlier. I subsequently received a letter signed by Superintendent Kirton for the Chief Constable dated 24th March 1976.

This confirmed my appointment as a Police Constable with effect from 31st August 1976 and to report at 9.00 am that day for a four day residential course prior to attending the Police Training Centre. This was known as the Induction Course and the start of my experiences at Ashford District Police Training School Kent, and the Surrey Constabulary.

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