Ash Section 1970-73

1970 – 1973: Ash Section Bob: Bartlett: In the spring of 1970 I was posted as a rural sergeant to Ash, on the Farnham Division. The area was rough and known as the "Ash-hole" of Surrey, so this was to be a challenge. For many, many years Ash had a reputation as being a difficult place to police.

There were several generations of gypsies living in Ash, and Ash Vale along with a large military influence. When Aldershot Camp was established in the 1850s, Ash grew as a place where the tinkers and traders who made their living from the military lived. There were large areas of the rural section given over to military ranges, and one camp Keogh Barracks, the Medical Corps Depot on the section.

However, just off the area was the Guards Depot at Pirbright, the RAOC at Blackdown, the 7th Royal Horse Artillery at North Camp, the Parachute Regiment and Royal Corps of Transport along with the Catering Corps depot at the Aldershot end of Government Road.

The gypsies lived in a number of locations, dependant mainly on their level of "social acceptance". The worst area was in Government Road. Here they lived in prefabs often with caravans in the "gardens". Many from this road lived by crime and were on state benefits. It has to be said that most were unemployable.

Although they committed a great deal of crime, some of it very serious, in the main they did not cause problems where they lived. Having said that, they could be very difficult if they were arrested, and on many occasions it was only the presence of local officers who knew them well that stopped short of violence against the police. They were never daft enough to do wrong when they knew they would be caught bang to rights.

As they became more "civilised" the families were moved to a poor quality council house in the Winchester Road area of Ash. This was really rough, and not without its problems of violence and drink. The next move was to Wyke Avenue about a mile away off the Guildford Road, to a better standard of house where most adults behaved but their children were a constant cause of concern. There were still however, even in this the most "civilised" of the homes, a number of hardened young criminals and tearaways.

In amongst the gypsies and the military were large numbers of normal people living in this outer suburb of Aldershot. There were rural parts of the section, Tongham, Wanborough and Normandy, part of which was the exotically named Christmas Pie. The military and the gypsies were to dominate my three years at Ash, as were the domestic problems associated with some of the policemen who worked on the section.

It is normal to be seen by the chief constable and told of a promotion. It is one of the good parts of their job but as Peter Mathews was away the head of personnel Superintendent John Maskell interviewed me. I was to be one of the two sergeants at Ash to replace one who had just been promoted inspector. The nature of the area required a sergeant quickly and so the move was made with the approval of the chief constable but in his absence.

This was a time when many sergeants began to be promoted, and there was a move away from the requirement to have about fifteen years service before promotion. As always they seemed to promote people on the Monday, which gave you the weekend to sweat as to why such a big cheese wanted to see you at HQ. I was not certain that I was going to be promoted. I had been acting sergeant for some time, but as the normal procedure was to see the chief constable and as I was to see the head of personnel I was not certain what was happening.

At about this time Jim Hart had been summoned to HQ he thought to be promoted, but to be sent instead to Norway on a British Trade Fair week.

In my case it was a promotion, and my wife and I had to pack up Spital Heath and with the help of Eades Removals of Capel move off to The Police House, Ash Street, Ash, near Aldershot.

The house was a bit of a shock as the office formed a part of the accommodation. The house was the end of a terrace of three that formed the police houses and office. The gardens were enormous, and the accommodation quite spacious but poorly decorated with a huge freezing cold bathroom across the back of the house. There was no heating beyond a coal boiler in the sitting room.

A dozen men worked out of the office and this is where some of the smelliest residents of Ash came. Not only could we hear them but also we could smell them, as the office was adjacent to the sitting room, and was only a brick wall away. The smells and cigarette smoke seeped under the door into our hallway, dining room and then to permeate the house. My wife, not for the first or last time in our house moves, was not amused.

The local newspaper reported my arrival as police activity levels in the Surrey Constabulary area were a fraction of what they are in modern times: 1970 crime 19,514 offences reported; injury road traffic accidents 4096; 999 calls 25,588, with an establishment of 1366 police officers. We were very busy however. A lot more was made of a job, (or we would like to think we spent the time and did it properly) with more paper work, and many more enquiries undertaken to obtain evidence.

On the section were just two sergeants, the very experienced Bob Sinden and myself. There were also a dozen constables of varying service and ability. Most of the time we all got on well together, and we were a successful team. It was said that to serve in Ash at that time justified a campaign medal to be worn throughout our service.

Bob Sinden was an excellent sergeant. In 1973 he decided to leave the job early and become an insurance agent in the area. Bob was one of the founder members of the police firearms team. He formed a part of what was called the Gas Squad.

One afternoon in Oxted a PC was shot in the face with a shotgun as he knocked on the front door of a house. The perpetrator who was in his 70s then withdrew into the house threatening anyone who came near. After a lengthy siege it was decided that the police should go into the house and get him out. He had been firing from the house at police officers outside.

PC Dave Bowden fired in the gas, and Arthur Crawford, Roger Weedon, Bob Sinden and others made the entry and the man was arrested. There was a hard fight during which the suspect pulled off Bob's gas mask. It was all a bit grim. At one point Arthur Crawford was a split second away from opening fire; Bob was the one who had staggered into his line of fire.

The suspect fired numerous shots from the house and, in a similar situation to the earlier siege at Tranquil Dale, the superintendent was to be gassed. He stood too close to an airbrick in the wall as the gas was fired into the premises. Also as the gas was fired the curtains were set on fire a problem to be repeated on other occasions when these hot rounds were used.

One very early incident in my career as a sergeant at Ash sticks firmly in my memory because of a comment made as I approached the scene. This was on the military ranges some one hundred and fifty yards from Pinewood Road.

I parked my Morris 1000 police car in the road having been called to an incident in the trees, the detail of which I was told I would discover on my arrival. As I walked up into the tall pine trees with that lovely pine smell that permeated the ranges, I heard as I approached a gaggle of people: "Oh good, here is the sergeant".

This was the 4th August 1970, and a man had been reported to be hanging fifty feet up a tree on Ash Ranges. Police attended and, yes, there he was hanging by his waist not by his neck, which they thought he would be, way up a fir tree. The poor man was clearly visible and was hanging by something tied around his waist.

We could not see from where we were if he was dead or alive. There were no answers to our shouts. It was really difficult to see how he could be brought down. The police did not have the equipment and so firstly I though of the army or even a helicopter but I made a decision to call the Fire Brigade.

I had absolutely no idea if they could help, and I was concerned as to what would be the next option if this failed. It was a nail biting time waiting for them to arrive. If they refused to climb the tree to get the man down what were the options? None sprang to mind.

Meanwhile there were comments from the police and some members of the public who magically always arrive even in the middle of a wood, about getting the Range Wardens and their chain saws. Tension mounted as the sirens of the fire engine could be heard coming to the scene. Because of the location the machine could not come up to the trees but the firemen soon arrived on foot.

All my concerns proved to be unnecessary as the firemen climbed up the tree and in an instant, fixed ropes around the hanging man, and brought him down to the pine needles that covered the ground. The hanging man was alive but the belt by which he had been hanging was cutting into the body and there were maggots breeding in the wounds.

An ambulance was waiting, and he was soon off to the Cambridge Military Hospital in Aldershot, where he was in time to make a full recovery. His name was Peter Talbot, a twenty year-old local man who had fallen out with his wife.

As one does in Ash, he went onto the ranges, found a very tall tree, climbed to the top, and secured himself with his belt. However, he was not very secure and he slipped and was left hanging by the belt for a couple of days. Talbot had been found after spectators arriving for a motorcycle scramble on the edge of the ranges, had heard him whimpering in pain up the tree.

Later we were to learn that he could hear the comments about the chain saw and was not too happy about that. Talbot was found to be suffering from severe exposure and was initially put in the intensive care unit at the Cambridge Military Hospital.

I was soon to discover that Talbot and his wife were well known to the local officers as they found life difficult to cope with. Talbot had a number of convictions and it was not long after his release from hospital, in an attempt to commit suicide he set fire to his father's house. He was saved by Ash PC Barry England who entered the house and dragged him out. Welcome to Ash.

Another incident at about this time that is embedded in my soul was when I was called to a caravan on the Ash Tongham Road where a baby had been found dead. Mum was obviously frantic and I had arrived before the ambulance, which is never good police practice.

The baby was still warm, possibly from being in the sun in her cot. I had to do something and tried mouth to mouth. This was the second time in my service that I had tried. The first man died of a heart attack, and I had no more luck this time. At least I tried.

The ambulance arrived and the baby and Mum were taken away. When the incident was over I went back to the office which was close by and had a cup of tea and a talk with Mary Sinden who was a nurse and at home. Good old Joe Smith one of the very senior PCs, volunteered to deal with the sudden death. This meant that I did not have to go back to Mum and to the post-mortem, which would have been hard.

There was a Scotsman on the section, Terry Chisholm, a probationer. He was marred, and lived with his family in a police house in Ash Vale having joined from the RAF Police. Terry was to become notorious for going absent without leave, but that is another story. PC Chisholm was due at work at Ash Office, which was of course a part of our house, at eight one morning.

The Chief Constable Peter Mathews was another Scot with a strong accent. Just before eight one morning, the phone rang at Farnham. Because of the telephone system they knew the call was from Ash.

"Chief Constable here";

"F*** off Terry we are busy".

The phone was put down at Farnham. The phone rang again:

"This is the Chief Constable here"

said with some forcefulness;

"F*** off Terry - we are very busy".

The line went dead for the second time. Next the chief constable is knocking on the door of our house and when my wife opened it, she was met by a not very happy Sir Peter with the plea to ring Farnham "because they would not believe that he was the Chief Constable!" I cannot believe that there was not blood on a carpet somewhere after this incident as the chief constable was not renowned for his sense of humour.

In 1971 crime was showing an increase, as it was, for most years from now on in. The crime rate in Surrey was however very low and the 20,032 crimes for the county for this year were less than the reported crime just for Northampton town when I was to work there in 1976.

One of these crimes involved the theft of property from the Medical Corps at Keogh Barracks, Ash Vale, in February 1971. I investigated the allegations and arrested a young sergeant. He was Ian Comfort aged 24, and a stolen purse had been found in his drawer. After a lengthy trial at Farnham Magistrates Court, he was found not guilty.

I was never totally convinced that he was responsible nor that he was not, and he always firmly denied his involvement. We the civil police became involved because the stolen property belonged to a civilian employee. Had there only been service involvement the investigation would have been undertaken by the Royal Military Police.

The Royal Military Police were from 160 Provost Company, based in Aldershot. I often visited their offices where the young captain, who was about my age had been a police cadet in Buckinghamshire. He was in charge of the mounted branch based in the town, and they were to prove useful on a number of occasions on the ranges for searches or preventive patrols. There was an excellent relationship between the Royal Military Police and local police, which worked to both our advantages.

I undertook an unusual enquiry also in February 1971, when I re-investigated a road accident that had occurred in 1965. A man injured in that accident had died six years after the event with the pathologist saying that the death was a direct result of the injuries received in the crash.

All the accident investigation papers normally stored in HQ had been destroyed after five years, which was the norm for such files. If they did not have a regular clear out the Force would have been buried in paper.

I traced the policeman who had dealt with the original accident. He had since retired, but fortunately I was able to recover his pocket book in which he had listed all the witnesses. This was a policeman of the old school where everything was recorded in the pocket book.

I then traced the witnesses and re-interviewed them and taking statements. It was not surprising how much people remembered for the average member of the public does not come across dramatic events very often and so when they do, the detail sticks firmly in their memory. Over a fairly short time I was able to put together a full file for the Coroner and arrange for sufficient witnesses to be made available for the inquest.

After all the work I was to learn at the inquest that the deceased's solicitor had a complete set of the papers as they had been obtained after the accident for a possible court case. So you learn!

Robin Reliant involved in a fatal accident

One Sunday afternoon on the A325 in Farnham I attended a particularly nasty fatal accident. Fibreglass bodied Reliant Robin three-wheeler had been hit by a trailer that had I think come adrift from the towing vehicle.

The upper part of the Reliant had been cut off at the bodywork. The whole of the top of the vehicle, from the base of the windscreen, had been torn off. The driver and passenger were decapitated.

Some years later when I was stationed in Northampton I was summoned to the High Court in the Strand to give evidence about the accident. Several of the officers from the scene were there and after a reunion complete with yarns and gossip it was decided to settle the case and we were not required. After all those years they settled the matter without it going before the court.

A character from Government Road was Darky Philpot. So named because he was so dirty, never having bathed in his life. There was also a John Jones, later to die whilst driving a stolen car in a chase. Both these men were inveterate thieves, mostly involved in stealing metal in all its forms but not against a little burglary as and when the opportunity arose usually in Hampshire as they did not wish to stir things up where they were known.

In police work you need the occasional piece of luck. Darky was driving in Ash one day by chance with a police car, I think driven by Alan Fletcher, behind, when a very heavy load of stolen metal fell through the floor of his rusty hulk of a car: "You're nicked Darky!"

To try and break the cycle of criminality, and low expectations, to open the eyes of these kids, I formed a youth club at the village hall which was an act of faith supported by the Parish Council. I believe it was quite successful, although getting the lads to do anything was a major feat.

On a Saturday I had arranged a day with the Parachute Regiment in Aldershot with a whole range of activities. At the appointed hour not one was there. I and another helper charged around from house to house, dragging them from their beds, threatened with goodness knows what and later, a number eventually turned up.

We had an amazing day, which included flying in a helicopter and going over the Para training area. Most of the lads enjoyed the day; the instructors were very impressed by their ability particularly in climbing and balancing on the assault course. They would if they had any self-discipline make good soldiers.

On another occasion I arranged, again with the Paras, who were very supportive, to go to Brecon Beacons for an adventure weekend. The military supplied the transport and provided the food and accommodation at their battle school Dering Lines in Brecon.

We had the usual trouble rounding the lads up and getting them on a lorry but they enjoyed the trip. The lads showed that they are very capable physically and as a group and they were not without courage. Many are not daft, but the odds are against them. Locally their address would frighten off many an employer, and they do not do well at school. At least one from that trip has since been convicted of murder!

Ash Section Sergeant's Car a Morris Minor 1100cc 1971 outside Ash Office

Ash Section Sergeant's Car, a
Morris Minor 1100cc 1971
outside Ash Office

Police vehicles for beat patrol work were little blue Morris 1,000s. They had a blue lamp but no bell or siren. They would go quite fast when pushed and were quite reliable. Having only two doors there was always a problem of getting prisoners in and out of the back particularly if they did not want to go.

We had handcuffs but it was not a standard practice to use them unless there were obvious threats to safety or there had been something particularly serious happened. The handcuffs and a wooden truncheon along with the whistle was all we had, but it seemed enough at the time.

Hand held personal radios were available but being on detached stations meant that the reception was very unreliable. The range maximum was allegedly five miles, but that was on a good day with a following wind. We therefore had in the main to rely on the VHF set in the car.

This meant that we could only hear if we were wanted if we were sat in the vehicle, which was no good if you wanted to walk or go somewhere away from the vehicle on an enquiry. It was very frustrating for station officers and supervisors when something serious happened, and you could not make contact with the officers.

About this time there was introduced the repeater radio. This was a very useful addition. It worked off the main scheme VHF radio in the car. When you left the vehicle you pressed a button on the set and the signal followed your hand held personal radio, allowing the police officer not only to monitor the radio but also to transmit. This was an excellent safety addition for the rural policeman, provided the car battery could cope.

Our uniform however was becoming more impractical as new materials were being made available. The uniform being a dark blue showed every mark, and it was easy to get very dirty at a road accident or at a disturbance. We still wore the basic tunic and trousers with a blue shirt.

In March 1971 the Force were issued with a new Gannex mackintosh, which seemed to be the ultimate at that time. This was a giant leap forward. There were even short coats for use by patrol car drivers.

There was still a great fuss over when and how the police officer could go out on the beat in shirtsleeve order i.e., without a jacket. I believe the order had to come from HQ by teleprinter to all divisions. The clip-on black tie was never taken off in public and it was a hanging offence not to have a cap or helmet on in public.

At one stage when particularly drivers found it difficult to wear caps in low roofed cars, and they started moving about with out a cap, the Chief Constable withdrew the cap and gave everyone helmets.

At this time in March 1971, a new PC earned about £1,023 a year, which was considered not to be very much. He, as it was mostly he, would not be allowed to buy his own house until he had served for nine years. This was to allow the chief constable to post an individual anywhere in the county on a whim, or for discipline or "career development" as it was usually referred to.

The military were a considerable part of the life of the police at Ash. Not only were there the ranges over which the soldiers trained and fired their weapons, we had army establishments all around us. One of the units right on the county boundary was the Army Catering Corps (ACC) who occupied a major new barracks, which included a tower block of kitchens.

The guardroom was a regular stopping off point for tea, and as the young recruits inevitably got into bother we got to know several of the senior staff. With soldiers who misbehaved, and if there were no civilian involvement, we would take them direct to their guardroom. Army justice was swift and sometimes a little severe but meant no paper work for us.

On the 19 May 1971 the Army Catering Corps were to receive the freedom of the borough in Aldershot. I was invited by the Corps to attend the ceremony, which took place on the Recreation Ground in Aldershot, the home of the Football Club.

In the evening my wife and I attended the sergeant's mess where there was a sumptuous celebration dinner and dance. It was a very colourful affair with all the different regiments dressed in their colourful mess kits. The food of course was magnificent, this being a centre for excellence in the training of chefs. Those who passed out well on their course were frequently retained on the site when they passed out.

The contact was professional and social, humorous and sometimes difficult. There were a great number of fit and boisterous young men working, training and passing through our section. One group that were always welcome were the Royal Marines. This was a Party of Marines destined for the Falklands where about twenty, with an officer, acted as the first line of defence.

In the early 1970s hardly anyone had heard of the Falklands but the Marines who were being posted there as a group came together on the ranges and camped and undertook a number of exercises before embarkation. They were usually a cut above the average group of soldiers and we were always very welcoming at their campsite.

Many regiments came to the ranges in the summer for a camp and concentrated firing. They lived under canvas and the various mess tents were established. On more than one occasion I was to fire quite heavy weapons on the ranges. I did have a cold shiver one day after blasting away with a general-purpose machine gun, in full uniform, when I suddenly thought what a tabloid paper could have made of a picture of me at that point.

The Paras were a very tough unit and I had quite a lot of contact with the depot. On one occasion I was in the guardroom when a young officer came in and went up to a soldier who was in military custody. The man had gone absent without leave. The officer asked why he had not returned from his leave on time and on being given the answer the officer hit him in the stomach. I thought that was not supposed to happen but felt it best not to have seen what happened.

The pre-parachute training was exhausting and only the fittest and most determined would succeed. On the road near Stoney Castle one afternoon I came across a company of over one hundred Paratroopers on a battle march in full kit and carrying their weapons. They move at a pace, which includes running. I knew they were to turn onto the ranges and then run across towards Ash Vale.

I pulled into the car park where the soldiers would enter the ranges and as I circled a large bush to turn round I came across a near naked man and women doing what comes naturally. They were somewhat put off their activity when I wound down my window and told them that about two minutes away were over one hundred paratroopers coming in their direction.

My contacts with the Royal Military Police yielded a number of tickets for what was known as the Battle Royal, to be held on Longmoor in Aldershot. It was to be held on the 13 August 1971. The event was dramatic. The area is very sandy and the army built a fort in the desert that was to be attacked.

The whole of the Royal family were there, including the Queen her children and Lord Mountbatten. Our places were very close to the Royal enclosure and so we had a good view of the family and of the Battle Royal.

The various demonstrations were to show off all the capabilities of the Household Brigade, and so there were cavalry, bands and infantry. "G" Guards Squadron of the Special Air Service defended the fort against a parachute attack. The Hercules came in over the crowd and out came the soldiers, parachuting into the desert. The armed might of other members of the SAS then bravely took on the rebels in their fort, and of course won.

It must be remembered that this type of activity was still happening in places like Oman where the Special Air Service were secretly deployed at that time, and it was not until some years later that details of the Dhofar war began to be released.

The SAS were not seen as such a covert organisation at this time and it was possible to meet up with members in Aldershot. One I met was a sergeant major, no badges of rank and wearing what they called "pea greens" he was with a display of equipment and during a long discussion told me the Regiment had been in action every year since it was formed but would not be more explicit.

In the early 1970s it was not considered the thing to do for a police office to meet with Parish Councils nor to get too involved in the community. For generations in fact the opposite was expected. Gossiping or getting too friendly with the locals was seen as a reason to move officers from one end of the county to the other with no regard for the children or wife of the officer. An element of youth work was acceptable, but there was little else.

In Ash in the early part of 1971 there was a considerable amount of vandalism. Some of the damage caused was very serious, in churchyards to graves, and the almost complete demolition of some public toilets. The number of reported cases was running at about thirty a month.

I worked with the schools and other organisations to try and reduce the impact of the damage, with a fear of what could happen during the approaching long summer holidays. It is pretty old hat now, but we developed a scheme for the design of anti-vandalism posters, pledging that all the entries would be displayed. This they were.

The library had a display, as did most of the shops and other public buildings. We had a prize giving in the village hall when the Chief Constable Peter Mathews came and made a speech. In August 1971 there was not one case of vandalism reported. The whole campaign was quite a success and at the time very unusual.

I was to be reminded of this campaign at a dinner in 2001 by Bob Cousins who was the chief superintendent at Farnham at that time. He recalled what a good move it had been to invite the Chief Constable to make the presentations! I was obviously not daft although it was to do me no good later on. It was as well that the Chief Constable was not aware of my contacts with the Parish Council.

It seems very odd looking back, but it was revolutionary to meet with the elected chairman of the council to discuss police activity and problems within the parish. To me it seemed to be the natural thing to do, but later when I was at Cranleigh and the Chief Constable found out I was meeting with councillors he wanted my blood and hence my move to Northampton!

This explosion at the mess in Aldershot was to change many things, and bring counter-terrorism to the very forefront of police activity in a number of areas. The barracks basically closed their doors and retreated behind the wire. It was very sad.

Following the murder of a number of soldiers in uniform by the IRA, it also became unusual to see soldiers in public in their uniforms. However recruits remained pretty obvious and they did tend to use the same pubs, a fact that was to have tragic consequences a few years later.

The IRA was a source of many problems in an area so dominated by the military. This is not to be over stated in that it was not a constant source of work, but it was always there. It was no longer possible to move freely through the camps, to sit alongside the square in Pirbright and watch the drill or the bands practising.

In 1973 there was another explosion but this time a lucky escape. Every summer the Household Cavalry would come from London with their horses and camp out on the Ranges at Stony Castle. This was to be a holiday in the country for the horses. Late one night a small bomb was thrown into a tent close to the road from a passing car on the adjoining road. Fortunately it was a stores tent and no one was hurt but of course it added to the general threat level and concern for the safety of the military establishments and personnel.

It has to be remembered that we, those that were policing this type of area, were expected to patrol the military areas and the vicinity of the camps and to stop suspect vehicles. If they were IRA they would be armed and would shoot. We had no guns nor were we able to summon any armed officers to arrive in a reasonable time. There were handguns stored in a safe at Farnham and they could be drawn by Authorised Firearms Officers (known as AFOs) following the authorisation of a chief officer, or failing that a superintendent.

With the greatest of respect to these officers, the level of their training would have been not far in advance of the IRA and they were in the main trained to contain an incident not resolve it. Just think through the time scale.

A vehicle is stopped, a firearm is used, the suspect runs off. HQ Control room are informed and someone has to decide that firearms are needed. A Chief Officer has to be found (no mobiles!) and his approval sought. The approval is given and AFOs then have to be found, and got to Farnham to draw the weapons. They then have to be briefed and to get to the scene. A minimum of an hour during which time a great deal of damage could have been done by an armed IRA man.

One thing that has changed in the 21st century is the ready availability of police firearms. Coinciding with this is the reduction in the number of gallantry medals awarded as so many were where unarmed police officers tackled gunmen. In some ways the Job becomes more dangerous but in other ways there is greater officer safety given the availability of back up and the offensive equipment carried by all patrolling officers.

One Saturday afternoon at about this time I was sent to Ash Ranges to a fatal accident. Three members of the Territorial Army had been travelling cross-country in a Landrover when it rolled over in a gully, trapping the men. Petrol leaked and slowly dripped onto the engine causing the vehicle to explode in flames killing all three men. It was not very pleasant.

When the chassis was dragged from the gully the bodies had to be recovered and were put into the back of a three-ton army lorry for transfer across the ranges to the mortuary at the Cambridge Military Hospital in Aldershot. The task was grim.

The military were not always professional. One day when patrolling the range, I came across an RAF Regiment Landrover parked up and unattended. I went to check the vehicle as there was no one around and I was amazed to find it unlocked and full of weapons. There was no one there to come and secure the vehicle and guard the weapons.

Because of the security situation this was an incredibly stupid act and no doubt a serious discipline offence. I called the Royal Military Police who were soon on the scene and an RAF Officer was soon in deep trouble. Just imagine the consequences of losing a Landrover full of weapons at a time when the IRA were such big news.

The range areas and heath land of the Farnham Division were always liable to catch fire and there were some spectacular fires. One fire at Frensham Ponds to the south of Farnham one Sunday was very dramatic with people being trapped in car parks and roads closed as the flames swept across the heath land.

The difficulty with these incidents is the speed with which they can develop the vast clouds of smoke and heat, and the almost instant change in the direction of the fire, potentially very dangerous. One fireman was to tell me after he was nearly cut off, that he did not realise he would ever be in a race with a dear and a fox to get away from the flames. I believe it was on this occasion when the fire brigade lost one of their fire engines, which became isolated and burnt out.

Every week, sometimes twice a week, Ash Section had to provide cover at the Aldershot Stadium which was in Tongham. There were stock car races, demolition derbies and other ear shattering events. The events attracted large crowds but they were always well behaved.

The whole thing was pretty seedy, but not as bad as the nights when they had greyhound racing. Fortunately, the greyhounds did not attract large crowds and so we rarely had formal duties there. There were some advantages for the PCs however, as the duties at the track attracted extra duty payments from the owners.

The local Tongham PC Joe Smith, a man with a huge girth, undertook a great number of the duties. On one occasion close by there was a disturbance. Joe, not the sort to attract paper work by making an arrest, sorted it out by bouncing the yobs out of the way by hitting them with his stomach! Bang. "Go away!" Bang. "Go home!"

Again on a Sunday I was sent to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst where they had received a threat that a bomb would go off. This was on the Camberley sub-division but came under the Farnham Division, as did Ash. The whole area was evacuated for what was called the "soak time", a period around which the bomb was due to go off, plus as much as an hour depending on many circumstances.

At noon as the big bang was expected, the main doors to the RMA were opened and out popped Mr and Mrs Tourist wondering why there was no one around. There was no bang and this was just another of the many malicious and sometimes more rarely, genuine scares. It is again an indication of the times that a tourist was still allowed onto the College campus and to be moving around unsupervised.

On another military subject and the changing times: There was an Army Show every year within the garrison of Aldershot, free and open to the public. A huge event, that took considerable time and resources to organise. Anyone could come, and were free to wander at will around the huge site in the centre of the military town.

At one of these events before the increased IRA threat, the Special Air Service would put on a display that included their pink panther vehicles, and special boats. They were very visible in their unique sandy coloured berets and pea green uniforms. One, a senior NCO (they wore no badges of rank but he told me he was a warrant officer) said that his unit had been on active service every year since the Second World War. This was one of the last times that the SAS were to be on public display and they soon disappeared from public view.

Aldershot Town has never been a great football side but always attracted a number of hooligans who came to do battle with the visitors. The travelling supporters often came by train, and this meant that many came through one of the three railway stations on the Section: Ash, Ash Vale, or North Camp. Often the supporters caused considerable problems.

On a Saturday afternoon at the height of the football season along with several officers I was sent to Ash station where a train had stopped because of trouble on board. There was no point throwing the lads off the train in Ash as they had nowhere to go and could cause mayhem as they walked along Ash Street into Aldershot town centre where the ground was.

It was better to keep them on the train as far as Aldershot where there would be a reception committee of Hampshire officers waiting for them. I instructed a number of officers to travel on the train, and we rode into Aldershot station where we were to be met by our vehicles.

Hampshire had been caught by surprise, not expecting such a large number of supporters, particularly where so many were out for trouble. So there were not enough Hampshire officers to police the game given the potential for trouble that had suddenly arrived. I offered the Surrey officers to the local ground commander and he welcomed our support and so we ended up at the ground for the match.

This was a problem. I probably had with me most of the available police cover for the western side of Surrey, leaving our own area unprotected. Here I was a sergeant with quite a large number of Surrey officers on aide in a different force area, the prerogative normally at that time of a chief officer.

I asked on many occasions for the duty officer or the superintendent to be told. In those days before pagers and mobile phones this notification except at night was potluck. On this occasion none was ever traced and so I remained, not without a little nervousness as to the consequence back in force until the game was over.

My first taste of large-scale football hooliganism and there were no consequences. The boss could not make a fuss even if he wished to because his non-availability as shown on the messages would probably have caused him some grief.

I had learnt a great deal at Ash. Not the least of the learning curve was the dealing with police "domestics" of which there were a number and all different! Almost every problem in the book occurred at Ash. One of the most memorable was where a PC was absent without leave.

A probationer told his wife he was on 6-2 am. Whilst he was at "work" she needed him and rang the office. She was told he was off duty, but she knew that he was at work. Eventually he was traced to Scotland.

Senior officers in liaison with the Strathclyde Police arranged for the officer to be put on a train and he was met in London and driven to Farnham to see the Chief Superintendent. As he was a probationer he was sacked there and then "his services no longer being required."

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