Mobile Coulumns 1963-65

Surrey mobile column in 1963

1963, November: Surrey Mobile Column in Sussex: Ray Harlow: This column was based at Shorncliffe Barracks, Folkestone, Kent.

Superintendent Ferguson was the column commander and Chief Inspector Henry Leyton was his deputy. I was the column duty clerk with a divisional office sergeant from Reigate who had never been in the armed forces and found it all rather exciting. As admin and quartermaster sergeant he had signed for all the equipment and supplies some of which quickly disappeared around the billets "purloined" by some savvy ex-forces personnel.

For example, it was very cold and damp and coal supplies for the billet stoves in short supply or non-existent. Kent Constabulary who were in the billets before us on their column had had more than their share of fuel. We soon noticed smoke coming out of one billet and on checking found the billet short of a couple of wooden lockers. As Admin and quartermaster sergeant he was not best pleased!

The biggest drama was on the Saturday in Royal Tunbridge Wells when the column proceeded through the main thoroughfare of the town, stopped at traffic lights, moved off and one inattentive driver turned left instead of proceeding straight on. The remaining vehicles all followed him into the railway station yard.

The front of the column came to a halt causing traffic mayhem. Superintendent Ferguson was not best pleased to say the least. The offending driver was seen by him in the commander's hut that evening and swayed back and forward whilst getting his dressing down, Ferguson swinging his golf club at an imaginary ball.

This was the time, of course, that JFK was assassinated in Dallas. I was typing up the next day's orders listening to Radio 4 when the programme was interrupted with the news. Initially there were many conspiracy theories involving the Soviets and here we all were on the Mobile Column. Luckily all those theories came to nothing.

Surrey obtained the record for the night time turn out in the quickest time which may have been due to the fact that someone in the office overheard a certain conversation! Chief Constable Herman Rutherford joined us in a TA Hall somewhere and had evening dinner cooked on field kitchen and hall equipment. The rice pudding was badly burned! ACC Ernie Hall was also in attendance.

Signing off the equipment, etc. proved rather interesting. There were shortages of course but I think the cost was reimbursed from Mount Browne. It was a well run and successful column. The vehicles were of mixed types. I remember mainly Austin Champs (fitted with Rolls Royce engines), various 4WD petrol trucks and trailers all finished in police blue and the property of the Home Office I believe.

Cliff Blackford: I don't know how many weeks this ran but when I was involved in was of a week's duration. We used large troop carrying vehicles containing, I think, ten to twelve men, including the driver and me as sergeant in charge. The truck was delivered to Camberley Police Station, the old one, and we drove to Guildford to meet up with the rest of the column. A superintendent was in charge of the whole column.

We drove down to Sussex and were billeted in a disused army camp. We had various lectures and exercises in the camp about rescue and taking over whole areas that had been destroyed in a nuclear attack and towards the end of the week each vehicle was detailed to go to various points shown on a map reference, which the sergeant was responsible for finding the finishing point and a time to be there.

We set off and drove around various roads and lanes until we were completely lost. It was a glorious day so we eventually found a narrow lane which had a fairly large grass bank which we used to sun bathe for about an hour before finding our way back to camp with the help of a couple of locals. I did not get any brownie points for my effort.

Ronald Juleff: In the 1950s and 1960s, the Home Office pet subject was civil defence, and each division in Surrey had a civil defence sergeant. At Oxted we had Harry Maurice Harding, and at the end of divisional parade, we had a lecture on civil defence.

We were told that if windows were whitewashed, it would probably stop the flash of a nuclear weapon setting fire to property. After the flash came the blast and any property within a very large radius was demolished anyhow. We were also told of the effects of radiation sickness and other interesting subjects, we were not happy, as very few would survive. I don't suppose many were interested.

Harry was later promoted to inspector in charge of civil defence, transferred to HQ, and later became known throughout the force as "Hydrogen Harry". In the early 1960s, the Home Office directed that Police Mobile Columns in connection with civil defence be formed and two columns were formed in the South East.

I was nominated together with Dougie West (PC 730) from Oxted. This was the first column. Eric Sellwood (Superintendent) was the officer in charge, a Chief Inspector from West Sussex and an Inspector, were deputies. The column was based at an Army camp at Crowborough in Sussex.

The column was supposed to be self supporting and various PCs were nominated as cooks and we were supposed to be fed Army emergency rations. At Crowborough the Army Catering Corps, took over our rations and really looked after us. We also had use of the NAAFI, I think we were paid extra for the fourteen days we were on the column.

On a Monday morning the old divisional brown van took us from Oxted to Crowborough where we met up with the remainder of personnel. We had vehicles supplied by the Home Office, a Bedford the same model as the " Green Goddesses" ' used when the fire service was on strike.

These vehicles were slow and ancient, and in addition to the driver, a Sergeant sat in the front and about eight PCs were carried in the back, which was covered. There was an open back with seats down each side for personnel. Whenever the vehicle stopped one PC had to alight and stand at the rear. On the vehicle I was in, this was Dougie.

In addition to me and Dougie, other occupants were Pat Kenefick, and Roy Proudlove from Dorking, an East Sussex PC and two PCs from Kent. Personnel attended from Surrey, Kent, East and West Sussex.

I cannot recall how many vehicles made up the column. We spent a considerable amount of time travelling in column throughout Sussex and Kent. Needless to say we were not the fastest on the roads, and when traffic built up behind, there was frequent stops to allow traffic past. On long stops we all got down from the vehicles. On one stop, we all stood by the roadway and urinated against the side of the vehicle when it moved forward. Motorists must have seen us but there were no complaints as far as I know.

During the second week the column moved to Eastbourne moving at very slow speed to Beachy Head where we were met by an Eastbourne Borough PC who patrolled the area on horseback. He was responsible for recovery of bodies of people who committed suicide or fell over the cliff. He gave us a demonstration and went over the cliff to the bottom in his harness. When he came up he asked if there were any volunteers who wanted to try their luck. Needless to say there were none.

After lunch we went to the main fire station in Eastbourne, where we all went into a smoke filled building with our noses to the floor to recover dummies, who were supposed to be victims of fire. We were also taught to use high pressure hoses putting out imaginary fires in very high practice towers. We spent a considerable of time with the fire brigade in Eastbourne, they were pleased to see us and we were pleased to have something to do.

Towards the end of the fortnight the column went to Newhaven where there was supposed to have been a nuclear explosion. Most of the town was supposed to be destroyed with numerous casualties, and we were there with instructions to stop unauthorised people coming into the area and also to stop looting.

A PC from West Sussex and I were dropped outside a small post office and shop on the outskirts of Newhaven, where we stayed for hours until picked up by the main column. People living near the post office said they had never before seen two policemen in the area.

As you can appreciate this happened nearly fifty years ago, and a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then.

Len Phillips: Mobile columns brought back memories; this was the time when every division had a civil defence officer, ours on Farnham was PC Derek Tunn-Clark. It was over forty years ago. But I do remember what a shambles it was. I was a uniform police constable stationed at Camberley.

We were lured into volunteering for this exercise by the promise of PAID overtime - a rare event in those days. Our transport was not purpose built trucks or purpose converted. They were the old divisional brown vans. Used for transporting found dogs, bicycles and any other odd jobs. No windows or seats.

If my memory serves me right I was packed into this van with about eight other men from the Farnham Division, the only ones I remember were Peter Watts, Tony Kirton and Sergeant Cheeseman.

We eventually arrived at Crowborough Camp where we found that whilst all the other forces were paying overtime the good old Surrey Constabulary were giving time off in lieu. We were housed in some old spiders (Huts to the uninitiated) but fortunately a lot of us were ex-service men and soon had them fairly ship-shape.

Our transport during the exercise was old army three tonners, which at least had open rears and fresh air. The whole exercise was a shambles and a complete waste of time. But I do remember we went to Brighton and gave a hand in directing traffic for what I believe was the veteran car rally. We also carried out an exercise at Eastbourne, which probably frightened a lot of the elderly locals.

One day I got put out at some lonely crossroads and told my job would be to stop traffic going into the nearby town which had been atom bombed out of existence. I wasn't actually to stop any traffic but only pretend to.

Throughout the day a motorcyclist would come with notes showing the developments. He complained about the distances he had to travel so gave me all the notes on his second visit. I spent the rest of the day on a deckchair in a local garden being supplied with tea and cakes by the friendly inhabitants.

The only other thing of note I remember was a lecture where the question was put to the class " What difference would it make if you were outdoors within a certain distance from the site of an atom bomb blast or if you were indoors?" A reply from the back of the class was outdoors burnt to death, indoors crushed to death. Which I thought summed up the whole week.

Colin White: One summer back in about 1965 about one hundred Surrey officers boarded ten purpose-built trucks, or were they purpose-converted? We then set off for Crowborough Camp and a week of Civil Defence training.

I recall digging trenches to serve as latrines, handling Geiger counters and attempting to put up overhead cables of some sort. We were at Harold Wilson's red-hot cutting edge of technology all right!

Sometimes we raced around the lanes of East Sussex, piloted by motorcycle outriders who stopped everything in our path. We donned dark blue overalls over our uniforms and caused something of a stir when we all arrived at Beachy Head on a summer's evening and had our dinner cooked in a field kitchen while we lined up with our helmets the only part of our uniform in sight.

I must have forgotten most of what happened that week but I do remember that some of the party played cards twenty four hours a day! I believe that the philosophy behind this exercise was that, in the event of nuclear attack, a number of mobile columns would be assembled and hundreds of appropriately equipped officers would head off to the crater.

Even at the time this seemed wildly improbable. Quite how the authorities expected the police to leave their own families and what on earth they could do for an attacked area was incomprehensible.

Bob Bartlett: Bit before my time but I do remember a Civil Defence lecture I think by Inspector Joe Last during several days at HQ in the old lecture theatre, who said that if there was a nuclear attack we young policemen would be put in lorries/busses and taken off to Wales and come back later to pick up the pieces.

When told by some they would not go he said he would be armed and if they did not do as they were told he would shoot them. Interesting viewpoint! Of course at that time most of the supervisors were experienced wartime servicemen often with some rank, and he probably meant it.

Jeff Bloomfield: November 1963, as a uniform sergeant I was part of a mobile column driving around Kent in three ton Bedford trucks. Each vehicle had a crew of a Sergeant, driver and six men.

The mobile column was a civil defence unit trained to deal with the aftermath of a nuclear explosion. John Harrington was a driver on that column. Charles Mitchell was on the Mobile Column as wireless operator.

Two things stood out. At Sandgate in Kent the whole column was lined up for the officer commanding to take the parade, when Jeff Bloomfield suddenly appeared at on end and did cartwheels to the other end. It gave us all a good laugh. The second was sitting opposite Sniff Richardson in a billet on camp bed when it was announced that President Kennedy had been assassinated.

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