Police Cadets in the 1960s

1960s: Police Cadets: Dave Vigar: These memories are not about all those significant and exciting things which happened in the Force and which have already been well documented - just the opposite, in fact!

Becoming a Police Cadet: My police career began in autumn 1964 at Mount Browne. I was interviewed by the recruiting sergeant 'Jock' Ball whose principal role in life seemed to be putting the fear of God into all prospective entrants. After a visit to the force medical officer, it was off to the attics of the old Woodbridge Road police station to collect a uniform.

One of the perks of being a cadet was that there wasn't a huge amount of old, cast uniform with which the force storekeeper, PC 'Jock' Alexander could fob you off so, much against his better judgement, some of it would be new issue. In later years I became well used to Jock's persuasive powers, as he would always say 'you'll grow into it', 'the Chief likes them to look like that', 'this material has a lot of give in it', 'when you get a pullover on underneath, that will be fine' or some other subterfuge to persuade you that a pre-owned, ill-fitting garment was just the thing for you. Jock would even grab a handful of loose material behind your back when you tried on a tunic ... 'there we are, that's perfect'.

Many 'new' tunics arrived with someone's WW2 medal ribbons sewn on, so were clearly second-hand. Over the years, Jock must have saved the Force thousands of pounds by treating everything he issued as his own personal property. Even the metal shoulder numbers, neatly arranged in a little box on the stores counter, were counted out to the exact number you needed – 'one of each, and no more', Jock would say.

Two Force tailors made periodic visits around the Force to measure all officers for new uniforms. I never actually saw the tailors' guide dogs or white sticks, but the resulting new uniforms bore little or no relation to your actual body size.

Police Cadets in those days wore a short battledress top which was designed to be buttoned into the trousers (a forlorn hope in my case), a flat cap with a blue band, blue shirts with separate collars and a long mackintosh coat. You could always identify an off-duty police officer by the red mark on his Adam's apple, made by the front collar stud digging into his neck. Finding a rear collar stud, by the way, was like searching for the Holy Grail and these were jealously guarded.

The first few weeks of our service were spent on a residential course at Mount Browne, sleeping in dormitory rooms in the topmost attics of the old mansion, above what was then the Force Control Room. On the few nights we weren't beaten soundly by Control Room staff, it was the turn of the dog handlers.

We had pillow fights in the top corridors, which culminated in setting off fire extinguishers on at least one occasion. No wonder the Control Room staff came up to see what the entire racket was, and dispensed summary justice! It became a sort of nightly ritual when a certain shift was on nights - I remember the two long-serving civilian operators (but sadly not their names - was one Bob?) who were amongst the ringleaders.

The Dog Handlers were the Mount Browne elite, being resident on courses that lasted weeks on end, and so knew all the ropes, like which window by the dining hall to leave just off the latch in order to come and go at will on nocturnal excursions, without being discovered AWOL by the fearsome 'Basher' Nash.

As I mentioned in an earlier rambling, I began work at Dorking Traffic Centre, as there was no immediate vacancy close to my home, eventually moving to Redhill in late 1965. Other Cadets I remember in East Surrey at the time were Howard Tucker, Arnie Lewis, Bill Wiltshire, Rod Lucas, Dave Morley, John Judd, Ray Hussey, Roy Daisley, John Randy, Paul Kimber, Steve Firman, Bob Murray, Bob Gaywood, Ted Lawry, Paul Stone, Tony Grant, Graham Hardy, Dave Durrant, Bob Garland and Barry Foote.

Other Divisions around this period had such luminaries as Dave Bowden, Keith Worger, Andy Richardson, Keith Evans, Terry Ashcroft, Ian Pedrick, Clive Barham, Roger Weedon, Bill Bethell, Robbie Chapman, Chris Kay and Colin Campbell – there were many others, so apologies to all those I've missed.

Cadet Training: Two PCs were responsible for Cadets, Peter Wickens and Geoff Todd, ably assisted by PC Fred James on Reigate Division. Fred was a beat PC at Horley and had greatness thrust upon him because he'd spent some time in the Welsh Guards so was presumably seen as a military type who might whip the East Surrey Cadets into an effective workforce, largely by marching us up and down occasionally and teaching a little First Aid.

The fatal flaw in this plan was that Fred was such an extremely nice and gentle man that, being teenage boys, we used to muck him about at every opportunity. If Jock Ball was our Prison Officer McKay, Fred James was definitely our Barrowclough!

Once a week the Eastern Cadets were sent to Reigate Technical College for an afternoon of lessons in shorthand, typing and English. Once again, there was a major flaw in the plan – the teacher was Howard Tucker's dad! So, once again, we were able to get round him at every opportunity and very little actual school work was done.

One of the other masters even gave up trying to impart any knowledge and showed films instead – I don't remember any shorthand or typing, but clearly recall a brilliant film of the 1950s Mille Miglia, which I would dearly love to see again. These afternoons ended in the Gatton Point pub just opposite (now demolished).

There weren't many joint activities with Cadets from elsewhere in the Force, but the Army Youth Team was a highlight. This was a group whose role was to organise adventure training – presumably with a view to attracting recruits, although they seemed happy to run days out for us Cadets.

What do I remember? Raft building and dragon boat racing on Hawley Lake, orienteering in Richmond Park, sailing at Thames Young Mariners at Ham, Army assault courses and range shooting – all enormous fun. Transport was provided by the Army, in the form of their standard Bedford trucks – we loved to roll up the canvas sides and sing as we travelled along.

One of these Army days led to an unexpected opportunity for Police Cadets from all over the Force to get together at HQ. Travelling back along the old A3, the canvas was rolled up and the singing was in full swing as we passed Cobham Police Station (Metropolitan in those days, of course) and one particular song cast doubt on the parentage of police officers in general. What we hadn't realised as we passed was that the Superintendent was out digging his front garden at the time.

A few miles further on, we were stopped by a traffic car and names were taken. The next day, we were all cordially invited to a very short meeting at HQ with the Chief Constable (Herman Rutherford), who was absolutely BALLISTIC. The Chief Constable always had a very florid complexion, but he became so red and angry as he bollocked us, we thought he was about to explode!

We were told later that he would have sacked us all on the spot if he could, thereby ending at a stroke a number of promising police careers. For some reason, there were no more Army Youth Team excursions.

Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme: Another cunning ploy to keep Cadets out of mischief was the D of E Award Scheme, to which we were all (compulsorily) signed up. As is well known, this involves project work, community service and field expeditions to gain the silver and gold awards. In our case, this meant camping trips to the New Forest and Snowdonia, having planned all aspects of the trip ourselves and been on a practice expedition beforehand. [RB: My Gold community service was with a group of Swedish girl guides under canvas at a place called Woodlarks at Farnham – honestly!]

Walking and camping in the New Forest wasn't too bad – I think it was a three or four day tramp in groups of four, camping at nights in supervised camp sites. Everything we needed had to be carried on our backs – maps, tents, bedding, clothing, cooking utensils and food. This trip was intended to teach us many of the survival skills that would later be needed in the comparative wilds of Snowdonia.

One skill that wasn't taught, but which our small group mastered at the very first attempt on the final morning, was how to persuade a publican to open his isolated pub at 9 am for us to buy food and drink! I think the assessors may have been just a little suspicious when our group strode up to the finishing point a couple of hours later, looking sated and fresh, whilst all the other groups came in dead beat and half starved.

Snowdonia was a very different proposition, as you can well imagine. Now we were expected to cover about seventy miles over five days in very rough country – all 'up and over' away from roads. Tents were erected wherever we could find a stream without a dead sheep floating in it and sufficient turf to hold a few tent pegs (surprisingly difficult in a region of solid rock).

After a great deal of map reading and planning, we set off in a fleet of personnel carriers to a hostel in Penygroes - this was to be our base for both the practice expedition and the actual thing. Our driver on these trips was always PC Sid Crowhurst, the Reigate Divisional Mechanic and general factotum, who many people will remember with great affection – a real character.

Sid was also an assessor for our expeditions and, having set us off into the mountains, would have arranged a rendezvous where we next came close to a road, perhaps the next morning. There were no cell phones in those days, of course – these meetings were the only way of ensuring we hadn't come to any harm (and were also a method of assessing our map reading capabilities).

I can still trace our expedition route on the map. I think we were expecting well-defined pathways with picnic tables and flush toilets every few yards – but, as those who know the wilds of Snowdonia will know, there isn't much to see when the rain and mist descend and visibility is just a few yards (i.e. all of the time). And we were crossing the wild part of the wilds of Snowdonia, not the nice bits where tourists are found.

We'd been taught to navigate by looking for the nearest church spire and setting the map to correspond with its direction – no-one told us that there are no churches in the middle of the mountains, the rain was in the way and Welsh churches don't have spires, anyway. Just miles and miles of stones and bloody sheep stretched in all directions.

So our trip became an exercise in contour walking, climbing to a certain height and then just blundering through everything in our path until we reached our next objective – crude, but effective. Luckily, this was long before the days of the Health and Safety Executive; we didn't fall over any cliffs and managed to reach each checkpoint more or less as planned.

Away from all this activity, we even managed to do a little police work! Although Cadets had once been regarded as just a convenient source of slave labour, in these more enlightened times we were issued with blue boiler suits, so we could clean the Inspector's car and muck out the dog kennels in relative comfort. In actual fact, we were used for various clerical and admin tasks around the station, such as maintaining key holder's registers, assisting in the front office and on patrol with regular officers, so life wasn't too bad.

Return to main text

Surrey Constabulary badge