Cops tackle rats and cockroaches

DEALING with safebreakers, rats and cockroaches, all part of the duties of a policeman with the former Ipswich Borough Police Force in the 1950s and 60s.

DEALING with safebreakers, rats and cockroaches, all part of the duties of a policeman with the former Ipswich Borough Police Force in the 1950s and 60s.

Recently Geoff Lusher of Church Lane, Harkstead, told readers of Kindred Spirits of his time with the force and how they operated under chief constable James Crawford in the days before personal radios and fast cars.

Now Ted Girling of Maidenhall Approach, Ipswich, who was with the Ipswich Borough Police Force, tells some very amusing stories from behind the scenes. He said: “I spent ten years in that force, some of my happiest years. As Geoff Lusher said there were several beat men on town centre especially at night. Our paths would cross throughout the long, cold eight hours duty. The section sergeant would spend his night trying to find you. His night was complete if he found two of us together nattering!

“The nights were often cold and most of the time boring. Every town centre shop was checked for insecurities. The great reward was finding a property insecure which would ensure at least an hour of warm 'investigation'. A particular memory for me was finding the Ritz cinema, which was in the Buttermarket, insecure.

“I quickly located my mate, Ron Hawks, on the adjoining beat to allow him to share in my luck. It seemed only fair that he joined me for an hour's relaxation. As we reclined in the best seats, no film unfortunately, we became aware of a rustling noise all around us. We were compelled to bring to the fore our newly acquired skills and investigate. Ron and I were in the midst of hundreds of cockroaches busy attacking discarded wrappers left by the evening's patrons. The little mites were obviously permanent residents tucked out of sight behind the seats until night time when everybody had gone home.

“It must be said that apart from the section sergeant, cockroaches were sometimes the only life we came across on many nights. There was at times little to distinguish one from the other! Eight hours on the beat did sometimes skew ones thinking.

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“The insecurity at the Ritz and cockroaches was one of thousands of humorous events, which shaped a policeman's life in Ipswich. Another great memory of the Borough Police Force was what I would call my 'Woolies Watch'. This was an inauspicious period when I was seconded to the CID and spent two weekends at FW Woolworth's in the town centre, and I don't mean shopping. Through the grapevine it was understood that a gang of safebreakers were targeting Woolworth's stores throughout the Eastern counties. This gang it seemed was pretty ruthless and was made up of at least eight members and was armed.

“A cunning plan was devised; plans were usually conceived during an hour's tea break at the commencement of duty. Everyone would put their penny worth in. The ideas suggested were sometimes straight from 'Agatha Christie' or more likely Dick Barton, special agent. It was decided that I and three others, Ron Hawkes, Jim Dawson and sergeant Bob would spend two weekends secreted at night behind the counters at Woolworth's.

“One's mind was immediately drawn to the equation of eight armed and hardened criminals against four unarmed, amiable sort of blokes. Perhaps the exception being sergeant Bob! Our Bob could never be described as amiable!

“The mind boggled at this proposed act of heroism beyond the call of duty. Nevertheless you did not want to be considered a weak link in the enterprise, best keep quiet. The plan went into operation. Ron and Jim were to position themselves behind counters on one side of the store whilst I drew the short straw, stationed with sergeant Bob on the other side.”

“Before anyone could pick holes in this strategy there was an added master stroke. 'Sarge' had a piece of string which stretched from us to Ron and Jim. At the tug of the string by sergeant Bob we were to spring into action.

“With the best will in the world the plan, had an Achilles heel. Ron and Jim fell asleep. The image of sergeant Bob tugging on the string and getting no response will live with me forever.”

“There were further problems as far as I was concerned. I was stuck with the sergeant, which was bad enough. There was the noise of other beings in my proximity. I could not use my torch on Bob's orders, not to give our position away! To investigate the other beings and who they were was not going to be easy. It soon became obvious, my fears had foundation, they were rats.

“Woolworth's stores in those days of the fifties had wooden floors and in this case there was merriment in the store. The rats were jumping off the counters onto the floor after devouring chocolate and biscuits. Worse still one of the rats came level to my shoulder along the shelf and I swear it came back on the hour every hour. I began to hope the safebreakers would arrive. They never did.”

“I did chuckle to myself when shopping at that store at subsequent times noting a sign that said, 'in the interest of hygiene, no dogs allowed beyond this point'. I must stress all this took place pre modernisation of Woolworth's.”


Do you have some amusing stories of the police force that can now be told? Write to Dave Kindred. Kindred Spirits, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich. 1P4 1AN.

Eddie Clowe of Hutland Road, Ipswich, can remember how the American Air Force bases in our area kept both the military and borough police busy.

Eddie recalls the service men's paydays: “As young boys in the 1950s my friends and I used to go to the police station on American pay nights and watch the military police bring in the drunks. The MPs were very smart, with white steel helmets and garters and long night sticks. They used to bring the men in the back of a jeep. Not sitting upright, but laying across the back, with arms and legs hanging over the side. Sometimes they used to put up a fight, but after a bang on the head from a stick, though they were very quiet!

“It was great fun for us boys, as we only knew them for “got any gum chum”, Juicy Fruit chewing gum.

“The Borough Police had a club for the boys to keep us off the streets. It was called 'The Ipswich Lads Club' in Arcade Street. We had a snooker table, table tennis, darts and the dreaded boxing ring, after two rounds with Sgt Sutcliffe, there is many a man in the town who ended up with a bloody nose.”

“When the police garage closed in Portman Walk, they moved to the Territorial Army drill hall in Woodbridge Road, which is now the Caribbean Centre.

“In the Town Hall police station there is still a cell door from Victorian times; it was five inches thick and made of solid oak, one of the old policeman told me it was the door to the female cells!”