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The Somerset & Cornwall Light Infantry
6 October 1959 - 10 July 1968

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1959-1968

SCLI Memoir by - Lawrie Hodges

 

A Day in the Life of a Provost Staff Policeman.

by Lawrence Hodges

 

 

This is the story of true events that led to an extended period of National Service for one particular soldier who shall remain nameless, and how a train journey which should only have taken approximately 7 hours, lasted well in excess of 24 hours.

In the late Autumn/early winter of 1961, I was serving with the Provost Staff at the Regimental Depot at Bodmin. As has been mentioned previously on the website, not only were recruits in training for SCLI, but also for KSLI, and with the end of conscription in sight some months the intakes were all made up of regulars.

On one cold and wet Monday morning I set off from the depot in company with Cpl. John Ballantyne MM. of Malayan fame, and a driver from the MT. who's name I am unable to recall, and made my way to HM. Prison at Exeter where we collected on his release a National Serviceman from the KSLI.

[Suffice it to say I remember hís name and his place of birth but as the saying goes. No name's no pack drill] It appear's that after completing his initial 5 week's basic traìning he had gone home on a 72 hr pass, [As I believe we all did at that stage ín our training] whilst on this short period of leave he committed some hei'nous offence for which he was awarded a prison sentence. I remember looking at him when he came into our charge and thínking how gaunt he looked, I put thís down to the possibility, that perhaps the food served in a prison establishment was not up to the standard of quantity or quality as was served in mìlitary canteens, or am I dreaming.

The return journey to Bodmin was fairly quiet and on our arrival we took him up to see the C.O. Maj.Williams, who told him what was expected of him and also that the time spent in HMP did not count towards his military service, he would therefore still have 2 year's to serve. We then took him to the Training Company office and left him in the charge of the CSM . Thís was CSM Dunster.

A new trainìng platoon was forming that day, so our new comrade found himself the only NS.man amongst these recruit's, but then he had only 2 year's to serve and must have been feeling rather peachy. He must have kept his nose clean for the first part of his training, as I do not recall him attending the guardroom as a result of being awarded RP's.

The platoon then reached that period in training at 5 week's, where they were granted a 72hr. pass, off they trouped past the guardroom saying theír goodbye's, or other colloquial expressions as they went. I of course replied in kind. 72hrs later back they came, that ís apart from one, and yes you are quíte right, it was our new found comrade who failed to return by the required time and was marked up as AWOL.


About 9 hrs or so after he should have returned and certaìnly ìt was early evening, I received a telephone call from the British Transport Police at Bristol Temple Meads railway station., saying that they had our comrade in their custody having caught hìm travelling on a midland's bound train wíthout a ticket, and please please would we come and collect him .


I straight away went to the Sgt's mess and spoke to the RSM who was Buck Morris, he at the tìme was sitting ín a very nice arm chair drinking what can only be described as a very large scotch. I told him the situation and hìs response was that I should obtain an escort to accompany me, arrange travel warrants and go and collect this person as soon as possihle. This is where Laurence Weeks comes into play, he is to be the escort. So off we go on our way to Bristol.

On amival at Bristol Temple Meads we went to the Transport Police office and found that because of the time delay, (it was just after l 8OO hr's when they rang the guardroom and it was now 2245 hrs, or there about's) and the lack of cell space, they had transferred our comrade to the Bristol City Central Police Station where they had an abundance of empty cells at that time and were only too happy to accommodate. A car was then organised to take us to the Police Station, before leaving I obtained the time of the next train from Bristol to Bodmin, and arranged with the night duty Station Master for a compartment to be reserved on the train. because I knew that handcuffs would be in use on our return journey and it would not look particularly good in a carriage full of people.

So off Laurence and I go to the Police Station where I spoke to the Custody Sgt., arranged for the release of the prisoner in time for our train at about O230 hrs, and also for a car to take us back to the Railway Statíon. Laurence and I wíth a couple or so hours to kill did some window shopping around the city centre, we returned at the appointed hour, collected our prisoner and were conveyed back to the Railway Station.

The train had just pulled in as we arrived and we were met hy 2 Transport Police Officers who took us to our reserved compartment, it was typical of the corridor carriage of that era, we had just about sat down and Laurence is making himself as comfortable as possible because he is the one who is cuffed to the prisoner, when the prìsoner looks up and says to the 2 police officers who are still with us, that he wants to confess to a crime that he has committed whilst home on leave, on being asked what this crime was he says that he broke open a gas meter and stole the contents of coinage. Straight away we have to remove him from the train because this was a civìl offence, and take him back to the Transport Police office where inquiries into the alleged offence are started.

In those days the Police Servíce moved at a much slower pace than today. and communications were still very basic, so after the initial phone call to the Police Station which covered the area in which the alleged crime took place. it was many hours before a reply was received, and I do mean many hours becauce we bade the night officers farewell as they went off duty at 0600 hrs and welcomed ìn the early turn as they came on duty. It must have been close to lunchtíme when the reply came and the reply was that no offence had been committed, whereupon the prìsoner admitted that he had made the whole thing up just to delay his retum to Bodmin.

As you can ìmagìne I díd not see the funny sìde to this. The next train leavìng Bristol for Bodmìn was due out at about 15OO hrs and I agaìn arranged for a reserved compartment. On íts arríval we got ourselves seated and saíd goodbye to the Transport Polìce Officer's who left us just before the traìn pulled out. A short while after leaving Brìstol I decìded that some sort of retrìbutiion should take pl ace because of the ìnconvenìence that Laurence and I had been put to, so I. released the handcuffs from Laurences wrist and attached it to the overhead luggage rack which meant that our prìsoner had to raìse his bottom slightly from the seat to make
himself comfortable. He remaíned líke that for a good portion of the joumey between Brístol and Bodmin Road statìon where we had to change to take the branch líne to Bodmín General statíon. On arrival there we marched hím back the short distance to the Regimental Depot, and put him ín a cell to awaít hís appearance before the CO the next mornìng.


Our tíme of arrival was about 1945 hrs, some 25 hr's after leaving the Depot the day before, and we were all pretty tìred through lack of sleep. Havìng spoken wìth the fellow on the way back, ìt appeared that he had got as far as Bodmín Road on his retum journey, but then decíded that he dîd not want to play at being a soldìer so crossed over to the Up platform and caught the next train back towards the Midlands, this is how he came to the notíce of the Transport Police.


The next day he appeared before the CO and I seem to recall was gìven 7 days in our care and control, after whìch he then went on to complete hìs traìnìng and joined hís battalion wíthout as far as I remember any further mísdemeanour's.

Copyright text and image: Lawrence Hodges

 

Copyright text & Images: Lawrie Hodges

Banks for the Memory

The Unfortunate's.

 

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