Note: This is the last of the stories that I persuaded my father to actually write down. He had a number of tales with which he would regale me, and he's always end with the remark "Gaaaahhh, I could write a book!"
These three tales were as close as we got. At some point I'm going to print a little booklet with these stories, and a few more which he often recounted. He wasn't always consistent in the details, (he didn't always let the truth get in the way of a good story) so I'll be approximating from several versions with the others. This is the last one in which the final version is "Tadcu-approved".
The picture above is of the PLA officers on parade. John Hall is the closest one to the camera.
A favour returned
It was a Saturday in August 1967. I had just returned to duty as a Port of London Authority policeman after a (typically) wet Welsh family holiday.
Perversely, now that I was back at work, the weather had become overwhelmingly, and increasingly, hot.
In those days, there were three possible shifts which we coppers worked in the English town of Tilbury, Essex. Sometimes we worked "Nights" -i.e. 10pm to 6am. Sometimes we worked "Early Turn", 6am to 2pm. On this day I was working the "Late Shift", which lasted from 2pm to 10pm. Naturally, all these shifts could be (and often were) extended if you were in the middle of something when the shift ended.
I was stationed on the footbridge above Tilbury railway station as the oppressive heat beat down. It was a good vantage point for observing the teeming humanity below (and to look out for any likely misdemeanors). Many were awaiting a train to the beach at Southend-on-Sea. Another good thing about that footbridge was that I could shelter a little from the exhausting heat.
After I cooled down a bit, boredom began to set in. I'd spotted nothing suspicious, and seen no obvious villains. I was just getting ready to move on when I heard someone mounting the steps behind me. I turned, and we spotted each other at the same moment. It was an African man, a seaman I guessed like so many in the area at that time. I guessed him to be in his early twenties.
When he saw he was facing a uniformed policeman, he gave a start and turned to leave, which aroused my suspicions.
I called to him to stop, which he did readily enough. I gave the usual police procedural warnings, and decided to search him. as I patted him down, I felt several rectangular somethings attached to his thighs.
As soon as he realised I'd caught him out, he pushed me aside and took off at great speed. I caught him, and soon we were into a real scuffle.
He got away from me, and threw himself down the steps at a positively dangerous speed and disappeared.
I followed as quickly as I could, but though I scanned the High Street I could see neither him nor any evidence of his passing.
Damn but he moved fast I told myself, where has he got to so quickly? He must be in one of these shops...
I was right. As I walked into the draper's shop, I could see the shopkeeper and his assistant nervously backed up against the counter. The culprit leapt from hiding in a corner of the shop and dashed for the street. Within seconds we were struggling among fallen display units, stock going flying.
We rolled into the street, and our relative ages began to tell. He was a youngster, I was 46. I rapidly lost control of the situation, and was beginning to think that I would have to let him get away, when help arrived from an unexpected quarter.
A passing taxi screeched to a halt, and the driver, a tiny individual, leapt out to my assistance.Between us, we subdued the suspect, and with all appropriate formality I arrested him. Unfortunately for him, to the minor charge of smuggling cigarettes (it turned out that this was what was strapped to his legs) he now also faced charges of "resisting arrest" and "assaulting a police officer".
He was taken to court the next day. In the meanwhile I had learned that he was far more afraid of the Tilbury police than he had any need to be - he had heard from shipmates that they could be brutal toward foreigners. Please understand this was a misapprehension as indeed the young chap had discovered by now. Nevertheless it had motivated him to try to escape from the expected "brutality".
Given this information, I requested that he not be jailed, and my recommendation was listened to. He was fined heavily, and immediately returned to his ship which left the next day for Africa. Later, I learned that he was facing charges in Nigeria too. I hope that the Nigerian police were as understanding as I was, but I never heard the end of that particular story.
The welcome assistance from the taxi driver got him a commendation and a certificate of thanks from the Chief Constable of Essex.
[note: He doesn't say so, but this was the incident which led to Dad retiring injured from the Force - his cartilage in his right knee was displaced in the fight, something which they were far less able to deal with in 1967 than they are today, and it left his knee permanently dodgy.]
Thirteen years passed and I was in my 60's and nearing retirement. I was employed as a security officer at the Crown Court in Chelmsford.
One day I spotted a little chap in the doorway, in great distress. His head was bent and I soon realised he was crying.
As I went to see if I could help him in any way, I suddenly also realised that I recognised him. I searched through my memories for a few moments, and then it came to me: it was the taxi-driver who'd helped me out on that hot day back in 1967.
His was a sorry tale, which he told through his tears. Apparently his son had somehow got mixed up with the "wrong crowd", and things had deteriorated until, that very day, he'd been sentenced to prison.
Of course my old helper was distressed at this - but even worse , it seemed to him, the Prison staff had refused to let him see his son before he was taken away.
I was moved by his story, and still felt grateful for his help in the past - so I had a word with the officials and explained the help he'd given me way back when, unasked and without any thought of reward or personal danger. I was able to persuade them to let my friend pay a last visit to his miserable son before he was incarcerated.