Proud To Serve – embracing diversity in policing – author copies £10 plus postage

The book contains a number of recollections including the following:

‘Harvinder Singh Rai was born in Narangwal, Punjab in 1970, and is affectionately known in ‘the job’ as ‘Harvy’. He came to the UK when he was just a few months old and this is his recollection:

‘My family hail from Malri, near Nakodar City Punjab, which is famous for its historic Gurdwara ‘Baba mal’. The 5th Guru of the Sikhs came to the village and it is said many people who have visited the shrine have been cured of ailments. The Gurdwara now draws people of all backgrounds seeking blessings and pain relief!

The ‘Rai’ family status is attributed chiefly to my paternal grandfather who was a substantial landowner and travelled to the UK in the early 1950’s. The family has land sprawled across neighbouring villages.

My maternal grandfather was an Army Captain who saw active service in snowy terrains and the jungles of Burma. Captain Avtar Singh Grewal was engaged in military reconnaissance and impressed me by being able to speak several languages – I quickly installed him as my ‘hero’.

I grew up in Walsall and regard myself as a ‘black country lad’ who mixes easily with people from all communities. I believe in working honestly and diligently for a living, being loyal, treating people fairly, and sharing knowledge and resources for the benefit and furtherance of society. I put my value system down to the influence of my Sikh faith and will proudly proclaim I am a ‘Sikh by choice’.

I went to Alumwell School in Walsall and did well in academic studies however, while studying ‘A` levels I became ill with TB and had to spend several months in isolation. Consequently, I decided to involve myself more with life and living, with the intention of putting into practice my understanding of the Sikh faith, uppermost of which was to serve others.

After treatment I went to work starting employment at a factory owned by my extended family where my father was the production manager.

About twelve months later I made enquiries about office work and secured a job with a Birmingham-based import firm. I was intrigued and eager to learn about the business world.

It wasn`t long before I was moved from an office clerk’s position to taking orders at trade shows worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. I was then moved to Wales to assist at a new acquisition, however about this time I got married and fortunately I got another job locally as the manager of my own store in West Bromwich.

Twelve months later an old school friend approached me, and I was asked to join him in a new enterprise. I agreed and found myself in the property letting market.

 In early 1992 while washing my car one day a policeman on the beat began talking to me. This particular policeman was different… he was a Sikh! and more than that, he was one of my friends.

We got talking and over the course of several foot patrols, PC Billy Singh shared the merits of; serving the community, helping victims and people in need, catching criminals, working hard, wearing the uniform… in fact all the things I was searching for – I get it when people say policing is a calling.

Suffice to say it was an ‘easy sell’ and Billy Singh convinced me to apply to join the police.

I joined the West Midlands Police in December 1993, and after my initial training at the Police Training Centre in Ryton, near Coventry I was posted to H2 OCU. I was one of a handful of Sikh officers and perhaps one of just three or four visible Sikhs in the whole Force area.

H2 included a notorious area, Leamore in Bloxwich, which at the time had a reputation for being tough. A TV documentary about it described it as, ‘the worst estate in Europe’.

There were incidents of ‘KKK’ type cross burnings nearby, the National Front and ‘Combat 18’ were prominent fixtures, and it was known as a ‘racist area’. My supervision would have been aware of this, but on one of my first night shifts I was posted to foot patrol on my own in Leamore.

On the first night nothing of note, on the second night curtains were twitching, on the third night, that’s when it happened.

It would have been about midnight on a deserted street when a local man appeared from behind a public telephone kiosk. His chest puffed out arms astride and a swagger which was designed to intimidate, “You lost mate?” he asked.

This type of ‘community engagement’ was fully expected and not totally naïve to street-talk and how things work, I calmly and confidently looked around and said, “This Leamore?”

“Yeah!” replied the man and took a step closer.

“The one in Bloxwich?” I said.

“Yeah! You wanna watch your back!” boomed the man giving me the deadeye.

Unbeknown to the man I had trained as a kickboxer for many years, and had a short competitive stint, so was totally confident in my tone, ability and body language which unnerved the man.

“Well” I said, “If it’s Leamore in Bloxwich, I ain`t lost pal”

It was a make or break moment, if word got out to the locals that the new cop was ‘chicken’ then it would be a rough ride from there on.

I stood my ground almost challenging him to occupy my pavement space and my right to be there. On seeing his failed attempt at intimidation, he finished sheepishly with, “Just sayin you wanna watch your back round here… it’s a bit rough”- as if he was looking out for the me.

Suffice to say, there were no more ‘twitching curtains’ and I enjoyed several years in Bloxwich.

After response policing for three years I was posted to an Area Crime Team, which is where I got my first taste of an undercover stakeout. My most memorable experience was; sitting alone in the back of an unmarked van peering through a tiny hole in a plastic bin liner at a set of doors in the middle of a freezing winter, during the dead of night, hoping to catch a glimpse of a wanted suspect.

Having remained in a cross-legged position for six hours the van was collected by a colleague the following morning and driven to a nearby police station. Six hours in a ‘lotus’ position welds the joints and it took thirty minutes to sufficiently warm my knees up so I could straighten my legs and exit the van!

After this I became an OCU trainer at H2, the first Sikh officer in the Force to occupy such a post and went on a secondment to deliver diversity training for nine months.

This training was mandatory for all staff in the West Midlands Police and was an effort to address institutional racism/discrimination as per the recommendations of the ‘McPherson Report’.

Listening to the views of officers in a ‘safe learning environment’ about race and prejudice was an easy thing for me. I didn`t judge, accepting the exercise as huge learning and was grateful for the honesty of the participants, who all had different life experiences.

A highlight for me was when a female officer unexpectedly announced she was gay in one of my lessons. It caused a mixture of emotions inside me, one of contentment that I had done my job and the other of some sadness that it had taken two days to get people into the frame of mind to accept difference.   

I was very active with the ‘Forced Marriage’ project and remain heavily involved with overseas work.

This really came about following a conversation with Jag Mavi, an HMP Prison Officer who was hosting a visiting senior police officer from India, Dr. Kiran Bedi.

An opportunity for Dr. Bedi to visit H2 was presented to Chief Superintendent Layton who supported the idea and I teamed up with PC Ramesh Kumar to work on arrangements.

An unparalleled episode of community relations ensued from that point on.

H2 soon became the ‘go to place’ for visiting dignitaries and the OCU’s achievements were constantly reported on by the local media.

West Midlands Police subsequently received a request from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office asking for a team to engage in a ‘Forced Marriage’ project.

After all the work H2 had done in the community we were nominated by the Chief Constable to take part.

 I was part of the team which explored the scale of issues faced by British nationals forced into marriages with partners from the Indian sub-continent. I visited India several times to build links, highlight the issue and to ascertain the understanding of our Indian counterparts which was then reported back to the FCO.

I spoke at Police Training Centres in Delhi and Punjab as well as schools and colleges in Punjab.

During one of my speeches, I asked an audience of approximately one hundred teenage girls if they wanted to marry a UK national and move abroad. Without exception every single girl gleefully raised their hand. I then went on to give an example of a very sad case I had dealt with where an Indian girl had arrived in the UK having gotten married to a man from my policing area. She wasn`t allowed to use hot water and was forced to wash the clothes and dishes using only cold water. This obviously caused her pain and discoloration to the tips of her fingers. Considering other abuse which was reported the girl was asked to pack her belongings and leave with the officers. Shockingly, the girl went to her bedroom and returned moments later with two suitcases and a plastic bag… she explained that since she`d arrived she hadn`t been allowed to unpack.

In the audience I noted several parents and girls with tears in their eyes. At the end I again asked if they still wanted to marry and move to the UK. Even more shockingly 99% of the girls still raised their hands.

At this point I addressed the parents in the audience and asked them to consider the welfare of their daughters over their personal ambitions and desires. Several mothers later spoke to me and admitted that they were responsible for their daughters conditioning and their selfish desires for social status. I remained in touch with NGO`s in a personal capacity and private cost to help shift this mindset.

Years later I happened to be visiting the ‘DAV’ Girls College, Ludhiana and was invited to present some awards. I took the opportunity and asked that same question, but this generation of girls insisted on staying in Punjab. International marriages do happily occur, but the understanding, mindset and implications of ‘Forced Marriages’ now feature in most if not all proposals from abroad. 

I acknowledge that my engagement with the Indian Police Service in relation to this work has been misunderstood by some members of the Sikh Community who have viewed such interactions with suspicion. Helping these families is however the most important thing for me.

I subsequently gained promotion to the rank of Sergeant and was posted to Headquarters where I worked with the recruitment team. I was then posted to Smethwick where I had geographical responsibility for four Wards. The area is a hive of activity especially within the Sikh community which is well-represented.

I quickly set about incorporating four teams into two. Although a compassionate man, I had little hesitation in having conversations or moving staff to other stations to drive home a strong work ethic in the teams.

In addition to my ‘day job’ I have been deeply engaged within the area of fairness and welfare. This led me to instigate and become a founding member of the ‘West Midlands Police Sikh Association’.

The WMPSA has embarked on regional, national and international endeavours which has helped raise its profile and led to other police forces seeking our counsel on issues pertaining to Sikh employees and community.

The inquiries and workload led me to drive the launch of a ‘National Sikh Police Association’ of which I was duly elected as its first President.

The Sikh Association enjoys considerable accomplishments with successful delivery of various projects involving policy making, advocacy for victims, changing police culture and improving representation.

I have met the UK Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street and regularly liaise with the NPCC and Home Office officials.

I put much of my drive down to my observations of my former H2 OCU Commander – Michael Layton had tremendous drive and grit but expressed it very calmly.’

#wmp #police #history #diversity #onefamily #sikhs #india #willenhall #kiranbedi

‘Reporting For Duty’ – West Midlands Police 1974 – 1999

Retired officer Karen (Kay) Lenyk recalls her life on the Force Mounted Police Section:

‘I joined the West Midlands Police on the 10th March 1980 and my collar number was 8710.

My birth name is Karen, but I have always been called Kay and my maiden name was Weale but it’s now Lenyk.

I initially worked on the ‘L1’ Solihull Division, a large, mostly rural area, dealing mostly with burglaries and shoplifters’ so moving to Park Lane was a big change! 

I did my ten week mounted riding course at ‘Tally Ho’ Police Training Centre from October until just before Christmas of 1984, then went back to the ‘L’ Division as practically all of the male officers were sent up to Yorkshire regarding the miner’s strike.

We worked twelve-hour shifts for quite some time and surprisingly enough the ‘wheel did not come off’!

In June of 1985 I transferred to the ‘A’ Division and was based at Park Lane as the first female officer on the Mounted Branch.

The press came and did some photos when I took up my post – my only ever ‘claim to fame’! The day after they were taken they were published in the newspapers and shortly afterwards I was riding up Ladywood  Middleway when a car passed and a little girl who was leaning out of the window started yelling “Hello Kay!”

Over the years I also worked from stables at West Bromwich, Chase Avenue and Tally Ho, but most of my service was at Park Lane.

The initial Mounted Course was hard work but great fun. There were four of us, myself, Steve Tolley, Simon Kirby and Mick Wakeman. The then Sergeant Fitzmaurice was our trainer.

The horses were ‘Daisy’, the most uncomfortable, ‘Hertford’ the largest, ‘Javelin’ the laziest and ‘Jemedar’ the craziest!

We had to groom the horses, learn how to ‘tack up’ then strip and clean all the kit, then every afternoon was class-work. We had to pass both the riding-test and the written-exam.

My first ever ‘dunk’ in the water trough occurred after our last ride on the course. I was chucked in so ran upstairs to change into dry clothes, leaving my wet stuff in my locker. I then rushed back down to see to my horse.

As I was then a few minutes behind the lads they took the opportunity to ransack my locker. You can imagine my horror when I went back upstairs to find my wet underwear on full display – I was speechless with embarrassment but it was part of the banter that went on at the time.

Each horse had a stable name, a number, and an official name – alphabetically named for the year they started. They all had their own personality. At the start of each shift we would look at the board to see which horse(s) we were riding and the Division to patrol. Some days you smiled – others you didn’t!

‘Javelin’ would NOT walk past the abattoir, ‘Paragon’ wanted to eat you, ‘Polo’ hated milk-floats, ‘Hidalgo’ knew every tea-stop on the patch, whether you wanted to go there or not! ‘Limber Gunner’ could not be stopped if his feet touched grass, ‘Olympic’ would have liked to kill you, ‘Merlin’ enjoyed a bucket of tea – they all had their peculiarities.

My first allocated horse was 389 ‘Hidalgo’ known as ‘David’. He was an ex-race horse and very small for a police horse. He had a wonderful nature and taught me a lot. He got loads of cards and presents from the public when he was injured at a violent football match.

He enjoyed the attention of being an invalid and tried to stretch it out for as long as he could. Once when he was coming back into light work he would pretend to be lame, but got caught out because he held up the wrong hoof. He was very clever!

The grey horse 428 ‘Polo’ was very special to me and I adored her. I bought her when she was due to be retired and she lived out her retirement with me in Wales. I used to give her a bath and take her out for a nibble of grass whilst being sun-dried. The police horses were looked after very well but ‘Polo’ was kept in a stall so whenever the opportunity arose I took her outside so she could have a roll.

The Mounted Branch was an enormous part of my life and I have many great memories. We were kept fit as we ‘mucked out’, groomed the horses, unloaded and loaded hay and straw deliveries, cleaned the kit and stables etc. Gradually more civilian grooms were employed and we spent more time out on the streets. Changes were obviously afoot! …’ #wmp #police #history #onefamily

‘Reporting For Duty’ – West Midlands Police 1974 to 1999

Paul McElhinney was one of those cadets who joined in August 1981 and went on to become a regular officer. He recalls:

‘My journey to Secondary school involved catching two buses, the number 63 from Rednal to Northfield and the number 18 from Northfield to Bartley Green. On the top deck of the buses beside the lights for the ‘upper saloon’ there was a space for companies to advertise their product or service. Circa 1980 there was an advertisement for West Midlands Police. It was a photo of a bobby watching a burglary suspect. The tagline was ‘Can you act quicker than most people can think?’ Well this egotistical fifteen year-old mentally answered in the affirmative and the seed was sown. Add to that a generous dash of ‘Jack Regan’ in ‘The Sweeney’ and my joining the police service was a foregone conclusion.

I discovered that one had to be 18 years and 6 months old in order to join the job as a Constable. I had worked very hard for my ‘O’ levels and had achieved nine passes with very good grades. I suppose I was becoming bored of academia so in August 1981 I became Cadet ‘102’ with West Midlands Police.

An entire school year would join the cadet corps every summer. Some were September birthday’s, some were August of the following year. Hence some people spent about 18 months in cadet training, and others two and a half years.

The Cadet Training department was based at the police training centre at ‘Tally Ho’, Edgbaston. The department shared the facility with various other training schools including CID Training, the Mounted Branch, and Force Training.

Our initial induction course was a fortnight at Birmingham University. I collected my uniform from the uniform stores at Bournville Lane. It was an identical uniform to police officers except our cap bands were blue and we had a cloth ‘Police Cadet’ badge on our tunic shoulder. We were taught to press our uniform and ‘bull our boots’. Back in those days there was still a very strong emphasis on military-type discipline and uniform presentation. We also spent a lot of time doing what Monty Python’s Michael Palin would call ‘Marching up and down the square.’ Members of the training staff had been on courses with the military and were competent drill instructors. For a fortnight we were marched around the university campus, we were ‘beasted’ on runs and we were ‘beasted’ in the gym. A few people dropped out and those that remained repaired to ‘Tally Ho’ to continue their training.

I should add at this point that the Department drew cadets from all over the country. Local recruits lived at home with parents, whilst recruits from Wales, Scotland and other regions were accommodated in single-quarters with police officers. The female cadets ‘hostel’ was named Burgess House in Moseley. Male cadets lived at Bordesley Green ‘nick’ and Soho House in Handsworth, the former home of industrial giant Matthew Boulton and now a museum dedicated to him.

Why a cadet training department? Well I am led to believe that in the days before what old time ‘bobbies’ called ‘The Edmund Davies Report’ police pay was relatively poor. The job struggled to recruit sufficient officers and they therefore decided to try to recruit sixteen year- olds then transfer them into the regular job at eighteen. The aim of cadet training was to turn teenagers into smart, fit, conscientious eighteen year olds ready for training as a constable.

From what I can recall a typical week was as follows. We had been recruited onto a college course at Matthew Boulton College in Highgate. It was a BEC National in public administration. We did that three and a half days a week. On Wednesday afternoons we had force sport, I represented the Cadet Department at rugby. On Thursdays we had a Training Day at ‘Tally Ho’. This would entail parading in full uniform at roughly 8am on the parade square at ‘Tally Ho’. Sadly this is now a carpark, the first carpark on the left as you enter the service road from the Pershore Road. We had to be perfect, sharp creases in both trousers and tunic sleeves. Boots had to be ‘bulled’ military style. We’d be inspected by the Chief Inspector who in my day was Graham Heeley. We’d then fall out. During the course of the day we’d have a swimming lesson, a gym lesson in the gym doing callisthenics and then a four mile run. We’d also have a drill lesson, an hour of drill practice. We all got very fit as training days were very tough. A couple of the lads in my intake could get round the 3.7 mile ‘Dogpool Run’ in 19/20 minutes.

As a fifty-three year old man I can now reflect on my cadet service and say that some of the instructors like Sgt Ian Darnell were excellent. He was a mature man who sought to get the best out of the lads in his charge and turn them into mature police officer candidates.

One cannot talk about Birmingham City and West Midlands Police Cadets without mentioning ‘camp’. Birmingham has a special relationship with the Elan Valley which began during the first decade of the 20th century. Birmingham’s water supply comes from reservoirs in the valley which were built by the Birmingham Corporation. Every summer police cadets would go to Elan Village where they slept for four weeks in ten-man ex-army tents and completed a very arduous outward bound course. The instructors slept in wooden dormitory huts on the site. The camp commandant was an Inspector and there was a sergeant then various PC instructors drawn from around the force. There were was a rock-climbing trip to North Wales, canoeing on the reservoirs and River Wye and the dreaded PT&A days, PT and assault course. The assault course had been built just behind the camp on the steep banks of the river. The aim of PT&A days was to leave you completely exhausted. The instructors certainly achieved that aim.

During the course of the four weeks the various squads of eight cadets had to complete the three-day and four-day treks. This entailed walking a prescribed route in the Elan Valley and the Brecon Beacons, stopping for the night at prearranged locations.

Everything you needed was in your Bergen and you slept in small two-person tents. My lasting memory of these treks is waking at 6am in a warm dry tent, taking off my dry tracksuit, putting it in a carrier bag and tying the neck then putting on my soaking wet clothes from the day before which had spent the night in the bell end of the tent – a most unpleasant experience.

The Cadet Training Department is long since gone and quite rightly so. There is no shortage of applicants these days for police service jobs so the original concept no longer exists. However I consider myself very fortunate to have been part of it. Almost everyone who I speak to who was in the Cadet Corps says the same.

Whilst on camp if an individual was struggling on runs and was deemed not to be trying hard enough the training staff would tell the rest of the squad that if that ‘lazy b…ard’ didn’t buck his ideas up and pick up the pace the whole squad would be doing the run again that evening. I remember this scenario with a popular cadet who was trying his best; the lads rallied round him and encouraged him to get through it.

I’ll sign off with an anecdote. Graham Heeley was a much-feared Chief Inspector, a ‘no nonsense’ kind of ‘gaffer’. One training day we decided to see how many cadets we could get in the lift at ‘Tally Ho’ which said ‘Maximum 6 Persons’. We got about ten in standing then a further six female cadets and smaller male cadets hopped up on our shoulders. We were trying to break some sort of record set by the cadets of the previous year, the ‘seniors’. Someone with a free hand pressed the button for floor 1 and off we went. A few seconds later ‘clunk’, the lift died! We probably shouted and people became aware that people were trapped in the lift. The fire service attended and we were winched back down to the ground floor.

Nick James said, “Shhh, I can hear Heeley.” We all fell silent; we were rather hoping that he might not be around. “We’ll have you out soon” he said, “How many of you are in there?” I said, “Err, sixteen.” His response was “You had better be joking Mr. McElhinney”. When the ‘squirters’ jemmied open the doors Heeley nearly had a fit.

 Needless to say the ‘Birmingham Lift 16’ spent several evenings after college running around Cannon Hill Park.’ #wmp #police #history – book available in kindle or paperback on Amazon.

‘Reporting For Duty – 1974 to 1999’ – West Midlands Police

Extract from 1984 – ‘The introduction of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act in 1984, which required prisoner reception locations to be designated and to meet a minimum standard, caused the Force to carry out a review of all of its custody facilities.

            The same Act also created huge challenges for the Force Training Department as the implications of the new legislation hit home.

            Training as a whole continued to be fragmented throughout the Force. Staff at ‘Tally Ho’ ran a variety of courses including National CID training and cadet training courses. The centre housed the Law Research Unit and CCTV Unit. Probationer training was carried out at Training wings at Bournville and Walsall Police Stations, whilst the Force Driving School was at Halesowen.

            Ron Cornwell, now aged 92 years, (In 2019) joined the Birmingham City Police on the 4.3.1950 and served on the Force Driving School for thirty years between 1956 up to his retirement as an Inspector in 1984. On his last day of service, he completed a final test and when he got back was greeted with a surprise ‘farewell banner’….’ Available from Amazon in kindle or paperback. #wmp #police #history #onefamily https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1916168000/

Reporting For Duty – West Midlands Police 1974 to 1999

One of the officers who did join as a recruit in 1983 was co-author Stephen Burrows who, like most West Midlands Police colleagues, attended Ryton On Dunsmore District Police Training Centre in order to complete his initial training course on Intake 9/83.

            In those days a lot of emphasis was placed on uniform turn-out and regular parade- ground drill exercises as well as the ability to quote law definitions verbatim!

            He recollects:

‘I was twenty-five years-old and had been working at various jobs for several years. In those days, an application was followed by a ‘home visit’ from an Inspector, purportedly to check one came from a ‘good family’ and didn’t live above a brothel, or in a pub. I can remember my Mom, who was pretty ‘straight-laced’, being embarrassed because I was away with my girlfriend, and not married, when the Inspector called. Mom must have made a good impression on my behalf, because I was subsequently asked for interview on the ‘mezzanine’ floor at Lloyd House, Police Headquarters where I was successful. It took nearly twelve months from application to beginning training as a police officer.

Little did I know it, but it was going to be a culture shock.

            The first couple of weeks, the ‘Induction Course’, were fine. A gentle introduction to the police, led by Sergeant Mick Ferris, a very experienced and pleasant man that I became good friends with in subsequent years.

We were based at ‘Tally Ho!’ Training Centre, and received inputs from the Police Federation, and on the structure, culture and values of the Police and Force. To this day I recall a Superintendent speaker who gave a talk on integrity and good behaviour saying, ‘don’t do anything you wouldn’t want your Mom to know about or see on the front page of the Daily Mail with your photo’.

We began in ‘civvy’ clothes but were ‘fitted’ with uniform at Bournville Lane during induction. This was hilarious, as a lot of the stuff only roughly matched body size and shape. Too large and you were promised that you’d ‘bulk up to fill it’ due to the meals and physical training, too small and you were told you’d ‘slim down a bit in training’. I still recall being told I needed to ‘get a few curries down my neck’, by the storeman.

We had to take the uniform home in a huge cardboard box and then start wearing it once we had sorted it out. The first time I tried it on it felt like ‘fancy dress’, but you started to get used to it after a few days. I always felt that my helmet was too big and about to fall off, and for a while catching my reflection in a window was a strange experience.

Then we were off for Initial Training. Fourteen weeks at a District Centre with new recruits from other local Forces. I went to Ryton-On-Dunsmore in Warwickshire.

I had no idea what to expect. I was twenty-five, an older recruit in those days, and I met a militaristic regime that treated everybody as teenagers.

I arrived on a Sunday evening, nervous and unsure. There was a queue to register, be allocated a room and class, and to meet the two sergeants who would be the class tutors. I approached the desk, but during the conversation I called one of them ‘Sarge’. ‘I’m not Sarge, I’m Sergeant to you!’, was my introduction to Ryton.

We marched between classes, stood up when we answered a question in class and saluted senior officers. There was a ‘parade’ every morning, when uniform would be scrutinised and punishment details handed out for every blemish, no matter how minor. We all got really good at ‘bulling’ boots, spending hours perfecting a shine like a mirror. Every so often disaster would strike, a deep scratch, peeling of polish or even the whole toecap of polish coming off. I was hopeless at marching, a failing that remained with me during numerous Remembrance Day Parades as a senior officer.

Lessons comprised learning crime definitions off by heart, exploring the legal nuances, and being tested by fiendish multiple-choice questions. Those who regularly failed were given extra tuition and nicknamed ‘The Woodentops’.

Then there were ‘practical’s’. Learning how to direct traffic correctly, stopping and searching vehicles, licensed premises ‘raids’, arresting drunks, (play-acted with vigour by directing staff). We were taught life-saving skills in the pool, and physically tortured in the gym, especially during ‘self-defence’ lessons, if you were the unfortunate one selected by the instructor to demonstrate the amount of pain that could be inflicted with various ‘holds’.

Our fitness levels were improved by the swimming, cross-country runs and gym-work. There were regular fitness tests that had to passed, including push-ups, sit-ups, a timed run and the dreaded ‘pull-ups’ on the bar.

We bonded, helped by evenings in the bar. I’m still in touch with some of my class members at Ryton thirty-five years later, but there was a curfew, policed by staff members, to keep the sexes apart.

It was regimented, strict, militaristic, full of rules and regulations. Some liked it, but I hated it. I still sometimes return to Ryton, but it is very different now – the old ways are gone, the parade ground now a car park.’