‘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.

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