A Tribute to P.C. 406 Robert Bruce WALMSLEY

This officer’s story might be of interest to the Police History Society because he continued to serve in the Hampshire Constabulary for fourteen years after losing a leg in a traffic accident.

I have compiled his story from data in his personal file, from reports in the Bournemouth Echo, the Christchurch Times and the New Milton Advertiser together with a commendation he received in General Order No. 12/1949.

This reads, “Commended by the Chief Constable for courage and fortitude after sustaining very serious injuries necessitating the amputation of one leg and calm manner in which he directed operations at scene of accident.”

Bruce Walmsley as I think he was known, joined the Hampshire Constabulary on the 26th. July 1937 and was stationed in Farnborough. He enlisted in the Royal Air Force in September 1941 and according to one report became one of the famous Pathfinder pilots holding the rank of Flight Lieutenant and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

He re-joined the police in August 1945 and was stationed at Bramdean until March 1948 when he was in Traffic Division at Christchurch. He was married with two young children.

At 6.40pm on Tuesday 25th. October 1949 Bruce was on duty in a patrol car with P.C. Piper. I was surprised to read this, as the General Order above seems to suggest he was on his own. The officers were following a car up Holmsley Hill on the A.35, travelling towards Lyndhurst when they saw it was displaying no rear light.

They stopped this vehicle and parked their car about 20 yards in front of it. Both officers got out and went back. Remember that this was before police vehicles were equipped with flashing lights of any kind and about the only way to stop another car than was to overtake it, sound the bell and then flag the driver down with a hand signal!

P.C. Walmsley was standing at the back of the car talking to the driver, Frederick William Preece when P.C. Piper observed another car coming up behind. This officer saw that the oncoming car was only showing sidelights and a spotlight and he attempted to stop it. The driver failed to respond to his signal and collided with the back of Mr. Preece’s car, killing him and badly fracturing both P.C. Walmsley’s legs. His left leg was later amputated below the knee in Boscombe Hospital.

The impact was sufficient to push Preece’s car the 20 yards up the road and into the patrol car. All the more surprising that Mrs. Preece and two other women in the car were unhurt! The road was wet although the weather was fine’

A Major Atom Ronald SARUP with an address in Ovington Square, London was the driver of the car that failed to stop and Inspector Atherton interviewed him. He said he had left a Bournemouth hotel at 5.45pm with a Mr. Morgan, his children’s’ nurse and a 15 month old son to return to London.

He blamed his failure to stop on being dazzled by oncoming lights and admitted he saw nothing until the collision. He appeared at Ringwood Magistrates’ Court in November 1949 charged with manslaughter and dangerous driving. The more serious charge was dismissed but he was fined £25 for dangerous driving with £31.13.2d costs and his licence was endorsed.

An inquest on Mr. Preece was opened in Ringwood on the 27th. October 1949 and adjourned until 1st. December. I searched all three newspapers mentioned above without finding a report of it. Coroners’ records are closed for 75 years so further information from that source is not available.

However, we have the story of the accident and perhaps the inquest would not have revealed much more.

I am indebted to Roy Ford, a former colleague of Bruce’s who supplied me with information about his subsequent career. He recalls that Bruce suffered serious pain from his injuries and his remaining leg was seriously shortened. He was not able to resume police duty until the 7th. November 1950 when he was employed part-time on station duty at Christchurch.

He was transferred to Aldershot on the 2nd. February 1951 where he was employed on permanent station duty working alternate shifts of 8am to 4pm and 4pm to midnight and became a neighbour of Roy Ford’s. Bruce continued with these duties until his retirement on pension on 28th. January 1964.

A final point of interest is that his file contains a report showing that a civil action pursued on his behalf by the Clerk to the Police Authority was settled out of court with the receipt of agreed damages.

Bob Cameron