Police Mobile Column

Police Mobile Column


Phil Abbott

These columns were formed (1965) in the then various Police regions from the Forces in those regions. The intention was that, in time of nuclear war, these columns would be withdrawn to safe locations ready to go in and police the devastated areas.

A column consisted of about 100 officers under the command of a Superintendent. It was divided into Sections of 10 Constables each under the command of a Sergeant and there was a Chief Inspector and a couple of Inspectors as well.

The column was mobile in that each section was carried in a lorry, there were motorcyclists and the Superintendent had a four wheel drive Austin Gypsy. It was self-contained and self-reliant having its own cooks and signallers.

It was necessary to train officers for various tasks in the Column, and it fell to me to be trained and made responsible for Field Hygiene in the Column. As an ex-soldiers this to me meant that you either buried it or burnt it. This was not sufficient for the powers that be and I was sent, with several sergeants from other County Forces on a weeks course. This was probably the best skive I have ever been on. We were billeted in a Mets Section House at Kennington, the course was at Kensington Town Hall of all places, and as it was thought the journey across central London on the Underground in the rush-hour would be a bit much for us country bumpkins we were not required to be there before l0 am.

Two Met Sergeants were running the course, the sole duties of one of them being to make tea at regular intervals. The other gave the lectures such as they were and supervised our practical efforts on a small grassy area at the back of the Town Hall. Because Kensington is very busy it was necessary to adjourn for lunch to a nearby Pub at 12 noon and the course re-convened at 2pm.

The afternoons passed very peacefully. To avoid the evening rush-hour we broke at 4 pm. Tickets for West End Shows were available at the Section House and a good time was had by all. At the conclusion of the course we knew that you either buried it or burnt it or both.

The Column trained for 10 days or two weeks each year on vehicles supplied by the Home Office. These were completely clapped out and the lorries were entirely unsuitable for the task e.g. they had sideways seats in the rear for the Constables (Sergeants sat in front with the driver) the suspensions were horrible and travel sickness on long runs resulted.

The fact that they ran at all was a tribute to the skill and ingenuity of the drivers and erstwhile mechanics who even visited scrap – yards to get spare parts, so out-dated were the vehicles. The same went for- the motor-cycles.

I went on my first column in I think 1966 and did another in 1967 – or was it 1968? On one column we were based at Eastney Barracks and on the other at the Armoured Corps Depot at Bovington. In both cases we were billeted in the Sergeants Messes and I have happy memories of evenings (and nights) spent in them.

My memory of the two columns is a hit jumbled. We practised moving through the counties of Dorset and Hampshire as a column causing the maximum of inconvenience to other traffic and did night exercises too. I think the problem was to find meaningful tasks for us to perform other than the above mentioned convoy driving.

Our cooks, who I think must have been on more intensive courses than mine, did good work. Never had to burn or bury anything on either column.

Whilst at Bovington we had a free afternoon, and having served in an Armoured Regiment I asked the RSM if it would be possible to have a look round the Driving Wing there. Permission was readily granted and with the late Pete HOLLOWAY we were shown round by a helpful NCO. We looked over various armoured vehicles including a Centurion tank, and the Corporal agreed to take us for a run up the range in it.

It ended up with me regaining my youth driving it cross-country and then being allowed to drive back to the tank sheds. I bad never driven a Centurion before. I didn’t do too badly although people came out of their offices to watch while I backed into the tank garage. A very enjoyable interlude.

Again whilst at Bovington, and the following incident is very clear in my mind, the column was required to Police Weymouth and Portland for 36 hours. We moved in our convoy and I think I can say the area was never more heavily policed by foot patrols. I and my Section with some other officers were given Portland and we dossed down in Portland Police Station. In addition to patrolling we paid particular attention to their procedures relating to escapes from the Verne Prison.

This latter required officers to take a telephone from the Police Station to the causeway between Portland and the mainland, plug it in a hut down there and man a check point. Sure enough it wasn’t very long before a message came through at about 4 pm on Friday from Dorchester Headquarters stating two men had escaped from the Prison. It was made clear this was an exercise.

Accordingly I sent two or three chaps down to the causeway (with the telephone) to man the check point and establish communications. This was done and as it was an exercise, it was Friday rush-hour with a fair exodus from the Island, they didn’t stop any vehicles.

Shortly after the start of the exercise the Chief Constable of Dorset, Sir Arthur HAMBLETON showed up at the station with a few hangers on. The departing Dorset officers had told us what a bad-tempered little b——d he was and so it turned out. After a few general enquiries he asked how the escape exercise was going. I outlined what we had done and he then asked bow many cars were being stopped at the check-point. I told him none, as it was an exercise. He got quite nasty.

In short he said “That’s not good enough for me Sergeant. Exercise or not, you’ll do things as we do in Dorset. Two more men have escaped. I want vehicles stopped and people searched”. I don’t know what he was trying to prove, but, orders are orders and so the lads at the check-point stopped vehicles and searched people. In no time at all we had a lengthy queue of disgruntled motorists.

I knew the procedures enabled me to call on all traffic vehicles in Dorset to proceed to Portland for search duties and as this was now a genuine escape (according to their Chief) I told the Dorchester Operations Room to do this forthwith.

This rattled their cage a bit, and I spoke in turn to a P.0., a Sergeant and finally a Chief Inspector who came on the line to say they would log my request but obviously would not send vehicles. He apologised and I detected a note of sympathy in his voice.

It gave me a great deal of pleasure to tell him that as his Chief was messing me, a Hampshire Police Officer about, we would do things correctly even if it meant messing Dorset about. Vehicles must be sent. Very shortly afterwards the exercise was called off, don’t know by whom and my one regret was that the lads at the check-point did not get an opportunity to turn Sir Arthur over as he was heading for home.

The remainder of our time at Portland passed uneventfully.

Officers from Forces as far apart as Buckinghamshire, Dorset, Berkshire, Reading as well as Hampshire and possibly others formed our column. I think Senior Officers must have gained an insight as to how things would have worked out in a real emergency. Each Section was a mixture of officers from all the Forces and certainly at this level a real camaraderie built up.

Events of 1965