When war was declared the force went immediately on a scheme of readiness. The Chief Constable Fred Tarry was, it seems, a visionary who had laid plans.
All leave was cancelled, and the men (there were no women) went on a shift pattern of 12 hours on and 12 hours off. If the air raid siren sounded when they were off duty, they were required to report for duty at the nearest police pillar.
About 20 men were required to "sleep in" every night in case there was an emergency. This practise continued until peace came in 1945.
The upper floors of the building next door to the police station, i.e. Packers tobacconist, were commandeered and fitted out as dormitories. The police occupied the old “bacon factory” in Waterbeer Street in either 1939 or 40, but I imagine that it was after the dormitories had been established.
At the start of the war, what is generally called the "phoney war", not a lot happened. The only thing Fred Tarry had not foreseen was how exhausted his men would become; after a couple of months a re-think was required, and the normal shift pattern resumed.
Fred Tarry was appointed Chief Constable of Southampton in 1941 after that town had suffered repeated bombing attacks. It seems that the Government decided the police there needed a "shake up". On taking up the post he sent to Exeter for reinforcements – ultimately squads of 20 men at a time were sent to relieve that force. I went with the first detachment. On arrival in Southampton some of our men were taught to drive the trams which served the city!
Men from Southampton came to Exeter for a rest, they were not required to work during their stay, they occupied the dormitories above Packers, and were called out for emergencies. This system went on well into 1942, until the tide of war started to turn.
At the outbreak of war certain jobs were classified as "reserved". Men working in them were seen as being necessary for the war effort, and they were not subject to being called up to serve in the military, neither could they change their job, (without exposing themselves to military “call up”) unless it was to another reserved occupation. The police were classed as a reserved occupation, and members of the force were not allowed to volunteer for service in the armed forces.
In 1940 the rules were revised, and several of the younger constables volunteered for military service. The main attraction at the time was to join "air crew" – most of the young men tried for that branch of the RAF, but few were finally selected. The only two members of the force to be selected for Air Crew, are remembered on the War Memorial at Heavitree Road, PCs Hawken and Richards, who were both killed in action on bombing raids in 1944.
Arthur Drew was selected for pilot training, went to Florida and qualified as a fighter pilot, before he was posted to 74 Squadron, flying Hurricanes.
All through the war,
the Force was on high alert in case the Germans crept up on us, every
precaution was taken to make life difficult for the would be invaders.
There was a great fear that if an enemy parachutist landed, he may take
any bicycle that he spotted and cycle off on it, putting the Empire at
Alert as ever, the patrolling constables looked out for any cycles which may have been of use to the enemy. You couldn't leave your bike outside the pub while you had a pint, for fear of some copper impounding it to stop it falling into the hands of Fritz.
There was a special instruction that any bicycle found had to be taken to Waterbeer Street at the end of the shift. There it would be locked up until the owner put in an appearance. When the owner came to claim his bike he was interrogated to see if he was a "fifth columnist", German sympathiser, or some other undesirable who would leave his bike out for the enemy.
There was an oft told story relating to PC Rocky Stone, a character of those days, well known for his "methods". Rocky was just finishing a nights duty at Exe Bridge box, when a young PC arrived with a bike that he had found somewhere on his beat. The younger man was bemoaning the fact that he had to push the bike up to Waterbeer Street, when he could have been home in bed.
Rocky commiserated, told the lad that there were other ways the bike could be dealt with, and without further ado, threw the bike into the river.
Somehow the facts became known and enquiries were commenced. The Canal department boat, Admiral Lionel Thomas, arrived at Exe Bridge with dredging equipment. They soon had enough bikes for a platoon of paratroops.
PC Bert Cody, one of nature's gentlemen, served his entire career in Exeter as a constable on the beat, except for three years from 1942, after he volunteered for the RAF.
On his return from service with the colours, Bert and his young family were allocated one of the new "homes for heroes " being built by the Council. It was on the estate at Whipton and it proved to be a happy place for him to raise his children, where he occupied the house for over 20 years.
Exeter City had quite a few Constables living on the new estates, they were not in "police houses" but in homes exactly like their neighbours. Very few, if any, people living on the estates had a car, (we are now paying the penalty in traffic congestion for the short-sightedness of the estate planners)
In those days there were no telephones in houses on Council estates, on the rare occasion they needed a phone, they had a nearby GPO kiosk. There was no need for a phone in your house, you probably didn't know anybody who had a phone in their house either, so there was no body to call.
Although it was not a "police house" like the County had in villages, people knowing the occupant was a policeman, would call at the house to conduct business which should have been done at the police station. These were the neighbours, and Bert, as any other policeman then did, helped out by dealing with the matter on the doorstep to save a journey into the police station, which would have been by bike or public transport. Asking the police to call on you, was not then a concept for the average man, certainly not those living in Council houses.
Not long after moving in, one of Bert's neighbours discovered a "butterfly bomb" whilst digging his garden. He arrived at Bert's door clutching the bomb and seeking advice.
The Germans had dropped several tons of these bombs at the time of the Exeter Blitz, they were the weapon which caused most of the devastation to the city. They were fitted with an explosive charge designed to injure anyone trying to prevent their principal objective, which was to cause a fire.
Bert took charge of the device. He put it in the coal house, as you would, intending to get it picked up later by the appropriate people. The presence of the bomb under the stairs of his house slipped his mind!
The Co-op coal man made his weekly delivery and the bomb was covered in coal, out of sight – out of mind.
There it sat for more than 20 years, and was still there when Bert retired following amalgamation. PC Sam Griffiths, a County man, moved in to the house. He decided to dispense with solid fuel heating and go "all electric". He cleaned out the coal house and there he found the bomb.
On arrival, covered in sweat and protective gear, the Royal Navy Bomb Disposal Service decided the unexploded device was too dangerous to move, the neighbours were evacuated and they blew it up on the spot.
Quite a few years later, I went on the 3 Driving Courses at Devizes, and when I got promoted to Sergeant. I attended the two week regional course at Mardon Hall, Exeter University in 1960. That was the total sum of training I had in 30 years police service.
Arthur Drew joined Exeter City Police in 1939. He spoke to Peter Hinchliffe who edited his memories.
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