What you are about to read about bears no resemblance to the ‘Police Cadets’ you might find in certain areas of the UK today. Today it is all voluntary and they are of a much younger age, so it’s more akin to the scouts or the army, navy or RAF cadets.
I was typical of the youth of the day, two months short of my 17th birthday and busting to get out into the world on my own. I’d passed a home interview and background checks that included my parents and my sister (who was 22 years older than me, married with three children). I had also passed the recruitment tests and medical examinations that were undertaken in London at the Met Police Recruiting Centre, Borough High Street. My parents drove me from our home in Lancashire, to the Hendon Cadet Centre one sunny Sunday in April 1969.
Once checked in at reception, I grabbed my suitcase and was led off by a senior cadet, failing to appreciate that my parents were stood watching me disappear and although there was not a shred of animosity between us, I don’t believe I actually said goodbye. On reflection I could have made a much better job of this significant moment, certainly as far as Mum was concerned but not so sure about my dad. I could not have been an easy deal for him, after all he was sixty-three and I was sixteen! I always suspected he felt more relief than sadness at my transition. We were starting to butt heads over my motorcycle. Dad hated them, yet he had bought me a brand new one to learn on. He then he financed my trade-up to a very exciting Honda CB250 SS once I’d passed my test. I didn’t tell him it could top 100 mph. His one condition was that I was to have training from his friend Paddy. Paddy was our local village bobby and a former Liverpool City Police traffic motorcyclist. My Dad was a lovely man, but things were getting a little tense between us, though I eventually came to realise that he did his very best for me.
My slightly shameful farewell was exacerbated less than an hour later. I’d had a whistle stop tour en route to my dormitory; gymnasium here, assault course there, reveille at 07:00. As I was unpacking my bag, I glanced up to see a group of parents, including Mum and Dad, walk past the window on their tour of the establishment, which was led by the fearsome, ex Grenadier Guardsman, Sergeant “Bill” Bailey, with whom us recruits would soon become acquainted - we would call him ‘Sergeant’, he would call us whatever took his fancy. Mum waved at me and dabbed away a tear. I don’t know if Dad spotted me, but my selfish teenaged conscience wasn’t even scratched, let alone pricked. One day I would be a parent and would learn exactly how it feels when the child you love flies the nest. I like to think Mum knew there was no malice on my part; that it was ‘par for the course’ of a teenaged son and that I would make it up to her. Seven years later, aged sixty-eight, she would have the pleasure of a third granddaughter and enjoy precious, happy times with her, including a week’s cruise on the river Thames. Mum died a few weeks before her seventy first birthday.
My two years training as a Metropolitan Police Cadet would turn out to be the most transformative period in my life. There is no exact equivalent in today’s police, and I doubt we shall see its like again. Today there is the volunteer police cadets, but it takes kids from 13 years of age and I bet they don’t have to do ‘milling’ (I’ll explain later), which makes it sound a bit more like the scouts although it does look like a whole load of fun and can be nothing but good for adventure-starved teenagers of today. Even today’s military cadet forces have doubtless undergone changes that renders them unrecognisable to those who I often competed against on the sports fields. The Met Police Cadet Corps regime that transformed me was established around 1960 by Colonel Andrew Croft. If you consider the background of this man, it will give you a clue as to why I consider it to have been one of the most outstanding organisations of its time for the positive development of teenaged males. Females would not be joining the cadets until 1975, by which time the Sex Discrimination Act had been passed and even the specialist ‘Policewomen’s Department’ would cease to exist, its members absorbed into the main force along with a levelling up of their pay.
While I’m on the subject of demographics, in my eighty-strong cadet intake of April 1969, there was just one non white recruit a strapping chap of African-Caribbean heritage named Mick Jackman. I never had the opportunity to really get to know him, other than brief chats at mealtimes, because he wasn’t in my House - we were divided into four separate ‘houses’ as per the school’s system of that era. Mick was just a nice chap going through the same mill-grinding as the rest of us. Being in a visible minority of one would have brought with it many additional challenges for the guy, challenges that I couldn’t possibly have understood at the time.
The Commandant, Colonel Andrew Noel Cotton Croft DSO, OBE was an inspiration. Actually, that is an understatement. His Wikipedia entry alone could form the basis of a feature film. The below is taken from the website of the Andrew Croft Memorial Fund, created after his death in 1998.
Colonel Andrew Croft DSO, OBE, Polar Medal
Andrew Croft had a diverse and distinguished career as Arctic explorer, SOE agent behind the German lines during World War II and latterly as reforming Commandant both of the Plymouth-based Infantry Boys’ Battalion and thereafter the Army Apprentices School at Harrogate. Colonel Croft was invited by then Commissioner, Sir Joseph Simpson, to (re-) create a Cadet Corps for the Metropolitan Police.
He arrived in 1960 and retired in 1971 shortly before his 65th birthday. During his time as Commandant, the system of training underwent complete overhaul. Andrew Croft was not, however, a man to sit behind a desk. He participated in every activity, outdoor and indoor; it was his example that converted new recruits into some of the best policemen of their time.
For Croft, every young man had talent and could be trained to bring out the best in himself and, in due course, pass on the skills he had learned. Croft knew each man’s history; he shared their triumphs and disasters; with sympathy and insight, he imbued them with his own exemplary integrity and leadership skills.
Croft was awarded the DSO for his achievements in North Africa, Corsica and France during 1943-44 and was appointed OBE in 1970. His participation in the Oxford University Arctic Expedition of 1935-36 earned him the Polar Medal.