About eight of us were crowded in the back of the first police van and the remaining members of our Police Training School followed in another two vans and an unmarked police car.
Our small convoy was travelling west in Cambridge Street Leederville on the way to our weekly motor cycle training session at Herdsman’s Lake, on land behind the then Police Stables. As I looked forward occasionally through the rear window of the driving cab I could see Constable Ross King and Constable Derrick Woolmer two of our riding instructors on motor cycles about fifty metres in front. I knew there were another couple somewhere further ahead.
Suddenly our police van braked heavily and came to a stop and as we spilled from the vehicle we found that Ross had collided with a car entering Cambridge Street from his left. Derrick Woolmer, who had been riding abreast, managed to swerve to his right and avoided the car, but Ross, striking the centre of the vehicle, had been catapulted over its roof to land on the roadway beyond. He was lying where he fell crumpled like a discarded rag doll, unconscious, one arm broken, and bleeding freely from the ear and nose.
It was an eerie scene indelibly impressed in my memory. There was Ross, one of our likeable instructors, lying on the road in a pool of blood — perhaps dying. I watched in awe as his fellow officer Derrick, who obviously knew him well, walked almost casually from his parked motor cycle to bend over Ross and release his tie and shirt collar before moving him into a semi-prone position: Then having confirmed that an Ambulance had been summoned, he moved over to check the condition of the car driver [uninjured but in shock still seated in his vehicle] before unhurriedly marking the roadway where Ross lay and the rest of the crash scene with yellow crayon.
There was no sign of emotion or undue haste as this officer went about his tasks, recording details of the vehicles etc in his notebook and directing others to take over traffic control duties. Likewise when he [with the help of two others] had to physically restrain Ross before the ambulance arrived, as he partially returned to consciousness and started to thrash about, aggravating his injuries.
The only time Constable Woolmer’s true feelings emerged was after the para-medics had placed Ross in the Ambulance. The attendant had just closed the rear doors, and was moving forward to the driver’s seat when the Constable clasped him on the shoulder and in a breaking voice, said “Please move as fast as you can will you. He’s my mate.”
It took a long time but Ross did eventually recover and return to work. For me as a teenage trainee policeman, what happened that day was an important learning experience: an example of the self-discipline I too must develop in the years ahead if I hoped to become an effective policeman.
I remember the day I first went to inquire about joining the Police Force as clearly as if it was yesterday.
It was a Saturday morning in April 1952. I went to what was then Police Headquarters in James Street Perth. The Police Training School was a single class-room on the ground floor at the back of the main building. There was a small verandah section leading to a corridor that separated the class-room from the crib-room and locker-room.
I hesitated on the verandah, a little unsure of my directions when another aspiring applicant joined me. He knew where to go and we walked down the corridor together. This bloke was probably in his mid-twenties, about 183cm tall and quite well built, whereas I was only 176cm, weighed around 68kg and had only recently turned nineteen years of age. I was well aware that I only just met the minimum specifications for acceptance as a probationary constable in the Police Force.
The Officer in Charge of the Police School, First Class Sergeant George Flanders [equivalent rank now Senior Sergeant] answered our knock_ He first directed himself to answering the questions of my well-built companion, explaining the entrance examination procedure and medical test applicants were required to undergo. He then turned to me and said, “And what can I do for you, young fellow?”
He seemed surprised when I said that I too wanted to join the Police Force, He challenged both my age and height and even took me into his office to carefully check my weight and height confirming Las I knew he would] that I did indeed meet the minimum requirements. So the wheels were set in motion, and within a few days I sat for a fairly basic written entrance examination. Then, after obtaining the required number of testimonials and a copy of my birth certificate, I had to wait for the next ‘call up’. I was optimistic of my acceptance I knew I was physically fit — so the Medical examination required of applicants posed no problem — and I’d been attending night school classes as part of my apprenticeship training, so the written tests were a breeze.
On the strength of my expected entry to the Police Force, I quit the balance of my apprenticeship as a Metal Spinner [one of poorly paid, dying craft trades] and obtained a job as a First Class Wood machinist. Then wonder of wonders, almost at the same time I received the offer of fully furnished housing. An elderly family friend was looking for a young married couple to move in with him on a nominal rental, plus housekeeping duties. At a time when young people married and had to live with parents until they could find accommodation on their own, it seemed like a dream. So I married ‘the girl of my dreams’ on July 10, 1952 and we moved in.
Appearing before the Selection Board, on August 28, 1952, was quite an ordeal. There were about one hundred men gathered in the courtyard behind Police Headquarters in James Street — each eagerly waiting to go before the Board and all hoping for selection. Most of them were in their mid-twenties; had strong physiques and appeared to be bursting with confidence. I had felt pretty ‘cocky’ until I saw these other big strong blokes and, as I was aware only thirty or forty men would be selected for the next Training school, my confidence evaporated.
Then as the morning progressed and many applicants who had been interviewed rejoined us to joyously announce they had ‘been accepted subject to passing the medical’, my spirits really plummeted.
Suddenly it was my turn and First Class Sergeant Flanders ushered me into the room where the Selection Board, comprising of the Police Commissioner and two other senior Officers, were seated at a table facing me as I entered. The Sergeant instructed me to stand to attention at a line drawn across the centre of the room.
I had just halted at attention when the Commissioner challenged me. He said, “You’re not 5’9″!” “Yes I am Sir” I replied. “I don’t believe you are!” He continued, “Take your shoes off and get over there, and have the Sergeant check your measurements again.” God! It seemed like an inquisition.
I moved over to where Sergeant Flanders was waiting at the side with the height measuring stand. The reassuring wink and smile he gave me steadied my shaking nerves, as he called “Yes Sir. He is exactly 5’9″ in height. I measured him originally myself.” Then to me “Resume your position, as before.”
“Why do you want to join the Police Force?” Asked one of the other Board members… “It has always been my ambition to join the Police Force” I lied, for I hadn’t really thought about it until a few months before, but had been told this was the answer they expected. “And I believe the Police Force will provide me with the security and job satisfaction I want.”
“Well” said the Commissioner, “You’re a bit young and a bit small for what we want. You may have to wait a year or two to get in. What do you think about that… eh? There’re a lot of other blokes out there to choose from and we only want thirty.”
“I’ll wait if I have to, then… Sir” I answered, my spirits sinking again.
“Okay. You’ll be accepted subject to passing the Medical. But as I said, you may have to wait a bit.”
I felt rather downhearted as I left the room, but Sergeant Flanders who accompanied me to the verandah to call the next applicant, encouraged me when he said, “Don’t be too worried. They have to pass their Medical yet and many won’t get through. Believe me I know.”
Then, after only a short wait in the courtyard, I was examined by the District Medical Officer and certified fit. But as the Sergeant had predicted, the rejection rate [on medical grounds] was high. In the finish only twenty-eight applicants were accepted, and I was one of them.