A Policeman’s Lot – T.J. Walter
This is the story of a police career that started in the back streets of Limehouse in London’s East End and ended in the mud packed alleys of Soweto in South Africa.
The author has dealt with everything from murder to mayhem, witnessed life at its rawest and managed to right a few wrongs.
At the same time, he found love, fathered two wonderful children, enjoyed many of the pleasures life has to offer, had the privilege of shaking hands with Nelson Mandela, and played a part in freeing a nation from apartheid.
“There is a Chinese curse that says, ‘May you live in interesting times.’ I have lived in such times. Almost from the very beginning I have had mountains to climb, battles to fight, and wars to be won. But these challenges have etched in me a determination to succeed. Born in London’s East End just months before the beginning of the 2nd World War, I was raised in a battlefield. Bombs meant for the nearby docks fell around me, and my family were bombed out twice. But we survived.
Later, attending the local grammar school, and having my eyes opened to the big wide world was the forerunner to another battle. That of surmounting the obstacles put in the way of a working class lad trying to improve his lot. Two years national service followed: Yet another obstacle course when advancement was first offered then thrown back in my face.
It wasn’t until I joined London’s police force that I began to realise my potential: In a 28 year career, I rose through the ranks to superintendent and performed several roles in London and abroad. At home I dealt with everything from simple theft to armed robbery, from common assault to rape and murder. I had guns pointed at me; knives waved in my face and was kicked, punched, and spat upon. My career culminated in 1994 when I was sent to South Africa as police advisor to Nelson Mandela’s new government. This led to another set of challenges as the transition from apartheid to democracy was rather like making cheese from chalk.
During this time I married, raised two children, divorced and found a new love.
Finally, all the battles having been fought, I retired to the south coast of England, to philosophise and write these memoires.
The story of how I survived and the successes I had in those fields is contained in the pages of my book.”
Excerpt from Part One – England
My first test of policing came on my first morning patrolling alone. I was proceeding in a westerly direction when a young woman who was obviously distressed approached me. I asked her what was wrong; she insisted that I accompany her to her flat, where all would be revealed! When we arrived in her living room, she pointed to a tropical fish tank in which were swimming several tiny fish which, upon investigation, I discovered to be baby Guppies. Between sobs, the woman told me that the aerator in the tank had stopped working and, if something were not done immediately, the fish would die of oxygen starvation.
Fearlessly, I plunged my hand into the tank, wiggled the aerator and bubbles began to rise. The fish were saved. She was anxious to show her gratitude, I quickly returned to my beat after politely refusing her offer of a cup of tea. There were more perils to policing than immediately met the eye.
Later that morning I made my first arrests and earned a nickname that remained with me throughout my service. This time I was proceeding in an easterly direction having proceeded as far to the west as my beat allowed.
I saw two men staggering about and swinging their fists at each other. As I approached my nose picked up the strong smell of alcohol. My police training told me that they were drunk and disorderly (I had been top of my class in observation). I grabbed each by the collar and told them to stop fighting. There wasn’t time to say”’Ello,’ello,’ello, what’s going on ‘ere then”, as I feared that one or both of them might stagger into the road and damage a passing car. (I thought that I would break the reader in gently. Most policemen do not actually talk like that but we do have an image to live up to). Back to my story.
They continued to struggle and by now I had an arm around each of their necks. Despite that I somehow managed to call on my personal radio (PR) for the police van to come and take them to the station. Whilst we waited for the van we had a lively discussion during which I mentioned what action I might take if they didn’t stop struggling. When the van finally arrived, the first thing the driver did was to tell me to take my finger off of the transmit button of my PR as my conversation was being heard over the whole police network and I was blocking the channel. Thenceforth I was known as head-banger. I hasten to add that I did not carry out the threat.
Excerpt from Part Two – South Africa
We stayed overnight in Empangeni and I was accommodated in a hotel that dated from the turn of the twentieth century. The plumbing was of a similar vintage and I spent some time that night fiddling with the ball-cock valve to stop the system flooding the room. There were, of course, none of the hotel staff available to assist me. Nor, indeed, could I find anyone at 7am the next morning; I found the kitchen and made my own coffee. The staff arrived at 8am and prepared breakfast. We flew off on the rest of our tour.
Finally we gathered together our team of instructors. If nothing else, they satisfied our second criteria, they were representative of the racial mix of the community. I obtained permission to bring police instructors from the UK to help train the trainers. We had several adventures in that exercise too.
In some respects, policing is a little like doctoring, dentistry or repairing motor vehicles. Each requires considerable background knowledge and the skills to apply that knowledge. In the case of policing, the required knowledge is the criminal law and police procedures and the skills are those of dealing with people; people of all sorts, not just criminals.
Police training tries to put the elements together, one piece at a time, just like the building blocks used by children. Thus recruits learn a definition of theft and the power of arrest for the offence. This is followed by a practical exercise on theft. A short scenario is played out by instructors acting as; one, the person whose property has been stolen and two, the suspected thief. A recruit investigates the allegation and, having gathered the evidence, arrests the suspect (hopefully).
Only when the recruits understand simple theft and how to deal with that practically do they move on to burglary and robbery etc. Later they learn how to present their evidence at court. Simple and straightforward one might think. One would be wrong.
This is the principle we tried to instil into the new SAP instructors. We discussed the teaching of theft and the power of arrest that went with it. We then asked the SAP student trainers to set up a simple theft scenario. They staged a kidnap, murder which, of course, had not yet been covered in the syllabus. Their acting was superb, the value of the lesson minimal: Back to the drawing board.
“Terence Walter provides plenty of interesting information and experiences in A Policeman’s Lot. During his police career in London’s East End and Soweto in South Africa, where he met Nelson Mandela, he dealt with everything from murder to apartheid.”
Tony Flood – Author of crime thriller Triple Tease, celebrity book My Life With the Stars and fantasy adventure The Secret Potion.