Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Historical Perspective: A Yellow Warning

I've previously posted extracts from the memoirs of my grandfather, Les Parkinson, surrounding his service in the Royal Navy and the Manchester City Police during the Second World War. This is another one, detailing events at some point in 1940, when the situation was dark for England and kept so by weight of law; unshielded lights could, after all, provide reference points for bombers in the days before onboard radar.

The war was not going too well for England. In Europe the Germans seemed unstoppable as they were in North Africa. My younger brother Frank was captured at Saint-Valery and was taken to Stalag VIII in Poland, where he died of pneumonia later in the year. The miracle of Dunkirk happened and my older brother managed to get out. The mass air raids stopped and the raids we had were by one or two planes - more of a nuisance than anything else, but we were lucky for other towns got raided nightly. The lighter the nights got, the later the raids started.

We had an influx of recruits in the police. These were the nineteen years of age men who were too young to go into the forces. One night I had one of them with me, learning the job. As we passed the Air Raid Wardens' place, we used to call in and learn where the raids were and to learn if there was a yellow or red warning on. The yellow was a probable raid, and red meant imminent. On this night there was a yellow warning on, so we set about making sure there were no unscreened lights about.

On City Road above a fish and chip shop I saw a light on. The glass was covered with brown paper. As there was a warning on, we had the power to break into the premises to extinguish the light. The lad with me stood on my shoulders and opened the fanlight above the door, got into the shop and let me in.

We went upstairs and found a young woman lying naked on the bed, fast asleep. There was an open book at her side, so she must have fallen asleep whilst reading. We woke her up and went into the living room to wait for her. I told her what had happened and that she would have to go to court for having an unscreened light visible during an alert. When the case came for trial, she told me that the neighbours thought she was having an affair with the owner. His wife was her cousin, and she was only keeping a watch on the place while they were away. Anyway, she was fined ten shillings.

I enjoyed working down Hulme, for although the people were poor they were good people. One night I was called to a fish and chip shop on Stretford Road, right on the boundary. There had been a fight there. As soon as I entered, I remembered the advice of Freddie Driver. I showed them who was boss and soon got the situation under control.

After I got outside, a young woman came up to me and asked if I was a new policeman. I sand no, that I had been transferred from another division. She started stroking my chest and brushing off my uniform nonexistent dust and dirt, and invited me home for supper. I asked her what my sergeant would say if he found I was missing and having supper with a woman in her home. "Don't worry," she said, "Steve had his supper last night." Incredibly, Steve was Steve Ford, my sergeant! Anyway, I declined the offer and went on my way, saying a quiet thank you to Freddie for his words of advice.

We had a bloke, a nineteen year old that nobody liked. His father was on City Council. He boasted that he only joined the police because it was an easy job that would keep him out of the army. Walter Arnold - he wore A74 - was on the next beat to me. We decided to teach this boaster a lesson.

Right on the boundary with Stretford and on Chester Street, there was a pawnshop that was always being broken into. I told the kid that I would go in for supper first, that was at 1:15 AM, and he would work the beat on his own. I stressed on him the importance of this pawnshop and even took him there. One had to check the back door, for that was always the point of entry by the felons. To get to the back door, one had to go a zigzagging entry and at the best of times, it was a little scary.

When it came supper time, it was also time to check the pawnshop. Walter and I went first and lay on top of the wall. We saw him coming down the entry. He had his lamp in one hand and his truncheon in the other, ready for action. As he passed, Walter knocked the lad's helmet off. That did it, for the lad dropped everything, turned and ran. I thought, now we are in for a load of trouble, so we went to the station for supper.

When we got in the station officer, an old sweaty, big and fat man called Osbaldiston, called us in his office and said, "Now you buggers, what have you been up to." When we pleaded innocence he said, "Go and see the state of the lad." He was white and trembling with fear and told a story of how he had been assaulted as he was trying the back door of the pawnshop. We were instructed to go out and check the place out, which we did, and returned with the lad's helmet, flashlight and truncheon.

The lad refused to go out on the streets again that night, and slept in one of the cells. That was the last we saw of him, for he resigned and later registered as a conscientious objector. The station officer knew what happened for he knew Walter and I of old, but he couldn't prove a thing, and the incident was recorded as a policeman being assaulted. Unknowingly, though, I think Walter and I did the police a favour.

Past Perspectives:

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