Working Lives

The Norfolk Policewoman (1967-2009)

Location: Norfolk

Wendy began her training as a woman police officer in October 1967, at the police training school at Ryton-on-Dunsmore. She joined the Norfolk Constabulary and experienced its amalgamation with the forces of Great Yarmouth and Norwich City. She served at King’s Lynn, Dereham and Yarmouth before moving to her home city of Norwich. Wendy reflects on her experiences as a policewoman, including the integration of the policewomen’s department into the wider force and the establishment of specialist departments, and sets out her views on the differences between policing now and her time as a serving police officer.

Work before the police

I left school in 1963, just prior to President Kennedy being assassinated. I went to work at Mann Egerton, a big garage on Prince of Wales Road. I worked in the insurance department. I worked there for a year. Then I went to be a dental nurse. I did that for a year as well. Then I worked for two years in a shoe factory for W. H. H. Clark, in the accounts department. It’s no longer there now, like so many shoe factories. After that I joined the Norfolk Constabulary.

Training to be a police officer

I went to the police training school in Ryton-on-Dunsmore near Coventry. October 16th 1967. I went on the train to Coventry. I met a lady at the station who worked in Garlands Department Store as the buyer. She talked me into going first class with her, which I did. I’d never done that before. We had 13 weeks at the training school. It was an old RAF Station, as all the police training centres were.

When I joined there were 14 of us joined Norfolk Constabulary. I was the only woman, all the rest were men, pretty good! I went to training school and again there were five women in the class and 20 men, pretty good ratio really. We had a lot of fun there. Hard work. One or two left while we were at the training school. One man left before we even got changed! We did our 13 weeks and then we were sent back to our stations.

Problems with the uniform, especially in the snow

Norfolk Constabulary didn’t really have any money, and when I was at training school I didn’t even have my full uniform, I had a traffic warden’s uniform with the yellow flashes taken off. I had a skirt and jacket that didn’t match, I didn’t have a greatcoat. My inspector came down after a little while and brought me a gabardine mac. There was loads and loads of snow while I was at training school. I should think for two months that we were there, there was snow. It was freezing cold and I didn’t have a coat. But it didn’t affect my approach to training and the job having a uniform because all the uniforms were slightly different. Mine was the worst, no doubt about that, but, I mean, it was just funny really.

Hard work, and a passing-out parade; lots of tears on leaving

We worked very hard at training school. There is a lot of law to learn. We did little play-acting things, arresting people and stopping cars. We used to have to do traffic duty, the traffic signals with your arms, and we did it to music.

And when we finished we had a pass-out parade. All the parents came up to see us. We did a formation thing on the parade ground, all crossing over like the soldiers do. That was all very nice. We didn’t think we were going to be able to do it because there was snow on the ground. We had to clear the parade ground of all the snow and it didn’t snow again so we were able to do it. This was in January.

I was proud of passing out. Passing out was a really big thing. We’d had a pass-out dance the night before so there was a few sore heads on the day. Passing out was very good. We were all very sad to leave, there was lots of tears. We had all been together for 13 weeks so we had made lots of friends and so it was all very sad. But it doesn’t prepare you for real police work in the slightest. Not at all. When you get back to your station it’s absolutely nothing like you do at training school because everything is done with instructors, not real people.

The start of working life as a police officer: Kings Lynn

When I finished at training school I was sent to Kings Lynn. I very nearly resigned there and then. I had never been to Kings Lynn. It sounded like the end of the world. And I got there and I thought it was the end of the world. All the street lights went off at 12 o’clock, all the streets were narrow. Oh, it was really grim. It was just a fishing place really. It was a rough place.

First experiences: scruffy uniforms and switchboard disasters

When I first went to Kings Lynn, my cousin took me because my mum and dad didn’t have a car. We arrived there at night and it was really dark. I got in the police station and, of course, being at training school everybody is really really smart: uniforms are all pressed, creases all down your sleeves and men’s’ trousers. You’re absolutely spotless! I went in the station and the policewoman came to the counter. She had a jacket undone, she had a fag in her mouth, ash all over her jacket! That was my first introduction.

We had a switchboard there with plugs. You used to put the plugs in when people answered the phone. The policewomen had to do switchboard duty when the switchboard operator went for her breaks. At one time there was nobody on the switchboard. Of course, being new I flew down the stairs to get in the switchboard room to answer the calls. I mean, it wasn’t my turn but I felt obliged to do it. I flew down there, I tripped over the wire and the cord, the cord that the plug goes in, and I bent the plug so the switchboard was totally out of operation until somebody came and fixed it! That was my experience of the switchboard.

Another time I was on the switchboard and I had to keep the chief superintendent waiting. He used to have a special little flap so you knew when he was on the line. I kept him waiting and I answered the call. He said, ‘Who is that?’

And I said, ‘PW15’, and I was actually PW14! I don’t think I have ever been as deceitful as that but I was frightened!

Characters in the force

There were two young girls there, me and another girl who used to be called Twiggy. The chief superintendent used to call us his dancing girls. He was a very theatrical man with a very booming voice. He was in the amateur dramatics, he was very well known for acting. He used to be the chief constable because Kings Lynn used to be a force all by itself, Kings Lynn borough. Things are so much different now.

There were loads of characters at that time, absolutely loads of characters. We had one there, Jack Troop his name was, a policeman, a PC, he was quite elderly. He had a warrant to serve on a well-known chap in Kings Lynn and he couldn’t get him. He turned up at six o’clock in the morning and he just walked in his house and arrested this man. He couldn’t get him at any other time. That made the papers, that made the national papers. He was a character. There were no end of characters. I don’t remember that much at Kings Lynn, but there were at other places.

Panda cars and communication issues

When I first went to Kings Lynn they only had two pandas. They had just started the panda system in 1968, the year the Theft Act came in. There was a panda each side of the river, one in North Lynn, one in South Lynn.

We didn’t have radios like they have now. We had this great big radio that you had to strap on your back. It was about 14 inches tall and about five inches wide and about three inches thick. It was in a leather carry case and you had to carry it on your back. It had an aerial that went up about ten yards, well, I suppose it went up about a yard. They had about one between ever so many, so if you got a radio you felt that you were really lucky. I didn’t take it out much because I was only the junior there so I very rarely got allowed a radio. If you needed to contact the station and you didn’t have the radio you found a phone box and you phoned up the operator and reversed the charges! The system worked well enough if you were close to a phone box when you needed one! I mean, it wasn’t an immediate system but it worked as well as anything did in those days.

We used to do a lot of observations for flashers in those days. I remember one day being sent out at nine o’clock in the morning in my miniskirt and carrying a basket with my sandwiches in to walk around The Walks in Kings Lynn which was like a big park area where you used to get a lot of flashers. It was freezing fog. I waited there all day. I walked round and round. Nobody flashed me. When I got back I discovered they had caught somebody about an hour after I had gone out. But because we were uncontactable, nobody bothered to try and find me. It was all very hit and miss in those days because of the lack of contact, the lack of communication.

‘I got told off for a lot of things really’

When I was at Kings Lynn I got told off for something that I hadn’t done. We had a female inspector who used to go to all the divisions where the policewomen were. I’d filled in a missing persons form and that had gone away, and she told me off because it was not very tidy. I hadn’t typed it because we had typists. I’d just given it to the typist. She typed it and I got told off for it being a mess. And I was not very happy about that, but there you go.

I accepted all these things. It was pretty hard. It was like going before the headmistress. It was still like being at school, you know. You were told off and rapped across the knuckles for things. I got told off for a lot things really. There were always favourites, and I certainly wasn’t one.

I do remember being told off at Kings Lynn by the chief super because I’d forgotten to send an N.I.P. which was a notice of intended prosecution for somebody who had parked causing obstruction. It has to be sent within 14 days. I forgot to send it because I hadn’t got a lot of experience and I had just forgotten that you had to do it for obstruction. So the chief super told me off. Then he softened it by saying, ‘But you will never do that again, will you?’

‘No, I won’t, sir.’

To salute, or not to salute?

But it was petty, you got told off for such petty little things. When I was at Kings Lynn you used to have to salute a lot. You saluted everybody above the rank of inspector, even detective inspectors who weren’t in uniform. Really salutes are for the uniform but when I was at Kings Lynn our detective chief inspector always insisted on being saluted, even in the police station. So as you went in the police station you had one hand on the door handle and with the other hand you would take your hat off. Because if you had your hat off you didn’t have to salute. So you always made sure you had your hat off before you got in the station. It was petty, incredibly petty.

We used to have to salute funerals as well. You always stood still and saluted the hearse as it went past, which was quite nice really. You got a bit of respect for doing that. They don’t salute now at all but there was a lot of saluting went on then.

Training and continuation courses; moving on from Kings Lynn

While I was at Kings Lynn I went on a policewomen’s course at Chelmsford. Everyone had to do it. Mostly the girls had done 18 months before they went on one. I think I had done ten months so I didn’t have a lot of experience when I went on my policewomen’s course. That was quite handy, and courses are always very good, aren’t they? Jollies. It was only for two weeks.

Then I did a continuation course. I had gone to Kings Lynn in the January, and the following February I went on my continuation course. Again that’s usually 18 months after you’ve joined. I went down with several of the men from Norfolk Constabulary.

When I came back from my continuation course I was stationed at Dereham so I never went back to Kings Lynn. I was only stationed at Kings Lynn a year. You’re on probation for two years. You should really complete your two years at the same station, and I didn’t. I only did a year because they needed me somewhere else. All the single women always had to do the moves if they needed somebody at another station. It was always the single women that got moved.

Moving to Dereham

I was at Dereham two and a half years, very different, very different division. It was very rural police work. We got a lot of indecency. As policewomen we went through the division quite a bit. The division was smaller but as policewomen we used to have to cover a bigger area.

On Saturdays we used to go to Swaffham to cover Swaffham market, Tuesdays we went to Fakenham to cover Fakenham market and on Sundays in the summer we went to Wells which was absolutely wonderful.

Ice-cream at Wells – and traffic duty – ‘a wonderful time’

I used to go to Wells with another PC, it was always us two. We used to go in the van, we’d park at the beach car park. We’d walk along the beach in uniform, make sure everything was tickety-boo and have an ice-cream. It was absolutely wonderful. It was lovely.

We used to drive the van down the beach road. At Wells they got the bit at the top that goes down by the river-y bit, never remember what it’s called. People walk the dogs along there. Of course, we had a P.A. system in the van. We used to walk along there and I would go, ‘Woof woof’, and of course the dogs they all go berserk. We had a lot of fun.

The reason we went down there was because at five o’clock we used to have to do traffic duty at the quay. It was an absolute pain because, like now, it was absolutely chock-a-block with traffic. There was nothing that you could do but our chief superintendent insisted that we went down there. You could never sort the traffic out because the traffic was coming from all ways. It was just a mess really, but we didn’t mind because it was a wonderful day. We used to have a wonderful time there. They don’t get things like that now.

Adventures with a Morris estate waggon: ‘the ones with the wooden panels on’

We had a van, an old Morris estate station wagon, the ones with the wooden panels on. It was pretty old and it had been driven by absolutely everybody. I used to have to fold up my coat to sit on it because the seat had dropped so much I couldn’t see out of the windscreen! I remember going once to pick up a prisoner, with a girl from Norwich, in Bristol. We went all the way down to Bristol. My colleague drove down there. We picked her up, I drove back and dropped her off at Norwich.

Then I drove back to Dereham, bearing in mind I had driven all that way and it was pouring down with rain and I got back at about midnight. There was some building work going on at Dereham, and they had a portable office box. As I pulled into the yard I just felt I had caught the car as I pulled in, because it was pitch black, pouring down with rain. I got out and there was a little bit of wood on the wing mirror and I thought I just hit the wing mirror on this little wooden hut. I thought no more about it and locked it all up and put the keys in, went home.

When I came on duty the next day the chap who takes it out after me says, ‘What ever did you do to that car?’

I’d stoved the whole wing in! I’d hit a brick pillar but I hadn’t noticed. I hadn’t done it deliberately. It didn’t matter because I didn’t have to pay for it. So I had a bit of a reputation for that.

A refuge for women at Gressenhall, and the ladies’ life-saving team

When I was at Dereham, Gressenhall was an old peoples’ home. It’s now a museum, and prior to that it used to be the workhouse. There were a couple of out-buildings that we used for a refuge for women, battered wives. I remember taking a woman there with her child. It was snowing, we used to get a lot of snow in those days, and it was really really cold. I took her to this place. They were like….I suppose they were converted stables and it was just a bare room, a brick room with a stone floor. The door didn’t fit right down to the bottom and there was just a bed in it. I had to leave this woman and her child there. It was awful, I mean even for then it was very backward. It was freezing cold. I felt so sorry for them, but that was the kind of thing that happened. Our cells were like that as well. They must have been outside because the snow used to come under the door of the cells as well at the police station. It was like going back to the Middle Ages really.

We had a ladies’ life-saving team when I was at Dereham and I was in that. We used to do competitions. We did a thing on the beach at Yarmouth. We used to have to march on the beach with all of this equipment. It was the Bank Holiday Monday in August and it was bitterly cold. The waves were so high we couldn’t go out as far as we should have done. It was really really cold and we didn’t win.

From Dereham to Yarmouth: ‘I had a lot of fun there’

Then from Dereham I went to Great Yarmouth, in 1972. Totally different place. We had proper radios there. It was nice at Yarmouth. It was a nice policewomen’s department and I had a lot of fun there. I was in the lifeguards when I was at Yarmouth, although I never had to save a life. If I was off duty then I would go down to the beach with the others and we would patrol the beach and have a little boat we used to go out on, very nice.

Busy summers….

There were a lot of night clubs at Yarmouth. Very busy in the summertime, incredibly busy. Policewomen used to be on call because we didn’t work 24 hours a day. Ordinarily we would finish either 11 o’clock or 12 o’clock at night, 11 o’clock during the week, 12 o’clock at the weekends. Bank holidays we used to finish two in the morning. So if you finished late you were on call until the first one came on in the morning.

In the summertime, the population increased by fourfold. You had certain weeks. You had Scottish week, Birmingham or Scottish fortnight, Birmingham fortnight, Leicester fortnight, different times. Scottish fortnight was always the worst. They used to get hellishly drunk and cause no end of trouble so there were always fights. Our policewoman sergeant always told us never to go on the front on bank holidays, but of course we always did because that was where all the fun was, all the excitement was. I went there just as the mods and rockers finished. Between the police and the magistrates they put an end to that. They used to have a blockade and stop them coming in. Couldn’t do that now, wouldn’t be allowed but they used to stop them. If they caused any trouble the magistrates would just send them down, so that they nipped that in the bud pretty, pretty quick. But that wouldn’t happen now.

You always got called out in the summertime, sometimes twice a night, missing girls. People, teenagers would go to Yarmouth with their parents and they would meet up with the fairground boys. Then they would decide they didn’t want to go home so they would run away. We were always collecting girls from the fairground. They would scream and shout and fight and generally make an exhibition of themselves on the front.

….and quiet winters

We needed a rest in the wintertime because we were so incredibly busy in the summertime. It was incredibly quiet in the wintertime, very quiet. We used to have a rest in the wintertime on Sundays. We used to go in the toilet and do our knitting, if there wasn’t anything to do obviously. It was generally enough to tick over. It was quiet in the wintertime because most of the places were closed up. I mean there was nothing along the front really, a couple of restaurants open, the fairgrounds were closed, nobody came in the wintertime and so it was quiet.

Working the beat at Norwich

I was at Yarmouth 1972-1976 and then I came to Norwich. Norwich is my home, and the policewomen’s department was going to be integrated, in February 1976, and that was kind of why I put in to come to Norwich.

When I first came to Norwich you were given a certain foot beat. If you were on a foot beat you were perhaps given one side of the street. You weren’t allowed on the other side. Of course you would always sort of arrange to meet up with somebody on a different beat. Then you got a radio call, ‘Where are you?’ and you had to pretend you were somewhere else. Then you would run like hell to get back to where you should be! I mean that is always much more fun than not having any rules to break, although it was a bit irritating at times.

Problems patrolling in a panda

I remember one night. Again it was snowy and icy. I was in a panda with another PC and we were patrolling. We were off duty at ten o’clock and about nine o’clock we had a call, ‘Officer needs assistance on Mousehold Heath.’ It didn’t say ‘urgent assistance’, just ‘needed assistance’. So we came down Mousehold.

The roads were quite clear and we could see his blue light flashing in the woods. We turned off and there was a sort of track that we went down and it was nothing but an ice rink. It was sheer ice. We just hit this ice and the panda went round and round. The driver just took his feet off the pedals, his hands off the steering wheel. We couldn’t do anything, We were just spinning round and round towards this car which was obviously what he had done. We literally stopped within a foot of this car!

We got out and we said, ‘What’s the matter?’ He had done exactly the same and he had stopped about six inches from the edge of about a ten-foot drop! So we all looked at it.

‘Who’s going to get in then?’

‘No, I’m not going to get in.’

Of course we had to get this car back again. We got an hour’s overtime out of that. But that was really funny. I started singing the Skaters Waltz as we went round and round!

Shoplifters, drunks and the courts

I suppose our biggest thing really in Norwich was shoplifting, dealing with shoplifters. It was so much easier to deal with them then than it is now. It takes so long to get anyone at court. Then, if you arrested a shoplifter before ten o’clock in the morning or before half past nine in the morning, you could get all the paperwork done. You could have them at court on the same day and they would be dealt with because if they were holiday-makers they would be going back home. They wouldn’t want to have to come back again. So you just rushed through and you could get the whole place ready for that day. Now it takes about three months to get anybody at court and the same with drunks. You knew you could get a drunk and you could get them to appear at court the next morning and dealt with. It was so easy.

Amalgamation of the three Norfolk forces, and the formation of the Norfolk Constabulary

I joined Norfolk Constabulary. While I was at training school we became Norfolk Joint Police. All the forces, Great Yarmouth, Norwich City and the County all amalgamated as from the 1st January 1968, so they then became one force. The name eventually changed because Norfolk Joint Police was absolutely dreadful! They eventually changed it to Norfolk Constabulary. But the three forces were very separate.

Norfolk Constabulary didn’t have any money, Norwich and Yarmouth had a bit more money than Norfolk Constabulary. They were smaller forces, they covered a very small area. Yarmouth literally covered just Yarmouth and Norwich covered just Norwich within the ring road.

If you ever had to go to Norwich for anything nobody spoke to you because Norwich always considered themselves above the county as did Yarmouth. So it was very difficult if you had to have working relations with them. It gradually changed because people came and they joined Norfolk Constabulary so that gradually broke down the barriers.

But I mean I’m a member now of Norwich City pension offices and because I didn’t join Norwich City I have to be an honorary member and I had to be voted in. I had spent 19 years in Norwich but I’m still not Norwich City. So it still goes on even now.

Treatment of female police officers, and integration within the force

When I was a junior woman constable I didn’t feel we were always treated very well. We joined a separate department which was called the policewomen’s department. It was entirely different. I mean it was obviously stationed in the same place and we still had the same powers as the men but we dealt with women and children, sexual offences. The men did eight hours a day and we did seven and a half. They got three-quarters of an hour for their meal break and we got an hour but we only got nine-tenths of their pay. We integrated eventually in February 1976. And then we became equal and we did just exactly the same as the men.

When I first joined the police force there were 26 women in the policewomen’s department. That included the sergeants and the inspector. I don’t know if there were any more than that when we integrated. There was always a sergeant at every division. We had an inspector and a chief inspector who come out periodically to make sure everything was going okay.

That meant that there were only two girls on each shift. If one was on leave there was only one. So if anything happened and a policewomen was needed you were taken off your beat or whatever you were doing, so we were never given a proper beat. We always had to be sort of floating about doing something. We always would be filling in for somebody so you never got a proper beat. The men got a proper panda and they got their proper beat and they had it for month after month after month, whereas we didn’t get it for two days running. We were always filling when somebody else was off because they needed us still for policewomen’s work. I would think for the first four or five years it was an absolute mess really. It didn’t work very well.

‘Cast off like old boots’

So when we integrated, the policewomen’s department was no more. ‘Cast off like old boots’, that is what everybody said. It had taken us years. I think we had just celebrated our 50th anniversary of a policewomen’s department and then we were cast off like old boots and no longer required.

So we were integrated, and we were the same as the men. I came to Norwich. And then we had to go on the beat like everybody else. It was totally different from us.

The same as the men, and different

It was very difficult to start with, very difficult. We hadn’t had the same training as the men. We didn’t get any extra training. We didn’t deal with road traffic offences and things on the street, sticking tickets on cars and things like that. Anything involving women we were always involved, any crimes they committed they were ours and the men left us alone.

What we did was much more interesting. If they had a female murderer in we were always there. There was always a female policewoman had to be present at the interview and we looked after them when they were locked up. We went to Holloway to pick them up, took them back again. We dealt with all the sexual offences, much more interesting than traffic.

Dealing with sexual offences

They came across great problems when sexual offences were committed. At one point they didn’t have the women to deal with them. They tried doing it with the men taking statements. The men hadn’t been trained to take statements. We lost a lot of cases initially because they didn’t take the statements properly. They didn’t get the full details of the offence that happened, the touchings and so on, because they didn’t like to ask. You can imagine that men didn’t want to ask women about all the intricacies of their sexual goings-on. I mean it’s bad enough for a woman to ask when a woman has been raped, it’s hard. To have men doing it was really not the right thing.

When we saw these problems, we couldn’t speak very openly about them. We just sort of mumbled and said, ‘Told you so.’ It didn’t make any difference because it was a national thing. It wasn’t Norfolk, it was happening throughout the whole of the country. There were big problems.

They did a TV programme, Police, about Thames Valley police. They followed them about. They had a rape victim come in there and they televised it. The men were doing the interviews and it was awful, it was farcical. The men for a start were showing off in front of the cameras and it was just absolutely awful.

A department for child abuse

I think from then on they realised that things had to change. They decided that they would have to have women to do this. They got us a sort of mini-policewomen’s department at Norwich. They just had four of us, one covering each shift. Again it didn’t work very well because there wasn’t enough of us to do the job properly. It was very difficult because we were then working 24 hours a day. There weren’t many women, and they still used us for other things as well.

Then that all disappeared and they got a department for child abuse. I can’t remember what it was called. It was like Child Abuse and Sexual Offences. They all sort of came in one and they trained up people to do it so it was done properly. The men did the training, but they still had women for taking statements from women that had been assaulted.

The growth of specialist departments

They had so many different departments for different things. When I first joined if you were on the beat you dealt with everything. Everything that you came across you dealt with to the end. Then it gradually changed so it became different departments. I think first of all it was the drug squad. You always called the drug squad in. That would have been the first thing that somebody else dealt with, so that eventually you never dealt with drugs. Then you lose the knowledge. You only have certain people that have the knowledge to deal with it. The same with the sexual offences. You had a squad to deal with that.

When I was at Norwich, I and another colleague started a shoplifting squad so, again, nobody else would touch shoplifters. We dealt with everything. We would perhaps have 11 cases at court a week. We would deal with three to four shoplifters a day. It was really really busy but nobody else would touch them because we had a squad for it.

Then you got community relations department and there were certain things that they dealt with. I think there was always a fraud squad, but that became bigger. Everything, all the departments became bigger. Then you got stolen vehicles squad, stealing bicycles squad, and all these different squads. They dealt with things, and so the person on the beat gradually lost the knowledge of things.

To a certain extent that was a bit sad but I think as things get busier and things get worse you have to have them. I just think it’s a shame but things changed enormously, great changes.

‘Tremendous changes’

There were tremendous changes in the time that I joined and the time that I left. Incredible changes. We changed first of all from only having a couple of cars and no radios to everybody had a personal radio, you couldn’t go out without a radio. And cars everywhere, a few officers walking beats but mostly it was cars. And a Crown Prosecution Department which we didn’t used to have. The police prosecuted their own offences. You had a sergeant and an inspector in charge of the prosecutions department and we did our own prosecutions. In London, in the Met, PCs did their own prosecutions but then we got a Crown Prosecution Department and it seems to have got harder and harder to get things done.

The impact of change on personal and professional lives

Because you work shifts and because of the nature of the job you tend to mix with police officers. I mean, the friends that I had before I joined the police force I kept, but I’m not sure I made any new friends outside of the job. It’s not quite the same now, but it was very much a family. You socialised with your own shift because of the hours that you worked. When you were day off, they were day off, while other people that you knew were working, so your social life revolved around your shift pattern and the people that you worked with. Doesn’t happen now.

When I was at Bethel Street everyone paraded on at Bethel Street so you knew everybody. They don’t now, they parade on at the satellite stations around the city, like Earlham, Tuckswood, Thorpe, Sprowston, Thorpe Marriott. Ketts Hill has gone. So they’re all in separate places so they don’t mix with the other police officers which is not good.

When we were all at Bethel Street you talked about things, you talked about what you’re dealing with, you’d talk about what’s happening and who’s doing what, criminals I mean. Everybody knows what is going on and you know where everybody is, where they should be, who saw so-and-so. You can marry it up with perhaps something that has happened. ‘Oh, you saw him there, did you? Oh well, that’s funny because there was a job just done around the corner.’

You could marry things up much easier than I think can happen now because they don’t mix together like we used to.

Women officers: special treatment?

When I first joined up until integration really, if a woman got married she still stayed in the job but as soon as she had children she left. Then with integration that didn’t happen and women, when they got married and they had children, they stayed in the job. That made it very difficult, because for a start when they were pregnant they had to be given an office job.

Certainly when the women got office jobs when they were pregnant there was resentment from my male colleagues. Also when they were allowed leeway when the kids were ill or when something happened. They always got the time off. When they wanted their annual leave they could always have it, you know, in school holidays. And there was resentment, of course, from us who didn’t have children and who weren’t married because we had to fill the gaps in.

I remember once at Norwich there were five women all pregnant at the same time. That was five officers you got that are not operational. That caused a little bit of a problem really. It is much much different now, I know. My grandson is at the school where a serving police officer’s child is, they’re the same age. I speak to her sometimes. She only works part time and there is only certain hours that she can work. When she has to pick the child up she has to finish work. That didn’t happen with us. If we had a job, if your shift ended, tough, you just carried on. You had to finish what you were doing but they don’t do that now.

The way that we had it wasn’t easy, but it was better for the job and better for the general public. If you’re dealing with somebody it is much better that you continue dealing with them. You know what happened right from the beginning rather than handing it on to somebody else who doesn’t know the whole story, only what you quickly tell them before you go off duty. I certainly think it’s better when everybody is together because of the gossip, because you know what is going on everywhere.

‘You try to be nice to people….and you just get hardened because things go wrong’

I joined the police, very foolishly I thought I would be able to help people. I thought it was for the good of the community. It is in a way but it becomes different when you join. Your whole attitude changes because you deal with such awful things. Your mind changes and you tend to think that everybody is crooked or nasty so you get hardened. You just change your whole attitude. You don’t realise that it happens. It comes very gradually as with the learning curve. You do things, you try and be helpful and things backfire on you.

I got quite friendly with a girl who was always in trouble. She was the subject of incest when she was very young. When she was 15 social services decided they would take her into care. A little bit late, she had been abused since she was 11 and she was at work at 15. We had to go and pick her up from her work place. I had several dealings with her so I knew her. When we went to pick her up she went absolutely berserk. She tried to strangle me. She put her hand around my throat but she stood leaning towards me so I wasn’t able to reach her and she was pulling my tie tighter and tighter, but she apologised afterwards. It was the shock. It should never, it should never have happened like that.

I got quite friendly with her because she was put into Bramerton, it was a remand centre. I used to go and visit her. She eventually was murdered when she was about 18. Went out with a man and he murdered her. London, she went to London to live. So she had a very very sad life. You just learn from things and you just get hardened because things go wrong. You try to be nice to people and they just kick you in the teeth and so you get hardened. You see all the young people coming into the job and you think, ‘Crumbs, that’s how I used to be, she’ll learn, he’ll learn.’ And of course they do.

Leaving the force, and final thoughts: ‘we had a lot of laughs there’

Your colleagues became your friends. I still got a lot of friends that I worked with. But once you’ve left, you’ve left. You know you’re not involved anymore, you’re not part of the game; you’ve fallen off the board. It’s incredibly difficult to adjust to, I found. I mean I wasn’t married, I married the year before I left, so it was my life, as with most of the policewomen.

When I was younger we worked very hard, things were very strict, much stricter then than they are now. You always get more fun by trying to break the rules, don’t you? There don’t seem to be any rules to break now. It was a happy time. We had a lot of laughs there.

One last story: ‘I did get told off, but I didn’t get the sack!’

When I was at Kings Lynn, we used to have to do duty at, it wasn’t crown court, it was assizes and quarter sessions, which is the equivalent of crown court with the judge and everything. There was a recorder on that day. I was sitting there just minding my own business. The recorder was sitting up there and he nodded off. Behind him there was a ceremonial sword and I mean it was huge. The person sitting beside him asked for a glass of water. They used to have an usher. The usher came past and he knocked the sword over and of course it just missed the recorder. It just came swishing down. He was nodding off and of course he woke up. I couldn’t stop laughing it was just so funny!

I laughed and laughed and he sent me out of court. I thought I was going to get the sack, but it was the funniest thing I had ever seen. It just came swishing down and just missed his ear by a centimetre. He was not amused and I was highly amused because I have a bit of a loud laugh! I just couldn’t stop it was so funny. I got sent out and I thought I was going to get the sack. I did get told off, I did get told off, but I didn’t get the sack!

Wendy talking to WISEArchive in Norwich on 4th March 2009.

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