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Calum Beag (VI): Policing the Gorbals
Calum Beag (VI): Policing the Gorbals
Reminiscences by Calum Beag, Malcolm Nicolson, of Lemreway and Glasgow.
V Policing the Gorbals
Service in the Glasgow Police Force was never dull as there was always something on to keep you on your toes. As far as children were concerned, it was certainly an advantage being friendly with the local priest as he carried a lot of clout and used it effectively whenever he visited the homes of children who were getting into trouble. I was always welcome to come to the vestry to talk things over and Mary, his housekeeper, was always there with a cup of tea - or even something stronger in the cold weather.
One day, a tramcar knocked down a little boy about nine years of age and cut him to pieces as it dragged underneath. It happened opposite the priest's house and he was very annoyed when he was not told about the accident. I told him the boy was from another school and not a Protestant, but he said that his religion did not matter as he was entitled to receive the last rites of the church anyway. I think to this day that the priest was a true Christian, even though all the local people were terrified of him.
There were air raid shelters in the middle of the streets in those days and all sorts of things went on in them. The doors were about five feet high and were great for the escaping crooks. Being six feet tall and wearing a great coat and helmet certainly hampered your progress and I remember on one occasion I was in the process of capturing my eight year old football criminal. He ducked into a shelter and I forgot to - with the consequence that my helmet caught the top of the door and my chinstrap went round my neck, nearly throttling me as I landed on my back.
There were bookies in nearly every close and you could bet a dozen horses for sixpence. Of course, it was illegal and they were taken in by rotation and fined five pounds. You had to find money and betting slips on them for proof. There was one on Cumberland Street who was taken in three times and had to be let go as there was no proof on him. My mate and I were told come out in plain clothes on the Saturday to watch this fellow. We both got dressed in overalls and stood some distance away watching him. We saw at least twenty people give him money and slips, so we moved in. As I approached, I saw money wrapped in a slip come out of his trouser leg and disappear down a drain. There was no use taking him in as he would not have had anything on him - but we solved the mystery and went back to the office to report. It was obvious that there was a building under the street and we would have to obtain a warrant. We raided it the next Saturday and it was quite an elaborate set-up. A disused wash-house underneath had been rigged out - electric lights and all. The money wrapped in line landed on the table. They got quite a shock when we burst in the door. That bookie is one of the biggest concerns in Glasgow now - William King and Sons. Of course, it is all legal now, as it should have been then.
Anyone caught in a raid on premises in these days lost all the money in their possession and if they had gone in with their pay packets, they lost that as well. I remember one such occasion raiding a club in Union Street where a game called "Faro" was being played. It was a game something like Crown and Anchor where hundreds of pounds were won or lost on the throw of a dice. We went there about midnight and I was to ring the bell and ask for Mr. Abbe, a well-known Jew. I was dressed as a taxi man. The club was three stories up and an inspector, sergeant and four policemen were on the stair below me. The area where the game was being played was at the back of the club. If we did not get there in time, they would have hidden the cloth and dice and there would have been no case. We had a plan of the place so that we knew what to do. My job was to get the door open stick my foot in it and stop the doorman from reaching the warning bell.
I managed to hold him off and the rest of my mates ran in and caught them with hundreds of pounds on the table. There must have been about forty people there - all prominent businessmen or people with plenty of money. The first fellow I spotted was an Italian who owned an ice cream and tea shop on my beat and it was one of the places where I used to go for a smoke and a cup of tea. I pulled him to one side and gladly relieved him of a few hundred quid which he would have lost when searched. They were all taken in, searched and relieved of their money. At least I saved my eating place and the gratitude of the Italian community. It was a rotten law in any case and though it was never proved, there was a lot of corruption. A warrant had to be sworn out in court naming the place to be raided. Some way or other, the bookie would get to hear about it, but not when it was going to happen. Someone in the court would hear, contact the bookie and get himself a few quid. I was approached by a bookie who blatantly asked me when we were coming to raid him - and that was before I knew about it myself! If they knew when it was going to take place, it would have saved them a lot of cash as they would not have so much cash on the premises and they could warn their big clients to keep away. I can assure you that we got no pleasure out of seeing a poor workman, who was in for a five shilling bet, lose his wages.