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Calum Beag (VII): Back at Sea
Calum Beag (VII): Back at Sea
Reminiscences by Calum Beag, Malcolm Nicolson, of Lemreway and Glasgow.
VII Back at Sea
The role of a policeman in Glasgow is wide ranging in its functions and when there is no criminal activity going on, there are many other procedures to be carried out to occupy your time. During the night, for example, we had to examine business premises back and front during the night and some of the back courts were horrible. We had to walk through human filth and stagnant water. Some of the neds used to smear the padlocks with human excrement, knowing full well that we had to handle them to ascertain if they were properly secured.
On one occasion, one of our four mates, an ex-RAF pilot and quite posh, was on his rounds in the back when a newspaper full of excrement was flung out of a window and landed on his helmet. I am sure if he had found out who had done it, there would have been murder! He was not a pretty sight.
Another miserable job we had to do was take the dead bodies from the lodging houses to the mortuary. The lodging house in Brown Street had a spiral staircase and the remains had to be put in a bag and manipulated down the stairs as a box could not be used. Those poor, unfortunates - some fully dressed and probably dead for days - were a terrible sight. The smell was terrible and the fleas were in abundance. We had to go back to the office and get fumigated and deloused after some of these escapades. There were no health or sanitary inspectors on the premises in those days and thieving of an occupant's money and possessions was rife. In nine cases out of ten, there were no relations to take care of the deceased. The models were run by private individuals (rogues).
The undertakers were always on call for these cases and we got on well. During the night shift, we used to take our break in their premises and play cards. We had an Inspector who hated the sight of ex-servicemen and he was always trying to find fault with us. We believe it was jealousy because we were all sporting six and seven medal ribbons while he had none. He had been promoted to Inspector because the best of the available men were at war.
One night, while we were playing cards, we got the word that he was standing outside and that somehow he had found our watering hole. We were trapped as there was only one way out. So one of the standby undertakers solved the problem. The four of us (a solo hand) were put into the hearse with the blackened windows and driven to our respective beats. I walked back to where he was standing and he was amazed. On the other side of the street, my two colleagues sauntered down conscientiously doing their duty. You should have seen his face!
He did not smoke or drink. Once he smelled drink on my breath and reported me to the Chief Constable. I was fined ten shillings and told not to do it again. You were not supposed to drink on or off duty, but I made up for it on both counts. Another of our chaps, called Willie, was walking down Bath Street completely forgetting the cigarette that was in his mouth, as smoking in public was not allowed either. The Inspector pulled it forcibly from his mouth, cutting his mouth. As there was nobody about at three o'clock in the morning, Willie did what was natural - laid him flat on his back in the middle of Bath Street and left. Enquiries went on for a while, but as there were no witnesses, nothing came of it.
Willie was an ex-HLI boxing champ. As there was no chance of ever getting off the beat, Willie left shortly afterwards and joined the New Zealand Police. I was to meet him in New Plymouth on arriving there with the Merchant Navy. Willie was a Sergeant with good prospect of further promotion. I have no doubt that if I had applied for the New Zealand Force, I would have walked in, as Officers with experience gained in the British Police Force were welcomed with open arms.
The pay was nearly three times what it was in Britain and having served on the Glasgow Police at that time was a bonus. Although William went as far as to get me a form, I was getting really fed up. Dealing with the public, where they practically own you, is no job. With me having a report for smelling of drink on my record, I knew that my promotion prospects were limited, so I decided to resign. Of the one hundred and odds that joined with me, I do not think that half of them lasted the full 25 years. I liked the job that I was doing and I think I must have been proficient at it, as I was recommended four times by the Chief Constable. I expected to get treated better after 12 years, but you do not get anywhere if you do not abide by the rules.
All of my service, I was pining for the sea and on my days off, I often ended up in the docks with the children. There were plenty of ships about in these days. After resigning, I was soon back to sea earning twice as much money and really enjoying the ocean life - although I was missing the children and the homelife and the trips to Firhill and Ibrox. I spent most of my time between Australia, New Zealand and India. It was heaven doing the things that I was good at, though as I got older, climbing the masts, and other strenuous duties was getting harder for me. After about 12 more years "before the mast", I came ashore once again. I worked for the Clyde Trust Navigation and finished up in the Meadowbank Granary for six and a half years before I retired at the age of 65.
I have never regretted anything that I did. Perhaps if it had not been for the War, things would have been different. A master's certificate had always been my ambition but Hitler put a stop to that as he did to so many things.
I am now in retirement and surrounded by my family and my lovely grandchildren. My three sons have all got university degrees, helped and encouraged by their mother and we are both very proud of them.