P.C. 77 Goronwy Evans G.M. – Portsmouth City Police 1936 – 1968
Goronwy Wynne Evans, the son of a Welsh miner, was born on the 7th May 1918 in the village of Oakdale, 13 miles from Newport in Gwent. His early years were spent in Oakdale with his parents and sister. When he was eleven years old the family moved to the village of Llanellen near Abergavenny on the eastern end of the picturesque Brecon Beacons. The new family home was obviously conducive to hard work and study as the young Goronwy successfully sat the 11 plus examination, earning himself a place in the nearby King Henry VIII Grammar School at Abergavenny.
Upon completion of his education in the mid 1930’s he found himself in the unenviable position of deciding on a career in the most serious economic recession the country had ever experienced. It was to be a chance meeting with Tommy Davies the then legendary Chief Constable of the Portsmouth City Police that was to set the course for the rest of his life. Tommy Davies would spend his holidays on a farm near Abergavenny. The young Goronwy, on a visit to a friend who worked on the farm, happened to meet him. Unsure about a future career, Tommy Davies suggested joining the Portsmouth Police.
In the 1930’s the minimum age limit for joining was 20 years, however, those who were too young for appointment as constables could join as boy firemen (as the fire brigade in Portsmouth was manned and run by the police up until 1941) or boy clerks, the forerunners of police cadets. Goronwy decided to apply for a position as a boy fireman. Having submitted his application form he was given a date to visit Portsmouth for an interview and assessment. Travelling to Portsmouth by train he duly arrived on the nominated day. The recruiting procedure involved a written examination, an interview with P.S. Palfrey who dealt with administration and a medical conducted by Dr. Hodges, the police surgeon. All went well apart from the medical, which he failed because the doctor felt he needed an operation on his nose and needed his perfectly healthy tonsils removed! The doctor’s request complied with, he was accepted a short time later.
In late 1936, 17 year old Goronwy Evans arrived in Portsmouth to commence his career with the police. He was given quarters in the single men’s accommodation along with the other boy firemen and P.C.s. The accommodation for 10 was comfortable and certainly convenient for work, being located above the fire station in Park Road.
His duties were varied and training was carried out as he went along. Watch Room duty would consist of manning the office at the fire station, receiving the calls from the public and turning out appliances. The mornings would see Goronwy and his colleagues carrying out fire training drills, followed by many laborious hours cleaning the equipment and appliances.
Regular calls he found himself attending were the chimney fires. Appliances were not sent to these, but a police fireman and Goronwy or fellow boy fireman would attend in the “chimney fire” van. This procedure was also followed when the Police were involved in cases where dead bodies had to be removed to the City Mortuary. A “Shell” was collected from the mortuary which was near the Fire Station, and the body removed to the mortuary where it had to be undressed ready for the mortician. Stress was “unknown” in those days and the only “counselling” came from comments made by the Police Fireman with you, which left a lot to be desired.
Some tasks undertaken by the police before the war seem strange today. One of the responsibilities was the maintenance of the traffic lights. If work needed to be done then the P.C. who was the force electrician would carry out the work assisted by one of the young trainee firemen. These first 18 months passed by quickly for Goronwy as he approached the ripe old age of 20, and the transition from fireman to policeman.
On 21st June 1938, two weeks after his 20th birthday, Goronwy was appointed as Police Constable 77. The procedure for the boy firemen and clerks was a simple sideways move with no requirement to re-apply and no additional selection process. The newly appointed P.C. Evans was sworn in by a J.P. in the Chief Constable’s Office in the Guildhall.
His initial training, which was all carried out in-force, included lectures on the law, mainly based upon the old policeman’s bible ‘Moriarty’s”. He successfully passed the weekly exams, failure in which would have resulted in his dismissal. In addition to the classroom work, all officers had to be trained in first aid, taught to swim to RLSS standards for life saving and under went physical training in the gym.
His first station was Southsea “C’ Division, where he started work after his initial training. His introduction to police work at station level consisted of a senior P.C. taking him out on the beat for one set of night duties. He was then told that he was on his own. Southsea was regarded as a decent part of the city to work in, by comparison to ‘A” Division Central. Many, if not most of the large Victorian and Edwardian family homes were occupied by affluent people, many being retired military and naval officers.
P.C. Evans set about learning his “craft” working early duties 6.00 am to 2.00 pm, late duties 2.00 pm to 10.00 pm and night duties 10.00 pm to 6.00 am. Although the duty would start “on the hour” in reality he would start work half an hour earlier taking details of wanted persons and stolen vehicles for inclusion in their descriptive books.
This had to be done before parading at quarter to the hour. Parade was a formal affair with officers standing to attention and producing appointments for inspection by the sergeant. Goronwy recalls having to produce his truncheon which was held horizontally with the handcuffs hung over it. Pocket books and descriptive books would also be produced for inspection.
Officers would be out on their beats on the hour and not allowed back into the station unless it was for a specific reason, until their relief from the next shift left the station. When he was out on the beat as well as normal police duties, responsibilities would also include reporting damaged paving stones, street lights out of order, visiting unoccupied houses and checking the shop doors for insecurities. Normally he would meet up with his sergeant at a conference point once before meal break and once after. Discipline was strict but he enjoyed his work.
As Goronwy Evans settled into his probation events in Europe were rapidly deteriorating, the Munich Agreement of September which was intended to pacify Adolf Hitler, was already drawing criticism at home. As more and more people saw that conflict was inevitable the police were preparing for war. Goronwy along with his colleagues were being instructed by the A.R.P. (Air Raid Precaution) Service on what would happen during an air raid and how to deal with it. He was taught how to use a gas mask, and sent into smoke filled rooms to simulate a gas attack.
As he completed the first year of his probation war was rapidly approaching, in July 1939 the police were involved in the rehearsal for the evacuation of children from the city. Air raid drills took place to allow the citizens of Portsmouth to familiarise themselves with what to do in the event of an attack. On the 28th August, six days before war was declared, Goronwy started a one month training attachment to C.I.D.
Within three days the first signs of the government’s emergency war measures manifested themselves with the evacuation of the children for real and the start of the blackout. Returning to uniform duties in September Goronwy found himself working 12 hour shifts, with the traditional helmet having given way to blue steel helmets.
However, as the initial period of concern and apprehension passed, the public began to slip into a mood of apathy towards the threat of air raids as the period of the ‘Phoney War’ progressed. Gradually the shifts reduced from 12 to 10 hours and then back to the normal 8 hour tours by November.
By Christmas, the steel helmets had been replaced by the traditional police helmet again. The general public’s mood of complacency was reinforced when the air raid alerts starting on the 20th October proved time and time again to be false alarms. As 1939 passed and the New Year started a major Civil Defence exercise was planned for the February, come the day it received little support from the public.
The German invasions of Denmark and Norway in April 1940, followed by the invasion of France in May and the evacuation from Dunkirk in June prompted a dramatic change in attitude, within two months apathy had turned to fear. The middle of June saw the start of frequent air raid warnings in the city as German aircraft flew mine laying missions near the Isle of Wight.
When the sirens sounded during late afternoon on Thursday July 11th, however, things would be different, as the German’s focus of attention would be Portsmouth. This, the first raid on the city resulted in minor damage to the dockyard but extensive damage in the North End area. One of the nineteen killed being the first Police casualty, P.C. Stan Spooner.
This raid was to set the tone for the period 1940-41 with regular raids on the city ranging from two or three fighters strafing barrage balloons to large scale bombing raids. During one hit and run attack against barrage balloons a young boy received a minor head injury from a spent aircraft machine gun cartridge.
Goronwy and the police ambulance driver, P.C. Sid Boyland found themselves in the local newspaper when a photographer took a “snap shot” of them, after giving first aid.
As well as dealing with the numerous incidents resulting from the raids, day to day police duties still had to be performed in a city the population of which was being swelled by the arrival of thousands of service personnel.
With the start of the raids all officers were required to report back to their station when off-duty whenever the sirens sounded. This soon proved to be an inefficient system as officers got little or no rest between shifts. Goronwy recalls 2 or 3 alerts between shifts on some days. In order to overcome this problem a system was developed whereby officers returned to their station if the sirens sounded during the 8 hours after their last duty. If an attack actually occurred then everyone off-duty would have to report to their station. There was concern that a direct hit on the single officers quarters could result in serious casualties and affect the efficiency of the force.
It was therefore decided that Goronwy and other single officers should be dispersed to billets in homes around the city, so, shortly after the start of the blitz, he moved out of the Section House behind Fratton Police Station and into 38, Dover Road at Copnor.
Goronwy soon settled into the new routine as summer turned to autumn and autumn gave way to winter. The regular raids by the Luftwaffe making death and destruction an all too familiar experience to the policeman on the beat, by the end of 1940 the city had been subjected to thirty air raids including a major raid on the 24th of August. The New Year was to prove no different with the night of Friday the 10th of January seeing the most frightening and destructive raid of the war.
Over 170 people were to lose their lives that night and a further 400 were wounded. The material damage was on an equally appalling scale with the main shopping centres of Palmerston Road and Commercial Road in ruins, many famous city landmarks including the fine Guildhall reduced to rubble. Undaunted the people of Portsmouth battled on, their morale boosted by a visit from the King and Queen on February the 6th. All through February and into early March regular attacks occurred.
Then on the 8th of March a series of raids commenced, aimed at certain battleships in port at the time. As Goronwy reported for the late shift on Monday 10th of March little did he realise what a meeting with destiny he would have. Goronwy was working the Palmerston Road beat during the evening when the sirens sounded.
The first bombs began falling at about 8.00 pm with enemy aircraft passing over the city in an almost constant procession until 3.00 am in the morning. The fires started by the first aircraft guided in the later waves who dropped thousands of incendiaries onto the burning city. Some 250 high explosive bombs added to the death and destruction. Intermingled with the sound of the German aircraft and the bombs, the constant thumping of the anti-aircraft guns could be heard.
At about 10.30 pm to 11.00 pm Goronwy returned to Southsea Police Station in the hope of having a brief rest and something to eat. No sooner had he walked in than the duty Inspector sent him back out again with P.S. Jack Warburton to investigate an incident not far away in Elm Grove at the junction with St. Andrews Road. On reaching the incident they found two wardens at the scene.
A bomb had landed behind a large house on the north side of Elm Grove a few yards west of the junction with St. Andrews Road. The bomb had demolished the rear of the house, but left the front fairly intact. A fire had taken a firm hold inside the remains of the house and was in danger of spreading to the adjacent nursing home which was still occupied by its residents. The wardens informed P.S. Warburton that no one was believed to be in the house. Bystanders formed a human chain with buckets but no one wished to enter the building to fight the fire so Goronwy volunteered.
Armed only with a stirrup pump he clambered in through the front window and found himself between the ground floor and collapsed roof. The effects of the coal gas and smoke overpowered him on two occasions. Both times, after being dragged out of the building and being treated by the nurses from the nursing home, he immediately returned and continued to tackle the blaze despite falling debris in the building and bombs falling in the vicinity. After extinguishing the fire, he returned to the police station for a well earned break, leaving the residents of the nursing home safe and well.
As dawn broke over the beleaguered city the full extent of the devastation could be seen, 117 people had been killed, 180 severely wounded and 83 slightly injured. More than 1,400 people had been rendered homeless. The main brunt of the attack had been on the southern part of the city. Power supplies had been cut early in the raid and serious damage to the water mains had allowed fires to rage unchecked.
Nearly 1,300 Auxiliary Fire Service personnel had to be drafted into the city to help with the fires and for only the second time during the war additional medical and first aid personnel were drafted in to cope. Police reinforcements under the ‘Regional Scheme” were called in to assist Goronwy and his colleagues.
Such was the strain on the police resources during the night, that the Chief Constable, Mr West, asked the military for personnel for traffic control the following morning.
The material damage to the city was severe with many premises especially in Queen Street damaged or destroyed. The Royal Sailor’s Home Club, Keppel’s Head Hotel, two churches and the Synagogue were just five premises laying in ruins, Damage was also caused to a school, hotel, timber yard, factories, cinemas, a First Aid Post and the Queen Alexandra Hospital.
Transport services were disrupted with damage to the railway and the trolley bus network, serious damage to gas, electricity and water supplies compounded problems. The official Air Ministry and Ministry of Home Security communiqué described the raid in direct and brief terms “Enemy activity over this country during the night was largely concentrated on the South of England, where a coastal district was the main target the attack began soon after dark and continued for about six hours.
When Goronwy Evans finished his tour of duty that night he returned home thinking no more of the incident other than the fact that he had done his duty and responded to the crisis along with many others that terrible night. Others however, thought differently.
Three months later and with the events of the 10 th March 1941 firmly in the past, Goronwy cycled into work for a late turn shift following a game of tennis in the morning. As he walked into the station he was the object of a few unusual looks and greeted by a P.C. with ‘Well done Taff. Puzzled by the looks and congratulations he was then surprised to be told that he had been awarded the George Medal for gallantry.
Still rather bemused, he was congratulated by his sergeant and inspector, who went on to tell him that the Chief Constable wished to see him in his office at 4.00 pm. In fact he never saw the Chief Constable, arriving at his office promptly for 1600 hours, he was spoken to by the Assistant Chief Constable who told him that the award was not for him but for the Portsmouth City Police!
To this day Goronwy Evans does not know what happened to the official notification of the award. His own theory is that it was sent to the wrong address, perhaps 38 Dover Road and not 38 Devon Road where he was living.
The Portsmouth Evening News carried a photograph of Goronwy and published the full London Gazette details in stories on the 7th and 9th June, ensuring that the people of Portsmouth were rightly informed of his courageous act. His name and the full London Gazette entry was also published in the June 13th issue of ‘Police Review’. P.C. 77 Goronwy Evans G.M. duly received his notification to attend Buckingham Palace for the official investiture.
Attending with his proud parents he recalls that there were about 100 service personnel, policemen and firemen present in the Investiture Room, with a band in the corner playing background music. When his name was called he walked forward up onto the podium and took two steps forward towards His Majesty King George VI., who, taking the medal from an equerry, pinned it on Goronwy’s chest.
Overawed with pride and honour, he cannot remember what the King said to him, but took two steps hack, turned smartly to the right and walked off the podium, where an aide, took the medal from him, placed it in a case, and handed it back.
The official London Gazette entry for the 6th June 1941 states:
“A house was badly damaged and set on fire by a high explosive bomb. At considerable risk to himself, Evans crawled with a stirrup pump between the collapsed roof and ground floor and fought the fire from there. There was danger of the heavy masonry falling, and on two occasions, Evans was overcome by coal gas fumes and smoke. With some difficulty he was brought out but, when sufficiently recovered, took up his position again and continued to fight the flames.
P.C. Evans displayed outstanding bravery arid perseverance and his action definitely prevented the flames from spreading to an adjoining nursing home.”
After nearly four years of hectic and intense service at Southsea, learning his skills as a policeman and surviving the blitz, he transferred to Cosham, ‘D’ Division, on the 12th January 1942. Although his service at Cosham was to be short lived, he received a Commendation from the justices on 26th September 1942 for his handling of the Charles Ronald Fox case. His service at Cosham came to an end fifteen months after arriving there when government restrictions on policemen joining the services were lifted. P.C. 77 Evans became Private Evans.
Goronwy was initially posted to 8 Primary Training Centre at Beverley in Yorkshire on the 18th April. One of the things he remembers distinctly is being able to have a good nights sleep not interrupted by air raid alerts. Having completed his initial training in Beverley he was transferred to the Royal Armoured Corp at Farnborough in Hampshire where he qualified as a gunnery instructor before moving on again to Bovington in Dorset as an instructor. It was whilst sewing with the Royal Armoured Corps., that he returned home to Portsmouth to marry Maid De-La-Mare in July 1944, a happy marriage that was to last 50 years. In March 1945 he was posted overseas to Belgium, remaining there until the end of the war in Europe. June 1945 saw him leaving the Royal Armoured Corps. and transferring to the Royal Military Police.
His first overseas posting with the Military Police was to Ismailia in Egypt and then onto Palestine where trouble was widespread between Jews, Arabs and the British authorities. It was whilst in Haifa that he received notice of his discharge from the army in early 1946. He left Palestine in January 1946 and was relegated to the Army Reserve on the 16th February 1946 with the rank of Acting Sergeant.
Two days later on 18th February he donned his old familiar uniform and returned to police duty at Southsea, ‘C’ Division. 1946 was a happy year for Goronwy and his wife, for not only did he return home safe and well, but they were to be blessed with a baby daughter in October, making the family complete.
P.C. 77 Evans was soon back into the familiar routine of the beat constable, working the early, late and night shifts. On one such night duty in January 1947 he was patrolling Albert Road near to the junction with Festing Road when he noticed a figure in the shadows of the Weston Hart music store.
The figure was a Sidney Herbert Cook who was in the process of burgling the store. Goronwy Evans wasted no time in arresting Cook whom he escorted back to the police station. (With no radios in the 1940’s prisoners had to be walked back to the police station, and any items of property would have to be left at the scene and collected later). As they approached the Kings Theatre, Cook made a sudden dash for freedom, running from Albert Road into Exmouth Road where his short period of freedom was abruptly brought to a halt by Goronwy bearing down on him.
As he restrained and subdued Cook, the bedroom window of a nearby house opened and an off-duty Special Sergeant woken by the rumpus called out, ‘What’s going on? Oh, its you Taff. Do you want any help?’ To which Goronwy replied ‘No’ as his captive was now well subdued and going no where other than to Southsea Police Station. Cook’s arrest earned Goronwy his second Commendation from the Watch Committee.
Early 1947 saw him on a short attachment to the Traffic Department. based at H.Q. which was then located at “Byculla House’ in Queen’s Crescent. The rest of 1947 and 1 948 was to see him alternating between Southsea and the Traffic Department until November 1948 when he attended the Advanced Driving Course at Preston in Lancashire. This was a four week course which he successfully completed in December receiving a Grade I pass.
On his return he joined the Traffic Department where he was to remain until August 1949 when “internal politics” resulted in him returning to C” Division where he worked at Southsea and its sub-station Eastney over the next few years.
Outside of work Goronwy pursued his great interest in rugby, playing for the Portsmouth City Police Team for many years and captaining the team during his time at Southsea. As well as the police team he also played for the fledgling Havant Rugby Club, then starting up with only a rough pitch and old wooden club house to its name. The strength of character and self-confidence that the hard knocks of the rugby field instilled in him, equipped Goronwy well to cope with conflict within the police, even if it was a disagreement with the Assistant Chief Constable.
The dispute with the A.C.C. started when Goronwy was assigned to point duty in the High Street at Old Portsmouth. A service was being held at the cathedral, attended by numerous local dignitaries. Goronwy was told not to allow any vehicles past his point, so when the Assistant Chief Constable’s car approached he indicated to it to divert.
The driver however, just drove straight past ignoring his signal. No doubt his annoyance showed on his face and he was summoned to the A.C.C.’s office. The Assistant Chief Constable’s initial criticism was countered when Goronwy explained his instructions. Not happy with this he then criticised Goronwy for being improperly dressed, by not having his George Medal ribbon on his tunic. This was again countered by the reply that the Force had not had the courtesy to sew it on his uniform. He was then ordered to report to the tailor who was instructed to sew it on!
His last three and a half years at “C’ Division were some of the most enjoyable of his service. He was assigned to cycle duties and was responsible for patrolling all of Southsea and Eastney, without being confined to a specific beat he had more freedom. One of his main priorities as a cycle beat man was to check all the unoccupied houses on the Division during each tour of duty, quite a sizeable task. The 1st November 1954 saw him leaving Southsea for the final time.
He swapped the pleasant residential areas of Southsea for the rougher, more rugged areas of “A” Division Central, incorporating areas like Portsea, with the notorious Queen Street.
Shortly after arriving at “A” Division he joined other Portsmouth City officers drafted to London for the 1955 railway strike. He served with a detachment under the charge of a famous Portsmouth City character called Jonah Williams. The detachment was accommodated in the Chelsea Section House. Goronwy recalls two particular incidents clearly. On one occasion P.S. Jonah Williams formed the men up in single file and marched them smartly out of the section house, following on behind the detachment.
Their Metropolitan Police colleagues stood by quite surprised at the sight of a tradition, which had not been seen In London for many years. Whilst stationed in London the Portsmouth officer continued to perform routine police work dealing with motoring and cycling offences, whilst assigned to strike duties. This dedication earned the praise of a senior Metropolitan Police Officer who extolled his own men to follow the excellent example of the Portsmouth officers, a suggestion which did not go down very well with his own officers.
The 5th January 1959 saw him moving on again to “B’ Division where he was stationed at Fratton and Kingston Crescent Police Stations. This completed his “tour’ of all the Divisions in the city during his service. Nineteen months after moving he was awarded the Police Long Service Medal in August 1960, in recognition of 22 years exemplary service.
His final move was to be on the 7th January 1963 when he moved to Cosham, “D” Division. Whilst stationed at Cosham he alternated between beat duties and area car duties, patrolling the northern boundaries of the city. It was during this period that police communications passed a major landmark with the introduction of the personal radio. Goronwy recalls however, that they were of limited value. If you were on patrol in Farlington you could not maintain contact with Cosham Police Station a couple of miles away!
The 10th of January 1966 saw him take up the post of Station Duty Officer at Cosham. Fifteen months after moving into the station one more event, perhaps the most significant ever, in the history of the Portsmouth City Police was to be witnessed by Goronwy, the amalgamation with Hampshire.
As midnight came on the 31st March 1967 Goronwy and his colleagues of the City Force, joined together with the men of the County Force under the new title of Hampshire Constabulary. By the summer of 1968 with 30 years service to his credit P.C. 77 Goronwy Wynne Evans G.M. finally hung his tunic and helmet upon the peg for the last time, Only just fifty years of age he took a position with the education authority as an Education Welfare Officer working in Portsmouth. It was to be a further 15 years before he retired for good in 1983.
Goronwy Evans lived in Portsmouth until his death in 2012 aged 94 years. He maintained his interest in rugby and was a keen member of the National Association of Retired Police Officers in Portsmouth, keeping up regular contact with ex-colleagues. Each year on the 11th November he remembers old colleagues and the days of the blitz when he laid a wreath of poppies during the Memorial Service at Portsmouth Guildhall to commemorate the Portsmouth policemen who died during the two World Wars.
Of his gallantry, he said with typical modesty, “I did not do anything different from all of the others” but Inspector Kelvin Shipp would disagree. He felt that Goronwy Evans displayed courage and determination of the highest order and said that it is an honour and privilege to have known him.
THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN BY INSPECTOR KELVIN SHIPP, HAMPSHIRE CONSTABULARY
Acknowledgement: Research by Kelvin Shipp