Tom Wilson's Diary - Our longest serving Special Constable

Vintage image of Tom Wilson with the words 'Tom Wilson's Diary

On a recent trip to the West Yorkshire Archives we discovered the diary of Special Constable Thomas (Tom) Wilson.

Tom joined the City of Bradford Special Constabulary in May 1926, during the General Strike.

Tom served throughout the Second World War (each year of war service counted for three years as a Special) and retired in December 1966. His total recorded service, therefore, amounted to 52 years.

Upon retiring, he wrote his diary, recounting his experiences as a Special Constable.

We're telling Tom's story in hopes of encouraging more people to apply as Special Constables.

To find out more about the Special Constable role, and to apply, click here.

Follow our Facebook page over the next couple of weeks to get an insight into Tom’s life as a Special Constable.

"At the outset of this story with regard to my voluntary Service in the Old Bradford Corporation City Police of which I joined on May 2nd 1926.

"Conditions were pretty grim with regard to work. Engineer's bosses slapped on a wage cut of twelve shillings per week in 1923 to all workers in the Engineering Trades of which I was one, being a metal worker.

"We deeply resented this wage cut which I thought very harsh, but could not do anything about it, and, I feel sure, was one of the contributary causes towards the General Strike of 1926.

"Hence, if it was not for the strike' I would not be able to write this story at all."

Tom left his role as a metal worker and was unemployed for 13 weeks before he was successful in applying to be a Special Constable.

"Well, the great day has come, and with some of my pals, we went down to the Town Hall, and with some more volunteers were sworn in as Special Constables, our uniform issued out for us there and then, were a whistle, arm band, and truncheon.

"A Police Book on Special Constables and the Law was issued later.

It’s unclear what Tom did for his regular work during the initial stages of his work in the Special Constabulary. However, sometime later, he did join Eccleshill Ambulance Division.

"On the first night of the General Strike, Regular Police and Special Constables were ordered out to guard the Birkshall Gasworks.

"We stood in lines outside the main entrance awaiting a mob which was reported to be coming to do some damage to the Gasworks. Nobody came, so I went on patrol with a regular bobby.

"On the next night the same thing happened, we were standing across the road but nobody turned up and that was my share of excitement during the General Strike 1926 and ended tamely after about a week's duration.

"After the strike, I and some of my pals decided to carry on in the Training Classes and Lectures which were held in Aldermandbury Fire Station.

"During May 1926 all Special Constables had received a certificate of Thanks which stated this message:

We desire on behalf of His Majesty's Government to thank you in common with all others who came forward so readily during the Crisis and gave their services to the country in the capacity of Special Constables.

Stanley Baldwin, Prime Minister

"During my training sessions on Wednesday and Friday evenings in Aldermandbury Fire Station yard, two names stood out in my mind, Sergeant Barber, M.T. Instructor had returned from the First World War and Sergeant Scott who did the same, he was the Ceremonial Sergeant who took squads of men training them in ceremonial drill and taking them out on special occasions.

"But, to come back to Sergeant Barber, whilst he was training us he appeared a hard man, it was that he knew his job from A to Z if you made mistakes once or twice he would reprimand you but if you made a third mistake his reprimand would be his rasping voice telling you to "look alive man, don't fall asleep" and when training was finished he was the best of friends and had forgotten the incident.

"On another occasion of training it was a Friday evening and about fifty 'specials' had turned up.

"The fore doors were wide open, it was winter and sleet and rain were falling. A fair crowd was watching us just outside the doors. Well, Sergeant Barber threw the book at us.

"All the Drill movements in slow marching, quick march, all the different exercises. This went on for a full house and we were ready to drop. 

"But the worst was to come.

"Out came his last order. Hands on hips, knees bent, heels raised and keep that position until I have finished speaking please!

"Just imagine the situation of a body of men having done an hours of marching time slow and quick marching all the body exercises that the instructor could think of causing our muscles to cry out in protest, and our nerves very much on edge, and his final order of position as previous by stated. 

"He then came along the lines stopping opposite each man enquiring of each man "Do you call yourself a Special Constable?" and answering the question himself and in no uncertain words told us what he thought of us increasing the tension and pressure on our bodies.

"He had previously told us he would make men of us given the chance, we had accepted the challenge and told him to do his damndest. 

"But really, this was going over the top.

"The hair at the back of my neck bristled, I clenched my first and the penny dropped, for this was just what he wanted, to test the capacity of pressure and tension he put upon us, for if we could not take it on a class night, what good would we be if and when any of us had such a similar experience.

"In fact, I was grateful for remembering this experience during my long term of service with the 'Specials'."

We don’t have anything this rigorous to be a Special Constable nowadays, however, you do have to show a good level of fitness and pass 5.4 on a bleep test. You can find out more information about the current fitness requirements to be a Special Constable here.

“One training evening, the memory of which comes readily to mind, was a visit by Fred Blakeborough, well known local boxer of that period. I am not quite sure whether it was late 1920s or early 1930s. He was introduced to us by Sergeant Barber.

“Mr Blakeborough gave us a very interesting lecture on boxing in general, how to move back pedalling, warding off blows and going forward to try and find your opponent’s weakness.

“We then lined up in one long line wearing shorts and police vests with the letters ‘SC’ in a circle. I was next to the last man in line, and I thought by the time I stepped out to face him he might be a little tired.

“But he seemed to be as fresh as when he started, for after a couple of minutes he clipped me one on the jaw and I dutifully went down.

“It was a lovely evening’s entertainment finishing with much banter and laughter.”

 “In 1928 I decided to try and join the Regular Police Force as I had then been a Special Constable for four years.

“Thinking I had done quite a good deal of physical training and attended many lectures on police law, etc. I thought I stood a good chance.

“The time came for me to take the tests to become a PC but I failed at the first hurdle – height. I was found to be a 32nd part of an inch short by PC Coulson who reported the fact to Superintendent Turner, who said he was sorry, but hoped I would carry on as a Special Constable. 

“I was not too deeply disappointed for the Police could pick and choose the recruits they wanted in the bad old days of the 30s. If I could have played a tin whistle I might have got into the band.”

There is no height requirement to join either as a Police Officer or a Special Constable nowadays. 

“There is not a lot to record during the years 1930 to 1936.

“A picked squad of Specials had been formed about 24 of us and trained in ceremonial drill to march behind a squad of policemen on important occasions such as the nearest Sunday to Armistice Day.

“The Lord Mayor’s Church Parade the first Sunday after he had been installed as Bradford’s new Lord Mayor. Yearly Inspection in Peel Park of Regulars and Specials by an Inspection Officer from London.

“I remember one event in particular which was Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh who came to Bradford to open the Girls Grammar School in Killinghall.

“We were stationed in Manningham Park ready to be switched about to any situation at any given time.”

“It is now 1933 and we have been informed by the media and television that Adolf Hitler has been directed Chancellor of the German Reich.

“We did not readily understand or realise the implication of such an event in such a short period of time as six years. On September 3rd 1939 we were at war with Germany.

“Hitler having ignored the final warning sent to him.

“Straight away thousands of children with their mothers were evacuated from the inner cities to places in the countryside for safety from enemy air raids.

“My own two boys, one aged eleven years and the other ten months, went with their mother to a village called Burton-in-Lonsdale, a lovely place up in the Dales.”

“It is now 1933 and we have been informed by the media and television that Adolf Hitler has been directed Chancellor of the German Reich. 

“We did not readily understand or realise the implication of such an event in such a short period of time as six years. On September 3rd 1939 we were at war with Germany. 

“Hitler having ignored the final warning sent to him. 

“Straight away thousands of children with their mothers were evacuated from the inner cities to places in the countryside for safety from enemy air raids. 

“My own two boys, one aged eleven years and the other ten months, went with their mother to a village called Burton-in-Lonsdale, a lovely place up in the Dales.”

"Police work was now my priority and we Specials had been issued with uniforms, trousers, jacket (choker) type, buttoned to the next and a flat hat. 

"Also a raincoat, a pair of boots and a waterproof, to over 1300 men. They were then trained in police duties and first aid.

"In 1940, I and my partner went up to the Police Box situated in the school yard at the corner and at the junction of Leeds Road, Laisterdyke and Killinghall Road instead of in the school yard as before.

"The Sergeant in charge gave us a set of Sergeant's stripes, go back home and have them sewn on the sleeves of our tunics. 

"We were both surprised and thrilled at this promotion. We went to my home five minutes walk way, my wife sewed the stripes on, we went back to the Police Box.

"The Sergeant gave us a short talk on the responsibilities of a Sergeant and gave us a list of rendezvous points of the Specials to be visited." 

As a Special Constable, you can be promoted to a Section Officer and then a Senior Section Officer and hold more responsibilities.

“It was a summer’s evening and I had given the men their rendezvous points for visitation. 

“On reaching one of the visits I saw two Specials holding a cape around the neck of a big shire horse. 

“On enquiry they told me they had picked the horse up some time ago and not knowing exactly what to do had rung the Town Hall and asked them if they would take it away.

“I told them they would have rung our police station in Cutler Heights Lane for someone to come and take it up to the compound in a field opposite the station. 

“Just then a dog van drew up opposite the horse. 

“One said, we were told it was a stray dog and had to pick up the other said ‘Well, let’s tie it to the back of the van and tow it up to the compound, his mate then said ‘let’s fold the bugger up and put it in the back’.”

“A week later I sent two Specials on a beat they had come on at 8:00pm and would report off at midnight.

“Their beat covered an area which was not a very nice place to cover (Mount Street) at that time.

“This was actually the point where I would book them and a bedroom light was showing as it was not blacked out. There was no air raid alert on, but the light had to be blacked out.

“I found my men knocking at the door where the light was shining overhead. The neighbours were shouting ‘knock harder, he cannot hear you’, so I said to them ‘What are you trying to do?’ back came the reply ‘We’re trying to knock this fellow and get him to black his light out.’

“I said ‘You’ll never do that, he’s deaf’.

“Just then a regular Constable came, shoved his foot to the door and marched upstairs. There was a slate and chalk on the table. He wakened the deaf man, and chalked in the slate about the light, this was seen to.

“The Constable said to the Specials ‘You could have done what I’ve done instead of giving the neighbours cheap entertainment, didn’t you know they were taking the Mickey out of you?’

“I have come a long way off my beat and I have got to get back to it.

“One Special Constable cracked under the pressure and was so ashamed they resigned.”


“One comical incident fell to my lot some time later. 

“I had got all my men on their beats and patrols and was about to go visit them when a regular Sergeant asked would I do a little job for him and that was to see a drunken old man home safely, he always took a black cat out with him and the cat walked in front of him in the Blackouts.

“If one of us was near him as he walked home we saw him home safely. I caught up with the gentleman within ten minutes from his home. I saw him safely home, the cat in front, the man and myself just behind.

“I heard the cat go in first after I had opened the door with the old man’s key. I placed him in front of his door, and put my foot to his backside, and gently pushed him inside, locked the door and threw it through the letterbox.

“He was a loveable scoundrel with a good sense of humour.”

“On another occasion I attended another blackout offence.

“The offender was a member of the Home Guard. He had got drunk, come home and flopped on the bed, went to sleep and left the lights on.

“I knocked on the man’s door long enough to wake him, he poked his head out the window and asked ‘What do you want? Don’t you know who I am, a member of the Home Guard, you’re only a B------ Special Constable’ and he came out with a mouthful of bad language.

“As soon as I got the chance I made a deposition for the day for a regular officer to pick up, seeing in all the swear word, putting the first, middle and last letters of the words. 

“I was backed up by the regular officer concerned. 

“The Home Guard attending Court was fined, not exactly for the offence itself, but for the cursing levelled at me. 

“After the court hearing the man came to see me and apologised, which I thought was very good of him.”

“Now I come to our little Air Raid on Bradford on Saturday night August 31st – September 1st 1940.

“The German planes had been coming our way over Bradford checking the lie of the land, so to speak, the previous few nights, in fact, the enemy bomb dropped on Leeds Road Baptist Church, a direct hit, later the church was demolished and rebuilt again.

“I was on duty 6:00pm – 10:00pm that Wednesday night and leaving Cutler Heights Police Station with the intention to report off in 17 Box, Laisterdyke, but instead went down Leeds Road where the bomb had dropped to see if I could give a helping hand if required.

“I was told there was plenty of police, etc, and I could report off duty as the all clear had gone.

“When I returned home, my wife was singing to the two children she was cuddling in her arms for we lived within a quarter of a mile from where the bomb had dropped.”

“On the second occasion on reporting for duty I was told to go to the police station. There, there was a message for me.

“On arriving there I was informed to go to Tong mine and book the ‘Specials’ who were on observation post duty there.

“I had seen a bike out in the yard so I asked the constable who was on reserve duty whose bike it was. He said ‘nobody’s really’ but said that Sergeant Cook would be calling in to check on his visits.

“I went into the yard, saw his bike and took a chance and borrowed it.

“As I was pedalling away from the police station there was a lot of shouting behind me when I looked around there was Sergeant Cook running after me and shouting me to give his means of transport back.

“Sergeant Cook reported me and I was given a real telling off for my escapade and received a caution from the Chief Constable, H.S. Price, next morning.”

“The War had now ended and the Police First Aid classes had been disabled. We could join the British Red Cross or the St. John Ambulance Brigade. I chose the Eccleshill Ambulance Division and my pal Mr. Lancaster the other Special Sergeant went to the British Red Cross.

“As I wrote earlier in the book, we had a card we could get framed on passing the First Aid examination each year up to the end of the war.

“I had lost my card so did not get it framed and had to start from scratch when joining the St. John Ambulance Brigade.

“I had already served 20 years in ‘Specials’ and I thought I might as well carry on.

“I was in a unique position to be in for when I was on duty with the Specials I gave orders out and as a member of St. Johns I accepted orders given me.

“When members of both organisations were out on ceremonial parades such as the Sunday Service to the Cenotaph near November 11th, and, the newly elected Lord Mayor’s Church Parade to the Cathedral, I would be in charge of a squad of men lining one section of the route ad when the standard bearers flying the flag of St. Johns passed I used to salute it for I thought it was my duty to do so.”

“It is now February 1950, and I have just been promoted Special Inspector, I had served as a Special Sergeant just over 10 years, fifteen years as a special constable, twenty five years in all.

“At the end of the war some of the specials who had joined the army came back and rejoined as either regulars or ‘Specials’. War time duties had now simply disappeared. 

“I did two nights on police duty now on 10:00pm on Tuesdays or Thursdays or Saturdays instead of three as before.

“I now wore two uniforms, one the police uniform, rank, Special Inspector, and the other the black and white uniform of the Eccleshill Ambulance Division of the St. John Ambulance Brigade, rank private.”

Special Constables often do their duties alongside a full-time job. Could you be a Special Constable like Tom?

“I am now on the last lap of this story, the work of the Specials is more of a routine nature and very interesting and at times exciting for me and especially whilst on duty on Saturday nights.

“We have been issued for some time with new uniforms, the tunic being opened neck and we are wearing white shirt and black tie. 

“The uniform was of a better quality, a nicer olive, and we Specials looked quite smart in them, and for some considerable time now we have been receiving ‘subsistence allowance’ of 1/6 (old money) for a cup of tea and a bun for every four hour duty done.

“You could collect a few bobs at the end of the month dependent on how many duties you put in.” 

Whilst Special Constables aren’t paid like regular Constables, they can claim expenses.

"I am now coming up to my 40 years service in the City of Bradford Special Constabulary add on to that 12 years wartime service, for one war time year counted as three peace years. Thus 52 years in all.

"47 years medal long service and 4 bars, and 5 years toward my 5th bar as I had been promoted Divisional Officer May 1965 after 20 year service in the Eccleshill Division of Bradford St John Ambulance Brigade. 

"It was up to me to make my mind up.

"I had a long chat with Mr. Harry Ambler, Chief Constable, and resigned my position as Special Inspector after 16 years in that position.

"I left with all the good wishes of the men and officers of 62 Sub Division who presented me with a tray box of chromium plated spoons and I still have them to this day." 

Photograph of Tom Wilson in front of another officer, holding his long service medal.

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