After the 2nd World War, thousands of servicemen returned to England to be demobilised, and many smuggled in mementoes or souvenirs of their battles which included enemy flags, caps and helmets, swords and rifles. It was impossible to search the sheer volume of men coming ashore in troopships, so a lot of illegal enemy weapons were in British homes. This is the story of two burglars who were armed with a German Army Rifle.
I was cycling home after handing my patrol car 6L for Lucy to the night duty crew, and at midnight cycling through Addington Square, Camberwell, having changed my tunic for a civilian jacket, when on looking down Caldwell Street as I passed, I saw two potential burglars. One was standing on the others shoulders trying to jemmy open an office window at a factory. Caldwell Street was quite narrow, with factories on one side of the road, and originally terraced houses on the other, but the houses had all been bombed during the war, and it was now just a vast bomb site, right back to the barbed wire fence enclosing that side of the Grand Surrey Canal. That bombed site was quite dangerous in the dark, owing to the many basements that had not been filled.
I parked the bike and peered round the corner, just in time to hear the breaking of glass, and knew that once inside I would have a dickens of a job finding them, so started running towards them as silently as possible, but they saw me coming in the street-lampís light, and the one on top jumped down and grasping what I thought was a stick, they ran off across the bomb site with me in close pursuit. I shouted that I was a police officer, and they were to stop, but this was ignored.
I had no darned torch having left it in the police car, but I did still have my truncheon, and kept going much slower now, as they were having to in front of me, as it got much blacker the farther from the street lamps we went.
I guessed that only about 20 yards separated me from their sounds, and knew I would catch up with them at the barbed wire fence.
Suddenly there was an explosion and a vivid flash just in front of me, and what they carried had not been a stick, but a rifle. I was absolutely furious with them, and shouted, "You stupid idiots, youíre in serious trouble now." I had heard the bullet go past my head, and heard it thud into the brickwork of the factory behind me. I knew that my whole form was like a silhouette for them with the street lamps behind me. Hoping that my voice had made them see sense I kept going towards where I thought they were, but by this time I had my truncheon in my hand. Alas no, they fired again , and realising that it was taking a few seconds to unload the empty cartridge, and reload a new one, and that I was close enough to grapple with them, I raised the truncheon above my head in a striking position, and screaming horrible swearwords at them, I raced forward, completely ignoring the uneven ground, (Talk about shades of my Viking ancestry) and their nerves broke and they also started running, and both climbed over that barbed wire fence, ripping their clothes in the process. I managed to grasp one shoe, which came off as he tried to kick me away, as he fell over into the water.
I could hear them as they tried to hide in the bulrushes, up to their waists in that foul smelling canal.A father and his teenage son who both lived in Addington Square, had come to investigate the rifle shots and I told them not to get too close as the men were still armed, and sent the son off to telephone for assistance. Dad retreated to doubtful safety of Caldwell Street, as I said to the two men in the canal. "You are completely trapped, and help is on the way, so come over one at a time." There was a whispered conversation and they appeared on the other side of the fence. As they came over one at a time, I had them spread-eagled on the rubble, after some justified clobbering with my truncheon to show just who was in charge. They were in that position as I heard the bells ringing from all directions, and the cavalry arrived. A German army rifle was found in the canal together with a leather bandolier containing 30 rounds.
When I eventually got home, my wife, Tilly who was making breakfast said, "And what have you been up to now."
Incidentally I was taken home by police car, as my poor old bike had been 'borrowed' from Addington Square by someone no doubt was having to walk home. I bought an old banger after that, which no one in their right mind would steal.