By Len A.Hynds

A policeman would normally spend a third of his working life on night duty, and the scope for strange things to happen is enormous. So a policeman is never afraid of the dark, but the sudden unexpected thing can throw him off-balance. This can happen more frequently if sent to help out at another station and you find yourself patrolling a completely unknown area.

On loan to Peckham one night, I was posted to patrol a part of Nunhead, specifically to look out for people breaking in to Nunhead Cemetery who were performing black magic rites. I had read about this in the newspapers, and it was of great concern to local people.

So I spent a lot of time just patrolling round the perimeter railings of the cemetery, stopping to listen for the slightest sound coming from within. It was completely black in there, with a ground mist swirling around the gravestones, being reflected by the light of the occasional street lamp behind me.

Steam train emerging from tunnel Suddenly I heard it, a noise like many people whispering some sort of chant or spell, and it rose and fell in volume. I gripped the railings, putting my face almost through trying to detect the direction of where they were in this vast cemetery. The spiked railings would be difficult to climb, and I was contemplating running back to the main gates which had looked easier to climb, when the noise got louder and louder as if their rites were reaching a climax, when suddenly the ground in front of my face, just the other side of the railing, seemed to explode upwards with a scream that was un-nerving.

As I tried to quell my racing heart, the nightly mail train to Dover came thundering out of the tunnel exit right beneath me, with steam, smoke and sparks shooting up into the air. The line ran alongside the cemetery, which I didn't know about.

White marble coffin On another posting to Clapham station, I was patrolling Clapham Road, and in those days you had to ensure that shops and business premises were secure on your beat, so it meant trying door handles all night long. You become an expert at shaking hands with them, and you do it automatically whilst thinking of something else. I was in such a reverie, with my right hand reaching out for yet another handle, when I saw something gleaming in the shop.

It was a marble coffin, gleaming white in the moonlight hovering in the air. My hand stopped dead, and refused to touch that handle until I had told myself that this was an undertakers shop, and moonlight coming through the front window had illuminated the marble coffin in the blackness of its surround, making it appear to hover and tremble.

Fright can come to all of us, and I remember being called to an accident at Lavender Hill, where a motor cyclist had come off his bike at a crossroads, and employees from the shop on the corner had rushed out and carried him in unconscious. He had come round but passed out again.

He apparently heard my voice, and rousing up clutched hold of me in fear. He had apparently woken up the first time, to find undertakers in top hats bending over him, and a coffin nearby.

Motorcyle hurst