Torvill and Dean on DNA Journey, WW2 Special Constable


There were many surprises in this episode they I had no idea of until the research began. It’s a cracking episode, and not just because I’m in it! Although they aren’t Londoners, I did find out a really London based connection for Jayne, and sprung it on her in the show.

Torvill and Dean at West Ham United’s Olympic Stadium

Charlie Bicknell, the Special Constable

When we were in the Bow Bells Pub I told the couple about Jayne’s relation Charlie Bicknell, who was a Special Constable in WW2, a copper in K Division of the Metropolitan Police. K Division covered the working class and industrial East End of London, that took a huge pounding during the Blitz. Charlie was based out of Bow Road for a while, hence our walking down past Bow Road Nick (not shown on air) on Charlie’s old beat, and ending up at the Bow Bells Pub pictured below. I may take this opportunity to say that I’ve filmed in a number of pubs on these series, put I am regularly denied the opportunity to have a pint whilst filming, which I believe is a severe infringement of my Human Rights.

This was the one of the local pubs for the Coppers in Bow Nick (the other many frequented being the “Little Driver” Pub -Thanks to Brian Alen Jones for that additional info.) and would have afforded the opportunity to pick up on what was happening with the locals. In this instance a descendant of a Copper was picking up a bit of local intelligence from another Cockney – yours truly. When we arrived at the Pub it was about half past nine in the morning, and unbeknownst to us the doors were locked. Chris was the first one to the pub doors, but of course they were locked, so he gave them a bit of a rattle and knocked, and called out for the publican, I said to him “All we need is for a paparazzi to jump out now and get some pictures of you banging on a pub door at 9.30 in the the morning, the headline in tomorrow’s papers will be ‘National Treasure Christopher Dean battling his drink problem.’ ” Fortunately he did take it in good humour!

The Story unfolded. During WW2 Special Constables were especially useful in being local and often were the first to the scene of any bombings. This meant that they were often the first in to a rescue situation putting their lives at risk from Unexploded Bombs (UXBs) and falling masonry. K Division had their fair share of these situations, most of which were never reported, but a couple are shown in the clippings (1940 and 1943). So many rescues took place that only the most exceptional could be mentioned in the press.

Looting

Put there was still normal Policing to be done. Before the War Gangs of young thugs from different parts of London, and sometimes from just different streets, would fight it out with each other over territory, during the War this became a matter of “mounting a raid” after a bombing, to loot the homes of people who had been bombed or were taking shelter from the bombing. Workers clearing bombed sites were also accused of looting people’s possessions. This happened from the very first raids, 390 incidents in London in 1940 during the first 2 raids of the War, in some areas cases of Looting outnumbered all other crimes by 5:1

Black Market

Crime actually became more widespread during the War, and scarcity made attitudes change. Before the War the “Honest Working Classes” were those who did not indulge in crime, but wouldn’t grass up their neighbours who did, once rationing came the lines blurred. Criminals would steal crates of goods and supplies with the aid of well placed cash transactions without the need for violence, of course these were often “inside jobs” with the help of people storing and transporting good, in the Armed Forces, the Docks, and Transport Companies. Once purloined the Criminals would sell the goods on to “Buyers” effectively criminal wholesalers, who would sell it on again to shopkeepers, who would then sell it to housewives, without the need for rationing cards. Everyone was “at it” with no questions asked. It was the equivalent of smuggling during the 18th and 19th centuries and was viewed the same by the public. This was the least appreciated part of the Specials’ Job, and they were never thanked for it by the public.

Deserters

Conscription lead to a high number of desperate Deserters such as famous Gangster “Mad” Frankie Fraser, and the Kray Twin’s Dad. Deserters, as opposed to servicemen just going “Absent WithOut Leave” (AWOL), were a serious problem, because they had to provide for themselves through crime whilst on the run, providing a regular source of manpower for criminal activity. Specials would know the local area and where the Deserters’ Families lived, so could keep a look out for them. Any that were just AWOL probably got left to have a few hours with their families before the knock at the door, the serious criminal fugitives would have had their homes raided.

Gangs

Many Organised London Crime Gangs had been subdued in WW2. Family members of the Italian Sabini Gang, had been interred as a potential threat to Public Order, and Jack Spot the biggest rival Gang Leader was already in prison. A number of Gang members actually joined up to fight for their country; Jack Spot when he left Prison manned anti-aircraft guns defending the homeland against the Luftwaffe, and Johnny Sabini, the son of Darby Sabini the Boss of the Sabini Gang, had joined the RAF as a Spitfire Pilot fighting Rommel in the North African Desert, where he gave his life for his country.
Crime was left to the remnants of the Gangs and younger “Up and Coming” criminals and “Tearaways”
One named Billy Hill went straight from Prison early release to smash and grab raids, he would become one of the biggest crime bosses in post war London. Similarly “Mad” Frankie Fraser whilst on the run from the Army carried out smash and grab raids, he would progress to be the enforcer after the War for the Richardson Gang. The Blackout meant that streets were less safe at night, and bombings meant the murders could be hidden in plain site.

Alongside dealing with all of this, Charlie was playing for Police Football teams until regular teams were brought back on Churchill’s orders, when he appeared for West Ham United. The story of which is covered in detail in the programme.

There is lots more to find out about a really nice couple in the programme, really enjoyed researching and filming that one, and some long lost cousins for them as well!

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