When I left the Albert Academy I was full of ambition. At that time it was my hope that I would be able to continue my studies at the Lebanon Valley College in the United States of America. Of course, I knew that it was out of the question to expect my father to support me – he had already done all he could for me, and I was more than grateful – and so I was determined to work my passage to America and pay for college and living expenses as best I could by taking odd jobs.
But the more I thought about it the more I realized that it would be selfish, and perhaps a little self indulgent of me to further my studies. I was seventeen years old and I had just finished the finest education as it was possible to have in those days in Sierra Leone. My father had worked and saved and made sacrifices so that I could go to the Academy and I considered that it was now my duty to find employment as soon as I could so that I in my turn could make some contribution towards the education of other members of my family. Although I decided that this was the best path for me I still hoped that one day a chance for higher education would come my way. This hope was eventually rewarded in 1947 when I became a student at Ruskin College, Oxford.
I never cease to be amazed by the lengths that some Africans in the past have gone to in order to educate themselves, and when I look around at students today I sometimes wonder whether they fully realize how very lucky they are now. It saddens me that so many of them take for granted the incredible opportunities open to them. Many seem to see a university degree as the rule rather than the exception: it is no longer their privilege to attend a college but a righl I am always amazed by the letters I receive from scholarship students complaining that the very generous grants that they receive are not sufficient. They seem to think that cars, television sets and the very latest fashions form part of their proper dues. Yet I am not so old and unsympathetic that I am unable to identify myself with today’s youth; had I been born half a century later I would probably be reacting in just the same way. There is nothing that youth does today that youth did not do in the past and I think the older generation should remember this and be tolerant. I know that when it is the turn of our young to shoulder the responsibilities of families, jobs, even of State, they will prove more than equal to the task.
My father probably had all the misgivings about me that we now have about our own children – after all, it is only natural that parents should want only the best for their offspring. Because he had been a soldier himself, he was always very anxious to see me in a uniform. He was certainly right to think that there can be no better training for a young man than a spell in the armed forces. The discipline and routine of service life, a kindling of respect for law and order and a sense of responsibility are valuable lessons for any young man. During the formative years of adolescence and early manhood there can be no better way of instilling a purpose in life.
However, before arrangements could be made for me to enlist in the Army, my father learnt that there was a vacancy in the Police Force for a sub-Inspector, and he urged me to apply. “of course, you can’t expect to be made a sub-Inspector straight away, son,” he said, but added optimistically. However, with your education it shouldn’t be too long before you rise in the ranks.”
I reported to the headquarters of the Sierra Leone police Force in Freetown in January, 1 923. I must say that I did this more out of duty to my father than for my own pleasure, and certainly life in the police force at first was very different from what I had expected. I had just reached the top of the ladder at the Academy, and now I found myself as a junior all over again. The bottom rung is always rather a depressing place to be, but it is something that must be put up with and got through. lndeed, if I was to have any hopes of getting beyond this first position to more dizzy heights, I had to establish a firm foothold and prove my worth. I’m afraid, though, that it is all too easy to be wise after the event; at the time I was young and in a hurry and itching to get on. As I stood in line with thirty or so other raw recruits to wait inspection I had already in my mind a picture of Sub-Inspector S.P. Stevens – complete with highly polished Sam Brown and baton. It was this vision that l kept myself at the front of my mind that kept me going during the exacting drill and fatigue duty that all junior policemen have to go through. After a while, however, my aching feet and general weariness overruled this splendid vision, and I had to face up to the day to day realities of my new life.
The Police Commissioner, Major C. Hampden King, was the best possible kind of tough guy – a disciplinarian of the old school. After our swearing in, he gave our group a talking to in his West lndian drawl. He told us, among other things, ‘If you take anything like bribes or dashes or mass-mass while you are in the Police Force, you will be going to gaol as sure as God made Moses! You get me ?” I can still hear his voice say it. It was a sound admonition. And I’m afraid that quite a few policemen did tend to land up in jail in those days.
The Police Force in those days was considered to be a place for illiterates and very few young men of secondary school calibre thought about it as a career. This was not so much because they were unattracted to the Force as such, but the truth was that those educated men who joined met with a lack of co-operation from the old hands that play on hostility. Their lives were made miserable and their jobs difficult to do because of this obstructive attitude on the part of the illiterate element who would go to any length to safeguard their own positions even if this had a detrimental effect on the general efficiency of the Force. In my own case these old hands nearly succeeded in driving me out of the Police Force in those early days, and it was only the dread I had of disobeying my father that made me carry on.
Of course of training was extremely rigorous and started at 6.30 a.m. with drill practice. At 8.15 a.m. we had fatigue duty for an hour where we had to clean up the officers’ compounds and their kit and generally be at their beck and call. We would then have an hour of instruction in the duties of a policeman which would be followed until 11.30 by more drill. until2 o’clock in the afternoon we would have a much needed break which would be followed by two hours of lessons in police duties. It was a tiring regime, and by 4 p.m. I was usually feeling pretty exhausted.
When I first joined the police there were no barracks and we stayed in various places in the city. This arrangement obviously had its difficulties, especially in the event of an emergency when the Force had to be gathered together very quickly. Commissioner King arranged for all policemen to move into King Tom Barracks which were situated a couple of miles from the centre of Freetown. This would have been at the end of 1923 – and the move was not as welcome as might have been anticipated. The barracks occupied an area of land originally purchased by the British captain Thompson in May 1787 for the settlement of the first batch of freed slaves. Nearly 150 years later conditions there were not very much improved. The barracks had been left to rot since they had been last occupied by the artillery five years earlier. The buildings were in very poor shape, and had actually been condemned by the sanitary authority. Nevertheless’ we were ordered to move in and make the best of it. It was not until June, 1929, that the promised improvements were finally made and the place became for human habitation’
To report for duty-we had to march from King Tom to the Central Police Station one hour before we were due there’. The journey took about half an hour, we rested for 15 minutes’ fell in and had General orders read to us and our beats allocated and then marched to our post. After the eight-hour spell of duty our day’s work was over unless we had been selected for reserve duty, which meant reporting back to the station at7 p.m. and sleeping there ‘on call’.
My first assignment when I joined the Force was dog-catching. This meant that I had to go out two or three days at a time with two illiterate senior men to catch stray dogs, in the city of Freetown. Being the junior I was ordered to carry the empty sack. It was a horrible business.’ Many of the dogs were in an appalling condition through neglect and were more often than not semi wild and vicious to handle. We had to aim to catch about three or four strays a trip, tie them in a bag and carry them back to headquarter, where they were locked up in a box which was fitted to the exhuast pipe of an old ambulance truck. The engine of the truck was started and the dogs were suffocated by the Poisonous fumes from the exhaust. I suppose that if such a method of destroying life were used these days the police would find themselves in court’ but at least gassing was preferable to the method employed up to the previous year’ of drowning the poor beasts’
I remember once in Kissy Street we had caught four dogs in our bag and, as the weight was very -heavy, the policeman who was helping me to carry the load decided that we should put it down and rest for a while. As soon as we did, pandemonium broke out among the dogs trappedinside the bag and before we could do anything about it they had succeeded in getting loose. Understandably they were in an ugly mood and as we tried to recapture them they began to attack us from all sides. An excited crowd quickly gathered to watch, applaud and shout advice.
To take part in such an embarrassing spectacle’ even as an insignificant recruit, was humiliating enough, but the last straw for me was when a girl friend of mine from-Harford School in Moyamba,-who happened to be passing by at the time, suddenly recognized me.’ With a look of utterastonishment on her face, she ,said: ”But I thought you were a policeofficer. What on earth are you doing chasing all those dogs?”
We captured 422 dogs that year of which only 33 were lucky enough to be claimed by their owners. When l left the Force in 1930, although I was no longer employed as a dog-catcher thank goodness, 3,360 dogs, were bagged of which 3,140 had to be destroyed. In 1925 a new dog pound was built near King Jimmy, a part of Freetown, and a cart was provided to convey the animals instead of the abominable sack I had had to use, and the following year the Police Force employed two labourers to catch dogs which relieved us of this most distasteful duty.
An even more unpleasant memory I have was when I was asked to guard a corpse that had been washed up until arrangements could be madeby the authorities to deal with the matter the following morning. The body was that of a lighterrnan who had accidentally fallen into the sea two days earlier. I was terrified at the prospect of keeping it company until the morning. I had never seen a corpse before and the thought of death had rarely entered my head. To make matters worse two days of being in the water made the body a gruesome sight. I tried to hide my fear when I asked the duty officer if I was to be alone with the body. “Unless you can get your grandmother to hold your hand!” he bawled at me.
There were no electric lights then and the Government Wharf was lit by two kerosene lamps which shed an eerie greenish glimmer on objects within their limited range, making them take on weird shapes. This played havoc with my imagination and at times throughout that endless night not only the covered mound of human remains, but many other objects that surrounded me seemed to move when I blinked my eyes and just at the moment when I stopped staring at them.’ It was one the longest nights I can remember, but like most terrible night-time fears, in the morning it did not seem nearly so terrifying.
I was very lucky because promotion came fairly rapidly for me. Within a year I passed from full corporal with two stripes to acting sergeant with three stripes. At the end of my second year I was made first class sergeant which earned me £7.15s. (Lel5’50) a month’. The strength of the Sierra Leone Police Force in 1923 was about 300 men. By far the most numerous tribe in the higher ranks were the Mendes, 78 per cent of whom were literate. Of the Limbas, the third largest tribe in the country, there were only 15 and only three of us were literate. There were three divisions in the Force – A, B and C, each doing eight hours duty a day. I was drafted into B Division and sent out on the beat, patrolling the streets in eight-hourly shifts.’ The most dangerous of the beats in Freetown were numbers 5 and 9 which comprised the areas around Soldier Fort and Hill Streets. These were frequented by night marauders and the police were often involved in unpleasant incidents.
To walk the streets for an eight-hour stretch could be a very tiring and soul-destroying exercise. To begin with it took a heavy toll on your feet. Police boots, until you got used to them and wore them in, could cause awful suffering. They were as heavy as lead. The uppers werethick and inflexible, the soles were studded and a thick steel plate was fixed to the heels for added protection. I remember the time I was on thebeat in Kissy Road during the first few weeks of my patrol duty.’ My boots were giving me such pain that I took refuge under what is now known as Over-the-Bridge near Eastern Police Station, removed my boots and rested my throbbing feet for a while. When I tried to get my boots back on it seemed a physical impossibility, so swollen had my feet become, and for the next hour or so I was hobbling like a cripple.