It will be 50 years in June since the formation of the South Wales Constabulary. This is the first of three articles that look back at the formation of the constabulary and its early days. It draws on records held at Glamorgan Archives including copies of the annual reports compiled by the Chief Constable.
On any scale 1969 was a challenging year to stage a major reorganisation and weld a new constabulary from the Glamorgan, Merthyr, Swansea and Cardiff police forces. As the Chief Inspector’s report for 1969-70 observed, 1969 was a testing year with the need to contribute to the policing of the investiture of Prince Charles and a number of royal visits to South Wales. In addition, the force faced a range of serious challenges including bearing …the heavy burden of work and investigations into Welsh extremism… alongside policing …anti-apartheid activities and Springbok rugby matches.
The move to larger police forces was a national initiative following the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Policing in 1960. The changes in South Wales were one piece of a jigsaw that aimed to reduce the number of forces across the country from 117 to 43. Preparations for the South Wales Constabulary had been handled by some 13 working groups set up to look at every aspect of the running of the new force. The working group records are held at Glamorgan Archives and from the outset the Chief Constables of the four forces admitted, in a joint letter, issued on 26 July 1967, that the merger would be not be popular in many quarters.
It is acknowledged that the process of amalgamation does not commend itself to all members of the regular forces and civilian staff affected. This we understand.
However, the new force, serving almost fifty percent of the population of Wales, would be more efficient:
…providing greater resources and more modern equipment, transport and communication.
Two years later, on 1 May 1969, a month before the launch of the Constabulary, the Chief Constable designate, Melbourne Thomas, wrote again to his staff admitting that:
…there will undoubtedly be many initial problems and difficulties, but with the co-operation and combined effort of all members we can overcome them… In the whole of Great Britain there are only six provincial forces with responsibility for a greater number of people and the merger is taking place in an atmosphere of economic restraint with restrictions on manpower, and at a time when the structure of the police service is subject to tremendous change in both the administrative and operational fields.
As a means of smoothing the transition he sought to reassure officers that they would not be required to move as part of reorganisation and that:
…there will be a substantial number of promotions in the new force and I want to stress that these will be on merit with no regard being paid to which of the constituent forces the officers belonged.
The letter made no mention of the disagreement that had surrounded the conclusion of the arrangements for the new force and, at times, had threatened to derail the entire process. Naturally, with an organisation that would embrace almost 3,000 police officers and civilian staff across South Wales, there were questions surrounding job security, relocation and promotion prospects. In addition, as debates in Parliament during March 1969 illustrated, the battle lines also encompassed concerns surrounding the loss of forces such Merthyr with a distinct local identity and a titanic tug of war over the location of the new police headquarters. Although many, including Jim Callaghan, the Home Secretary, had argued the case for Cardiff with its new state of the art HQ in Cathays Park, the eventual choice was Bridgend, the base of the Glamorgan Constabulary and the biggest of the 4 forces.
It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that the launch of the South Wales Constabulary on 1 June 1969 was, for most people, a low key affair. Coverage in the Western Mail was limited to a very short article tucked away in the inside pages. Chief Constable, Melbourne Thomas simply stated that:
I have taken the view that there is no funeral and that the good spirit existing in the four forces will be carried forward into the new force (Western Mail, 1 June 1969).
And so it proved. In the annual report, produced in January 1970, the Chief Constable argued that many of the challenges faced in 1969 had helped forge the new constabulary:
The early jointure of the members of the forces in duties for Investiture of HRH The Prince of Wales and the Royal Progress precipitated the business of working together for the whole force. Demonstrations at football matches continued the acceleration of getting to know one another. Social exchanges added to the integration the amalgamation must gain if the desired benefits are to be secured.
While there were ongoing difficulties with the force operating under strength and with limited ability to move staff, Melbourne Thomas concluded:
…the new force was launched and is progressing daily towards the integration and efficiency desired from amalgamation. Twelve months from now it will be possible to look at the progress made from a much better perspective point.
The acid test probably lay in the mood of the members of the new South Wales Constabulary. 1968 and 1969 had seen some 350 retirements and resignations – well above the average. One of the first developments was the production of new Police Magazine for the constabulary. It not only provided news of staff changes and social events but also provided a forum for a range of views on the amalgamation. An edition published in 1970 contained the following poem, penned by ‘152G’, which possibly summed up the ‘let’s just get on with it’ attitude across the force.
To some it brought promotion
A move they did not want?
For others, no commotion
But don’t give up and daunt
We’ve had it now for many a day
And things are settling down
For those who sighed are heard to say
“I was too quick to frown”
And now we four are joined as one
To form a brand new force
A good beginning has begun
We are the best, of course.
So let us make our motto
“Forever we are best”
Until the day we have got to
Amalgamate with the rest
[Taken from South Wales Police Magazine, Autumn 1970, p73 (DSWP/52/1)].
Melbourne Thomas’ conclusion at the end of 1969 that …the general sense of progress is now quite encouraging… was, therefore, not far from the mark. The South Wales Constabulary, despite challenges on numerous fronts, was up and running.
Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer
Records on the establishment of the South Wales Constabulary can be found at Glamorgan Archives, including the Chief Inspector’s report for 1969-70 (DSWP/16/2). The letters from the Chief Constables are at DSWP/29/7 (26 June 1967) and DSWP/29/7 (1 May 1969). Early copies of the South Wales Police Magazine are at DSWP/52/1. Copies of the Western Mail for this period, including the article on the formation of the South Wales Constabulary on 1 June 1969, can be accessed at the Cathays Heritage Library.