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Former cadets (and the last place they served), from left: Richard Macdonald (commissioner, PNHQ); Don Hamilton (superintendent, Rotorua); Ron Trass (sergeant, Masterton); Max Rigg (sergeant, Putaruru); John Spence (constable, Auckland); Robin Lloyd (detective sergeant, Whanganui); John Elworthy (senior sergeant, Police College); Alan Eastwood (senior sergeant, Glen Innes); Brian Daw (assistant commissioner, PNHQ); Arthur Spence (sergeant, Auckland); Brian Murray (detective sergeant, Auckland).

Eleven members of the first police cadet wing, the 1957 Sidney Holland Wing, gathered in Rotorua recently for a 62-year reunion.

As wing member and organiser Don Hamilton noted, most of the surviving members are now 79 or 80 years old. Fourteen of the 38 original members have died and most of the others could not attend the reunion because of illness or infirmity.

Those who did make it have long and fond memories of their training days, which marked a significant change in policing.

They came from throughout the country to attend the Police Training School at Trentham, arriving on January 16, 1957, and graduating 19 months later as temporary constables.

The cadet training was set up partly in response to a series of controversies involving Police Commissioner Eric Compton.

He had been appointed as assistant commissioner by the police minister, over the heads of several senior officers, breaking the convention of promotion by seniority. When Commissioner JB Young died soon afterwards, Compton became commissioner in 1953. He promptly promoted three sergeants to the rank of inspector, a move overturned by the Supreme Court.

Further allegations of poor conduct, including tapping of telephones and getting private work done on his house by police, were investigated by a commission of inquiry in 1953. Compton kept his job, though, after distinguishing himself organising police escorts for the 1953 royal tour.

The following year, when the government made him chair of a three-man commission that controlled police, senior officers passed a motion of no confidence in him and he voluntarily retired in 1955.

His scandal-ridden tenure caused a crisis in Police and a civilian controller-general was appointed (ST Barnett) who brought in several changes, including the establishment of a police cadet system of training, similar to the army.

Other changes included the establishment of dog sections, the driving school and training school and setting recruitment standards.

The cadet training was reduced to 12 months for the last few of the 21 cadet wings, and the very last wing included four women, Don said. Many of the cadets went on to senior ranks within Police.

The cadet system eventually ended, partly for financial reasons, Don said, “but, more importantly, it was found that those recruited as cadets were drawn from exactly the same cohort as recruits”.

Those attending the reunion this year marvelled at the policing of today, Don said – a far cry from their experience when they arrived at their first stations. “Initially, it was 44 hours a week, poor pay, unpaid overtime expected and simply part of the job, poor equipment, primitive communications, virtually no vehicles. The Police Force, as it was then known, was in a parlous state after World War II.”

Don is planning another reunion for two years’ time, “but we could be looking for a reasonable-sized phone box, given our ages!”

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