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What will the night shift bring?

Preparing to work a night shift as a police officer is exciting, but there is often a sense of trepidation for what the night may bring. Often, an officer’s thoughts may turn to the victims, who at that current time are not at risk of harm, and then to the offenders, who have not yet set out on that path to cause harm. There is no doubt in an officer’s mind that they will be part of some fated incident yet to unfold.


The early hours offer a less congested playing field and a reduced anonymity for the bringers of harm; a real chance for an officer to prevent and detect crime. The night shift offers some respite from the more mundane jobs, an opportunity to catch thieves and burglars, or involvement in a life-changing incident.

PC Thomas Bryce Somerville

Like many before and after him, P.C. Thomas Somerville was that constable who took to his night beat in early May 1951, with twenty months’ service, not knowing how his life would be changed through events soon to unfold. It is perhaps difficult to understand what the twenty-three year old Kenneth Millington had intended, when he too set out that night, armed with a stiletto knife and revolver. Neither men knew that they would meet each other, although the potential for such an encounter is always in an officer’s mind. Constable Somerville had no idea how that one night shift would change his life forever.


While Constable Somerville lay unconscious and critically ill in Birmingham Accident Hospital, a court remand hearing was told that at 4.35am that day, Friday 4th May 1951, Constable Somerville was on foot patrol in Lichfield Road, Aston. Mr Pugh, prosecuting, explained that there he saw a man who would be later identified as Kenneth Millington, walking ‘in a furtive manner’ towards Birmingham. Constable Somerville had stopped Millington and asked to see his identity card, which had shown an address in Cuckoo Road, Birmingham[1]. Millington, with his cap pulled tightly down over his face, and whitewash stains on his coat sleeve[2], was asked by the diligent young constable what he had within the haversack he was carrying. It was then that Millington reached inside the haversack, withdrew a pistol and fired upon Constable Somerville[3]. Demonstrating Constable Somerville’s bravery, Mr Pugh continued:


‘The officer closed with him. A second shot was fired and the prisoner broke away.’


The second shot had missed Constable Somerville, but not the first. He had been shot in the left side of his abdomen. Despite this, Constable Somerville had engaged with and tried to detain Millington, but he was losing the use of his left leg[4]. Constable Somerville chased after Millington in the direction of Aston Cross while blowing his whistle to summon assistance. Losing sight of Millington in Wainwright Street, the officer returned to the scene of the incident and seized Millington’s identity card. There, he was assisted by an off-duty postal worker, whom he told who had shot him[5].


Mr Pugh explained that an intensive search to find Constable Somerville’s assailant then began. Constables Murray and Lamont, two plain clothes officers searching for Millington were in Rocky Lane, Aston. At that time, they saw a man fitting the clothing description of Millington, although no haversack was in view and the suspect was wearing glasses and smoking a pipe. The officers approached him and explained that they had reason to believe that he was wanted for the shooting of Constable Somerville at which point Millington reached towards the breast pocket of his coat[6]. Mr Pugh continued:


‘The two officers at once tackled him and they found he was wearing the haversack underneath his coat. A stiletto was attached to a cord around his waist and the revolver was in his pocket’[7].


Now arrested and with the stiletto knife and revolver safely in the possession of the officers, Millington was taken to Aston Police Station where he made a statement.


Superintendent Frankish confirmed that Millington had been a patient of Highcroft Hall hospital since January 12th that year but had escaped their care while still unwell[8].


On 26th July 1951, at Birmingham Assizes court, Judge Pilcher praised P.C. Somerville’s great courage. Millington was found not guilty of shooting P.C. Somerville with intent of murdering him, but was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment for shooting at the constable with intent of doing him grievous bodily harm[9].


The events of the 4th May 1951 introduced Constable Somerville and Kenneth Millington to each other. Their meeting was dramatic and brief, but it also brought another significant person into Constable Somerville’s life. Following a successful operation to repair the gunshot injury he had received, Constable Somerville lay in a hospital bed unconscious for two days. During this time, Staff Nurse Doreen Swales was directed to look after and nurse Constable Somerville.


‘Doreen was the first person I set eyes on when I woke up in hospital. She looked after me and she wheeled me about the ward when I was able to get up for an hour or two’[10].

Speaking about their romance to a Birmingham Mail reporter, they confirmed that they were to soon marry. Twenty-seven year old Doreen Swales added:

‘It was love at first sight. I nursed him throughout his long illness and apart from being a wonderful patient, he is the bravest man I have ever met’[11].


Constable Somerville from Peebles, Scotland[12] and Sister Doreen Swales married in Norfolk in September 1952[13]. P.C. Somerville received the King’s Commendation for brave conduct and his two colleagues, P.C.s Murray and Lamont were awarded the British Empire Medal for tackling and arresting the gunman[14].


On Sunday 13th September 1998, retired Inspector Thomas Bryce Somerville donated to the West Midlands Police museum the sweater he was wearing on the night that he was shot. The sweater has a bullet hole on the front and on the back. Retired Inspector Somerville died on 2nd June 2008[15].


Handing over the jumper


References

Author unknown, ‘Accused of attempt to murder P.C., Alleged shots in street, Man remanded’, Liverpool Echo, 4th May 1951, p.5, available at: https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0000271/19510504/159/0005 accessed 20th January 2021 (last accessed 21st January 2021)

Author unknown, ‘Shot, ‘phoned report: Judge praises P.C.’s great courage’, Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail - Friday 27 July 1951, p.3, available at: https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0000378/19510727/025/0003 accessed 19th January 2021

Author unknown, ‘Shot P.C. to marry his nurse’, Birmingham Daily Gazette - Saturday 16 August 1952 p. 3, available at: https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000669/19520816/070/0003 accessed 13th January 2021

Author unknown, ‘Awards for 7 brave men’, Birmingham Daily Gazette - Thursday 06 December 1951, p. 5, available at: https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000669/19511206/120/0005 accessed 13th January 2021

GreyPower Deceased Data; compiled by Wilmington Millennium; West Yorkshire, England; England and Wales Death Indexes, available at: https://search.ancestry.co.uk/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=60630&h=4713404&tid=&pid=&queryId=b98fe28b33948aad935671b9b0a35f2a&usePUB=true&_phsrc=fbf-470136&_phstart=successSource

West Midlands Police Museum press release, 15th December 1998, file://mydocs4.wmpad.local/users4/LOWE_5510/My%20Documents/A1%20Heritage/Somerville/Press%20release%20Somerville.pdf

West Midlands Police Museum press release, 15th December 1998, ‘P.C. injured by gunman to marry his nurse’, Birmingham Mail, 15th August 1952,


[1] Author unknown, ‘Accused of attempt to murder P.C., Alleged shots in street, Man remanded’, Liverpool Echo, 4th May 1951, p.5, https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0000271/19510504/159/0005 accessed 20th January 2021 [2] West Midlands Police Museum press release, 15th December 1998, p.1, file://mydocs4.wmpad.local/users4/LOWE_5510/My%20Documents/A1%20Heritage/Somerville/Press%20release%20Somerville.pdf [3] ‘Accused of attempt to murder P.C., Alleged shots in street, Man remanded’, Liverpool Echo, 1951, p.5, [4] West Midlands Police Museum press release, 15th December 1998, p.1. [5] West Midlands Police Museum press release, 15th December 1998, p.1. [6] ‘Accused of attempt to murder P.C., Alleged shots in street, Man remanded’, Liverpool Echo, 1951, p.5, [7] ibid, p.5 [8] Ibid, p.5 [9] Author unknown, ‘Shot, ‘phoned report: Judge praises P.C.’s great courage’, Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail - Friday 27 July 1951, p.3, https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0000378/19510727/025/0003 accessed 19th January 2021 [10] West Midlands Police Museum press release, 15th December 1998, ‘P.C. injured by gunman to marry his nurse’, Birmingham Mail, 15th August 1952, p. 2, file://mydocs4.wmpad.local/users4/LOWE_5510/My%20Documents/A1%20Heritage/Somerville/Press%20release%20Somerville.pdf [11] ibid, p.2 [12] Museum press release, ‘P.C. injured by gunman to marry his nurse’, Birmingham Mail, 15th August 1952, file://mydocs4.wmpad.local/users4/LOWE_5510/My%20Documents/A1%20Heritage/Somerville/Press%20release%20Somerville.pdf [13] Author unknown, ‘Shot P.C. to marry his nurse’, Birmingham Daily Gazette - Saturday 16 August 1952 p, 3. https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000669/19520816/070/0003 accessed 13th January 2021 [14] Author unknown, ‘Awards for 7 brave men’, Birmingham Daily Gazette - Thursday 06 December 1951, p. 5, https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000669/19511206/120/0005 accessed 13th January 2021 [15] GreyPower Deceased Data; compiled by Wilmington Millennium; West Yorkshire, England; England and Wales Death Indexes, available at: https://search.ancestry.co.uk/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=60630&h=4713404&tid=&pid=&queryId=b98fe28b33948aad935671b9b0a35f2a&usePUB=true&_phsrc=fbf-470136&_phstart=successSource (last accessed 21st January 2021)

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