On the 3rd April, 1929, I joined the Denbighshire Constabulary along with three other young men – two have since resigned – the other is our Superintendent D.S. Jones at Headquarters, Wrexham.
We were the first recruits in Denbighshire to be sent for initial training to Birmingham City Police Training School at Digbeth, Birmingham. Little did I then think that in less than a decade hence I would have achieved the greatest honour possible for any policeman to secure – that to be summoned by His Majesty The King to attend at Buckingham Palace to be decorated by him personally with the King’s Police Medal for Gallantry. This great honour was bestowed upon me by His Majesty King George VI when he held his first investiture at Buckingham Palace in February 1937…’but there hangs a tale.’
PC Ellis Edward Moss (right) is greeted by a London police officer at the House of Commons as Sir Henry Morris-Jones, MP for Denbigh, looks on. Photograph courtesy of Denbighshire Archives, document reference number DD/DM/128/31.
When the subject of having ‘Our own magazine’ was suggested and the subsequent invitation to all ranks to contribute in an endeavour to make the first issue of the magazine interesting I thought that I would like to write ‘my story’ recounting my experience – not from egotism but for the benefit of all my young colleagues in the force. What happened to me as a young constable in a remote country beat can happen to any other youngster. The opportunity to do your job and receive meritorious award does not always take place in the towns. So to all you young men who are posted to country beats I would say don’t be despondent.
At the outset I would ask the reader’s indulgence if he finds that my standard in the realms of literature ‘is found wanting’ – but nevertheless the facts are true.
In 1936 I was the representative of law and order in the rural area of Llanfair Dyffryn Clwyd near Ruthin, which is in the ‘B’ Division of this force. I had been posted to this station about three years previously from Wrexham.
About six o’clock one evening in the summer of that year – 21st August 1936 to be exact – I returned to my station having completed a somewhat monotonous tour of duty since an early hour, supervising the dipping of several hundred sheep at various scattered hill farms in the Llangollen district – at the other end of my beat. As soon as I got in the house my wife informed me that she had just received a message to the effect that a drunken man had been shooting at some people in the village of Graigfechan, about two miles away. Having regard to the seriousness of the complaint I decided to investigate immediately. Reaching for my handcuffs and staff – one does not usually carry his appointments when on a sheep dipping expedition in the country – I remounted my ‘old faithful’ – a Rudge motor cycle of a somewhat rare vintage – and rode to the scene of the disturbance. On arrival at Graigfechan I found the atmosphere rather tense and the peace of the countryside disturbed.
As usual in a rural area the first point of contact in order to obtain any information is either the local pub or the village stores. Just before reaching the latter I met the store-keeper’s son, Tecwyn Williams. He was in conversation with some women. And I gathered from their demeanour that they were no doubt discussing the recent shooting affair. Tecwyn was a young man twenty four years of age. He was a lorry driver employed by his uncle, the local coal merchant. Since I had been in the district I had become quite friendly with all the family from ‘The Shop’ Graigfechan. They had on more than one occasion assisted me with my duties in the district.
Tecwyn related to me what had happened. It appeared that about half past five that evening he was returning from work, wheeling his bicycle. When he came to the cross-roads in the village he stopped to speak to two women he knew. Shortly afterwards Herbert Clarke came from his house nearby carrying a gun, and he had his dog with him. He made some offensive remark to Tecwyn Williams and struck him in the face, also pointing the gun, a 20 bore single-barrelled, at him. Tecwyn wrested the gun from Clarke and knocked him down. While this was going on one of the women screamed, and John Williams, father of Tecwyn came from the shop nearby to investigate. Clarke then threatened him with the gun. A further struggle ensued. John Williams took the gun from Clarke, but on finding that the gun was not loaded he unfortunately returned the gun to Clarke and advised him to return home quietly. Tecwyn by then had left the scene. The next thing that happened was that Clarke returned to the road, and when John Williams and another man were about forty yards away Clarke fired his gun at them. John Williams being struck by two pellets, one just above the left wrist, and the other two inches below the left elbow. The injured man and his companion ran for shelter in the shop. In the commotion that followed Herbert Clarke took the opportunity to disappear.
Having received this account of the shooting from Tecwyn, I realised it was of paramount importance that Clarke should be apprehended before he could cause any more damage. Clarke was well known to me and the inhabitants of Graigfechan and district as a man of violent disposition, especially when in drink – and he was in that condition then. Clarke was last seen walking away in the direction of the mountain. I asked Tecwyn if he would come along with me to act as my guide to go in search of Clarke. Tecwyn readily agreed, and jumped on the pillion and we rode away in pursuit.
When we had travelled about a mile from Graigfechan we came on to the old mountain road, known locally as the ‘Shelf Road.’ This road leads over the mountain to Llanarmon and Llandegla, and frequested by Clarke in his poaching expeditions.
On negotiating a bend in this road and coming on to a straight I saw Clarke about a hundred yards in the distance. He was walking on the right hand side of the road in the same direction as we were going. He was carrying his gun under his left arm. His spaniel dog was on the other side of the road.
When Clarke heard the motor cycle he turned round, moved into the bracken on the roadside and placed his hand in his jacket pocket. He withdrew his hand and opened the gun breach. It appeared to me that he went through the process of loading the gun. Having in mind that Clarke had used the gun quite recently in the village I concluded that he was going to use it again. The road was too narrow for me to stop and turn back. If I did this there was every possibility that Clarke would fire at our backs. I decided that the only course for me to take was to accelerate and hope to knock him down before he could fire. This I did but when we were about six feet away Clarke brought the gun to his shoulder and fired point-blank at us. Simultaneously with this action on the part of Clarke I shouted to Tecwyn and dived off the machine towards Clarke’s legs. As I left the machine I felt something whiz past my head, and there was a report of the shot being fired.
I managed to catch Clarke by his legs and a struggle ensued, eventually I brought him to ground. I twisted him over onto his face and handcuffed his hands behind his back. I called to Tecwyn to assist me. Tecwyn replied, “I’m shot.” On turning round I saw Tecwyn standing on the road. He was holding his right arm with his left hand. He was wounded in the right upper arm and was bleeding profusely. Still holding Clarke down I told Tecwyn to come over to me and to lay down. I placed my handkerchief in the form of a tourniquet bandage to the injured man’s arm.
I realised that Tecwyn was seriously injured, and that I would have to obtain a conveyance to move him to hospital. I also had a prisoner on a serious charge – attempted murder. I blew my whistle for assistance in the remote chance that someone might come along. Having reassured the injured man that I was going for help I took Clarke with me in the direction of the village. On the way I met a farmer who had heard my whistle. I asked him to go along to the injured man, and I continued down the mountain road with my prisoner. When I arrived at Graigfechan, I obtained further assistance for Tecwyn. And then commandeered a car and escorted Clarke to the police station at Ruthin. The late Sergeant Bennion was my section officer at the time. I quickly related the circumstances of the arrest to him, and left Clarke in his charge.
As I was on my way with a doctor from Ruthin I met the car from Graigfechan. Tecwyn was in this car and he was conveyed to the hospital at Ruthin. I was present when the doctor removed from the wound, gun wads, pellets and small pieces of bone. The arm had been shattered. It was later found necessary to amputate. Tecwyn was on the danger list for quite a while.
When I searched Clarke later at the Police Station I found in his possession eleven live cartridges. Clarke asked me where he had shot Tecwyn. I told him. Clarke replied “I’m glad. I’ll do it again. I’ll kill him and his bloody father.”
Tecwyn eventually recovered from his injuries.
On 20th October, 1936, Edward Herbert Clarke appeared at the Denbighshire Assizes, held at Ruthin, before Mr Justice Lewis on the following charges:
Shooting at John Tecwyn Williams with intent to murder.
Shooting at myself with intent to murder.
Shooting at John Williams with intent to do grievous bodily harm.