Our modest war hero whose work was at heart of the city
PUBLISHED: 16:55 20 January 2010 | UPDATED: 07:36 02 July 2010
The last Norwich City police officer to have worked at the Guildhall and from the legendary "Tin Hut," the much-loved Philip Hemmings has died. He was 98.
The last Norwich City police officer to have worked at the Guildhall and from the legendary “Tin Hut,” the much-loved Philip Hemmings has died. He was 98.
Phil was also an accomplished horseman, having served in the Artillery and Cavalry, and was a familiar sight on the city streets on his horse Paddy.
And he was also a modest war hero who rarely spoke about his exploits which led to be being held prisoner for several years.
Two years ago Norfolk Chief Constable Ian McPherson honoured Phil by handing over a framed photograph of him on Paddy outside the Guildhall in 1951.
The ceremony marked the 40th anniversary of the demise of the city force and Phil's 97th birthday
Phil had a wide circle of friends but many of them didn't know he had also been a brave Second World War fighter who had been captured at bloody Dunkirk and then held prisoner by the Germans until the end of the war.
A modest man he rarely spoke about his exploits but former colleague Maurice Morson who went on to became head of Norfolk CID said: “He was a quiet unassuming man who achieved so much of which he said so little.”
Phil was the only surviving officer who served at the Guildhall when it was the city police HQ before Bethel Street opened in 1938 as part of the City Hall development.
And in those days the police also operated out of what was known as “The Tin Hut” at the back of the Market - an infamous building in the heart of the old city before it was torn down and redeveloped.
Originally from Nottingham he was posted to Nelson Barracks in Norwich with the Royal Artillery and in those days artillerymen were still on horseback.
He joined Norwich City Police in 1936 and when war broke served as a Provost Corporal in the 51st Highland Division. He went to France with the British Expeditionary Force.
Phil and his comrades were ordered to make a stand at St Valery to cover the evacuation at Dunkirk, the outcome of which they knew would be death or capture - a fact Phil admitted when asked about his war years later.
Thanks to their bravery and grit many lives were saved and all Phil said was: “Well, I didn't do much.”
He did - and so did his comrades.
While many of them fell on the battleground he was captured by the German who made sure he was kept under lock and key until finally released by the liberating Americans.
Phil's lengthy spell in PoW camps brought about no bitterness although he rarely talked about his treatment or the conditions he was kept it dismissing it as all part and parcel of war.
“He was always a modest man not given to speaking about his role in the war,” said Maurice, who knew him not just as a policeman but as a friend of the family as he served with his father at Nelson Barracks.
“I know that many city policemen with whom he served were unaware of his role in covering the Dunkirk execution,” added Maurice, now a highly regarded writer and historian.
After the war he returned to the police force and was a popular figure around the city with his horse Paddy. He reached the rank of Temporary Inspector before finally retiring in 1966, the following year the city force disappeared and was swallowed up by the Norfolk Constabulary.
He leaves a son, Steve, and daughter, Anne. His funeral service will take place at Earlham Crematorium on Friday January 29.
Did You Know?
On this day in 1265 the first English Parliament met at Westminster Hall.
On this day in Norfolk of 1607 widespread floods caused widespread damage and killed sheep and cattle. A report at the time said that when the animals “dyed in such aboundaunce, that even Dogges grewe wearie of them.”
On this day in Norfolk of 1838 it was so cold that rivers were frozen solid and water inside houses also froze.
On this day in 1936 George V died, and Edward VIII acceded to the throne. He abdicated after 325 days.
On this day in 1961 John F Kennedy was inaugurated as the 35th President of the United States.