Going back in time with a prince

There were sixty of us teenagers, 17-18 years old, apparently selected from a pool of 1000 applicants to be members of what was to be HRH Prince of Wales 25th Cadet Wing of police trainees. I don’t recall in advance knowing that our patron was to be the the Prince of Wales or, as it happens, that this was the penultimate police cadet wing, a programme designed to take school leavers directly into a year of police training. “Last week you couldn’t spell Contsatble and now you are one!“, the more mature recruits reminded us on a banner.

The prince had a stand up lunch with us during his visit that year, at which time he officially opened the new police college – later designated “Royal” during a visit by his mother the Queen. The only thing I really recall during the lunch was the prince asking us if we smoked cannabis – I can’t recall how the conversation got there – but it was an odd question to ask police trainees. I can’t imagine his mother asking such a question, but maybe it was a reflection of being a leader in waiting vs holding the ultimate position.

Twice the Queen drove past our family home in Christchurch, from her yacht in Lyttelton Harbour to the central city. Like dutiful subjects, we waited on the avenue, the road deserted, looking for the arrival of the motorcade, with various police and other very shiny vehicles leading, and ultimately the vehicle without licence plates – transporting a queen and her husband, on full show. On one occasion we were certain that she waved directly at us.

It’s only very recently that I thought about us having the future king as our wing patron – apparently the only time it was granted – there is no Prince of Wales “wing” of police or military trainees anywhere else. Although it’s not completely clear what our patron was supposed to do, but lending his name to our cadet wing seemed to be the main thing, and, according to publicly available information, “providing support and guidance”. As trainee police constables, what was to be important was service – to our community – although it would be fair to say that driving lessons, physical training, and marching were probably more front of mind at the police college that year.

I noticed that much of the talk at memorial services for the Queen these last two weeks was about her service too. Her service to the Commonwealth, the countries of her Realm, including New Zealand and to the United Kingdom. Growing up and watching from afar, that service appeared replete with beautiful homes & estates, motor vehicles, the bestest outfits and, for some reason, picnics.

But despite that privilege, there is little doubt that the Queen has been a symbol of stability, if somewhat remote and obscure to almost all of us. She never really appeared to take it easy, shirked from duty unless she was too unwell, or simply retired. They were not options she gave herself.

Maybe I don’t fully understand it all, but the memorial services with their juxtaposition of military, church and state feels somewhat confronting. Not to mention “God save the King!” being sung in New Zealand, like it was completely normal and 1937. But with that stage-managed backdrop I think we can expect King Charles to reign over us for the foreseeable future. Like his mother, he can be expected to serve, providing in a mysterious way a level of stability and continuity that many people take comfort from. A form of servant leadership. With castles!

And long may the experiences of the King Charles III cadet wing live on in the 60 teenagers who helped me grow up all those years ago.

Stephen

Of the 60 police cadets who started, seven are still serving in the NZ Police, and several are sadly not with us. We’re having our (Covid) delayed 40th reunion early next year. In July 2016 a number of serving police members from our cadet wing had their 35 year service medals presented to them by the future king in London.