With something that was born that day so long ago in St Martin’s Choir and waited for this moment, I let fly with the most unbelievable roar, and charged. I went at him like a guided missile. No one else moved. I saw his eyes bulge all the more behind his glasses, but there was only submission, defeat, in his face.
It is impossible for me to honestly relate what happened next. All versions of the story told afterwards were exaggerated as such legendary events must necessarily be. I seized the poor terrified fellow by the collar and the crutch and—well I like to imagine it was like Samson in the Philistine temple, or blind Cyclopes hurling huge boulders at Ulysses’ fleeing boat, or Tarzan heaving a tiger slain with his bare hands back into the jungle whence it came—but it probably wasn’t anything like that. But I do know that Myopic Peters, his screaming considerably muffled by my own roaring, came from somewhere high over my head to hit the ground three feet in front of me. He hit so hard he bounced up to knee height again and then flopped, utterly motionless.
ISo, for the second time that winter night, the door of No. 11 silently opened to the knock of a uniformed police officer…. After a few seconds Sergeant Bentley pushed the door open and stood with one foot in the gaslit room and one in the lobby, while Sergeant Bryant moved up to the door and their colleagues waited close at hand in the shadowy alley.
In that moment the scene changed swiftly from a routine police check to a saga of ruthless gangster slaying. Without a shadow of warning, shots ripped out from the inner room and staircase. Sergeant Bentley collapsed to the doorway shot in the neck. Sergeant Bryant, bullets in his chest and hand, reeled back to the footway. As their fellow officers rushed forward they were met with a volley of shots as armed men fired wildly from the doorway over the body of the prostrate sergeant. Martin, standing just outside the door of No. 11, ducked as a hand with a pistol in it came around the door; Woodhams, the next nearest, was shot down in his tracks as he tried to draw his baton; Sergeant Tucker, further down the mews, was hit several times and mortally wounded; P. C. Choat fell with eight bullets in his body as he tried to grapple with one of the assailants.
The Herald was still serialising books and this time chose a fascinating thing—The Battle of Sidney Street, they called it, but it was a condensed version of The Gaslight Murders by James Edward Holroyd. In 1910, a group of Russian ancharists were surprised while robbing a London jewellery shop and a siege followed after three policemen (Bentley, Tucker and Choat) were shot dead and two more wounded. The anarchists escaped leaving three dead behind but most of them were soon captured. Graphic photographs at the scene illustrated the event, one of them showing police taking
cover and amongst them, Winston Churchill, then Home Secretary. It was a fiasco really, as those sort of events tend to be in reality and never in fiction. And a rare instance in those days of unarmed policeman being shot.
Even at the time I read it, the idea of policemen being shot at was almost impossible to believe—it just never happened. All of the names of those handful of criminals who in living memory had shot policeman were known to everyone, and they were all either executed or serving life sentences, never to be released. In those days police were unarmed and although the criminals sometimes carried guns, they thought twice about using them against the men in blue. And almost always when facing guns, the unarmed policeman were able to convince the gunman to surrender, because that was the way they were trained. Now, the police carry guns, lots of them get shot (by each other as much as criminals) and they are regarded as fair game as men carrying guns always will be.