Harold Gordon “Tanky” Challenor, MM (16 March 1922 – 28 August 2008) was a wartime member of the SAS, decorated for his part in Operation Speedwell. After the war, he joined the Metropolitan Police, spending much of his career in Criminal Investigation Department (CID).
In his memoirs, published in 1990, he wrote that:
My first posting as a very keen but fledgling constable was to the Mitcham Division – invariably called the manor – where I pounded a beat, played soccer and pulled my weight in the tug-of-war team. I studied on the bus to and from work, and passed my first two qualifying exams with marks of 85 per cent and 93 per cent. But I knew I was never going to be a policeman in the publicly accepted sense. I was always going to be a maverick, and this came to me when I was crossing through a factory area and I spotted a young man who had been posted as a deserter from the Army. As soon as he saw me he set off like a hare who has spotted the lurchers. But I was extremely fit and he couldn’t shake me off, and I finally cornered him in a deserted corner of the factory complex. “You bastards,” he yelled in frustration, “are all right in uniform but you haven’t got the guts of a louse without it”. That was like a red rag to a bull to me, and I replied, “That mean you want to fight?” and he sneered, “You haven’t got the guts.”
I took off my tunic, hung my helmet over a convenient post and squared up to him. I floored him twice, but he was a game little bastard and got up each time and caught me with a haymaker which brought me to my knees. He stood off while I got up, and when we went back into action he said breathlessly, “I’ll call it a day if you’re willing.” I was, and that was the end of the scrap. I had a huge swelling on my cheek and he had black eye. “I’ll come in quietly,” he said, and as I put on my tunic and helmet I casually asked him if he had any problems. “Yes,” he said, “but I need time to sort them out.” I knew where my duty lay, but I ignored the rule book. “Look son, sort things out, then report back to your unit under your own steam. That’ll be much better than being nicked and taken back.” Having expounded that pearl of wisdom I invited him to join me in a pint.
At the Bath Tavern, situated in the middle of a gypsy camp near Mitcham Common, I put my helmet on a hatstand and called for two pints. The landlord, Charlie Monk, dipped his handkerchief in my pint and bathed my cheek. I reported back at the nick at the end of my tour of duty and told the sergeant I had tripped and banged my face on a gate post.
Some weeks later I saw the young deserter back in uniform and quite content to soldier on, having sorted out his domestic problems. I thought: There’s nothing like a good punch-up to make an assessment of a man’s character.
Source: pages 128-9, “Tanky Challenor – SAS and the Met”, by Harold Challoner and Alfred Draper.
He doesn’t mention in the book when this took place but, as he had joined the police in 1951 and moved to West End Central by 1962, then it could have been in the early to mid 1950s.
This newspaper article puts him at Mitcham Police Station in July 1955.
Youths Remanded On Theft Charges
Clifford E. Bonny, of Clair-rd., Whitstable, and Joseph P. Murphy, of Paddington-gdns. Liverpool, both 19, were charged at Wimbledon with breaking out of a cafe at Coombe-lane, Raynes Park, Surrey on June 14, having stolen 900 cigarettes, chocolate and other property value together at £9 7s. 6d. Asking for a remand and objecting to bail, the police said the pair had absconded from Borstal. They were remanded in custody until July 1. At Mitcham police station Pc Challoner told them he had reason to believe they had stolen from cafes at Wimbledon and Slough, and Bonny replied, “Yes, I suppose you know all about it.”
Source: Kentish Express – Friday 1 July 1955, via the British Newspaper Archive.
This newspaper article from 1958 refers to him as Detective Constable Harold Challoner.
POLICE CHASED VAN: TWO MEN FOR TRIAL
A CHISEL, two screw-drivers and two pairs of gloves with a torch stuffed inside one of them were found in a van stopped by police after a man had been seen behaving suspiciously at Pitlake Bridge, Croydon, after 1 a.m. on May 12, it was alleged on Monday at Croydon Magistrates’ Court. Before the Bench were Frank William Baker (34), press setter, of Selhurst Road, South Norwood, and Vincent James Murtagh (24), dealer. of no fixed address. They were charged with loitering at Lower Church Street and Pitlake Bridge, Croydon, on May 12 with intent to commit a felony, and with being found by night at Thomson Crescent, Croydon, in possession of house-breaking implements. Bold pleaded not guilty. Det-con. Harold Challoner said that a man went up to a radio shop in Pitlake Bridge and shone a torch on the door. When two cars came over the bridge he went away round a corner. A van then drove up and stopped by the radio shop. After a time it was driven away towards Mitcham. The van was followed and stopped in Thomson Crescent. Murtagh was driving, with Baker as passenger. The gloves and torch were found in the dashboard cavity and the chisel and screwdrivers underneath the passenger’s seat. Asked to explain them, Murtagh ” I do a bit of dealing. The gloves and torch are handy when you are examining a car.” When charged, Baker said: “It’s a lot of rot.” Murtagh said: “Put down the same for me.” Both men were remanded to appear at Croydon Quarter Sessions on May 30, Baker on bail and Murtagh in custody. Each reserved his defence.
Source: Croydon Advertiser and East Surrey Reporter – Friday 23 May 1958, via the British Newspaper Archive.