Authors: Leslie Thomas
The second envelope contained a brief note. It said: 'Thank you for the money. This is all the stuff there is. Please do not contact me again unless the book is a success and you want to send me the other five hundred.'
George Ormerod's journal, from which I have reconstructed
the singular adventures of the Dodo and the Dove, began like
'In September 1939, I was a Detective-Sergeant in the
Criminal Investigation Department of the Metropolitan Police
(V Division) covering the south-west area of London, Wands
worth and Putney. When the war was declared I got married
(September 7th) to Sarah Ann Billington and right away volun
teered for the army. On 20th September I was called up to the Royal Artillery and I went to Woolwich for training and later to Aldershot to await drafting with the British Expeditionary Force to the Western Front in France.
'Nothing very much seemed to be happening in the war (this
was called the Phoney War period) and in February of 1940 I
was discharged from the army because the London police force was finding itself short of experienced men and it was thought
better that I should be doing a job for which I was suited.
'So on February 8th, I left the army with a good character and went back to the CID. I got a flat in Fulham and Sarah,
who was working in a solicitor's office at Putney, and I settled down there. I was glad to be back in the police because I was
always devoted to the work. They used to say I was dogged and I still am. Once I get my teeth into something there is not much
that can make me let go. This is what happened in the case of the murder of Lorna Smith, but it is the way I am made and it
was the way I saw my work. In fact you could say that this
particular murder case became so important to me that it put everything else out of my mind for months, even the war.
'Lorna Smith was a decent girl of eighteen who was found dead in the mud on the banks of the Thames, not far from Wandsworth Bridge on March 18th, 1940. She had been
brutally raped and murdered, strangled with one of her own
stockings. I knew the girl personally and also her parents. They
kept a grocer's shop and dairy at Fulham. I have never seen
two people so distressed in my life. I thought they would never
get over it. For myself, I was livid, plain bloody angry, that this
young girl's life should be snuffed out by some animal who
couldn't control himself. God knows there were enough whores
operating in London at that time, you could hardly move for
them in the West End, so why he had to take it out on a decent-
living kid like that, don't ask me.
'I got myself assigned to the case, on account of knowing the
family, and for weeks I hardly stopped working even to eat or
sleep. Sarah, my wife, got very upset about it. She thought it
was something else. (She was always a shade suspicious because
she'd had some dealings with the CID in her work at the solici
tors and she did not have all that high opinion of their morals.)
I remember she said to me one night when I got home pale and
played out: "Are you sure it's not a living girl that's taking up
all your time?" That was the nearest time I ever came to hitting
her in all our years of marriage.
'About the middle of May I got a strong lead. A soldier stationed at the camp in Richmond Park got drunk in the Queen's Head pub in Kingston-on-Thames one night and a barmaid overheard him say he knew who had done the killing
of Lorna Smith. She reported what she had heard and the next
night I went to the pub myself, bought this soldier three or four
Scotches (I said I wanted to do something for the war effort)
and then took him to Putney police station for questioning.
'He was a pimply little bastard called Braithwaite, a private in the Catering Corps, though I wouldn't have liked him to
cook my dinner. At first, naturally, even though he was drunk,
he denied ever making the remarks about Lorna Smith. Then he
admitted he had said it but was telling lies, just trying to make
an impression on his I listeners. I was not going to have that. I
had come too far to stop now. All I had to do was close my eyes
and see that girl lying on the mortuary slab and remember her
father having to identify her and my blood boiled.
'So I leaned on Braithwaite, not brutally (of course) but enough to make him change his mind again. He started to cry.
He must have been a great soldier, but I suppose they took all
sorts in those days. And he sobbed it all out. One night in the billet in Richmond Park, the soldier in the next bed had come in late and drunk and had fallen down at the side of the bed
and started to pray to God for forgiveness for doing somebody
to death. Most of the others in the barrack room were asleep - it was a Thursday which was pay night and they'd all been out to the pubs - and only Braithwaite remembered it in the morning. Even he had not taken much notice until he read in the
that the girl had been murdered.
'But he did not do anything about it, although he noticed
that the other man was very pale and unusually quiet for about a week. This man was a soldier called Albert Smales, twenty-
six, formerly a labourer of Preston in Lancashire, who, inci
dentally, had a long police record for violence against women and girls. About two weeks after the murder Smales had put
himself forward to volunteer for a draft to France with the British Expeditionary Force, was accepted and went within the next few days.
'Right away I applied for permission to go to France and see the man, but my superiors were all horror-struck. There was a war on, they pointed out, and a war that was just beginning to liven up. The Germans had begun to attack all along the front and they were breaking through in Belgium.
If we wanted Smales questioned then let the army Special
Investigation Branch do it. There was no chance of my going.
'In the end a request was put in to the SIB office of the
military police in France where it must have raised a laugh, because by this time the army was a bit of a shambles, pulling
back towards Dunkirk, and nobody knew where anybody was.
To try and pick up one man, no matter what he was accused of, was impossible and they said so. Very rudely I recall.
'All I could do was to fret around getting on everybody's nerves, my colleagues, my wife, and even, I regret to say,
Lorna Smith's parents. Everybody seemed to want to close the
business except me. I wasn't going to let it drop. In the end I
got permission to go to Preston to see Smales' family - a right
collection. All the male members had done time for something
or other, the sister was on the streets and the mother had a go at that when a customer turned up who was not all that particular. I obtained from them a picture of Albert Smales in uniform (well, truthfully, I lifted it from their mantelpiece, but I thought anything was fair with that class of people), and on
the way back south in the train I kept taking out that photograph in its frame and staring at it. A clergyman got in at
Crewe and, thinking I was looking at a picture of my soldier
brother, the silly old fool said he would pray for him. The bastard needed somebody to pray for him.
'To me Dunkirk was even more of a miracle than it was to most people. Here was fate bringing my quarry right back to
me, if he was alive, which I thought he was because they never
got themselves killed in battle, that sort. As soon as they began
to bring the soldiers back from the beaches I asked for permission to go down to Dover, Folkestone and other places on the coast to try and pick up Smales.
'This request was met with a very sharp refusal and all the
usual catch-phrases like "Don't you know there's a war on?" and they sent me out to look for German spies and para
chutists disguised as old ladies and vicars. (There was even a
ridiculous rumour went round at this time that the enemy had dropped midgets in children's clothes to act as saboteurs. Some lunatic seriously suggested that I should go around the playgrounds and the parks looking for Nazi dwarfs.)
'I was much more interested in finding a full-grown mur
derer. I tried again with my bosses but now they turned really
nasty and the Detective-Superintendent, a man called Lowe,
blew me up and said that I only had it on hearsay that Smales
had anything to do with it at all, now would I bugger off and look for fifth columnists.
'That decided me. I took some leave I had due to me and under my own steam I went down to the south coast where
there were camps for all the men who had disembarked from Dunkirk. You never saw such a shambles. If the Germans had
followed them they would have been in London by midday. And all the fuss! Everybody patting everybody on the back as if it were a great victory instead of a defeat. You'd have thought they had all swum back.
'Anyway for three days I had no dice at all. I went to all sorts of camps and army offices making my inquiries. The reactions I got varied from complete indifference to nasty tempers. How dare I look around for an ordinary, unimpor-
tant murderer, when the whole future of civilization was at
stake? That sort of blind attitude. There they all were drinking their millions of cups of tea and eating their sandwiches pro
vided by middle-aged ladies who wanted to kill Hitler, but nobody knew nor cared about Private Smales.
'Eventually, on the last day of my leave, I had some luck. I discovered the unit he had been attached to and right away I found that some men from that unit were in hospital in
Canterbury. So off to Canterbury I went, taking with me ciga
rettes and apples, the sort of thing it was fashionable to give to soldiers in those days.
'I flashed my police warrant card about a bit but it was only
grudgingly that they let me into the hospital. They did not
think that any business I might have had could be important
enough. The war seemed to have dulled people's idea of simple
public duty. I know the murder of Lorna Smith was not as
glamorous as Dunkirk but, to me, it was more important. After
all Dunkirk had now all been cleared up. This case had not.
'But my luck had turned. There was a soldier in one of the
beds, a boy only about eighteen, who had what looked like a
nasty hole in the top of his arm, and it was he who told me
about Smales. "Didn't like him," he said after I had shown him
the photograph. "Nasty bully type of bloke. Throwing his
weight about, getting drunk, even reckoning he'd done people
' "He said that?" I said, trying not to sound too eager. "Can you remember what he said about it?" He looked at me in a funny way and then shook his head. "No, nothing definite.
Nobody believed him anyway, just general bragging, like. And
he didn't hang around to do any of the killing when the bleed
ing Jerries arrived. He just hopped it."
' "Deserted did he?" I said. This gave me some sort of funny
hope that the military would give me a bit more assistance.
'"Yes," said the lad. "Cleared off about the third week in
May when it was getting nasty. I don't know how he got away or where he went. Paris, I expect. The dodgers always went to
I talked to him for another half an hour, trying to get something more from him. But it was not much use and after
that the ward sister came along and started to get shirty with me for plugging away at the boy. So I left him all the cigarettes and apples I had brought and made to go out. It was not much use because from the door I saw the sister taking
them away from him. She came charging down the ward after
me and shoved the lot into my arms again. "Take these with you," she said, really nasty. "He can't smoke and he can't eat apples."
' "Oh all right," I said, a bit hurt. "Why can't he?"
'She looked very annoyed. "Because he's got a bullet lodged in his lung, that's why," she sort of rasped at me. "If I'd known
you were from the police I wouldn't have allowed you to talk
to him at all. You've exhausted him.
ought to try being in
the army. Can't think why you're not anyway."
This was the trouble with people in those days, you see.
Unless you had a uniform they thought you ought to be tarred
and covered with white feathers. Nobody ever stopped to think
that if the police did not act normally while everybody else was playing soldiers then there would be a lot more Lorna Smiths lying dead in the mud around the country.
'As I went away with my apples and cigarettes I was feeling
disappointed, thinking that I was even further from getting Smales. Even if he had returned from Dunkirk then I had no more leave to find him. If he had stayed in France then he would soon be in a nice cosy prison camp for the rest of the war, doing fretwork and body-building. He wasn't the type to escape and certainly being inside was no change for him.
'I had to go back to everyday police work, checking up on stolen ration books, questioning people who were reckoned to be signalling to enemy aircraft by opening their blackout curtains. Thrilling stuff like that. And there was, of course, the
unending excitement of checking little old ladies and vicars to make sure they didn't have concealed guns or bombs.