Story: Hammond, Walter Sydney

Page 1 - Hammond, Walter Sydney

Hammond, Walter Sydney

1906–1982

Policeman, private detective, bailiff

This biography was written by Graeme Dunstall and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 4, 1998

Walter Sydney Hammond was typical of many New Zealand police constables who could be selfless when called upon, who relished the camaraderie of their mates, and who made a difficult job more congenial by selectively ignoring police rules. He was born at Gravesend, Kent, England, on 2 July 1906, the son of Margaret Light (née Donoughue) and her husband, Robert Barnes Hammond, a customs official. While at school Walter decided to become a seaman in the merchant marine until he was old enough to join a police force. After eight years at sea he was appointed a constable in the New Zealand Police Force at Wellington on 20 September 1928, having applied to join some three years earlier.

Wally Hammond, as he was known, was to remain a uniformed constable at Wellington throughout his police career, mainly walking the beat on shifts. From the training depot, he was posted to Taranaki Street station, living in barracks until he married Marion Ellenor Wintrup, a butcher's daughter, at the Wellington Registrar's Office on 18 February 1930; they were to have four sons and a daughter. Hammond served at Mount Cook, the wharf station, Taranaki Street again, and finally at Wellington Central, where he had more-regular hours as a uniformed enquiry constable, serving summonses and following up traffic accidents. Recognising that it could take up to 16 years to be promoted to sergeant, and finding study difficult, he decided not to sit promotion examinations.

On 1 May 1931 Hammond was sent from Taranaki Street to Owhiro Bay where the steamer Progress had been driven onto rocks in a southerly swell. He swam out with a line to assist two of the crew who were clinging to rocks. Swept from rock to rock, with injuries to his hands, back and legs, he was washed into the heavy seas and rescued by fishermen. For their gallantry, Hammond and another constable, F. A. H. Baker, received a Record of Merit from Commissioner W. G. Wohlmann, and were awarded the King's Police Medal and the Royal Humane Society of New Zealand's silver medal.

In a variety of ways, Wally Hammond demonstrated commitment to his comrades and to his job. Amongst a large number of constables excavating the Hataitai rubbish dump in search of the body of murder victim Phillis Symons in July 1931, he was one of four singled out for five days' special leave. Each year he broke records as ticket seller for the charity rugby match between the Police and the Post and Telegraph Department – forgoing his annual leave in 1938 to sell more than 4,000. By 1941 he was active in the local branch of the New Zealand Police Association.

Standing six feet two inches tall, Hammond was effective in the physical side of street policing, brooking no nonsense from the disorderly. He showed initiative in catching car thieves, hit-and-run motorists and drunken drivers. An officer observed that he always seemed to be off his beat when he made his good catches. Hammond believed in a roving commission rather than regular beats where he could be found by his sergeant – though it was not always zeal that led him astray.

In 1939 Hammond sought a transfer to a smaller station out of Wellington. This was blocked by the local superintendent because of his record of delinquency. After his marriage he had incurred several fines for lateness, having to leave home on foot an hour before the early shift began at 5 a.m. Patrolling the wharves or the city's back streets could be bleak on a cold night, and Hammond was not the only constable caught in a pub, or having a cup of tea in a wharf-gate office; rules were often breached to make the job more agreeable. Finally, after being caught playing poker dice with American marines at the central station one evening, he was dismissed from the Police Force on 31 December 1942. Wally Hammond did not see himself as delinquent; he did his duty as he defined it and felt that he had been victimised.

Seven days later he joined the army. Based at Trentham Military Camp, in September 1943 he became a temporary corporal, and in March 1944 he was promoted to temporary sergeant. Discharged in August 1945, Hammond went to see Commissioner James Cummings about being reinstated to the police, but to no avail. He collected donations for the Wellington Free Ambulance Service on his old Indian motorcycle, and in 1948 began a private enquiry and debt collection agency. From 1963 to 1971 he served as a bailiff for the Department of Justice in Lower Hutt. He died at Lower Hutt on 13 December 1982, survived by his wife and children.