Story: Crawford, Nora Mary

Page 1 - Biography

Crawford, Nora Mary

1917–1997

Policewoman

This biography was written by Valerie P. Redshaw and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 5, 2000

Nora Mary Parker was born in Hawera, Taranaki, on 25 June 1917, one of three daughters of Kate Maria Ride and her husband, Walter Vincent Parker, a farmer. She went to Ararata School, but later, when her father became ill, had to help at home. Her early secondary education was mostly by correspondence and managed around the daily tasks on the farm. When her father’s health improved, Nora enrolled in a commercial course at Hawera Technical High School. After working briefly at the local importing firm of Johnson and Company, she completed a herd-testing course at Massey Agricultural College. She was then employed by a firm of New Plymouth accountants, who soon discovered that her efficiency was better utilised recording herd-testing data in the office than operating in the field.

Persuaded by her neighbour, Donald Scott, officer in charge of New Plymouth police, she applied to become a policewoman. On 23 April 1943 she was one of 19 or 20 women accepted in the third group for police training at the police depot in Newtown, Wellington. At first she found the course difficult and some activities, such as attending post mortems and learning about abortions, disconcerting. Although she had misgivings about her career choice, Nora was encouraged by Scott, now an inspector, to finish the training. She persevered and completed the course.

In Auckland from 2 March 1944, Nora found her first duties as Constable W35 complicated by the presence of a large number of American servicemen in the area. These duties included dealing with ‘idle and disorderly’ women, investigating illegal bookmakers and sly-grogging, patrolling parks and cinemas, and helping the criminal investigation branch (CIB) to interview female offenders, victims and witnesses. This latter task held the most interest for her and she soon proved herself an able assistant.

In 1947 Nora Parker met Constable Dougal Daniel Crawford of the police wharf patrols at a New Zealand Police Association meeting. They were married on 8 June 1948 at Auckland. No children were born of the marriage, and Nora continued to work. She was noted for her good grooming and wore smart suits and hats with co-ordinated accessories until uniforms were first issued to women in 1952. However, her uniformed days were short-lived; in 1955 her special interest in fraud and skills at detection were recognised and she was given the opportunity to work in the CIB. This was a significant accomplishment at a time when considerable numbers of policemen resented the presence or promotion of women in the service.

After attending a qualifying course at the New Zealand Police Training School, Trentham, on 1 November 1958 Nora Crawford became the first woman in New Zealand to reach the rank of detective. She took pride in doing exactly the same job as her male counterparts. Good natured, friendly, resilient and forthright, she was also innovative: once, she took control of a screaming, violent woman prisoner in the back seat of a police car by tickling her feet. On a number of occasions she was designated an escort and bodyguard for visiting dignitaries; these included Queen Elizabeth II, in 1953, and Queen Sirikit of Thailand, in 1962. In October 1969 she joined the CIB fraud squad.

In 1977 she was awarded the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal and in 1978 received her long service and good conduct medal. Her 23 years of investigative experience with the CIB and reputation in the fraud squad gained her a position with Bankcard Security on her retirement from the Police in 1978. In 1985 she became patron of the No 101 Nora Crawford recruit wing at the Royal New Zealand Police College, the first time a policewoman had been so honoured.

Nora Crawford was influential and active in a number of police-related groups both during and after her police service. She was a foundation member of the New Zealand Section of the International Police Association (IPA) in 1966, and served as treasurer for 21 years. IPA activities brought her into contact with police from all parts of the globe and she endowed the New Zealand Police Museum with an IPA exhibit. Crawford made a valuable contribution to the welfare of her fellow officers by her involvement in setting up the Auckland ex-police officers’ club, and serving as secretary and treasurer.

Crawford’s liking for people and the realisation that society was not always kind led her to believe that there was something she could do to help. In her career in the police she achieved more than any woman before her, and thereby set an example for younger women wishing to progress in the service. Her husband died in 1981, and Nora died in Auckland on 1 January 1997.