British Empire Article

Courtesy of OSPA

by Alan L. Lindley (Former Senior Superintendent BSIP March 1952 - September 1969)
The BSIP Police Force
Police HQ, Honiara
The British Solomon Islands Protectorate in the 1950s was, like most of the British Empire, starting to feel the 'Winds of Change'. A lonely place stuck out in the Pacific beyond New Guinea; sometimes peaceful and quite lovely, other times downright dangerous and uncomfortable. A double chain of islands, three on each side, about 90 miles long and 25 miles wide, except Guadalcanal about 30 miles wide, on which was the capital of Honiara. The islands were heavily bushed with only a small coastal strip and steep high hills; on Guadalcanal one peak is 8,006ft. In WWII the Japanese were halted at Guadalcanal and certain influences were left behind, like the civil disobedience, known as 'Marching Rule', on Malaita Island, one of four Government Districts. Nothing can advance without civil law and order which means having a competent Police Force. In the 1940's a Force was in existence, mainly controlled by DOs and DCs as a 'private army'. But it was realised that there should be a separate Police Force and recruiting took place in late 1951 for expat officers from the UK.

In 1951 the Force was known as the Armed Constabulary with two expat officers, both at PHQ, Honiara. The Superintendent was only looking forward to retirement, and the Inspector (ex-Palestine Police Building Inspector!) who was i/c of the finances etc had never served at a Police Station. The first recruited Inspector arrived at Central Police Station (CPS) in February 1952. I came as a Sub-Inspector in late March 1952, with two more Sub-Inspectors at CPS about four weeks after me. Thus was born the BSIP Police in its new format. The Inspector at CPS was ex-Met and had been dealing with men's indecency at toilets. I had served 15 months in the British Infantry in Eritrea, and 15 months in the Coventry City Police (two commendations in 12 months). Of the other two Sub-Inspectors, one was ex-Coventry (like me) and the other ex- Palestine but a sick man. A fourth Sub-Inspector was recruited in 1952 (ex-Nottingham City) arriving in February 1953. All we new officers were in our early to mid 20s. The CPS Inspector was posted to Auki, the Government HQ on Malaita, in about May 1952, and I became OIC/CPS and Central District, responsible for law and order at the ripe old age of 22. My two other colleagues were posted to PHQ. The Force was in a real mess; pathetic is probably a better description.

The BSIP Police Force
Auki Police Station
On my first day at work I was told that in addition to normal policing we were also Prison Officers, Executioners if required at Central Prison situated next to PHQ (the other Districts of Malaita, Western and Eastern all had prisons, with the only female prisoners at Auki on Malaita); also responsible for fire services at Honiara and the airfield, and later. Immigration Officers, Firearms Control and all traffic matters. Somewhat of a shock! Of course we all had to prosecute, which none of us had done before in the UK!

At the end of 1954 or early 1955 the name was changed to the Solomon Islands Police Force. The uniform was a khaki sulu (a non-tailored wrapround cloth), red sash and black belt, and that was that! Only a few NCOS wore a shirt with their ranking in the usual manner. In districts, rank was shown by the colour of the sash, i.e. light blue for Corporal, white for Sergeant and a wide red sash with white in the centre for a Station Sergeant. At Honiara it was chilly at night for the Islanders so night duty men wore expat clothing, I even saw one PC wearing an old black dinner jacket. We expat officers wore the normal Colonial Police uniform. After the CPS Inspector left for Malaita, I started to make a number of changes in many areas to endeavour to bring some kind of order to CPS. However, things went somewhat amiss in December 1952 when the Malaita Inspector went 'tropo' and had to return to CPS which meant I was posted to Gizo, Government HQ in the Western District. My Coventry colleague was posted to Malaita to fill the vacancy: both men only managed one tour of duty!

The BSIP Police Force
Gizo Police Station
The buildings for the Police were poor. CPS was built using US Army scrap. In the three other Districts the stations and barracks were primitive as were the married quarters, including my own. There was no local leave for expats nor sick leave. If one had, say, malaria (I had 13 attacks in six years, twice in the UK), then you took leave accordingly, same for all ranks. If in the UK and sick it came off your normal leave! No doubt my many colleagues in the Service were on similar conditions. Our tour of duty was two years; my first tour however was 2 1/2 years and mainly 24/7, if you were keen enough and strong enough! A number of expats in the 1950's saw two tours, then off.

The BSIP Police Force
Farewell Photo
The BSIP was not, in my opinion, really one country. It was like four countries of the Pacific and Melanesian areas pushed together, forming the four Districts. The West was a happy area; Central a sullen lot; Malaita had some people I greatly liked but it also contained quite a bad element that would kill without a moment's hesitation; East were a laidback people. There were over 50 languages and the colour of the people varied from coal black in the West to light brown in the East. Because of many differences, it was Force policy to ensure a regular mix of men at Stations. It also meant we expats had to understand these differences, especially the 'customs' of each District. Because of the many languages, the islands' lingua franca was Pidgin English, a skill we expats had to learn and to pass a test to confirm our appointment. This 'custom' business was most important and I was always ready to conform if it did not interfere with my duties.

To finish, let me say the BSIP was a rather complicated country where 'custom' ruled and old feuds lasted for years. I believe I am the last of the 1950 officers and almost last of the 1960's. I enjoyed my 17 1/2 years service, even with its ups and downs and have been so lucky in seeing many things few, if any, white men have seen - now, of course, impossible.

BSIP Stamp
1956 BSIP Stamp
Colony Profile
Solomon Islands
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 109: April 2015


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