A REMARKABLE R.A.F. POLICEMAN
Flight Sergeant CHARLES DOUGLAS COLLYER, B.E.M.
No M 1473858
"I'm 82, and can still stand on my head." This is how Charley, as he is known to
all, greeted me on
September 14th on the occasion of a re-union held at Fontainebleau, France, of RAF servicemen who had met him during their service at Camp Guynemer, the then headquarters of Allied Air Forces, Central Europe. His story is unique. It could never happen again in any part of the world, to any other serving member of any force. He joined the RAF in 1943 at Croydon, Surrey. Britain was at war, and as soon as he was 18 he and his best mate, Cyril Barton, joined together. They both wanted to be aircrew but Charley's maths was hopeless. Cyril became a pilot in Bomber Command and won a posthumous V.C. Charley opted for the R.A.F. Police. After basic training at hessington, he was posted to the Police Training depot at Uxbridge and passed out as a provost policeman in February 1944. His first posting was to No.1 London District based in South Kensington, where he had his first experiences of a wartime London teeming with servicemen, mainly out to get drunk as quickly as possible and then have a fight with someone. With D-Day approaching, his second posting was to Newhaven, where he was held in a pool of policemen from both the Army and the R.A. F. awaiting embarkation for D-Day. On D-Day plus 10 he embarked for Cherbourg and landed on the beach from a landing craft full of Americans in full combat gear, wondering what on earth he was doing there. Two months of directing traffic on the Cotentin Peninsula and he was posted to Dieppe. An old house in the center of the town was the police H.Q. and three months of traffic duty, locking up drunks and chasing deserters saw him posted back to an American unit and he entered Paris two days after its liberation. This was a war zone. Germans were still hiding out there, sheltered either by girlfriends or sympathizers of which there were many, or they had simply deserted and were taking their chances of mingling in with the locals. Based in the Place Vendome, a now very prosperous area of Paris, he patrolled with the U.S. military Police. Their main duties were searching out these Germans and their French collaborators. but street patrol still took up a lot of their time. He recounts several incidents, the like of which if you knew him, could only happen to Charley. Early one morning, at the end of a night shift he was patrolling the Champs Elysees. Rounding the Arc de Triomphe in his Jeep he saw a man crouched over the eternal flame which marks France's Unknown Soldier. He stopped and found a G.I. trying to cook his breakfast on it! Calling uo a yank policeman he had him taken away and the American invited him to have breakfast at the U.S. Serviceman's Club. He did, and the waitress who served them, a French woman working for the U.S. Red Cross, became his wife two months later. Fast work for those days! On another occasion he and his colleague were approached by a frantic Frenchwoman indicating that they come into her house. 'Quick. see. quick see' she repeated over and over. After checking in over the radio they went in. 'Ici. ici' she shouted as she led them downstairs. She pointed to an old door. ‘La La’ It was locked. He knocked - no reply. 'Non, non, she shouted 'break it'. Charley considered shooting the lock off. but spying a bit of metal between them they burst the door open. It was a room the size of a small bedroom packed from floor to ceiling with money. English money. Ten shilling notes, pound notes and the bio old white fivers. When it had been loaded and removed to Police H.Q. it was found to be nearly three million pounds. a vast fortune in those days. No. it wasn't retirement time for all involved - it was all counterfeit - part of the German effort to cripple the Bank of England. All the German informants, spies and collaborators had been paid in fake English money and this was just one of the stores that were found in various parts of Europe. He told of the abject poverty around him, and also the lavish riches of the profiteers. The Black Market was just about the only line of supply - the poor bartered everything including their bodies, whilst the rich bought anything they liked. The restaurants and nightclubs functioned as though there was no war on. He was eventually put in charge of a section dedicated to tracking down German deserters. He saw the results of murder, rape, arson and torture. He escorted so manv prisoners to the Caserne Mortiere in Paris for execution that he lost count. Working mainly on tip-offs, daily house searches netted hundreds of wanted people. He was in Paris for three years. 1945. '46. '47 Charley's next posting was to Marseilles. The R.A.F. Police H.Q. was in the Avenue de Prado and there his time was spent mainly on a Royal Enfield motorcycle patrolling La Corniche, a winding coastal mountain road stretching as far as Monte Carlo, hunting out escaped P,o,W's and smugglers. Germans were still being hidden in houses all over Southern France - he sometimes wondered if any Germans had gone back to Germany! When the H.Q. was closed in 1948 he was promoted Flight Sergeant and was posted to stres i/c the guardroom of 103 staging post under the command of Wing Commander HUNT. These were station duties which came as a welcome relief. The base was an airfield and guarding the aircraft was a priority, as was the M.T. Section as fuel and tyres were like gold dust. His abiding memory of this period is when a Lancaster crashed on landing. Charley managed to pull three men clear but the 2nd pilot died in his arms crying for his wife Edith. 1950 found him in Fontainebleau at the H.Q. Allied Air Forces Western Union at Quartier Chateau. It was here that 'Mr Fixit' was born. With his French wife as interpreter they quickly found a flat in which to live. A colleague asked if he could help find him a flat and he did. In no time the word got round that Charley Collyer could find you a married quarter. There was a fairly large contingent of British Army troops in Fontainebleau as well as the RA.F. and they began approaching him. Then an officer asked for help, preferring an outlying village rather than the town, and so was born Charley's kingdom. Word spread that a RA.F. Sergeant Policeman in Fontainebleau, called Charley, could get you anything from a house to compassionate leave. In 1952 when Camp Guynemer was officially opened Charley was posted there, still as a policeman, but more and more as a welfare officer. He had his own office, and word eventually reached Field Marshal Montgomery, Commander-in-Chief of all Allied Forces in Europe. He asked to meet this man and at the end of their conversation stated the words which made. Charley the legend he became. "This man is doing a far more useful job here than he ever could in England. He is to stay in France as long as he wishes to do so". He had virtually a free hand. He was the unofficial Billeting and Welfare Officer and young men went to him with any manner of problem – lovesick, homesick, worried about family - he heard everything. There was a saying doing the rounds "If you've got a sore throat, don't go to the M.O., go and see Charley." He did his rounds on his bicycle, a British Rudge, circa 1950, which he still has, and uses every day. He had a phenomenal memory: (a bit dimmer now), a dozen people could stop him and tell him their woes or needs and he would deal with each one in order when he got back to his desk. 'Baptisms to Burials' should have been on his door, because he even -organised those. I don't know how many children he is Godfather to; it is a lot. His well-deserved British Empire Meda was warded to him for 'Services to the Welfare and Administration of British Forces abroad' in 1956. and was presented to him by Wing Commander RG.M. STEVENSON on the parade ground at Camp Guvnemer. Charley stayed on at Fontainebleau 'til1967 when the camp was closed. What now? Here is where Monty's directive finally paid off. He was posted to the British Embassy in Paris! Here a post was found for him in Security and he had the unenviable job of looking after the Duke of Windsor. HRH Princess Claude of France. her brother the Compte de Paris (Pretender to the French throne). various Generals. and finally the Queen Mother. to whom he was presented. At the end of his 29 years service he returned to Fontainebleau in 1972. He had worked closely with Royal Air Force padres whilst welfare officer, and religious activities now took up a lot of his time. Co-founder of the Sunday School at the British church in Fontainebleau with Brigadier John HUNT. the Everest conqueror, he became superintendent on the Brigadier's retirement and looks back on this as one of his most satisfying achievements. For several years he was an accredited guide at the palace of the Emperor Napoleon and an authority on Empire style furniture. He continued to be invited to various functions at the British Embassy, and could often be seen in period costume. One of his favourite tricks was to emerge from the palace late at night and approach the guards who were unaware that he was still there. and frighten the life out of them. For nearly twenty years we lost sight of him. We now know that he spent many years in devoted attention to his wife who suffered from a crippling disease which eventually took her life. However, as a sprightly octogenarian, he is back. We have had two reunions at Fontainebleau and he has taken an active part in organising the French end of things. He is still the same old Charley, wanting to help someone. Last year, aged 81, Charley was walking one afternoon in town. Suddenly in front of him a woman at a bus stop was attacked by two muggers. Without even thinking he went to her assistance and managed to apply a headlock on one of them. The second, who by now had the woman's bag, turned on him and punched him several times about the head and body. By now people were arriving. The mugger with the bag ran off. Someone called the police, Charley. Blood pouring from him. held on. The police arrived and literally had to prize him from his arrest, “RAF Police" he muttered through bruised lips - "I learnt that grip 60 years ago, they can't get out of it you know." The two muggers were arrested and sentenced to 23 months in prison. They were Rumanian refugees. Charley was given a hero's write-up in the press. In his small flat he treasures his mementoes of his life in the RA.F. Police. He has only returned to England once in 58 years, and that was as the representative of Camp Guynemer at the funeral at RA.F. Halton of Winq Commander Colin COOPER. an officer whom Charley had helped at Fontainebleau. He is an unassuming man who sincerely believes he was only doing his job and wonders why anybody would be interested in hearing about him. There are dozens and dozens of people
who have cause to remember you, Charley