An Interview with "The Amiable Sergeant Symes" (From the Summer 1999 Edition of "The Way" - Chardsmead Baptist Church Bridport, Dorset.U.K)
Our magazine editor, Roy Symes, retired from the Police Service at the end of fast year. Just before that an article about him appeared in the Bridport News in which he was described as the amiable Sergeant Symes. I asked him if he would give me an interview for "The Way". Here it is.
Roy, thanks for interrupting your bricklaying Tell me just a little about your childhood and upbringing.
I was born in Wandsworth, South London, in 1946. My younger sister and I lived with Mum and Dad in a house like the ones on Coronation Street with an outside toilet in the backyard. We only had one bedroom. My sister slept in the bedroom with our parents and I had a put-u-up in the front room. That's how it was until I was fifteen and then we moved to a larger house just round the corner. It actually had an inside loo and a bath in the kitchen. What a marvel that was! We could bath at home instead of going to the public baths about three miles away! I lived there until I got married when I was twenty-two.
That was over thirty years ago. Is that when you joined the Police Service?
Maggie and I got married in Oct. '68; I was accepted for the Force in November & I started in Jan. '69.
You retired as a Sergeant. Can you give us a brief run down on your career.
All my service was in Dorset. In those days the Dorset force was called Dorset 'Family' Police because it was made up of so many fathers and sons and brothers. It was great to be in a small force rather than in one of the big Metropolitan areas. I joined the Police because the office job I was in didn't appeal to me as something I wanted to do for the next forty years or so. I wrote to several forces in the south and west and Dorset was the first to respond. I was given an interview quite quickly and was accepted and posted to a Station in Poole. Then after several years in a number of different locations I came to Bridport in Sept.'75. In Feb'78 I got promoted and went to Weymouth as a Station Sergeant. It suited me when I was posted back to Bridport, after about a year, because I lived in Bridport ant that's where I stayed for twelve years. In July 1990 I was given the chance of a posting to Lyme Regis. I was a bit unsure about the move because, apart from the travelling, I guessed the work might be less interesting in a smaller town. It turned out to be a great place to work. There was plenty to do including having to clamp down on a growing drugs problem which we managed to deal with quite successfully. I stayed at Lyme until my retirement after thirty years service.
The newspaper article called you 'the amiable Sergeant Symes'. Was that your deliberate approach to the job?
Yes it was. I had a Sergeant at Blandford who was a terrific guy. He was knowledgeable, unflappable, never hid away from trouble. He didn't lose his rag or put anybody down. When necessary he would just have a quiet word and sort things out privately. When someone needed tearing off a strip, he would do it. He was my role-model and his methods seem to have worked for me. At my retirement do I was really touched by the sentiments of appreciation from people I had rubbed shoulders with over the years.
I remember you telling me about someone else who had a significant influence on you during your time as Sergeant.
John Lewington. Early an John was a member of my Squad. He was difficult to supervise - he really stretched your amiability to the limit. But he was an excellent P.C., a good old fashioned copper. He could mix it with the worst, stood no nonsense, was popular with the men and respected in the community. His local knowledge was a tremendous help in the job.
But then there was a change in him, and not for the worse. The change was unbelievable. He told me he had become a Christian. He no longer got involved in dirty jokes and the like. I didn't take him too seriously at first but I could not deny the change in him. He began to talk to me about his faith in Christ and I began to take an interest in what he was saying. At that time John was getting tapes of sermons from his son's church in Cardiff and from time to time he and I would listen to them together. Soon I wanted to understand more about what I was hearing so I started attending the church at Chardsmead.
What was it that really made you think seriously about Christian things?
That's difficult to explain. John Lewington's life proved that some real power had been at work. It made sense to believe the Bible was true and I just wanted to know about it. The more I heard, the more I was gripped. I started to read the Bible for myself because I knew it contained a reality that I needed. We are on earth for such a short time. It seemed foolish to put your head in the sand when you are beginning to realise there's more to life than just what we see at the moment. That's why I continued attending church.
One Sunday evening, I remember, it became clear to me that the only way to get right with God was to acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that He had died to pay for my sins. These things kept turning over in my mind for some time and I wondered if there could be another answer. But I finally believed that Jesus is the Lord and what the Bible says about Him is true. I knew He was my Saviour. I couldn't tell you exactly when that happened. It was not a sudden experience but a gradual process. The more I realised how much Christ had gone through for me, the more I felt what a horrible, foul person I was. But I know I was right with God because He had paid my penalty. I was thirty-seven then.
How did becoming a Christian affect your life at home and in work?
It was quite hard at home at first. Maggie was not a Christian then, although she thought she was because she had been baptised as a baby and confirmed into the Church of England. I wanted to talk about the Scriptures and about Jesus Christ. Believing in Him had changed by life so much. But the more I did, the more it pushed Maggie away from me. I loved her and couldn't imagine not being close to her. Again, God was good. I prayed hard for Maggie and soon she began to be challenged by the gospel. She started attending church with me, but it took the shock of her father's death to really arrest her thinking. Her dad was a smashing man and they had been very close. She had great difficulty in coming to terms with the fact that the one whom she had loved so dearly and who had been so good to her was no longer there. That made her begin to think seriously above the One who never leaves us or lets us down. Soon she came to faith in Christ. Now we share that faith and we can talk together about our Saviour and know He is with us in our home.
At work, my relationship with colleagues changed. My topics of conversation, my language, the subjects of jokes all changed. It particularly hurt when people blasphemed. I suppose the men reacted to me just as I had to John Lewington previously. They though it was a joke and would soon pass. But as time went by they realised this was something real, and gradually they adjusted their language for my sake. I suppose being a sergeant helped in that respect.
I didn't meet many Christians in the police service. The fellowship at Chardsmead was a tremendous support. It was conversation with other Christians and the teaching of the Scriptures that strengthened me to keep going in an environment where there was no interest in spiritual things.
I know you are enjoying your retirement, but what are you hopes and aims in the longer term?
I am enjoying retirement. As you know, I've started building a garage and there are plenty of other things around the house to keep me busy. I have always said, 'I'm retiring soon, I'll do it then.' So now I have to get on with it. In the longer term, I wan to make up for all the time on shifts which were incomparable with family life. My daughter is getting married this year and maybe we will become grandparents. It would be good to get the time with grandchildren that I missed with my own children. They seem to grow up so quickly and I missed it.
Who knows, I might even find time for some hobbies. Of course, there will be opportunity to deepen my commitment to work in the church. Lately, I have accompanied Tim Serjeant on his door-to-door visitation. That's been both a challenge and a blessing. I want to continue with that and even, maybe, team up with someone else from the church occasionally. My philosophy has always been 'Sufficient unto the day'. I know the future is all in God's hands.
I'm grateful to God that I have reached retirement. Today I've been saddened by news that a very good friend, who was only ten months from retirement, has been killed in a car crash. I feel so sorry for his family. It's made me think again about the importance of spiritual things and I thank the Lord that He has been so good to me.
Thank you Roy.