3 Squadron LIFETIMES

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Vale Merv BECK

14 February 1922 – 21 March 2018.
3SQN WW2 Armourer and later a distinguished Police Inspector
Aged 96.


Malta. July 1943.  A Kittyhawk aircraft of No.3 Squadron RAAF warming up for the first attack against Sicily.
Note the Armourer sitting on the wing of the aircraft to guide it along the taxi-way.

Eulogy by Ben HOPPER

Good morning, Ben Hopper is my name and I am one of Merv Beck's grandsons.  Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking… (A common saying used by Grandad!)  ...It is a deep honour and privilege to be able to deliver the eulogy for my Grandad here today.

Beginnings

Mervyn Lindsay BECK was born in Goulburn NSW on 14 February 1922.  The son, and grandson, of police officers, there was probably never any doubt that he would follow the same path.  Son of Launcelot Charles Beck, a mounted policeman, and Kathleen Ivy Whipp a devoted wife and mother.

Brother of Linda Jean – known as Topsy, Constance Gwendoline – known as Conny, Edna as well as Thelma (who passed away whilst in infancy).

Grandad grew up largely in Western NSW.  - Townships of Bourke, Queanbeyan, Nundle, Warialda - before his family settled on the Northern Beaches of Sydney.  Growing up, Grandad assisted in the local chapel as an Altar Boy and later worked in the abattoir at Bourke.  In his youth Grandad had a strong passion for competitive push bike riding – and, I was reliably informed (by him) that he was extremely good at it.

Air Force and WW2

Of course – like so many of the great generation he was part of, world events and the invasion of Poland in 1939 by Nazi Germany would have a profound effect on his life.  And so Mervyn joined the Royal Australian Air Force, on 28 February 1941, and served with Number 3 Squadron.  Enlisting as an Armourer and putting bombs on fighting planes, Grandad served in Africa, Italy, Sicily and Europe during and throughout World War 2.

I remember many stories Grandad use to tell me about his time in the war – particularly in the desert.  One such story was when at night he was called to attention and told to get ready, the enemy was approaching.  In his fox hole he went with rifle.  He heard a large tank approach the compound – he told me he was ready to fight but was apprehensive – I think we all know what he meant.  The tank rolled on and got closer and closer.  At the last minute – with his finger on his 303 rifle and ready to engage the enemy - an Italian jumped out of the tank - arms in the air and surrendered – a huge relief it was and when he told me the story there was enormous mischievousness in his eyes.

Grandad told me that story far better than I have told you today – he also added a little bit more commentary about the enemy than I can say here today - Padre.

On 21 November 1941, M.L. BECK was “specially recommended” for reclassification and promotion to Leading Aircraftsman – something he wrote home about with great pride.  It was the first, but not his last promotion that he would have in his life.  After the war he was discharged on the military's demobilisation, after reaching the rank of Corporal.  Grandad earned, and holds, the 1939-45 Star, the Africa Star and Clasp and the Italian Star medals for his service.

NSW Police

After the war Mervyn spent a period of time as a grocer’s assistant and labourer, but his life’s calling awaited.  On 7 January 1946, at the age of 23 - Grandad entered an agreement with the then Commissioner of Police, William John MacKay, to faithfully serve King and Country once more - as a Probationary Constable in the NSW Police Force.

The native of Goulburn, standing at a height of 5 foot and 9½ inches and weighing 12 stone and 3 pounds, entered into a career that would last 36 years.

Initially spending a number of months at Phillip Street Police Station, he was posted for a short time to Penrith and to the new Academy.  Towards the end of 1946 he was posted to 21 Division - motor bike duties.  Riding the busy streets of Sydney in a tunic and cap – can you imagine.  I’m sure his previous pushbike skills served him well.

From 1947 Grandad spent six years at Manly performing Plain Clothed Detective duties.  In 1952 he was appointed as a special constable in Queensland for a number of months on exchange.  In 1953, he was posted to the Consorting Squad and did a three month interchange in Melbourne with the Victorian Police.  In 1956, Grandad was posted to the Criminal Investigation Branch or CIB, and to the Vice Squad.  On 1 July 1958 he was promoted to Detective Senior Constable and was stationed at Darlinghurst Police Station.  He would return to this station later in his career in very different circumstances!

In 1960 Mervyn was promoted to Detective Sergeant – an obviously proud moment in his career and was stationed at Regent Street Police Station near Central – it no longer exists.  Early in my career I went there for a job and some of the stories Grandad had told me seemed to take life.  From 1969 to 1974, Grandad served at Eastwood, North Sydney and Manly Police Stations as a Detective Sergeant.  You can only imagine the investigations of murder, assault and theft he diligently pursued during that time and in that era.

In 1974 he was commissioned as a third class Detective Inspector. In his words “he made officer” and received, as they did on those days, the Governor’s Commission.  In that year of 1974 Grandad had the privilege of being the Commander of the Australian Police Contingent in Cyprus.  Many photos exist of Grandad during that time, proudly wearing the Commonwealth Police uniform.  The rank insignia of a Colonel would have also been something of immense pride.  Also of interest is that Grandad “acquired” a donkey called “Bully Beef” which he use to ride in Cyprus.  I can only imaging the enormous stress that animal would have been under – being named after a wartime meal and being responsible for carrying such an indomitable character.

Upon his return, Grandad settled once again back to Manly Police Station before being asked to “clean up” Darlinghurst – or “Darlo” – Number 3 division in 1977 (good year).  Remembering of course his earlier stint there in 1958.  This was a very different time.  The mess that Grandad found was enormous.  Changing culture and Police practice would have intimidated the strongest of men – but Grandad appeared to enjoy the challenge.  In the words of Quinten Dempster, the ABC political commentator; “Beck is a man who is not afraid to speak his mind”

However, Grandad was also to learn that “forthright honesty [would] often get him into trouble.”

It was after asking 21 Division for details on illegal gambling on his patch – the Cross – Grandad was quickly transferred out to Chatswood.  For all that knew him – we know that Grandad was always very diplomatic.  He later remarked “a crook at the Cross got Merv Wood (then Police Commissioner) to move me from Darlo.”  But the leafy north shore position as a Senior Inspector would not last long and he returned to the City - this time to 21 Division itself.

And so on 2 July 1979 – Beck's Raiders were born.  Targeting and smashing the rotten illegal gambling dens, Thommo’s two-ups - and Organised Crime's lifeblood of cash - was to be his remit.  In the next ten months Becks Raiders made 900 arrests for a total of 3,300 charges – an astonishing result.  (Not unlike my own statistics – just joking of course.)  The 7.25kg sledge hammer which came to symbolise the squad got a workout.  But this did not come without cost.  Personal threats and betrayal from within were all hardships he endured.  His honesty and impeccable integrity was causing trouble.

Perhaps his policing heritage, his time in the war and the support of his family all combined to assist this “Eliot Ness” of our times through those hardships.  There is a story of Elsie my Grandma - having a shotgun at her home for protection during those years – it seems to me the shotgun would have been the least of the crooks' problems if Grandma had been confronted – particularly if they had walked mud onto her carpet.

In June 1980 Merv was promoted to the rank of Superintendent and was transferred consequently to Hornsby.  But 1981 he returned, finally to 21 Division, a place he started, to finish his career and finalise his oath, and honour his agreement with Commissioner Mackay from 1946.  And so with the formation of the new Special Gaming Squad Grandad would serve out his last few months of his career, “cracking heads and locking up the crooks”.  In that short period of time 1,055 people were arrested, major gambling operations were shut down and there was enough Criminal Intelligence to keep the squad going for years.  Mervyn Lindsay Beck left the NSW Police Force on retirement on 13 February 1982, with a highly-distinguished and unblemished police record – with the recognition that he was a man of integrity.

 


Merv on the day he retired.

Of the many commentaries about Grandad’s service:

On 10 June 1948 he was complimented by Judge James Gerrard for the presentation of evidence in a string of break and enters.

On 9 October 1959 Grandad was commended by the then Commissioner for the arrest of escaped prisoners Kevin John Simmonds and Leslie Allan Newcombe (I beat old Kev and Les were relieved to see the inside of a prison again after dealing with Grandad).

On 19 April 1962 commended by Judge Holden for investigative work on a hit a run which caused a woman serious physical injury.

In February 1974 was commended for bravery for the apprehension of two offenders who had threatened police with a loaded firearm.

 

Family

On 1 April 1949 (yes, April fool’s day) he married the love of his life, Elsie Marion Mitchell.  Grandma sadly can’t be here with us today.  Together they raised a family of four children on the Northern Beaches of Sydney.  Children; Elizabeth, Pauline, Mitchell and Charlene.  Of the memories that these children have of their dad these are but some:

The car travel and holidays to Hill Top to visit Evy and Charles.  Merv would sing and sing and sing in the car.  Songs which reflected his youth and songs of his generation; songs like "Pack up your Troubles", "On Top of Old Smokey", "Long Way to Tipperary".

Family holidays at Saratoga and their dad collecting oysters off the rocks on the waters edge.

He loved cooking Macaroni (probably laughing to himself about Italian tanks as he did so)

For leisure Grandad loved to play tennis – he played bowls in later life – but I’m reliably told by grandma he hated to loose – that competitive streak was a common theme throughout Grandad's life.

Right handed except for chopping wood and playing golf. He loved swimming up and down the pool – while Elizabeth and Pauline did trainings in the mornings.

Every morning he would make breakfast for Elsie his wife and carry it to her down stairs to the bedroom.

Grandad loved reading – and read a lot – mostly non fiction. He loved John Wayne and old westerns – couldn’t watch or stand police shows.

He loved his St George Dragons (proving that everyone has their faults!) – and he loved the Cricket – test match cricket of course.

He once remarked to me that Winston Churchill was the greatest leader he had ever seen.

Many of you will have wonderful memories of a man who was in many ways was larger than life.

I would like to finish with a poem Grandad wrote during the war – perhaps he wrote it in the desert by a lamp, or during his time in Italy – we will never know – regardless, this is a poem that speaks to all of us here today; a message to us all in his words; may he Rest in Peace:

This Life is a City, one long street.
But Death is a thing that we all must meet.

If Life were a thing that money could buy,
Then the rich would live and the poor would die.
But it's ordained not to be so,
And the rich like the poor to the grave must go.

Then I wish you health,
I wish you wealth;
In all its golden store.
I wish you Heaven after Death;
I cannot wish you more.
 

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