Monday, 29 April 2024 - 2:44pm

'Bomber' bows out

7 min read

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A man of many hats: Senior Constable Garry Bombay - cadet, daytime patrolling, nighttime patrolling and present day.

SPECIAL REPORT: After 47 years, Senior Constable Garry ‘Bomber’ Bombay is saying farewell to a Police career that led to many an adventure - being a movie extra, the car that knocked a house off its foundations, and losing an eyebrow weeks before his wedding. It all started with a radio ad, he tells Megan King.

“I was doing a fundraiser at school and heard an ad on Radio Avon to join the Police; the Cadets,” says Garry. “It sounded interesting, so I applied – they gave me the day off school to do it too.

“I hadn’t heard back for a while, so my dad told me to find a job. I remember I had my hand on the handle of the back door on my way to the labour exchange when the phone rang. It was Sergeant Townsend from recruiting. He said ‘Pack your bags, you’re going to Police College’ and that was that.”

Garry joined around a dozen fresh-faced recruits on the train, ferry and bus from his hometown Christchurch to Trentham.

“I was 17. Sometimes I look at the new cops nowadays and think, gee you’re a baby face, but I must have been a real baby face."

At the time, New Zealand Police Cadets and Queensland Police Cadets had a reciprocal arrangement for an annual visit. In Garry’s year, it was New Zealand’s turn to travel.

“We did a lot of fundraising that our instructors jacked up. We would do scrub cutting around Wellington and Upper Hutt and we were extras in a movie about Sir George Grey, a former Governor of New Zealand.

“All the Māori and Pacific Islanders were dressed up as warriors riding horseback, and we were dressed up as foot soldiers. The fire brigade was there too, hosing us to make it look like it was raining as we were pulling cannons through the mud.”

RC Savage Cadet Wing 21 - Garry is in the back row, second from the right. 
RC Savage Cadet Wing 21 - Garry is in the back row, second from the right. 

The trip to Brisbane was memorable too. The legal drinking age in New Zealand at the time was 20. When the plane crossed the border to Australia, it became 18.

“A few of us got off the plane a bit bleary eyed and the pubs there were open slather as well. We weren't all angels and saints, of course. We'd come from all sorts of backgrounds, but we learned quickly.”

Garry graduated with Cadet Wing 21 in December 1977 and was posted to Wellington. He wasn’t attested until April 1978 when he turned 19. Soon after he was sent to Christchurch – Group 1 in Central.

“Those were great times; we had a lot of fun. There were a lot of pranks. We got away with a lot back then.

“Night shift was quiet. No one moved after midnight, towns shut down in those days. The only thing that moved was a stolen car or a taxi.

“I remember one incident when a bunch of shearers grabbed a ride after a night out. Someone picked them up from the Dog House, a 24-hour burger joint in the Square, but they didn’t know it was a stolen car.

“The car was flying and when the driver saw us following him, he took off and ended up hitting a house – went through the bedroom window and moved it off its foundations by a couple of inches.

“All these shearers piled out covered in blood. Luckily there were no serious injuries, just some cuts and bruises. They were in a Mark 3 Zephyr, which was pretty much bulletproof.”

After about four years on the job, Garry was moved to New Brighton where he’s been ever since – 43 years, 23 of them as a community cop.

“Being a community cop back then, you really got to know the community. You got to know the people and you discussed issues. Little things. Big things. You weren’t just dealing with crimes; you were dealing with the issues that helped prevent crimes.”

One of those issues was the Central New Brighton school pool. The school had run out of money to maintain it and they put out a plea to the community. Garry drew on his strong organisational and logistics skills and kicked into gear.

“We formed a committee and organised a coast-to-coast Police cycle event – from the West Coast to New Brighton. We sent letters to businesses and put collection tins in all the shops. They needed $35,000 and collectively we raised about $65,000.”

Sadly, after the Canterbury earthquakes the school was closed and the pool was decommissioned and demolished.

Garry remembers the earthquakes vividly.

“I started on early shift that day. I was taking a statement from a woman whose son had died. It was quite a sensitive statement for the coroner. Next minute, the earthquake hit. The woman ducked under my desk quick as a flash and that was the end of the statement.”

Garry drove from New Brighton to the city to help.

“I thought I'd go past my house to check on my daughter. She was outside on the street. I checked she was OK then I had to leave her. It still upsets me. She was only 16.”

Garry had no way of finding out whether his wife and son were OK - they were - but got stuck in to help. The first day, he worked 29 hours straight, followed by three long months of Disaster Victim Identification (DVI).

His family stayed out of town in Ohoka, while Garry remained to look after their home, feed the cat and be closer to the city. He had no power and no water for three weeks.

“I remember one night when I came home Eagle had the spotlight on me as I was walking down the driveway. I think they could probably see my uniform. It was eerie. That was a big episode in our lives.”

Garry in the yellow helmet with members of the Canterbury SAR team, traversing Copeland Pass with Mount Cook in the background. 
Garry in the yellow helmet with members of the Canterbury SAR team, traversing Copeland Pass with Mount Cook in the background. 

After about 15 years in the job, Garry decided to join Search and Rescue (SAR).

“I like the outdoor side of things and I like the practical aspect that SAR offered. It was different to the everyday duties. The SAR environment was all about teamwork and working with outside organisations and volunteers to locate lost people.

“I’ve had some great opportunities with SAR; some you couldn’t pay for.

“One time we were searching for two young women who crashed in the Buller Gorge and we flew in a helicopter across the Alps after a big snowfall, up to the Hope Saddle above Murchison, and the whole Buller River to Westport. Six hours of flying. Fantastic scenery – heaps of cannabis plots too.

“The river was in flood and, sadly, we found the pair deceased after the river went down."

Training involved a lot of big tramps. "We climbed Mount Tapuae-o-Uenuku. It wasn't too technical, but it was a feat.

"Negative five degrees on a beautiful day, you could see the whole of North Island, the West Coast, the East Coast and down to Mount Cook. Amazing.”

Garry’s strong logistics skills meant he was relied on for many major operations.

“Sometimes there can be more than 100 people involved in a search and they can go on for weeks – you’ve got to keep them fed, accommodated and supplied. The other part is dealing with the families who can be quite demanding, understandably.

"In some situations it was difficult to placate them, especially when a search came to a conclusion where we exhausted all avenues but still hadn’t located the missing person – their loved one. Thankfully this didn’t happen often.”

Left: Studying a map on a SAREX. Right: Learning to abseil on a national SAR course. 
Left: Studying a map on a SAREX. Right: Learning to abseil on a national SAR course. 

Because of his search and rescue skills, Garry was also often called upon to assist with other operations and investigations, including cannabis recoveries and an international custody case under the Hague Convention.

“Our job was to survey this commune in Tākaka to locate a missing six-year-old child suspected of being hidden there. We managed to get some photos [of her], which provided the information needed to raid the place, and she was returned home.”

Garry has enjoyed his involvement in Police Sport, rugby in particular. Pictured here with the Ranfurly Shield.
Garry has enjoyed his involvement in Police Sport, rugby in particular. Pictured here with the Ranfurly Shield. 

Garry says he couldn’t have served for 47 years without the support of his family.

“I was looking at a card the other day that my daughter wrote when she was little. It said: ‘My Dad’s on search and rescue and he brings home mountain chocolate’.

"We used a lot of expired Army rations in those days with bars of chocolate in green wrappers – mountain chocolate.

“I spent 30 years on Search and Rescue, I got called out a lot. There'd be birthdays and Christmases, public holidays I would miss. It impacts them.”

Having recently clocked over 65, Garry says he knows it’s time to go.

“I’m from the dark ages. Technology catches up with you. My first portable was a small rectangular case that you wore over your shoulder on a strap. You could only use it to speak to another cop on the beat in your line of sight.

“I’ll miss my workmates and the fun we have, but I know we’ll keep in touch. We’ve got a strong culture in Police. It doesn't matter how long you haven't seen someone for, you're always their mate and you can just walk into their house, sit down and have a coffee.”

As for the missing eyebrow, that was during the Springbok tour after a night out in the Police bar. “I know who did it, and I got him back. My wife wasn’t happy though.”