Pioneering Police dog handler Graham Reeves Bracey QSM will be remembered for his professionalism, strong personality, love for his family and his liking of tomato sandwiches.
Graham was born on 12 December 1930 and died peacefully on 7 July 2022.
Family and friends gathered to celebrate his life at a relaxed service in Whangārei on Friday 22 July.
Graham’s ashes were carried by son Paul Bracey, who was followed by family members through an honour guard made up of officers and dogs from the Auckland and Northland dog squads.
As his family and friends recounted stories involving Graham, the sound of barking dogs echoed around the Town Basin as they waited, not so patiently, in vans parked outside the venue.
The canine cacophony seemed fitting for a man who was Auckland’s first dog handler, with his partner Duke. There were two other handlers operating in the country - one in Wellington and the other in Christchurch.
Police dogs were brought into New Zealand in 1956 and were slowly distributed around New Zealand. Graham joined Police in 1955 and he was given Duke to train in 1958. A year later they became operational.
He retired in 1989 and was awarded the Queen's Service Medal for public service.
Snapshots of a career. From left: Graham with Duke; in the news; and receiving his QSM from Governor-General Sir Paul Reeves.
Graham paved the way in his policing patch, covering an area from Taupō to Kaitaia with his dogs.
He not only educated his fellow police colleagues about the benefits of dogs, but the judiciary as well.
Son Paul Bracey recounted a story his father told him only weeks earlier about one of his first jobs north of Kumeu.
By the time police arrived on the scene the criminal was long gone. Graham and Duke were dispatched and tracked through farmland and found the man hiding in a shed.
However, when the case came to court the Magistrate questioned how the dog could find the man and could Police be sure the defendant was the man involved in the incident.
Graham explained the dog’s training and ability to follow a scent, and confirmed it was the correct man standing in court.
Duke was the only operational dog in Auckland for four years, so they were kept busy.
“Dad had some wonderful memories of Police and he loved his dogs,” Paul said.
“He loved the dog section. He helped train the handlers and their dogs and he would be grateful to see the respect you showed him today.”
Graham's friend, retired Detective Joe Sheehan, recounted a job he attended with Graham and Duke as they searched for an escaped prisoner from Pāremoremo.
“Graham turned up with Duke and I said 'He’s taken off through the gorse'.”
The men weren't too keen on ploughing through gorse, so Duke was sent off on his own to find the prisoner.
“In a few minutes there was howling and screaming. Graham said 'Right, he’s got him. All we have to do is go and get him'.”
Graham - and Duke - proved dogs were an asset to Police.
Region Dog Coordinator Senior Sergeant Peter Pedersen, based at Ellerslie, trained under Graham - a very special man and a thoroughly professional Police officer, he said.
“Graham had a very strong personality and he made sure we toed the line - and if we didn’t he explained in no uncertain terms that we had to sort our act out.
“Graham pioneered the dog section and tolerated the hardships back in those days and the kind of complexities that were involved in transport and communications. Things we don’t suffer so much now.”
Peter said initially if a dog and handler were required for a job, they were collected by investigating staff.
“That meant riding around in the back seat upsetting the CIB guys in their flash suits … they didn’t like dog hair and of course dogs smell when they’re wet.”
In training, Graham was a stickler for the dogs being well presented and no dog ever went on a course that wasn’t up to scratch, Peter recalled.
He remembers training days with Graham that always incorporated tomato sandwiches for lunch.
Granddaughter Robyn Bracey-Plaine read a letter penned by Graham during lockdown last year, describing his younger years growing up in the Hokianga.
Graham was the youngest of three sons to Elisie and James Bracey and was raised in Waimamaku during the depression years.
His father was conscripted and went to World War One as a land corporal, fighting the Germans on the frontline in France. He was in the trenches and was seriously injured when he was shot in the shoulder blade.
Graham remembered his father milking 60 cows on 120-acre farm with 100 acres of bush. Milk was delivered to the Waimamaku Cheese Factory. Horses were used to develop the land and they also ran 100 breeding ewes.
Graham recalled playing card games in front of the fire in winter and riding horses to the wild west coast.
He was educated at Waitemarama Country School in the Hokianga, before becoming a student at Whangārei High School.
In a media interview in 2017, Graham summed up his Police career: "New Zealand Police is a wonderful organisation and every effort is made to keep peace. I was blessed with a very wonderful and exciting career.”
To our dear friend, rest in peace.