The day I showed Khrushchev how to get into Downing Street

Ken Moore

I was doing my National Service in 1954/56. I was stationed at London’s War Office. My job as a DR. (despatch rider) was to deliver War Office mail to the army and government building within a 40 mile radius of the city of London. Our title was the S.D.S (special despatch service).

Our 8 hr DR. shift was busy. We in fact delivered to most government buildings: places like Buckingham palace; Downing Street; Clarence House, Chelsea Barracks and The Treasury to name but a few.

We would pick up our hand mail at "The Pit" - our name for the War Office. The S.D.S clerk had a hidey hole in the War Office on the "Victoria Embankment". A lot of deliveries were covered twice - we would have to take them again as confirmation, so there was a lot to do.

We used the same speed as London taxi drivers of the time - 1954. In and out of cars and lorries we went, driving very close to all vehicles - great fun when you are young! The bad part was that we had a lot of stairs to climb. It's amazing how many steps there are in most buildings, and we weren't allowed to use the lift in some of them.

When we got to the last delivery of the batch. I always made it the one nearest to our office in Northumberland Avenue, by Trafalgar Square.

On this day my last delivery was to Downing Street. I was coming from the Westminster Bridge end, and going like a bat out of hell. I turned right in to Whitehall. Oh! Damn! I was faced with a row of barriers, the old horse type, black and white with the Westminster City Council logo on them. They were completely across Whitehall.

The crowds were lining along each of the footpaths on either side of Whitehall, three and four deep. It was just full of people, coming to see a Russian politician. [the Prime Minister of the USSR Nikolai Bulganin and Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party Nikita Khrushchev visited London in 1956 – MG]. The barriers were manned by policemen and covered right across two lanes. Very impressive, but no help when you are in a hurry.

I slid up to the copper – London's diesel covered roads were slippery! He was in the middle of the lane looking to towards Trafalgar Square. I was wearing my blue and white arm bands - it showed the Signal side of the job - one on each arm. I had my War Office flashes on my battledress sleeves. On the petrol tank was the War Office emblem on a blue and white square with a crown on it.

The policeman said "You can't come down here. Khrushchev is coming in a minute or two." I thought I must complete my run - I don’t want to get stuck here. Ah! Ah! Time for an old gambit which my fellow DRs had taught me.

I said to the policeman, as I took out my document case and offered him a pen, "Could you sign this for me please constable?"

I knew that nobody, but nobody, would sign for anything in an establishment if they can avoid it.

The police officer replied, "Why?"

"Because you are delaying Her Majesty's mail and I have to get a signature for that." I retorted.

The police officer gibed at this, looking a bit side ways at me. "Okay." he said, and picked up the end barrier, swung it open and motioned me through.

Off I set down Whitehall giving it some stick on my 1936 M20 B.S.A. Although it was old war surplus it stood up to anything remarkably well. It had never been so fast!

People could see it coming and were thinking it was someone important and straining to see who it was. Someone started to wave. I joined in the fun and was waving back. Then I really got into the part and stood on the foot rest. It was great fun, all the way down Whitehall people were waving: the cockney of the day was always up for it and was full of fun - a hang over of the old war time spirit.

When I finally came to Downing Street itself, my bubble broke. A police office called me over. I straightened up. I tried to show a bit of professionalism and I did my usual delivery: my moment of fun and glory gone. I was off back to our office in Northumberland Avenue and parked up ready to take my turn amongst the shift of four DRs in the rest room. And a cup of tea. I hoped I had prepared them for Khrushchev - but I enjoyed the fun.

Ken Moore, 26th March 2011