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Harry Ware – Police Rescue Unit


Police Rescue Squad
The early days

The New South Wales Police Rescue Squad was founded in 1942 by the Commissioner of Police, Mr. W. J. Mackay, for the express purpose of recovering the bodies of suicide victims or rescuing persons trapped on cliffs.


Prior to the formation of the Rescue Squad it had been customary for Police stationed in the vicinity of any cliff tragedy to seek the aid of experienced rock fishermen in the recovery of the body. These intrepid fishermen, with an intimate knowledge of the sea-front cliff area, would descend to the lower cliff reaches by rope or tortuous track – an often dangerous and hazardous undertaking. When the fishermen had reached the victim, the Police would lower a stout rope, to which the body of the victim would be tied and then hauled to the cliff top. The fishermen would be raised to safety by similar means. Rescue operations in respect of persons trapped followed the same procedure.


Harry Ware

During the initial years of World War 11, the incidence of suicide along the precipitous cliffs of Sydney increased alarmingly, and the recovery of the bodies of victims soon created a major problem. In 1942 the National Emergency Services organisation was formed, primarily to protect the civilian population against enemy attack and to carry out rescue and demolition operations in the event of enemy bombing. Rescue and demolition squads were then formed by Municipal Shires and Councils and other Government bodies. The New South Wales Police Department co-operated fully with the National Emergency Services and formed a number of Police demolition squads.

To train the Demolition Squads, the National Emergency Services made available their chief rescue instructor, Mr. Harry Ware, who prior to the outbreak of the war had been employed by the Department of Main Roads as a rigger on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Whilst carrying out instructional duties to Police, Mr. Mackay requested Mr. Ware to form a cliff rescue squad within the Police Department for the express purpose of recovering bodies of suicide victims, or aiding persons trapped on precipitous cliffs. Mr. Ware consented to the request and a small squad of Police, specially chosen from the existing ten demolition squads, was formed for this phase of Police duty.


Initial activities commenced in late 1942, and to facilitate the recovery of bodies a special apparatus was designed and built. The initial equipment comprised a small swing derrick complete with pulley blocks and supported by stout iron bands. For the speedy erection of this equipment it was necessary for a hole, about 9 inches in diameter and one foot in depth, to be driven into the solid rock at the top of the cliff face at specified positions. The Vaucluse, Woollahra, and Randwick Municipal Councils co-operated fully in this regard, erecting iron-eye bollards cemented into the cliff rock face at selected positions.
A number of persons were saved, and bodies recovered by the use of this device, but it was obvious that an apparatus of improved design would soon be required as the activities of the squad were extending north and south of the Gap area and west to the Blue Mountains.


A second apparatus of similar design and pattern, but composed of tubular steel, was then built and placed in service. All that was required for the speedy erection of this equipment was a small hole, two inches in depth and diameter, which could be forged into the rock face with a pick. The success of this new device facilitated its immediate use in any area of new operations.



Special Sergeant Harry Ware

Upon appointment, Harry Ware was receiving a salary from the New South Wales Police Department, but in 1946 he was officially designated Special Sergeant in Charge of the Police Cliff Rescue Squad by Police Commissioner William Mackay. In 1958 the then Commissioner of Police, Mr. C. J. Delaney, who throughout his fruitful term of office had displayed a keen interest in the activities of the squad, changed its title to the Police Rescue Squad. This change was considered necessary because the duties of the Squad had extended to many new phases of Police rescue work, including attendances at the scene of bushfire outbreaks, flood emergency measures, rescue of persons trapped in motor vehicles, detailed searches for lost hikers, and the operation of a mobile canteen to provide meals for Police engaged on long phases of emergency duties.


In the late 1950’s the activities of the squad turned to the study of the latest developments in Civil Defence. At that stage all members had to attend the Commonwealth School of Civil Defence at Mount Macedon, Victoria, and together with other Police from this State, who had received similar instruction, formed the nucleus of a competent panel of instructors on this vital subject.


In 1959 the Ambulance Transport Board requested the services of the squad to instruct ambulance officers in light rescue operations as part of their specialised training. The squad also instructed the St. George District Ambulance staff in the expert use of specialised equipment attached to a rescue “Q” van acquired by that centre in 1961.


The initial leader of the squad, Sergeant Harry Ware, received a number of awards for gallantry during his career with the Rescue Squad. He was the recipient of a Certificate and Bronze Medallion from the Royal Shipwreck Relief and Humane Society, the Coronation Medal, and the British Empire Medal. He was also accepted as a Serving Brother in the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, a signal honour.
Special Sergeant Ware retired in 1962, having gone over cliffs thousands of times and rescuing more than 80 people in his 20 years of service.

Today’s Police Rescue Unit.

4 thoughts on “Harry Ware – Police Rescue Unit

  • Felicity Savage

    My great uncle was Harry ware. Actually from south Australia which is never mentioned…lol

    • Cynthia Snow

      He was my grandfather although
      I never knew him. My mother Jean was his daughter and we are
      Adelaide people. I would have loved to meet him, I was born in 1946.

  • Graham Brown

    Our local sergeant is giving a talk at Rotary and I am the chair of the meeting. He is speaking of his experience in cliff rescue in northern NSW. Having grown up in Sydney in the 1950s I could vividly remember the cliff rescues at the Gap which were regularly featured on the ABC News. I googled some key words and discovered the history of the Cliff Rescue Squad. It was good to be reminded of the name Sergeant Harry Ware whose name was so prominent in the 1950s. Thank you for such a succinct well prepared article.

  • i grew up in Sydney in the late 40s-50s and remember Sgt Harry Ware’s name was often in the newspapers. A brave man. I’m glad his selfless work has been recognised.


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