Great Police Chase of 1939

Long before O.J. Simpson, there was The Great Chase of 1939. I told a version of this story live from the same streets on West Bremer Radio.

Police cars, a police motorbike and sidecar, royal mail truck, army truck, and a lorry, were all used in this wild chase that went all over the Queensland city of Ipswich, and lasted for more than an hour.

The chase started in Brisbane Street (pictured above) in the central business district just before midnight on Saturday the 9th of December 1939. It continued through the suburbs to Brassall, back to the city, over Denmark Hill, to Sandy Gallop, and through the city again.

When it ended, Ipswich constable Doug Nicol was left with his left arm in a sling, right hand bandaged, left eye covered with plaster, and a front tooth knocked out.

Constable Doug Nicol

It all began when Constable Nicol was on duty at the corner of Brisbane and Nicholas Streets.

He saw a truck being driven by Daniel O’Connor coming erratically towards the intersection, so Nicol stepped out in the road and held up his hand to signal it to stop.

But the truck didn’t stop, and Nicol had to jump out of the way, narrowly escaping being run down. The driver O’Connor stuck his head out the window, gave a big wave, and shouted for the policeman to follow.

So Nicol ran after the truck down East Street and found it parked in the middle of Brisbane Street, near Bell Street. He walked towards the truck and again help up his hand, this time calling out for it to remain still. But the truck took off and accelerated past him up Brisbane Street.

Nicol flagged down four Australian soldiers who were in an army truck going back to the nearby Redbank camp. That’s when – with all five men inside – the crazy ride began.

O’Connor in his truck led them up and down Thorn Street three or four times, slowing down, then speeding up to shake them off. Efforts to head the truck off were prevented as the vehicle swung wildly across the road.

Nicol continually called on O’Connor to stop, but the driver simply stuck his head out the window, laughed, and accelerated some more. He was singing out loud the whole time.

In Quarry Street the army truck got alongside the offending truck. That’s when Constable Nichol heroically boarded the truck in a real-life scene reminiscent of the best high-speed chases in Hollywood.

As both vehicles were speeding beside each other, Nicol jumped from the army truck and onto the back of O’Connor’s truck. He then climbed down onto the footboard on the side, and as he was about to grab the steering wheel, the truck swung off the road and swiped a tree, hurling Nichol to the ground.

In the meantime, the commotion of the high-speed chase had awoken most of the population of Ipswich who had come out onto the streets to watch. Other police and civilian vehicles had joined in the chase. In fact, every policeman in Ipswich was involved including a motorcycle with Constable Louis Platz in the sidecar. 

Plain clothes constable Louis Platz

After the chase had been going on like this for over an hour, O’Connor decided that he’d had enough so went home. He parked his truck outside of his house on Thorn Street. He then fell out of his truck. Constable Platz arrived and leapt from the sidecar and made the arrest.

The four soldiers were given a note from the police explaining why they were late getting home from their leave.

O’Connor was charged with having used obscene language and driving under the influence on liquor.

He denied the charges. His Ipswich solicitor John Casey argued that O’Connor may have been suffering concussion, which he said can easily be confused with the effects of alcohol.

Ipswich solicitor John Casey

The magistrate wasn’t convinced and fined O’Connor £17 and 10 shillings.

No one was seriously injured in The Great Chase, but it does have a sad ending.

Eight years later, Constable Nicol – the hero who jumped between speeding vehicles – died after being thrown from a police horse while relieving at nearby Moore Police Station in the Brisbane Valley.


Photo credits
Brisbane Street Ipswich 2022 – Harold Peacock.
Constable Douglas Nicol – Queensland Police Memorial.
Plain clothes constable L.J. Platz – Courier-Mail, Brisbane, 25th March 1940, page 1.
Ipswich solicitor John Casey – Truth, Brisbane, 21st June 1936, page 31.

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