Northland pioneer police dog handler Graham Bracey bid farewell to Whangārei

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Graham Bracey spent over 30 years as a police officer and was awarded the Queen’s Service Medal when he retired in 1989. Photo/New Zealand Police

Police are mourning the death of pioneer dog handler and Queen’s Service Medal recipient Graham Reeves Bracey, from Northland.

Bracey died on July 7 and was farewell at a service in Whangārei on July 22.

Born on December 12, 1930, he grew up in Hokianga. He was the youngest of three sons of Elsie and James Bracey and was raised on a farm in Waimamaku.

He joined the police in 1955 and received Duke, one of New Zealand’s first police dogs, for training in 1958.

They began operating in Auckland the following year, as did two other New Zealand handlers – one in Wellington and one in Christchurch.

Bracey was the only police dog handler in Auckland for four years and covered an area from Taupō to Kaitaia. He then became a training officer.

Bracey’s funeral featured an honor guard of officers and dogs from the Auckland and Northland canine squads, and his ashes were carried by his son Paul.

“Dad had wonderful memories of the police and he loved his dogs,” Paul told police magazine Ten One.

“He loved the canine section. He helped train the handlers and their dogs and he would be grateful to see the respect you showed him today.”

He said his father had to educate Justice about dog tracking when he started as a dog handler.

When Bracey and Duke were sent to one of their first jobs, they followed a man through farmland and found him hiding in a shed.

The service featured an honor guard made up of police dog squadrons from Auckland and Northland.  Photo/New Zealand Police
The service featured an honor guard made up of police dog squadrons from Auckland and Northland. Photo/New Zealand Police

When the case came to court, the judge wondered how the dog had found the man and whether the police could be sure the accused was the man involved in the incident.

Bracey explained the dog’s training and ability to track a scent, and confirmed he was the right person in court.

Senior Sergeant Peter Pedersen trained with Bracey and described him as a special man, Ten One reported.

“Graham had a very strong personality and he made sure we toed the line – and if we didn’t he made it very clear that we had to settle our act.

“Graham pioneered the canine section and tolerated the hardships of the time and the kind of complexities that were involved in transportation and communications. Things that we don’t suffer from as much now.”

Bracey’s friend, retired detective Joe Sheehan, told Ten One of a job they went on together to find an escaped prisoner from Pāremoremo.

“Graham came in with Duke and I said, ‘He’s gone through the gorse’.”

The men weren’t too keen on plowing the gorse, so Duke was sent alone to find the prisoner.

“Within minutes there was screaming and screaming. Graham said, ‘That’s right, he’s got it. All we have to do is go get it.”

Bracey’s granddaughter, Robyn Bracey-Plaine, read a letter to the service written by Bracey about her upbringing in Hokianga.

Bracey’s father, James, was a soldier in World War I and was seriously injured when he was shot in the shoulder blade.

James milks 60 cows on a 48.5 ha farm with 40 ha of bush. They also had 100 breeding ewes.

Graham Bracey was educated at Waiotemarama Country School in Hokianga and later at Whangārei High School.

He retired in 1989 and was awarded the Queen’s Service Medal for public service.

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