‘A Policeman’s Lot … ’: the Surrey Police in Wartime. Part 1, 1914-1915

Poster forbidding photography and sketching under Defence of the Realm Act

Title: Poster forbidding photography and sketching under Defence of the Realm Act
Description: SHC ref CC98/23/2 by-nc

Written by Marion Edwards

During World War I, the Chief Constable of Surrey, Captain M L Sant, sent a series of extremely detailed reports (usually quarterly) to the Standing Joint Committee which oversaw the Surrey Constabulary. These reports (see SHC ref CC98/1/4-5) outlined the extra duties and demands placed on the overburdened and under-strength force by the war and the blizzard of orders and requests for information from central government.

Report of September 1914 In July, the Home Office sent instructions for the Surrey Police to ‘co-operate with the Military Authorities in any matter in which they might require … assistance’. Thereafter, a flood of missives arrived by post, telegram and telephone, along with personal visits from representatives of the armed forces, with further instructions regarding: action against ‘individuals suspected of spying’ (later resulting in ‘Spy Mania’ by the general public); guarding railway bridges and ‘vulnerable points on railway lines’ (although no notification had been received regarding the movement of troop trains, ‘a large number’ of which were already en route, and it was found to be ‘impossible’ to safeguard all vulnerable points with the small number of regular Police to hand, even augmented with civilian volunteers; application to transfer this duty to Military Authorities failed dismally until the very end of August); pasting up mobilization posters; ‘keep[ing] an eye’ on private wireless stations; collecting horses for Army Purchasing Officers; ‘aliens’ travelling by night by motor car ‘for the purpose of committing outrages’; seizing the motor cars belonging to those aliens and warning garages not to hire cars to same; enforcing the Alien Restriction Order (although no copy of the Order itself or the ‘necessary books’ had yet arrived); display of the Royal Proclamation; the protection of telephones and telegraph poles; local billeting of army personnel (on 8 September the Chief Constable states proudly ‘Found billets for 9,000 troops at 24 hours notice’); civil disturbances; the enforcement of the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA); accommodating prisoners of war; regulations against the keeping of carrier or ‘homing’ pigeons (which were to be ‘liberated’ to return to their places of origin) without a permit (Sant declared this ruling ‘absurd’); the number of ‘Alien Reservists’ registered (county wide numbers of Germans, Austrians and Hungarians are included); and the arrest of German Reservists.

To add to the official burden there were civilian requests for Police ‘attention’ regarding protection of Post Offices and ‘waterworks’ (which latter were deemed to be the responsibility of the owners), and reports of bad discipline among newly enlisted army recruits; inhabitants of the County made matters worse by sending in ‘all sorts of unnecessary and trivial correspondence’ and demanding to see the Chief Constable personally, without waiting for the issue of instructions or ‘making enquiry of the nearest Police Officer’.

It was no wonder that early in August the harassed Chief Constable ‘drew out the full scheme for enrolment of Special Constables’, anticipating official Home Office instructions by a week.

At the end of his 12-page report, the CC described all this as ‘only a portion of the work falling on the Police during the present crisis. Innumerable other duties have had to be carried out but are not of sufficient importance to enumerate’.

Captain M L Sant, Chief Constable of Surrey (SHC ref 9017/4/3)

Report of March 1915 Continuing his report on the war, the Chief Constable first recorded that all Belgian refugees in ‘the Constabulary Area’ had been registered (total 2106 ‘exclusive of persons under 16’), and then continued with details of further communications from the Home Office with instructions including: ‘not to countenance’ the formation of ‘town guards’ and ‘civil guards’ in favour of the Volunteer Training Corps (which Special Constables may join) as recognised by the War Office; the prevention of ‘ill-disposed persons’, suspicious loiterers and trespassers from obtaining information regarding local defence works; local billeting of soldiers (Sant here noted that demands for this had been ‘almost incessant’ and reported the confusion caused by three separate and independent demands from the Central Force, the Eastern Command and the Aldershot Command and suggested ‘some central billeting authority’); the extension of the area within which the reporting of aircraft should be made; Police co-operation in the military protection of local railways (although the Home Office had omitted the South Eastern Railway from their list as it was ‘not regarded as important’, even though part of it formed a direct line from Aldershot and Dover and regularly carried troop trains); the extinguishing of lights during hours of darkness (conflicting orders caused Sant to remark ‘The Committee will realise the difficulty experienced by the Police in attempting to keep up with orders arriving in such rapid succession’); action by Police in the event of bombs dropped in the county; and the exemption of Special Constables from jury duty.

Somewhat waspishly, the Sant reported his own communications with i) the General Officers Commanding, the 2nd Army, the Eastern Command and the Aldershot Command, pointing out that the ‘Intoxicating Liquor (Temporary Restriction) Act’ of 1914 appeared not to be administered satisfactorily with regard to the sale of liquor to soldiers; ii) the War Office regarding ‘rapid and inconsiderate driving of motor cars and motor cycles by Military Officers ’ (from which several ‘serious accidents’ have resulted); and iii) the General of the local forces complaining of an ‘unexpected’, inconvenient and unlit night ‘cordon of pickets’ placed around the town of Guildford (into part of which Sant nearly rode his bicycle).

However, at the very end of this report he noted the receipt of ‘several most gratifying letters from Military Officers testifying to the valuable assistance which they have received from the Police’, which must have alleviated his irritation to some degree.

Report of May 1915 This report begins by outlining the effects of the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) and the Defence of the Realm (Consolidation) Regulations Act with regard to offences committed against them by both civilian and military persons, before continuing with details of further communications from both the Home Office and the Army with instructions including: the placing of all public houses and clubs in the Aldershot area out of bound for troops until 2pm (‘The term “soldier” does not include “officer”’); the reduction of lighting in Guildford and the Borough of Godalming (to be enforced by the Police); arrangements for warning factories and other works of the approach of hostile aircraft so that they can extinguish lights or have them extinguished by cutting off power (Sant asked the Committee to imagine themselves in his position, ‘suddenly awakened at say, 2am and informed that an airship has been seen … making for Surrey, they appreciate his difficulty in carrying out … instruction[s], especially in view of the fact that an airship can travel at 50 miles an hour’); signals chosen for warning the civil population of ‘threatened bombardment’ (two instructions of which appear to conflict each other); a bonus of 3 shillings a week for all members of the force; the restriction of Aliens; the co-operation of Civil and Military Authorities in ‘Sanitary matters’; the movement of ‘Anti-Aircraft motor cars’; signs to be displayed by Civil Hospitals in the event of bombing; co-operation of the Police in measures taken against ‘wastage’ caused by soldiers absent without leave; and licences for the sale or manufacture of arms and ammunition (owners of which are to keep sales books, the inspection of which should be arranged by the Police).

Sant also wrote for clarification as to whether persons holding permits to keep carrier pigeons should keep them or ‘liberate’ them, and received the ‘ambiguous’ reply that a permit gives the owner the right to either keep or liberate provided the permit is with the owner at the time.

At the end of this 9-page report, the Sant reiterated the impact of the burden of extra duties imposed by the war and carried out in addition to ‘ordinary’ duties (‘the idea that crime has ceased since the war broke out is a fallacy’), especially as he had lost 31 men to recruitment: ‘I must, however, endeavour to “carry on” to the best of my ability with my numbers dwindling from day to day’.

Report of September 1915 This report, a massive 19 pages long, includes at the end an extra 2 pages listing by name Army Reservists recalled and members of the Police Force who have enlisted. Further communications were received from various authorities with instructions regarding: the enlistment of Belgian subjects aged between 18 and 25 (with trouble caused by many forms being completed in Flemish, ‘a language of which I am ignorant’); enforcement of the Aliens Restriction (Belgian Refugee) Order; the prohibition of the ‘liberation’ of pigeons from lofts for any reason and the transport of pigeons without a permit; the supplying (at short notice) of numbers of Germans, Austrians, Hungarians and Turks of military age and the number of females (‘distinguishing British-born wives, or widows’) living in the Chief Constable’s district; lights of various colours on military vehicles (which are permitted to exceed the speed limit); deportation or repatriation of ‘alien enemies’ other than males of military age (the only exceptions being wives of British birth and persons who obtain official exemptions); amendments to DORA regarding the extinguishing and carrying of lights, and ‘illicit signalling’; the submission of detailed reports after aerial bombing; suspected enemy firing of factories (later proved to be ‘normal’); death from illness of Special Constables and payments to their widows; the closing of licensed houses in the vicinity of the Aldershot Training Area (not applicable to officers residing in hotels); the repatriation of destitute aliens; the prevention of the sale of the 1915 crop of hay by farmers before its inspection and requisition; the offence of holding communication with a spy; the use of unauthorised uniforms or badges and the unauthorised use of official documents or ‘marks’; areas within the county where photography or sketching is to be allowed or disallowed; the export of pigeons to ‘neutral Countries’; preventing the supply of ‘intoxicants’ to convalescent soldiers; and the establishment of a ‘civil Police Station’ at Witley Camp (to help counteract the ‘amazing amount of pilfering’ in the camp by civilian workmen; the CC ‘could not see [his] way to grant this request’ due to his shortage of manpower unless Special Constables were used).

Complaints from the Post Office regarding who should pay for the official franking of envelopes, apparent military difficulties as to who exactly were ‘Competent Military Authorities’ to whom problems should be referred and yet more amendments to regulations for the sale of alcohol to military personnel were all further unwelcome distractions.

Due to the large number of constables enlisting, the Chief Constable found it necessary to suspend the ‘Weekly Rest Day’ from 4 June, although annual leave was to be granted as usual and arrangements made for a monthly rest day.

Report of November 1915 The flood of instructions from the Home Office continued, and included: the prevention of ‘persons of enemy antecedents, or undesirable character, from obtaining instruction at schools which have been licensed for the teaching of wireless telegraphy’; the enrolment of non-commissioned officers at Witley Camp as Special Constables (no doubt with regard to the ‘pilfering’ referred to earlier); the granting of licences for building new or altering existing factories to manufacture explosives; illicit signalling with kites (‘the burden of proof that any kite is not intended for signalling purposes, lies with the user’); the registration and internment of Bulgarians (with whom Great Britain was now at war); further (conflicting) instructions under the new Control of Lights Order regarding the showing of lights (windows and roof areas of factories could be left ‘undarkened if necessary for the safe and expeditious progress of the work’ whereas lights in private houses must be ‘rendered invisible at all times’; invited to make suggestions, the Chief Constable responded with several, although the response was not as helpful as he desired and his suggestions were ultimately ignored); arrangements for warning Police of the approach of hostile aircraft (considered ‘Sketchy’ by Sant); establishing a ‘bonfire system’ (requested by the Royal Flying Corps) to guide aeroplanes at night; and the supply of khaki armlets for those attested for the Reserves and those discharged as medically unfit.

The Chief Constable also found it necessary to complain on several occasions, especially of the overwork the war brought to his force. A Zeppelin raid over London on 13 October (with one off-course Zeppelin dropping bombs on Guildford) ‘greatly increased’ the work of the Police in Surrey and the necessity of obtaining information and supplying returns of anything from stocks of hay to available motor transport, which ‘necessitate a considerable amount of work’, also took up valuable time. Constables were being placed in ‘Class 40’ and indiscriminately receiving Lord Derby’s recruiting letter asking what more they could do for their country, despite ‘working overtime without one word of grumble or complaint’ (even his clerical staff, both married men over 40, had received the letter).


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