‘A Policeman’s Lot … ’: the Surrey Police in Wartime. Part 2, 1916

Captain M L Sant, Chief Constable of Surrey Constabulary

Title: Captain M L Sant, Chief Constable of Surrey Constabulary
Description: SHC ref 9017/4/3 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 March 1916 Subjects of instructions received in this quarter included: lights on vehicles; the necessity of passports; those who act as receiving addresses for correspondence to keep registers of the names and addresses of those persons who ask for letters; the nomination of a police officer to provide ‘assistance’ in the evolution of a scheme for ‘Motor Transport Convoys’ (although a projected conference was never arranged); the posting of notices withdrawing restrictions on the sale of hay; the provision by all hotel, inn, boarding house and lodging house keepers of a weekly return of all aliens residing with them; enquiries to be made regarding the sale of apparatus for signalling; the employment of ‘friendly aliens’ in munitions factories; the discouragement of ‘suspicious’ pigeon shooting contests; a request by Hounslow Sub-District ASC for returns of all ‘Motor Mechanical Transport in the Dorking Police Division’ (the Chief Constable had already supplied this information to HQ 2nd Army and foresaw similar requests form other sub-Districts causing considerable ‘reduplication’); how to deal with Reservists who fail to arrive after enlistment and publication of their names in the Police Gazette as absentees; advertising changes in the Aliens Restriction Order by means of newspapers and posters (‘This order will entail a very considerable amount of increased work on the Police’); alterations (hitherto working ‘most efficiently’) to police arrangements for warning factories of Zeppelin raids; and the issue by police of ‘Identity Books’ to aliens.

A letter from the Home Office outlining the suggestion from Lord Derby that members of the Police forces should be attested and passed into the Army Reserve, on the understanding that they would not be called up for actual military service without the consent of their Chief Officer, caused Sant some concern, especially in light of previous complaints on the matter (see the last report of 1915) and as in several local divisions the ‘point of depletion’ had already passed. However, a letter outlining his reservations received no reply and later he noted that no mention of exemption for Police Constables was made in the new Military Service Act.

The Military Service Act comes into force

Further causes for irritation to the Chief Constable came in the form of i) a demand from the Post Office for 4s 11½d for a telegraph sent to the Home Office regarding the air raid of 13 October (although the sum was ‘trifling’, ‘it appears to me that the Police rate should not be called upon to pay for what is obviously an expenditure in a matter affecting the Defence of the Realm’); ii) the fact that the Police are ‘continually being called upon to act as Bill Posters’ for the ‘formidable number’ of such items issued to them; iii) the ‘greatest confusion’ caused by conflicting Central Control Board (Liquor Traffic) orders; and iv) Constables receiving enlistment forms despite their obviously necessary duties.

Report of May 1916 The Chief Constable began this report by outlining his concerns over the question of Special Constables who also served in the Volunteer Training Corps having now to attest, and the resulting clash of duties owed to two different authorities; he had so far received no reply to his letter asking for assistance from the Home Office and making suggestions.

However, the Home Office continued to send instructions, this quarter relating to: changes in procedures for warning factories of hostile aircraft; reporting the presence of hostile aircraft to military authorities (constables were to be issued with cards for making such reports to ‘the nearest Military Authority’, despite some doubt as to who in the county these actually were); the removal of number plates bearing ‘OHMS’ from vehicles and the issue of a ‘stencil number plate’ and card; amendments to the Aliens Restriction Order regarding their employment in munitions factories; the ‘delicate and difficult’ duties of the Police regarding the inspection of registration cards; the re-arrangement of areas for air raid warning; expelling ‘undesirable persons’ from ‘certain localities’; alterations to the Competent Military Authorities in Eastern Command; the ‘Belgian decree’ requiring all male Belgians aged 20 to report for service and the ascertainment of how many of these were in Surrey; the prohibition of meetings where ‘there is reason to apprehend that the holding of the meeting in a public place will give rise to grave disorder; and watchmen employed for the protection of munitions works to be appointed as Special Constables.

In response to a ‘remarkable order’ from the officer commanding the Chilworth Guard stating that local police, rather than the military, should guard munitions stored at Chilworth station, Sant sent a rather irritable letter to the General Officer Commanding the Central Force, informing him that he only had three regular constables to the 120 soldiers in the area; the GOC, who had not realised the situation, admitted that the approach had been ‘tactless’ and rescinded the order at once. Other such irritations for the Chief Constable were: i) a demand from the Sub Aliens Registration Officer at Weybridge that the police furnish him a weekly return of the change of address of all persons registered – thus proving himself ‘quite ignorant of the magnitude of the work this would entail’ and earning himself a terse response that Registration Officers were responsible; and ii) the Home Office’s order that Police should assist the Army Council in tracing men enlisted under the Military Service Act who have failed to respond: Sant considered that the Home Office statement that ‘the duties (explained here in detail) which will devolve upon the Police … are likely to be onerous’ an understatement.

Report of September 1916 Instructions from the Home Office continued in full spate and subjects included: prevention of the spread of ‘groundless rumours’ regarding enemy aircraft, ‘unfounded alarming reports having lately become of great frequency’; searching for ‘Hostile leaflets’; unauthorised use of the Red Cross flag on buildings which have no right to it; the compilation of a list of all aliens at liberty within the Chief Constable’s jurisdiction; the commandeering of wool; permission for the sale of ‘light [low alcohol] beer’ (Sant considered that this would make it more difficult to prevent the sale of ‘strong [high alcohol] beer); the lightening of restrictions on the release of carrier pigeons; no person to enter ‘certain Military Areas’ (to include the ‘North of Scotland’) without a permit (permit books to be issued by Police); the movement of aliens travelling to places offering them employment (the Police to issue certificates showing that such offers are genuine); travel passes for ‘Certain Officers and Officials of Allied Countries’; the prohibition of the sale of hay, oat or wheat straw without a licence; the exemption of kilns from the restriction of lights order; strict regulations and restrictions relating to the sale of cocaine; and the furnishing of returns of all Serbians and Russians between the ages of 18 and 41 within the jurisdiction of the Surrey Constabulary.

The Chief Constable also reported the receipt of ‘an extremely interesting secret Intelligence Circular on the whole subject of air raids’ and another ‘extremely interesting Intelligence Circular on the subject of Bombs, etc’; however, more of concern to Sant was the continued receipt of notices calling for the enlistment of married men, all of which he returned with the statement that ‘in the interests of the State no more members of my Police Force were to be enlisted’, as was understood by the Recruiting Authorities.

Members of Surrey Constabulary serving in the Military Police Corps (SHC ref 9152/1/5/4)

Report of December 1916 Continuing its relentless bombardment, the Home Office sent information and instructions regarding: the requirement for production of certificates of exemption from military service when demanded (the Police to co-operate with military authorities); the declaration of Dover as a designated Military Area; assistance by the Police to Excise Officers with regard to the Entertainment Tax; the reduction in the provision of meat and bread under Billeting Regulations; restrictions to shop opening hours in winter; lamps to be shown at the front and the rear of any group of cattle led along a highway after sunset or before sunrise; and Home Office disapproval of a proposal to billet soldiers on police officers.

Sant took a dim view of ‘considerable agitation in the Press and elsewhere’ regarding the number of unmarried police constables retained in the force, who were considered by ‘persons ignorant of the duties performed by the Police’ to be eligible for enlistment. A constable having had his certificate of exemption withdrawn ‘as a test case’ by the Local Tribunal meeting in Cobham infuriated the Chief Constable, as did other examples of such ‘injustice’, which he described in some detail, along with his own efforts to avoid such ‘unpleasant … agitation’ and the wholesale depletion of his force.

A further cause of irritation to the Chief Constable was an Army Council census of all agricultural holdings of 5 acres or more to ascertain the availability of men for enlistment. The Police were asked to assist in the distribution and collection of census forms, of which there were 2247 in total, and the harassed Sant desired the Committee to realise just ‘how hard the Police had to work in order that that this duty might be carried out with the necessary despatch’ as the forms, received on 16 November, all had to be returned by or soon after 20 November.

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