‘A Policeman’s Lot … ’: the Surrey Police in Wartime. Part 3: 1917

Air raid warning

Title: Air raid warning
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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 1917 Requests and instructions from the Home Office and other bodies, including the Military, continued to arrive and subjects included: ensuring that where a gunsmith’s licence had expired the ‘ex-licencee’ had in fact discontinued his activities; the procedure to be adopted when manufacturers had neglected to suppress glare from furnaces at night; the regulation of the sale of ‘intoxicating liquor’ at Christmas; non-observance by Aliens of the Aliens Restriction Order; the issue of ‘Inland Passes’ to persons employed in munitions work (to be the same as those supplied to Allied journalists without the stamp ‘Allied Press’; amendments to regulations on cocaine and opium licences for manufacturers; the forwarding to MI5 of any enquiry from persons in ‘Neutral Countries’ seeking information with regard to named individuals living in the UK (on no account were the Police to reply); the compilation of a return of all available firewood within a 10-mile radius of Guildford and of persons owning such wood (this took three weeks to complete and ‘gave the Police a very considerable amount of trouble’ as the area covered four police divisions); the compilation of a return of all motor cars and lorries in the county; the compilation of a register of all billeting accommodation in the Weybridge district; the compilation of a return of firearms of 45 calibre ‘in stock in my area’ (none answering that description were actually found); restrictions in the use of wheat for seed purposes or making flour; the mobilisation of all officers and men on leave in case of emergency; the forwarding to the War Office of particulars with regard to Aliens who had served in the armed or police forces, and those permitted to reside in Prohibited Areas – to ‘assist MI5’, the Chief Constable was requested to obtain ‘in as many cases as possible’ a specimen of each alien’s signature both in Roman characters and ‘in his own language’ (presumably Cyrillic); and assistance to next-of-kin summoned by telegram to visit serving relatives either in the UK or abroad, not ‘in a position to pay their fares’.

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

An order received in December 1916 from the Provost Marshal in France to obtain 200 men from the Provincial Police Forces to complete a force of Mounted Military Police was another thorn in the Sant’s side. However, despite having between 70 and 80 of his constables enlist and having been informed that his force should not be reduced below a certain minimum, the Chief Constable still managed to release two more men for the Army. He requested advice on whether this was now a reduction too far, and was informed that ‘the question whether I could spare any men had still to be decided by myself’. A further blow was the fact that the two men thus released were not accepted, ‘presumably, because they had not the necessary qualifications’ (perhaps the ability to ride). In February 1917 two more constables received enlistment papers, causing Sant once more to query the selection criteria (determined by age); however, one of the two constables had given false information as to his age when applying to enter the force, and was discharged and sent to join the Army ‘at once’.

The many requests for compilation of various data was another headache for the CC, those for firewood, vehicles and billets ‘practically monopolized the services of the Police for the time being’; nonetheless they were followed closely by another for firearms. More work was occasioned by daily enquiries after persons attempting to evade military service.

Despite all these trials and tribulations, the CC received a ‘gratifying letter’ from General Sir Archibald Hunter, Commander Aldershot Area, which reported the decrease in crime in that area and stating ‘This is attributed … in some measure to the … co-operation which our Military Police have received from the Civil Police of the district [who] have been more than ready to assist whenever occasion arose’.

Report of May 1917 Further information and instructions from the Home Office were received on subjects including: regulations dealing with the manufacture of malt for beer, the manufacture of bread and the use of sugar; the use of lights while ploughing at night by motor tractor; the extinction of street lights; the cleansing of all drinking vessels in licensed premises; information to be sent to MI5 regarding aliens of Chinese, Japanese, Siamese, Persian or Egyptian nationality; the drawing down of blinds in railway carriages at night; Easter closing time in public houses; restrictions on the feeding of game; a Paper Restriction Order; the compilation of censuses of horses and mules, cattle, sheep and pigs, and agricultural implements (the demand that these be complete and accurate, and ‘obtained in as short a time as possible’ caused further work for the Police, especially as 8000 forms were dealt with in about 10 days); the closure of ‘clubs or other premises’ if they were ‘habitually frequented by alien enemies’; the reduction of the bread ration for troops in billets; and the avoidance of wasted food during summer months.

Further withdrawal of exemption certificates from constables by the Godalming Local Tribunal annoyed the Chief Constable, who reported in detail his response. Later he was to go to the Home Office for a discussion on the subject (reported at length). However, the return to the police forces of those men classified under medical categories and not needed by the Army may have alleviated his concerns somewhat, although a later request for the release of men in the police capable of skilled work on the land must have seemed yet another burden on numbers. Sant did not think it feasible to grant leave of absence for this purpose (although he thought it possible that constables could give assistance in kitchen gardens, allotments or farms in their vicinity in their spare time), and there were further concerns that any such man who was injured while working on the land might lose his police pension. At the end of his report Sant stated that he had received a ‘secret letter’ from the Ministry of Munitions, the contents of which he was not permitted to divulge, although he was able to state that it contained a request for the assistance of the police to guard munitions factories and ‘requiring the employment of such a large number of men that even had my force been at its full strength, it would not have been possible to accede to the request to which I have alluded’.

On a lighter note, Sant reported the receipt of an ‘extremely interesting secret Circular on the subject of Air Raids’ and also detailed at length the assistance he and his constables were able to give to the Officer Commanding the Remount Depot at Redhill in his task of purchasing 80 horses a week.

The severing of telephone wires near Blackheath on 20-21 April by persons unknown caused some excitement, although no suspicious persons were found in the area; conclusions were that ‘some malicious or mischievous person’ had committed the act, rather than a spy, and reasons for this conclusion quoted at length.

Report of September 1917 This quarter, requests and information from the Home Office included: new regulations prohibiting the use of ‘Motor spirit’ [petrol] in hire cars except in certain circumstances; the prohibition of the publication of any new newspaper without a licence; the prohibition of ‘wasteful and unnecessary lighting’ including ‘sky signs’, illuminated advertisements, theatre lights and shop display lights; the declaration of lead in combination with Oleic Acid ‘or other higher fatty acids’ (sold as ‘Diachylon’) as a poison under the Pharmacy Act (in consequence of the practice of using it to procure abortion); economy in food for feeding to dogs (the regulations for this are quoted at length with the estimate that food consumed by dogs would feed ‘half-a-million persons’); pensions for disabled soldiers; damage to allotments by trespassers; the encouragement of ‘the destruction of House Sparrows and Rats while discouraging the indiscriminate slaughter of other birds, which are beneficial in devouring insects and other pests’ including the formation of ‘Sparrow and Rat Clubs’; the treatment of Jews or Arabs as aliens and not alien enemies; the issue of railway warrants by the police to relatives of soldiers in hospital; the police to be informed of gun or bombing practice and circulate the information to allay public alarm; measures to be taken during a threatened railway strike (which did not occur); the prevention of treatment of venereal disease other than by qualified medical practitioners; and the display of posters prohibiting the shooting of carrier pigeons.

Special Constables at Guildford (SHC ref PH72/Box 7/85)

Sant detailed at length the case of Hugo Greef, a registered alien enemy who bought Durfold Farm, Dunsfold (which was close to the signalling station at ‘One Tree Hill’ and to the prohibited area of Sussex), and whose son brought 22 homing pigeons from Leicester with a permit from the Leicester Police, which appears to have caused some interest and excitement in the county.

Probably to the Chief Constable’s relief, a letter from the Home Office in early July stated that ‘in view of the pressure of work devolving on the Police the Home Secretary has been in communication with the Army Council with a view to steps being taken to reduce, where possible, the work which the Police are asked to undertake on behalf of the Military Authorities’.

Report of December 1917 Aside from the usual influx of amendments to DORA, information and instructions from the Home Office continued to flood in and subjects included: assistance to airships wishing to land; the payment by the police of rewards of £5 for information leading to the capture of escaped prisoners of war (to be refunded by MI5); the prohibition of the sale of dried fruits outside the UK, restrictions to the prices of flour and bread; the prohibition of the sale by occupiers of agricultural holdings of horses used for cultivation without a licence; the reporting of cases of the fraudulent display of notices by persons claiming to have been disabled by the war in order to enlist the sympathy of the public (the police were to report every such case to the Home Office); all French citizens to be repatriated to serve in the French Army or remain and serve in the British Army; restrictions on petrol; the enforcement of Food Orders; control measures for the sale and purchase of livestock; and the printing, publishing or distribution of leaflets relating to the present war or ‘the making of peace’ to be a summary offence, unless the full names and addresses of the author and printer are included. Sant noted at the end of his report that, in this quarter alone, he had received ‘no less than 42’ DORA orders and amendments.

Demands that Special Constables might take over the duty of guarding General Store Depot 35 at Horley caused more irritation to Sant, and details of his communications with the Ministry of Munitions on the matter were given at length. Another cause of concern was a ‘somewhat peremptory’ request by Eastern Command (Hounslow) to have ‘certain confidential returns’ – that were to be drawn up by police in connection with the action to be taken by them in the event of emergency – within two days ‘without fail’, even though ‘It was impossible … to explain to my Superintendents … exactly what particulars they were asked to supply, in fact, I was myself in some doubt’. Sant subsequently issued an order (reported in form outlining the action to be taken by Special Constables in the event of a threatened air raid, which he gives in full.

Complaints concerning the behaviour of a number of Russians living in huts at Deepcut, Frimley, resulted in a letter to the General Officer Commanding at Aldershot (this and its reply) are also given in full. Sant could not ‘understand how this large number of Russians was allowed to land in this country, eating up the food urgently required by the inhabitants’ and considered the whole situation ‘most unsatisfactory’.

The number of investigations by the Police into cases of infidelity by soldiers’ wives came as ‘quite a revelation’ to the Chief Constable, averaging as they did ‘two or three a week’. He also noted the many British women married to alien enemies, and outlined the procedure to be followed by Police.

Sant noted (with great satisfaction) that Hugo Greef was ordered to return to ‘the place from whence he came, viz, Carshalton [and] the County is now relieved of his unwelcome presence’; Greef’s son, who was ‘British-born’, was enlisted.


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