‘A Policeman’s Lot … ’: the Surrey Police in Wartime. Part 4: 1918

Miss Rhoda Brodie, leader of the Croydon Women Patrols

Title: Miss Rhoda Brodie, leader of the Croydon Women Patrols
Description: From Moore and Berwick Sayers 'Croydon and the Great War (1920) 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 1918 The Chief Constable began his first report of the New Year by declaring that from now on he would not give details of DORA orders and amendments, as ‘they have been arriving practically every day’ and he had since 10 December received 83. However, other instructions were still flooding in, covering subjects including: the relaxation of liquor regulations over the Christmas period; the prohibition of the import of ‘certain seditious publications’ (of which there were 18 in all known so far; others were added later); Italians returning to Italy under the Convention concluded between the British and Italian Governments; a new system for the issue of air raid warnings by day; regulations for the use of gas for driving vehicles; alterations to arrangements regarding the escape and recapture of prisoners of war; proposals for ‘better co-operation’ between County and Borough Police Forces in connection with matters arising from Emergency Legislation; the uses to which private and hire cars might be put; and the protection and disposal of ‘enemy aircraft brought to earth’.

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

Two related confidential matters caused the Chief Constable some difficulties this quarter. The first, arising from conferences between himself and the Competent Military Authorities of the Aldershot and Eastern Commands involving ‘certain steps’ to be taken by the Military and Police in co-operation in the event of an emergency being declared, was ‘of so secret a character’ that he could not actually report it. Subsequently, he received a confidential letter from the Home Office (the contents of which he was unable to give in detail) regarding applications by the Police for military aid in case of disturbance, although he found that it ‘practically forbids the Police to ask for such aid except in cases of absolute necessity’; in connection with this, he described in detail a riot by railwaymen and employees of Dennis Bros and Drummonds in Guildford on 2 February, who refused to allow butchers to distribute meat, and discussed at length what could or should be done in the event of a greater disturbance with a reduced Police force and without military aid, especially in light of 480 Russian soldiers (possible ‘Bolsheviks’) at Minden Barracks, Deepcut.

Other demands on the Chief Constable’s time were i) the provision of data for the Minister of National Service to complete the Minister’s records regarding male alien enemies exempted from internment; ii) monthly notification of the arrival, departure or death of all male alien enemies; and iii), more irritatingly, a request for action from the Local Food Control Committee regarding food hoarding, in response to which he pointed out with some asperity that it was their own responsibility to obtain a search warrant and make a search (although he did promise to allow an officer to accompany them).

Report of May 1918 Subjects of instruction and information this quarter included: the declaration of County Clare, Ireland, as a Special Military Area; an order making it a summary offence for any woman suffering from venereal disease to solicit or have sex with any member of HM Forces (for which the Chief Constable gloomily predicted that the Police will ‘have to do all the work’); the maintenance of discipline of troops of Allied Forces in the UK (at present just US Forces, whose own Courts Martial should deal with matters arising); the procedure to be followed should a discharged soldier wish to be taken on in the Police Force; the prohibition of the opening of any new retail trade or business without a licence; the control of passenger traffic between Great Britain and Ireland by a permit system (for which application should be made to the police); and no student to be admitted to any ‘school of Wireless Telegraphy’ until his credentials had been checked (by the police, naturally).

Again, letters from the Home Office caused problems. The first outlined the duties of the police in case of invasion, but it appeared to the Chief Constable that ‘Should such an emergency arise, it would appear to me that each Constable will have to be in several places at one and the same time!! I can only hope that such a contingency may not take place!!’; in response to the second, stating that the Police were to take over the 5 Military Aircraft Observation Posts, the Chief Constable managed to persuade the HO to concede that Sergeants (who could not just stay at home waiting for a call) were not to neglect their Police work for observation duty, and that ‘if they were out [on duty] at the time the call came, no one was to be blamed for neglect to comply with the order’.

Further irritations included: the ‘incredible’ number of enquiries which had to be made regarding the ‘misconduct’ and ‘improprieties’ of wives of serving soldiers (which the Chief Constable considered a ‘disgraceful’ use of police time); a letter from the ‘Dorking and District Flag Day and War Charities’ asking for his ‘observations thereon’ (‘No doubt my reply will be laid before the Committee’); and the compilation of yet another census of livestock, this time including poultry.

Report of September 1918 Sant began this report by reminding the Chairman of the Standing Joint Committee that ‘all the duties of a permanent nature imposed on the Police … are still being carried out’ and that all the subjects of instruction and information outlined this quarter were either new or amendments to old ones. They included: permission for the use of lights in dining rooms and sittings rooms of hotels, inns and boarding houses up to midnight; the possible protection from military service of members of the Special Constabulary (the Chief Constable was to forward to the Home Office the names, ages and grades of any in his force); alterations to licences for the sale of horses at auctions and fairs; a new Road Transport Order and the registration of Goods Carrying Vehicles (forms to be issued at Police Stations); provisions for billeting women ‘who are enrolled for employment by the Army Council’; the seizing and destroying of ‘Hostile Leaflets’ (a list of 147 was supplied); the use of hay and straw for horse transport; the requirement of American citizens in the UK to either to serve with the US Army or return to the US (the taking of a census of Americans of military age by the Police was requested), the same to apply to Greek citizens (who might serve in the British Army); assistance to the Board of Trade in dealing with desertions of alien seamen and Danes (the Chief Constable did not consider that the Police had any power to ‘demand from the Seamen or Danes, their passports, etc’); Czechoslovaks to be treated as ‘alien friends and allies’; the movement of alien prisoners of war (who on the whole the Chief Constable found well-behaved and good workers) employed in agricultural and other work; the discontinuance of the Separation Allowance in cases of immoral army wives; and the responsibility of the Police to ensure that every alien, without exception, had an Identity Book.

The Home Office persisted in its demand that the police should be ready to man ‘at any moment night or day’ the Military Aircraft Observation Posts (now 6 in number), to ‘free for other duties … men of the Royal Defence Corps, hitherto employed to man the observation posts’; however, this time the Chief Constable made no comment other than to cite parts of the letter, although later in the report he considered that as the manning of the observation posts was obviously a military duty, it should be performed by the Volunteer Defence Corps.

He dealt sympathetically with two requests. The first, from the Assistant Provost Marshal at Aldershot, asked that the police assist in dealing with ‘hawkers etc’ who, ejected from military camps, could defy him by travelling on roads passing through the camps, over which he had no jurisdiction; this was acceded to by the Chief Constable, who also wrote (presumably to HQ) recommending that camp byelaws be extended to those roads. The second, from the Ministry of National Service, asking that the Chief Constable allow the police to assist in the gathering of the harvest as it was of ‘national importance’ was also dealt with promptly, and Sant received ‘gratifying reports of the way in which the Police came to the aid of the farmers’.

The Assistant Provost Marshal at Aldershot also made the welcome suggestion that the Military Authorities might aid the Chief Constable in the conveyance to Holloway (via Godalming and the Guildford Petty Sessions) of prostitutes apprehended by the Police in the neighbourhood of the camp at Witley by providing a vehicle for the purpose, for which the Chief Constable might apply officially; however, the eventual reply received from the Surplus Property Disposal Board merely invited the Chief Constable to ‘make an offer for any vehicle which might suit my purpose!!!!! [sic]’.

Sant noted the receipt of an ‘extremely interesting’ addendum to the pamphlet concerning German Aeroplane Bombs, but noted (possibly with some glee) that ‘the contents are secret, and must not be communicated’. Also received were ‘certain sealed orders’ from the Home Office, with instructions ‘not to open the envelope unless I received a telegram to do so’.

The case of the alien enemy Andre von Drumreicher, who had served in the German cavalry and subsequently in the Egyptian Civil Service, and who had now come to England from Egypt, was described in detail; with some amazement, Sant noted that he was ‘for some inexplicable reason’ released by the Home Office from internment and is now residing at Farnham.

Report of November 1918 The Chief Constable used this short report to discuss his meeting in October with a deputation of members of the Surrey Constabulary over rates of pay; the ‘deplorable, and disgraceful’ Metropolitan Police strike was also mentioned.

Camberley Special Constables on Armistice Day (SHC ref 9152/2/2/4/1b)

Addendum Report [November/ December 1918] The Chief Constable first reported a decrease in the number of duties the police had been called upon to perform in connection with the war. Continuing with the case of one Louisa Frost, the maid of Lady Stanley (who lived at Furze Hill, Pirbright) and the wife of an interned German, whom he had been asked to remove from ‘the vicinity of the camps at Pirbright’ to the Metropolitan Area, Sant moved on to list more subjects demanding his attention, including: the inclusion of all Spanish and Portuguese Jews in the class of Turkish Subjects; identification marks on military vehicles; the enforcement of regulations preventing the shooting of carrier pigeons (as it was legal for a farmer to shoot any pigeon alighting on his land and several had done so); the withdrawal of posters issued in October regarding cattle feed stuffs and the supply of new ones; the regularisation of arrangements regarding the exemption of police eligible for military service from enlistment; the supply of information to the Ministry of Food regarding the addresses, members and purpose of registered clubs; the compilation of a ‘complete census’ of all horses, mules and asses in the county; regulations regarding the slaughter of horses for food (‘It is important that no horseflesh which is unfit for food may be sold for human consumption’); police procedure in the case of deserters and absentees from the Royal Navy; arrangements for Belgian refugees to remain in their present places and not to go to London or ports for repatriation (‘I anticipate that the duty of carrying out these arrangements will fall on the Police’); and – with obvious relief – authorising the ringing of church bells and the use of fireworks and bonfires upon the ‘welcome information that an armistice has been signed by Germany’, and cancelling all DORA regulations. At the very end of this last wartime report, the Chief Constable quoted from a letter received from the Ministry of National Service: ‘I should like to take this opportunity of thanking you for the untiring and willing help which you have given to the Department in the past and I need hardly say how helpful this assistance has been’.

In October, the Chief Constable was asked to give evidence before a Committee dealing with DORA regulations on prostitutes, but he felt that the best evidence they could obtain would be that of one Superintendent Jennings of the Godalming Division and the Assistant Provost Marshal of Witley Camp, both of whom have seen the ‘indescribably filthy condition’ (he enumerated here several nasty symptoms) of some of the 31 women so far prosecuted. The problems of ‘females in camps’ lead to the appointment of ‘Women Constables’, and the Chief Constable included a separate, special report dated 5 December 1918 on ‘Women Police’, which described their formation, eligibility and duties in detail.

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