Was your soldier a policeman before or during the Great War?

This article may be useful if you are researching the military service of anyone who was a policeman before or during the early years of the Great War.

Many policemen had previously served in the army and many of them were still reservists when war was declared. They were obliged to report to their normal regimental depots when the army was mobilised in early August 1914. It left the police short of numbers and the British government had to act quickly to balance the desire of other policemen who wished to to enlist with the need need to maintain law and order at home. A series of laws were passed in an attempt to manage the balance. In part, they had to address the significant difference between police and army rates of pay.

Police Reservists (Allowances) Act, 1914

“Hansard” 6 August 1914

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Mr. Ellis Griffith: “I beg leave to move, ‘That leave be given to introduce a Bill, to authorise the grant out of police funds of certain allowances and gratuities in respect of Police Reservists who are called out upon permanent service.’  In this Bill we follow the exact precedent of 1900 with reference to the widows and children of married men, and also the gratuities and allowances to those dependent upon unmarried men.”

Question put, and agreed to. The Bill was ordered to be brought in by Mr. McKenna and Mr. Ellis Griffith. It was presented accordingly, read the first time, and ordered to be printed. Then it went read a second time, and committed. The Bill was accordingly considered in Committee, and reported without Amendment; read the third time, and passed into law.

Special Constables Act, 1914

This Act came into effect on 28 August 1914 as a means of replacing the lost manpower. It amended existing laws to ease the enrolment and use of special constables, giving addition powers for the authorisation of the nomination and appointment of special constables “although a tumult, riot or felony has not taken place or is not immediately apprehended”.

Police Constables (Naval and Military Service) Act, 1914

This Act came into effect on 18 September 1914, amending the Police Reservists (Allowances) Act, 1914 and adding new provisions. It was another essentially financial law, with the key provision being that if a police man was given leave of absence to enlist then his military service would be counted as though the he was still serving as as such and that it would count towards his pension.

The War Office began to notify Chief Constables of arrangements for enlisting men with certain qualifications: for example, senior men who might act as army drill instructors. Should such men wish to enlist then the Chief Constable was asked to extend to them the same financial benefits as the reservists. A police man could not enlist without authorisation.

Newspapers were reporting by early 1915 that some local committees were actively discouraging the further enlistment of police constables as they were experiencing operational difficulties.

By the spring of 1915 some  forces were reporting that they had lost 25-35% of their manpower. Recruitment for police positions was stepped up (some saw it as controversial as it was seeking the very same sort of man required for the army and the pay was much more attractive) and a constable’s working hours were extended to ten per day. The Home Office eventually had to step in: for example when Portsmouth had lost 40% of its police by November 1915, further enlistment was halted. Manchester lost 600 from its 1400 men.

Corps of Women Police Volunteers

One means of replacing police who went into the armed forces was through the recruitment of women but, as with many other similar initiatives it met with initial resistance.

The Corps of Women Police Volunteers was inaugurated by the Women’s Freedom League in early August 1914 in answer to the refusal of Sir Edward Ward (in charge of the Special Constabulary) who had refused to let women enrol as specials. Members of the corps were to be “enrolled with the object of providing a body trained women for the service of the public”.

From “Common Cause” edition of Friday 6 November 1914

The “Grantham Journal” of Saturday 19 December 1914 made the claim that the town was the first north of London to have a Women Police Patrol. “They have come at the instigation of the Association for the Help and Care of Girls, on account of the large number of troops encamped in the vicinity of the town, the idea being that trained women could effect more good in keeping girls and young women from evil influences than inexperienced persons”.

Not everyone agreed. Despite the suggestion made by “Common Cause”, the “Illustrated Police News” of  Thursday 14 January 1915 reported that the chairman of Manchester City Council Mr. Makeague had declared that appoint women police patrols “would be an insult the King’s uniform.”

Gradually, many Chief Constables agreed to the appointment of female police.

“Hansard” 29 April 1915: debate in the House of Commons

Mr. Charles Duncan: asked the Home Secretary whether he is aware that a number of police constables, not being naval or military Reservists, have enlisted in His Majesty’s naval or military forces as ordinary recruits; that the unmarried constables in the City of London police and other forces are being specially urged to enlist, and that many are willing to do so provided they are granted the rights accorded to other constables under the Police Reservists (Allowances) Act, 1914, and the Police Constables (Naval and Military Service) Act, 1914, and will he take steps to extend the provisions of these Acts to all constables who enlist with the approval of their respective police authority?
Mr. McKenna [Home Secretary]: The answer to all the questions is in the affirmative. As my hon. Friend is aware, the Bill to extend the privileges conferred by the two Acts mentioned was given a Second Reading last Tuesday.

Police (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1915

“Hansard” 12 May 1915: the second reading of the Bill in the House of Lords

Viscount Allendale: My Lords, the object of this Bill is to facilitate recruiting from amongst a body of men who can provide very valuable material for His Majesty’s Forces. It will be within your Lordships’ recollection that two Acts dealing with this question have already been passed. In the first—the Police Reservists (Allowances) Act, 1914—certain privileges were given to constables who enlisted in the Army provided that at the time of their enlistment they were Reservists, the Police authorities being given power to supplement the pensions and the allowances of constables who had been called out as Reservists or had enlisted and their dependants. By the second measure—the Police Constables (Naval and Military Service) Act, 1914—these privileges were extended to constables who enlisted who were not Army Reservists but who had previously served in the Army and were specially selected by the War Office as possessing particular qualifications for, in the words of the Act, “rendering special service in the Navy or Army.” These words, however, are now found to limit too much the class to which the privileges should be granted, and it has been represented both by the Police authorities and by the War Office that their repeal would promote recruiting amongst the Police, who can now be spared for enlistment in larger numbers than was possible at the beginning of the war.

By this Bill it is proposed that the same privileges which were conferred by the two previous measures to which I have alluded should be given to all constables, whether they have previously served in the Army or not or whether they have special qualifications or not, who enlist with the consent of their chief officer. The conditions under which military pensions are granted are not precisely the same as in the case of the Police, and under this Bill a disabled policeman will have the benefit of the pension conditions of his own force, and not the somewhat narrower conditions that prevail as regards Army pensions. There is another provision which enables the services of constables to be retained during the continuance of the war by suspending the right of any constable who has served his full period to retire at the age of, say, 46 or 47 on a pension although fit for further service. This is in order to make it possible to retain them in the Police force without having to go to the class who are qualified for enlistment to fill their places.

Other small provisions in the Bill are contained in Clause 3, which provides that during the continuance of the war no new separate Police force shall be created, and which enables the Secretary of State to authorise a county Police authority to take over temporarily a small borough Police authority in its area. The reason for the latter provision is that it has been found, in a few instances at all events, that in the new war conditions duties have been thrust upon some of the small borough Police forces which they have not been able to carry out satisfactorily. During the Committee stage of this Bill in another place a few days ago, in response to criticisms and requests to make certain points somewhat clearer, my right hon. friend the Home Secretary proposed and accepted some Amendments, and the Bill which was circulated to your Lordships this morning and which is now on the Table is the measure as so amended. I trust that your Lordships will give it a Second Reading to-day.

From the “Daily Record” of Saturday 1 January 1916.

Police men were permitted to attest into the “Group System” of recruiting when it came into effect in October 1915.

Police Constables (Naval and Military Service) Act, 1917

The Act of 1914 was amended to adjust allowances:

1917 Act



The Group System of recruiting (Derby Scheme)

Reserves and Reservists

A soldier’s life