The Police in South Wales During the First World War

When the First World War broke out, officers of the Glamorgan Constabulary and the borough police forces of south Wales were recruited to the armed forces in numbers.  As a result, there were many vacancies to be filled, and some of those who were still at home signed up to join the police.  This is reflected in newspaper reports at the time, recorded within the newscuttings books collected and compiled by the Cardiff Borough Police Force:

‘Many citizens have enrolled themselves as special constables at Cardiff and have signified their intention of rendering service gratis’; ‘355 special constables recruited’.  Cardiff Borough Police Force, newscuttings (DCONC/5/46)

‘The number of special constables in Cardiff is around 1100 and 1200. There are 228 vacancies due to many who have joined the colours’.  Cardiff Borough Police Force, newscuttings (DCONC/5/52)

With many men having joined the military, it was an opportunity for women to serve the Police on patrols, in addition the work they already undertook in supervising, searching and escorting women and children that were in custody.  The minutes of the Glamorgan County Council Standing Joint [Police] Committee note:


‘By permission of the Chairman I have made small temporary advances of 10s. per week to the wives of the reservists recalled to the Colours, for their immediate requirements.  Seven of these are stationed in County Police cottages, which must be kept at the disposal of the Police’. Glamorgan County Council, Standing Joint [Police] Committee, minutes (GC/SJ/4/2)

Many of the female officers were wives of those who were serving in the military.  However, although they were seen outside the police station more often than before, the patrols of women officers usually concentrated on preventing women from ‘wandering astray’, both morally and literally, while other duties were undertaken by male officers.

Those men who did sign up to join the Police needed to be aware that they might still be called up for military service at some point in the future:

‘…the only men belonging to the special police who can regard themselves as exempt from military services are those of 35 and over’.  Cardiff Borough Police Force, newscuttings (DCONC/5/52)

It was estimated that some 60-70% of men who enrolled as special constables in south Wales on the outbreak of war fell within the scope of the above order.

Inevitably, many of those constables serving with the armed forces would pay the ultimate price for their service to the nation:

‘The Head Constable reported that Constable Camfield was killed in action between 14-16 Sep at Soupir, France’.  Cardiff Borough Council, minutes (BC/C/6/49)

‘The Head Constable reported that the following members of the Force had been killed in action, namely, Constable Bert Clements, 34c, Constable Frank Willis, 43c, and Constable Frank Ford, 17b’; ‘The Head Constable reported the deaths of Constable Thomas Lemuel Jones and Constable Walter John Twining. PC Jones was a Reservist of the Grenadier Guards, and PC Twining on 6 Sep rejoined his old Regiment the 10th Hussars’.  Cardiff Borough Council, minutes (BC/C/6/50)

‘The Head Constable reported the death of Lance-Corporal HJ Fisher, of the Welsh Guards, killed in action in France on 16 Sep’.  Cardiff Borough Council, minutes (BC/C/6/53)

‘The Head Constable reported the death of Probationer Constable Milton Horace Wood, a Reservist of the RAMC, who married after leaving the Force, and left a widow and child behind him’.  Cardiff Borough Council, minutes (BC/C/6/55)

‘Welsh Guardsman George Lock ex Cardiff Police killed in action’.  Cardiff Borough Police Force, newscuttings (DCONC/5/51)

Many were wounded and returned to civilian life unfit for Police duty:

‘25 of our men have been discharged from the Army for various reasons.  Of these, five have not rejoined the Force, four have rejoined the Force and then left on account of their health or to obtain more remunerative employment, and 16 are still serving in the Force’.  Glamorgan County Council, Standing Joint [Police] Committee, minutes (GC/SJ/4/2)

As the war went on, more Police officers either signed up or were called up by the military, and despite the earlier mentioned recruitment of civilians, the number of constables would drop to a low enough level for the police to be concerned:

‘The Military Authorities having now further depleted the Police Force beyond the 250 which the Committee deemed indispensable for their general duties (which are very heavily increased), the attention of the Chief Constable was called to the resolution of the March 1917 meeting of the Committee as to the Police not undertaking voluntary work for the Military Authorities, which they expect will be carried out’.  Glamorgan County Council, Standing Joint Committee, minutes (GC/SJ/2/2)

Throughout the War, the Police were expected to continue to carry out their duties of enforcing the law in the areas for which they were responsible. Some new laws were brought into force specifically due to the War, mostly as a result of the Defence of the Realm Act of 1914; one example being the dimming of lights at night:

‘…the Head Constable communicated with those Lighting Authorities, Companies or persons within the City whom he may think necessary, requested them to take steps gradually to diminish their lights from the hours of 10pm to 12 midnight, after which latter hour all prominent lights must be extinguished or subdued in such a manner as not to be visible from above’.  Cardiff Borough Council, minutes (BC/C/6/49)

Other examples included restrictions on the sale of liquor, imprisonment without trial, censorship of printed and spoken word and the movement of aliens; in the latter case they could be Belgian refugees or former German and Austrian residents.  The British publics suspicion of German residents lead to riots, which the Police had to deal with:

‘On the 15th May 1915, anti-German riots took place at Neath, and some looting occurred.  The Neath Police were overpowered, and Supt. Ben. Evans, of the “D” or Neath Division of the County Police, sent three Inspectors, three Sergeants, four acting sergeants, and 12 Constables to their assistance.  With the Assistance of this Force the riot was quelled’.  Glamorgan County Council Standing Joint [Police] Committee, minutes (GC/SJ/4/2)

Another problem the Police had to deal with was the antagonism between pacifists and those who supported the War. On one occasion this led to extraordinary scenes at a hall in Cardiff:

‘Scenes were witnessed in Cardiff when protesters against the peace policy of the National Council for Civil Liberties stormed the Cory Hall and forced the delegates to abandon their meeting. A meeting had been held previously to take steps to prevent the holding of the conference. A procession was arranged and when they arrived at the Hall, where they were unopposed by the police but met resistance, but were able to gain entrance and soon the delegates lead by Mr Ramsay Macdonald MP beat a retreat. There were no arrests’.  Cardiff Borough Police Force, newscuttings, (DCONC/5/52)

After the war had ended, Police officers who had served in the military began to return to their previous work, taking over from the volunteers who had been working in their place:

‘The strength of the Force is 627, being 101 below authorised strength of 728. There are also 74 members with the Private companies, including five Weights and Measures Inspectors.  I herewith append a schedule showing the number of men who have returned to the Force from Active Service, and their state of health:  No. of men returned unfit for further Military Service 57. No. of men returned to the Force upon demobilisation 198. No. of men passed as ‘Fit for Police duty’ and now serving in the Force 169. No. of men placed ‘Upon probation to come up before the doctor for re-examination’ 35. No. of men placed ‘Upon Light duty’ and to come up for re-examination 14. No. of men who have returned, unlikely to completely regain their health, who have now made a start in another profession 34. No. of men who have died since returning to the Force 3’.  Glamorgan County Council Standing Joint [Police] Committee, minutes (GC/SJ/4/2)

With so many of the Police offers killed or wounded in action, it is unsurprising that the Constabulary was below full strength during the immediate post-war period.

Andrew Booth, Relief Records Assistant

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