Problems for Dorset Police Force During WW1

Grandad Beck was promoted to Superintendent of the Blandford Division of the Dorset Constabulary in June 1915 nearly 11 months after the start of World War One.  This promotion came at a difficult time for the Dorset police force as reduced police numbers and rising costs caused major problems.  Reading the Dorset Standing Joint Committee reports in the Newspapers, the wages that the men received were constantly being reviewed, as the price of food and other essential commodities rose.  At the same time the Chief Constable, Captain Granville, was reporting on police strength, how many policemen had been released to the military, and the deaths of former policemen in the fighting.

War Bonus

Policemen were paid weekly, each week they would have walked or cycled to their Divisional headquarter, saluted their senior officer and received the cash due to them.  As the war progressed their wage was not enough for them and their families to buy the basic necessities of live.  To overcome this the Standing Committee, along with other police forces, issued a War Bonus, awarded until peace was signed.  The first bonus of 2s (shillings) per week for all ranks of Dorset policemen, was issued in April 1915, by the end of the war the bonus had risen to 10s.  In September 1917 The Food Controller stated that the cost of living had increased by 101.7% since the start of the war.

Many policemen, who had retired on pensions, rejoined to replace those joining the military.  These men were getting their police pension and their wages.  In July 1917, 4 Sergeants and 9 constables had reached retiring age since the start of the war. These men were unable to retire and claim their pensions, unless medically unfit. All policemen had to work extra hours. By 1916 constables were working 14 or 15 hours a day instead of 9, with one day off a fortnight instead of one day a week and since July 1915 all leave had been cancelled.

Allowances

It was not only pay that was an issue with increasing costs. Policemen’s boots had nearly doubled in cost (from 11s to 21s) by November 1917. Therefore the committee increased the boot allowance from 6d (pence) to 1s per week for all ranks.  Bicycles were being used more by the rural districts due to increased hours, larger beat areas and making lots of enquiries for the Army. In November 1917 this allowance was increased from £1 to £3 per annum, in specified areas, for Sergeants and constables.

Superintendent’s also had problems with their allowances for feeding their horses and prisoners.  In October 1916 the superintendents allowance for the subsistence of prisoners whilst in custody was discussed.  They were given half-pence per hour while a prisoner was in custody, which was not enough to cover the increased cost of the meals.  Each prisoner received 12 ounces of bread and 2 ounces of cheese three times a day, 8am, 1pm and 5pm.  A pint of tea or coffee at 8am and 5pm.  The committee agreed to double the allowance. I wrote about the forage for the horses last week in Locomotion for Dorset Superintendents.

Pay rises after the war

After the war, Police Sub-Committee had a hurried meeting, in June 1918. The Metropolitan Police were threatening to strike over pay and conditions.  The Met. police went on strikes in August 1918 and June 1919.  It is likely that Grandad Beck’s brother Ernest was involved in these strikes. This resulted, a year later, in a uniformed pay scale for the all police forces in the country.  New rates meant a constable on joining received 70s (at start of war 20s 9b) per week rising after 22 years’ service to 85s (pre-war 24s 9b) per week.  Sergeants, on promotion, 100s (pre-war 26s 10b) per week rising after five years’ service to 112s 6d (pre-war 29s 8b) per week. Superintendents would get £400 (pre-war £138 7s 11d) per year rising to £460 (pre-war £173 7s 9b) after 4 years.  At the Standing Committee meeting in Dorchester, the new compulsory pay scale was implemented. Mr. W. Carter commented, that the Dorset policemen are getting more wages than they actually asked us for, free houses, free clothes and pensions! Policemen are doing well. I have previously written about other changes introduced at this time in Public-Spirited County Policemen – A Difficulty Solved.

Police strength

The Chief Constable had 218 policemen at the start of the war and by the end 57 officers had joined the military, 9 of these lost their lives.  Finding replacements was not easy, the force was only able to employ those over 40 years and some of these men didn’t stay long.  While the pensioners helped, the chief constable told the committee in January 1916,  the pensioners didn’t have the vigour of the younger men and some of them had to resign because they couldn’t stand the work.  By the end of the war the force was 50 men under strength, this included the 11 officers who were employed on duties of a military character. There were 25 men who were entitled to retire, but not allowed to because of the war.

The force had returned to full strength by May 1919 though some of the pensioners were still employed.  In March 1919 the one rest day per week was restored. The Chief Constable told the committee that he would require 60 new recruits. All those men who had serviced in the military were entitled to return to the police force, including those who had been injured, if possible.  Police Constable Sam Coombs had been severely wounded in the war and had a artificial foot, was to be re-employed. The Chief Constable said he was a very deserving young fellow and he proposed to reinstate him as a constable and find work for him as a station constable and telephone attendant.  The committee applauded the Chief Constable to mark their approval.

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Ref: Quotes in italics
Western Gazette:
1919: 21 March p8; 16 May p10; 25 July p8; 17 October p9
1918: 1 February p6; 17 May p3; 19 July p3; 18 October p6; 8 November p5
1917: 2 February p5; 25 May p7; 20 July p6; 19 October p6; 30 November p8
1916: 4 February p5; 20 October p8
1915 22 October p9
Western Daily Press: 1915 26 April p3

3 thoughts on “Problems for Dorset Police Force During WW1”

  1. I never realized the hardships that policemen had to endure regarding their income particularly during the Great War. It’s a wonder that they stayed in the force considering the way they were treated. The men must have been very dedicated or loved their jobs. Thank you for this insight into our Social history.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Heather. I think it gives a clearer picture of why the Met Police went on strike and Ernest’s part in this. I think the security of the job, free housing, Doctor’s and a pension, was one reason they stayed in the police. One policeman was offered more money to return to his old trade, he opted to stay in the police.

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