Voluntary and conscripted police called up to fight in the First World War

With the outbreak of the First World War on 4th August, 1914, all Reservists were called up at a moment's notice - the telegram below shows the urgency of the call. This included thousands of unmarried or widowed policemen with no dependents between the ages of 18 and 41 throughout Britain. They were said to be immediately replaced by Special Constables, who usually worked part-time out a sense of national duty, while still working in the businesses. The "Specials" soon outnumbered the regular police and were praised for their work.
Until early 1916, the War Office relied on voluntary recruitment of men to fight. From 2nd March 1916, conscription called up all single men between 18 and 41. However, a case could be made to a local Tribunal for an individual to be exempted from war service. Individual policemen applied in large numbers through their Chief Constable on the grounds that their work was of national importance or that they had exceptional financial obligations or domestic responsibilities. In most cases the Chief Constable supported these applications, with temporary exemptions being granted, usually for a month.
But continual pressure to release young, fit policemen to fight caused huge tensions in the police. By 1917, while some were released, others remained with the claim that they were indispensable and could not be released due to the importance of their job. This led to claims of favouritism amongst the men, with fierce verbal attacks by colleages that they were using work in the police to dodge being called up. It also led to claims that those who did not wish to fight gained entry to the police, leading to further accusation they were hiding in the police to avoid being called up; this was a major slur on their character for which they were likely to be ostracised by their colleagues.
As the war progressed further, so did the animosity directed at those of military age who were fit and remained at home. Policemen who were on leave from the army returned to their police stations and complained bitterly that they found so many fit young men still working there.

(Image from the National Archives file MEP 2/7169)

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