Folkestone Police and immorality in the First World War

Shorncliffe is less than two miles from Folkestone and housed 40,000 Canadian soldiers who landed in Plymouth in February 1915 on their way to barracks at Shorncliffe, with the officers based in private houses throughout Folkestone. This transformed the previously genteel holiday resort overnight into a home for soldiers, who were welcomed into the town by the local people and developed strong ties with them, to the extent that there is still an annual parade through the town to remember them, the image below shows their enduring memories by a plaque in the town:

Canadian troops were based in Shorncliffe and Folkestone for the duration of the war, returning for periods of leave from France. The picture below shows them marching along The Lees, an exclusive promenade on the seafront in Folkestone.
Both pictures courtesy of Folkestone Then and Now
Although very much welcomed by the local community, they were thought by some residents to have money to spend and inevitably crime developed. A further problem was the level of venereal disease in the troops [1]. The police said the town developed a particular problem of brothel keeping and solicitation in 1915, when they closed four brothels [2; 3], seen by the Chief Constable in evidence to the Watch Committee as insufficient. In February 1916, the month in which Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) Regulation 13A was passed, 37 convicted prostitutes and those convicted of brothel keeping were evicted from Folkestone [4]. Considerable discussion at the Watch Committee in March 1916 involved members being told, three months into the employment of two women police, that now Magistrates had increased powers to expel certain women from the town, the Committee no longer saw the need for women police, although they were said to have carried out their work to the satisfaction of the Committee and the Chief Constable, the decision to employ them should be revoked. Those convicted under 13A had entered the town since the start of the war and as they had now been evicted there was no further need for the women police. However, the Archbishop of Canterbury intervened writing that he “had been following the doings of the women police all over the country with great interest.” He promoted them as carrying out work which it was almost impossible for a man to do. Following a vote, the motion to revoke the appointment of the women police was lost by 12 votes to 6 and they were retained [5].


[1] Beaupré, D. (2007/2008) En Route to Flanders Fields:  The Canadians at Shorncliffe During The Great War. London Journal of Canadian Studies. 23, 45-65.
[2] Wynn, S. (2017) Folkestone in the Great War. Barnsley: Pen and Sword Military.
[3] Correspondence concerning the desire for special regulations (13B) for treating venereal disease in Folkestone (1916). 3AMS/B/05/01. London School of Economics, The Women’s Library.
[4] Levine, P. (2003) Prostitution, Race, and Politics: Policing venereal disease in the British Empire. New York and London: Routledge.
[5] Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate and Cheriton Herald, March 4th, 1916 p. 2

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