Tensions in the police as war progresses


The last two and a half years of the war had a dramatic effect on the police service at home in Britain.  In the patriarchal police family, where it was not acceptable for the wife to work outside the home, her husband’s sole wage came under increasing pressure due to steep price rises and the insensitivity of the police authorities to give adequate increases in pay or the war bonus. Whereas the police had developed increased skills to cope with the demands of policing, therefore claiming they were entitled to be paid as skilled workers, police authorities continued to see them as unskilled labour with pay equivalent to farm labourers. This was in an endeavour to keep the demands on the ratepayers low. In these latter years of the war policemen and their wives were portrayed as becoming increasingly worried about how they were going to feed their breadwinner and family. 
Added to this, exhaustion rose as many were expected to increase their hours of work due to insufficient or part-time replacement for the many younger men called to war. Many police forces expected their policemen to work for 14 days or longer without a break. The police who remained at home were increasingly elderly, as the age for military service was increased from 41 to 51 in early 1918, or those injured in war had been sent back to Britain as unfit and so unsuitable for military service.  
These conditions, combined with the lack of a voice to make their concerns known, led to the police strike of 30th and 31st August 1918 when 12,000 Metropolitan Policemen marched on Downing Street; and resulted in the resignation of the Police Commissioner. The surprise this caused the police authorities shows the gulf between the lower and senior grades in understanding the pressures they were under.

Further reading

Klein, J. (2010) Invisible Men: The Secret Lives of Police Constables in Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham, 1900-1939. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press. 
Emsley, C. (1996) The English Police: A Political and Social History. Abingdon and New York: Routledge.
Jones, O. (2007) The ‘Spirit of Petrograd’? The 1918 and 1919 Police Strikes. What Next Journal No 31, 67-77

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