Historic Collections Heritage & Learning Resource Volunteer Peter Hinchliffe recently researched the members of the constituent forces who fought in the First World War. As a part of the First World War Remembrance memorials, Peter’s work has been published by Devon & Cornwall Police. Here we are reproducing Peter’s research, in order to show the kind of work that the Historic Collections volunteers perform.


197500410001-smThis research began with a request from Assistant Chief Constable Paul Netherton who wanted information on police officers from what is now the Devon and Cornwall Policing area who were killed in the First World War so that they could be remembered. Locating this information presented a number of difficulties:-

Our own personnel records in the Historic Collections of Devon and Cornwall Police are not complete, and it goes without saying that during 1914 to 1918 there were a number of separate forces in existence. In 1914 the Police Forces in Devon and Cornwall were Barnstaple Borough, Cornwall Constabulary, Devon Constabulary, Exeter City, Isles of Scilly, Penzance Borough, Plymouth Borough, Tiverton Borough and Truro City. Furthermore, research from various sources reveals a very different attitude towards casualties than prevails today.

All police officers who joined the military during World War One, as either reservists, volunteers or conscripted, were required to resign from the police. In Cornwall, having resigned, their constabulary number was re-allocated to a recruit almost immediately. In Devon however, the number was left vacant until mid-1919. Men who survived the war and were demobbed were required to pass a medical examination before being re-employed as Constables. We know in Cornwall that they were then given a new constabulary number, but we have no knowledge of the “Re-joining” procedure relating to the other forces

Cornwall, Devon and Exeter City Police commemorated officers who fell between 1914 and 1918 with war memorials. However, we cannot be certain that the names of all the men who died as a result of the war are recorded, as will be explained below.

There is no memorial to the men of the Plymouth Borough Police, if any of them were killed; yet we know that twenty one men from Plymouth joined the Colours during the war. From rattle to radio: The history of policing in Plymouth by Ernest Dickaty makes no mention of World War One. Some of the personnel records for Plymouth men are held in the Historic Collections of Devon & Cornwall Police and are in the process of being catalogued, but these records do not include details of the men’s death, and it appears there is no list of the names of men who left the police force to join the Colours during the war.

There also appears to be no record for Devon or Exeter City of those who returned, or records of those who were medically unfit for police duty because of injuries sustained in the conflict. We certainly know of some Exeter City men who returned but did not continue as constables, but we do not know if that was their choice or because they were not fit in “Wind or limb”. As a general rule men who were killed or died before being demobbed were considered for inclusion on war memorials. The names of men, who had been injured and demobbed, before dying as a result of the wounds they had received, were often omitted from memorials. These men are sometimes referred to as “The completely Forgotten”.  More than 182,000 men were discharged as “Invalids” before 1918, thousands of whom would have died before 1925, the year in which the majority of war memorials were erected and consecrated. The Bodmin Police Memorial was consecrated in April 1921, this was very early, the peak year for consecrations was 1925. Two men who had been discharged from the Army – died as a result of their military service – one, well before the memorial was erected. Their names were added to the plinth rather than the main panel. Unlike every other man named on the Police Memorial, they appear on no other Cornish memorial.

I have discovered that policemen seem to be an unrecorded class of men on First World War memorials, possibly because they were all young men, often not from the area where they were serving when they enlisted, so were not considered for that village memorial. Having left the area in which they grew up, they were no longer resident there, so were left off that memorial as well.

Many towns with several parishes had a “Central” memorial which did not list the men killed, e.g. Exeter and Devonport. It was common practice for individual churches to erect plaque type memorials in their respective places of worship, to include members of their congregation. Currently in Cornwall, where a great many people were of the Methodist persuasion, there is an active policy of moving memorials from redundant Methodist Chapels to the local Parish Church (C of E). Village memorials were usually “Organised” by the parish and tended to include only members of the Church of England. It often fell to professional organisations, such as large employers, to erect memorials to their staff and good examples here are the Great Western Railway Memorial at St David’s Station in Exeter, and the Police Memorials at Headquarters, Heavitree Road and Bodmin Police Stations

How then to remember our fellow officers who gave their lives during the First World War? A solution designed to avoid offending anyone, would be to lay wreaths on the Police War Memorials at Bodmin, Heavitree Road, Middlemoor and St Andrews Church Plymouth (a Second World War plaque). I have listed below the known deaths from Cornwall, Devon and Exeter City Police. I believe there were no deaths of policemen from Barnstaple Borough, Penzance Borough, Tiverton Borough or Truro City Police.

Devon and Cornwall Police in WWI Updated

Peter Hinchliffe
Heritage & Learning Resource
Devon & Cornwall Police

October 2014

This blog post has been reproduced from an article news article published on the Devon & Cornwall Police website, found here.

4 thoughts on “Remembering our Police Officers who lost their lives in the First World War

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