The decision to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War with a special Armistice Event was made in the summer of 2017 following an informal discussion between Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer and Police Staff Mark Rothwell. The vast archives of the Devon & Cornwall Police historic collection (known as the South West Police Heritage Trust), curated by Hilary Bracegirdle and her team of volunteers, were delved into and a wealth of fascinating information and objects located. It became clear early on however that compiling a detailed list of every police officer from Devon and Cornwall who joined the Army would be problematic, as we do not hold a complete set of personnel records for the ten police forces that existed in wartime (read more about this issue in this blog published in 2014 at the start of our commemoration journey).
Finding the missing pieces involved visiting the county record offices at Exeter, Plymouth and Truro throughout 2018, whilst simultaneously interrogating the British Newspaper Archive, permitting the compilation of a database of some 360 names, the first list of its kind for this force. The research process revealed some surprises; that police forces such as Devonport, Penzance and Truro, which were previously thought to have retained their numbers in wartime, did in fact lose officers to the Armed Forces. Moreover, it was discovered in some cases that some of them lost their lives. This created an interesting quandary, as none of these newly discovered war deaths were marked on any police war memorial.
Policemen like PC Bertie John James Ball from Devon County Constabulary, who was asked to resign over a disciplinary matter, went on to serve in the Devonshire Regiment and was killed in action. PC Edward Hamilton Lindesay, from Truro City Police, died in January of 1919 from disease, barely a day after demobilisation. PC Alfred Charles Moist, another Devon county policeman, was found to have joined the Coldstream Guards in 1918, but spent his short military career in hospital and died from cancer. Military records told us with certainty that these men lost their lives through some association with their military service, and a decision was taken by the force to include these men on a new, single memorial dedicated to every officer from Devon and Cornwall known to have died in the conflict. In all, five names were added to our First World War roll of honour, increasing our known war dead to 34.
Spending time in the historic collection revealed there was much more to policing in wartime than we previously thought. The extra responsibilities of the police imposed by laws such as the Defence of the Realm Act shone an interesting spotlight on the day-to-day activities of police officers on the home front. The detailed notes written in General Orders books by our wartime Chief Constables revealed the worries they had over the activities of spies, the plight of policemen’s wives and guarding of railway bridges from enemy saboteurs. Quite significantly, we learned how the war hastened the inclusion of women in the police force and set a precedent for policing in the years that followed.
One of the most interesting discoveries in the archive was a box of artefacts that became known as the Jordan Collection. PC Herbert Jordan was a policeman from Devon who joined the Army early in the war, but was discharged as unfit following an injury and returned to Devon. For an act of bravery on the battlefield, he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and was notable for being the first man from Ilfracombe to receive a gallantry award. PC Jordan died from disease contracted on military service in 1917, and his is another of the names added to the new war memorial at police headquarters. We are extremely grateful for the assistance of Sue Garwood from Ilfracombe Museum, who enthusiastically conducted additional research on Jordan on our behalf. Sadly, Sue died suddenly in early 2018 before the fruits of our combined research could be realised. Items from the Jordan Collection, as well as many others, were showcased at the Armistice Event at police headquarters on 9th November 2018 in an excellent display assembled by Hilary, our Curator.
It was the Chief Constable’s insistence this year that our war dead were represented at the Armistice Event by their families, and a concerted effort was made to trace descendants and invite them to headquarters. After extensive genealogical research, which included consulting dozens of people overseas as well as closer to home, eight of our war dead will be represented by their families; the first time since 1919 this has been possible.
The effects of our extensive research into the First World War are expected to be long-lasting, as we were able to unearth far more than we could possibly have sifted through before Remembrance Day. It has been both a moving and rewarding experience for all of us, and we look forward to revealing more in 2019 and beyond.
This piece was written by Devon & Cornwall Police Staff Mark Rothwell. For the last four years Mark has been tirelessly researching the history of Devon & Cornwall Police and its constituent forces, and has authored two books on the subject, Policing the West Country: 180 Years of Policing in Devon and Cornwall (2017) and Invicta: A Biography of R.C.M. Jenkins (2017).