Policing Western Europe: Politics, Professionalism, and Public Order, 1850-1940

By Clive Emsley; Barbara Weinberger | Go to book overview

Police and Public Order in Britain 1914-1918

David Englander

It is to be borne in mind . . . that the Civil Authority must remain supreme and responsible for the suppression of civil disorder in time of war as at all other times, and that armed guards, if employed, are only acting in aid of the Civil Power.

MEPO 2/1956, Edward Troup to Commissioner of Police of Metropolis, 12 March 1914.

War is a funny business. Between 1914 and 1918 men in uniform were everywhere: marching here and marching there; on the sidewalks and in the pubs; milling around stations and boarding buses; filling trains and trams with their rifles and their ribaldry. Never before had the defenders of the realm been so alert, so numerous or so conspicuous. And yet, at no time had the state seemed more naked and defenceless. True, the military, as an aid to the civil power, might be invoked in an emergency--the constitution provided for that. But in a liberal democracy, measures which are lawful are not necessarily legitimate, and what is proper is not always politic. The intervention of the military in industrial disputes, even when necessary, was thought to be "un- British." 1

Soldiers, trained for combat rather than crowd control, were quite unfitted for internal police work. Public policy was to keep their interventions to the minimum. Police authorities were encouraged to raise police numbers through the enlistment of civilian volunteers during an emergency; to make greater provision for mounted police for purposes of crowd control, and to conclude mutual aid agreements with neighbouring police forces so as to possess an additional supply of trained manpower in the event of serious disturbance. Steps were also taken to limit local initiative in requisitioning troops and to prevent their being summoned without the knowledge of the Home Office. 2

In a decentralised system, such as obtained in pre-war Britain, however, there was considerable variation in local responsiveness to the advice and recommendations emanating from the centre. In terms of neither numbers nor technology were the forces of law and order

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