In England and Wales the so-called ‘special constabulary’ has a long an honourable history that in a sense pre-dates regular policing. In essence, local magistrates could appoint men to act under their direction as constables if they felt that there was actual or impending disorder which required the existing peace-keeping forces to be augmented. In pre-Victorian days, of course, police ‘forces’ were almost unknown and the ability of the petty constables to maintain any kind of order in the face of a serious disturbance was limited, to say the least. The ability to create special constables to deal with specific disturbances was an extension of the common law duty placed on every citizen to come to the aid of a police officer if requested to do so. The creation of special constables went a little further in that magistrates could compel people to perform this duty if they felt it necessary. The arrangement was placed on a statutory footing in 1831 (and amended by later legislation that recognized the creation of a permanent preventative police throughout the country and to whom special constables could be attached.
During the early years of the twentieth century special constables had been sworn in on a number of occasions of which the Salford Docks and national railway strikes of 1911 are but two examples. In each case the magistrates fully recognized that they could nominate people to act as specials, but felt that this would be an unwise course in practice and asked for volunteers instead. On each occasion when volunteers were called for, they came. This troubles proved very useful in demonstrating how little the volunteers knew of their powers and duties and, therefore, what kind of training they needed to be given in the event of a major emergency, of the kind just about to descend on the nation. Under slightly unclear home office guidance a few (of the hundreds of) police forces took the opportunity to establish special constabularies, though the legal situation about appointing constables otherwise than in an emergency was unclear.
It was not until the First World War that very large numbers of special constables were required to undertake duties for an extended period. Although it was felt that a war was self-evidently an emergency, nevertheless special legislation was passed authorizing the raising of a large body of men to undertake extra duties. In the Metropolitan Police District a Metropolitan Special Constabulary was raised under the direction of a Chief Commandant, with parallel ranks to regular police at district, divisional and police station levels (though the district level was soon found unnecessary). A target of 20,000 special constables was set for the Metropolitan Police District. Instructions to raise a force were given on 5 August 1914 (the day after war broke out) and by 15 August all the men required had been selected. The task of swearing them in under the 1831 Act began on 17 August. It took years to get all the men into uniform and at first they relied on only an armlet to indicate their authority, as a result of which they were sometimes not recognized. A bulk distribution of caps proved hard to administer and after a while the constables were allowed to buy their own (to a standard design) and claim the money back. It was not until well into the war that full uniform was provided. It is worth adding that the strength of the regular Metropolitan force then was about 17,000 so the force of specials was numerically larger (though of course they were part time). The shear size of the special constabulary created all kinds of administrative challenges and to some extent an entirely parallel administration.
The vast majority of constables who were appointed were farmed out to the various police divisions, normally ones in which they lived. However, there was also a headquarters division and some auxiliary divisions who rarely get much of a mention. One of these was the London General Omnibus Company, who formed an entire division from its own staff with the primary responsibility for policing its own extensive premises.
The LGOC division was drawn from both its headquarters and garage staffs and the job of establishing the new organization was put in the hands of its engineer, Mr C.J. Shave. Mr G Harding became drill instructor. At first the each of the garage superintendents became a special constabulary sergeant, with each garage acting independently, but in December 1915 the force was consolidated into a proper division under the authority of Mr W.F. Rainforth as divisional commander. A few months later command was transferred to Mr Shave, who became the new commander. His assistant commander was a man called Thomas, and in 1917 the LGOC company secretary, Mr W.E. Mandelick was created an honorary commander and provided further assistance to commander Shave. By 1917 the effective strength of the division was about 450.
The senior officers of the LGOC division provided their own uniforms to the MSC pattern, but the LGOC itself provided uniforms for the lower ranks, placing them at some advantage to constables service in most of the territorial divisions. The company provided generous time off for drilling and other necessary training. The division also provided extensive ambulance training (with 75 being qualified first aiders) and provided two motor ambulances. In addition to this, the LGOC special constabulary made available to the chief commandant every night an emergency squad of 150 – 200 men. These were stationed at the company HQ in Grosvenor Road and were available from dusk each night, remaining on duty until dismissed by a headquarters officer. On receiving an air raid warning squads could be sent out to reinforce A division and man air raid shelters. Other men, using cars or buses, could be despatched as required, and having a good knowledge of London’s roads were regarded as being reliable and relatively fast.
|Commander George James Shave in special constabulary uniform|
The LGOC division performed conspicuously well during incidents such as the big raid of 28 January 1918 which caused many casualties from which the LGOC division moved 17 to Charing Cross hospital. The following night a large gas main near Kew Bridge was ruptured and the escaping gas caught light. A party of special constables from Turnham Green garage bagged up and loaded five tons of sand and took it by lorry to the scene, materially assisting the difficult job of extinguishing the flames.
It is perhaps of slight surprise that when the war was over, with many special constables stood down, the LGOC division continued in existence (a much-reduced MSC having now been put on a permanent footing). The division was still going strong in 1925, by which time it was under Commandant Lansdown; a parade at Chiswick that year saw a turnout of 150 men who took part in a drill competition. Mr Shave was present, evidently as an honorary commandant, and he explained that he regretted that he was no longer active, but still took an interest. I do not have a date for the end of the LGOC’s association with the MSC, but would be very interested to know when this was.
The LGOC was not the only ‘company’ division, though it appears it may have been the largest. Others included the General Post Office (based at the Savings Bank in Blythe Road) and HM Office of Works. In addition much smaller units were raised at gas works, large warehouses and large manufactuaries, and even some local authorities. The total number of specials attached to companies reached a maximum of 9233, and the maximum strength of the Metropolitan Special Constabulary during the war was (according to the answer to a parliamentary question in June 1915) 32,617, a truly enormous number, being double the size of the regular police.
It seems that in 1919 there was a concerted effort to ensure there was a reliable source of special constables for some future emergency, and this might explain the longevity of the LGOC division. We do know that to augment the post war specials the Honourable Artillery Company (based near the City Road) was asked to form a contingent of special constables, and they were happy to oblige. Initially these specials were attached to G Division, and numbered about 150 men. Amazingly, the HAC still nominates special constables, though their men are today attached to the City of London Police. Each HAC man wears an ordinary police uniform with usual ‘specials’ insignia, but bearing the additional letters HAC. It is perhaps typical of the City of London to carry on traditions like this, probably in this case because the HAC is regarded as a City livery company and because the night-time population of the City is so low as to make recruitment by ordinary methods more difficult than usual.
Any other information about the LGOC ‘specials’ would be of interest. It would provide a nice little research project for someone…