“The Fair Arm of the Law” by Simon Dell MBE
Meeting Reporter: Barbara Schofield
Simon Dell MBE, made a welcome return to the May meeting of West Dartmoor U3A. He is well known and appreciated in Tavistock and his talks are often interspersed with personal anecdotes, bringing his subject is to life.
In “The Fair Arm of the Law”, he traced the development of the women’s police service from the earliest days, when expediency and a regard for the safety of female prisoners meant that some of the old lock ups had (as a precaution) two locks and the local bobby’s wife was expected to cater for the needs of girls and women in the police cells. This led to the employment, in larger police stations of wardresses, two of whom crossed the Atlantic with local man, Sergeant Mitchell, to arrest Ethel le Neve and Dr. Crippen, in 1910.
The speaker talked about the suffragettes and suffragists of the early twentieth century, revealing his thoughts about the shameful treatment of the militant suffragettes and comparing the use the government made of the police at that time, with his own experiences in Derby during the miners’ strike of the 1980s.
With the onset of the Great War in 1914, the suffragettes declared a cease fire. Women were needed to fill the vacancies made by men going off to fight but although there was a need for Special Constables, women were barred. Appalled by the plight of Belgian refugees who had fled to this country, former suffragettes and suffragists, combined to establish Women Police Volunteers to cover the railway stations and streets of London and to thwart the people traffickers of those days. Although not liked by the government, they were popular with the policemen on the beat.
Expediency won again. The Women’s Munition Police Service was established to confront the problems of the countless girls working in the munitions factories, where venereal disease was rife.
Although the first woman police constable was appointed in Grantham. In 1915, the next leap forward, sadly, came with the onset of the Second World War when the Women’s Auxiliary Police Service was formed. It was then that Eileen Norsworthy became Plymouth’s first WPC. Devon did not follow suit until 1947 and Cornwall 1953.
Simon expressed his admiration of the way in which the first women police fulfilled their duties wearing skirts. Nowadays women work in all branches of the service, suitably clad.
And there is a woman in charge at the Met!