The Midland Railway Police and The Great War

By Bob Butcher

Extract from the July 2010 edition of History Lines (No. 11)

The news in Newsletter Number 9 that a party led by the Chief Constable himself had visited Ypres to pay tribute to the 109 Railway Policemen who lost their lives during the Great War was of considerable interest to me. It reminded me that some years ago, Sergeant Ernie Hart of Euston, lent me a copy of a small booklet containing the Midland Railway Police roll of honour for that war. The following is a summary of that roll but I should add that the original, of which I have a photo copy, contains the names of the individuals concerned.

The pre- Great War Midland Railway was based on Derby but extended far beyond the Midlands. It was, in fact, the third largest railway in Britain. Immediately prior to the outbreak of the war its Police establishment consisted of one Chief of Police, four Superintendents, nine Inspectors or Sub-Inspectors, 272 uniformed Sergeants or Constables, thirty-two Detective officers and a few police clerks.

Of this number no fewer than 152 Police Officers and one clerk served in ‘His Majesty’s Forces’, nearly half the entire strength of the force. Broken down they comprised one Chief of Police, nine Sergeants, one acting Sergeant, 139 Constables, two Detective officers and one police clerk. The Chief was an army officer who re-joined on the outbreak of war whilst the Superintendents and Inspectors would probably have been over military age due to the length of time it had taken them to reach those ranks. Like most forces, the Midland favoured ex-soldiers as recruits and doubtless many were still on the Reserve and would have been recalled to the colours upon mobilisation whilst the others who answered the call would have been volunteers as the Police were exempt from the conscription laws.

It is not known in which Service the individuals served but it is virtually certain that most would have been in the army, probably in France and Belgium. However the use of the term ‘His ‘Majesty’s Forces’ in an official record suggests that some could have been in the Royal Navy, Royal Marines or the Royal Air Force. Neither is it known in full detail what ranks the individuals held or achieved but apart from the Chief who was already an officer, four ex-Midland Railway Policemen achieved commissioned rank, at least three became warrant officers or non-commissioned officers and given their backgrounds many others probably achieved similar promotions.

Of the total enlistments, eighteen were killed in action, four died of wounds, four died of disease, twenty-four were wounded once, two men were wounded twice and one three times. Twelve were taken prisoner of war two of whom are known to have been wounded but whether they sustained their wounds at the time of capture or on a previous occasion is not known. One died in captivity. It is entirely possible that many former Midland Railway Policemen served in the Military Police otherwise their casualties might have been higher.

The Chief, Major, J. A. Henderson, received the Distinguished Service Order and the Order of the British Empire and was mentioned in Despatches four times. The following awards were also made: Distinguished Conduct Medal—two; Military Medal and Bar—two; Military Medal—one; Meritorious Service Medal –one; Russian Medal of St Anne—one; Russian Medal of St George—one; Mentioned in Despatches—three.

One man was awarded the Military Medal and Bar, was wounded three times and was finally taken prisoner. Another did things in twos, getting the Military Medal and Bar, was mentioned in Despatches twice and was wounded two times. I understand, but cannot confirm, that one Military Medallist had originally served in the 21st Lancers and was wounded by a spear at Omdurman in 1898. He later joined the Midland Railway Police but was recalled to take part in the South African War (1899—1901) in which he was injured. He then resumed his career with the Midland Railway Police but was again recalled during the Great War during which he was awarded the Military Medal, became a Sergeant Major in the Military Foot Police, was gassed at Ypres and was Mentioned in Despatches. He came out of retirement for a few years during the Second War to serve as a War Reserve Constable. I think that he was Sergeant J. W. Freeman but cannot be sure.

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You can read more about Sergeant J. W. Freeman in our History section.