Railway Police And The Great War

By Bob Butcher

Extract from the August 2011 edition of History Lines (No. 24)

The official history of Transportation on the Western Front (1914-1918) records that in the opening months of the British Army’s operations in France there was: ‘a certain amount of disorder, irregularity and looting of army stores at the ports and on the railways’. Accordingly the general in charge of communications took up the question of police for duty at docks and railway stations (and later at canal ports) although with whom is not known. However, a detachment of fifty railway police arrived in France in October 1914 and were placed under the military. I assume that they were police officers belonging to the British railway companies who had answered a call for volunteers (conscription was not brought in until 1916).

Small parties were allotted to the more important stations but pending the arrival of the checkers they were used at first not as police but as number takers which must have been something of an ante climax. Eventually a Commandant of Railway police was appointed to supervise their police duties. Apparently the following year they were absorbed into the ordinary military foot police.

I know that Detective Constable Jack Webb, a pre-Great War, Great Eastern Railway Policeman, had served in the Military Police as a detective in the Middle East. I also have a vague recollection that Chief Inspector Hind of Crewe (LMS) was a former Commandant of Railway Police in France.