John James - An officer of the British Transport Commission Police and a Veteran of the Great War

by Dan Tanner

I have always been interested in collecting medals and militaria but in the last few years have attempted to specialise in medals to the British Transport Commission (BTC) Police or their earlier constituent Forces.

I was very pleased to acquire 2 WW1 medals, a WW2 Defence Medal and a Police Long Service & Good Conduct (LS&GC) medal to a PC John James of the BTC Police. A veteran of the Great War he was awarded the Victory and War medal.

As per all these type of medals his name, rank service number along with his regiment details are impressed on the rim. (As a cost saving measure, WW2 medals were issued unnamed which greatly impedes any research capability and subsequent value.)

Of course what immediately drew this group to me was the BTC Police LS&GC. This medal was instituted in 1951 and only issued to serving Police Officers so suffice to say John was still in uniform in the 1950s. Not bad for a man born in 1889! Police LS & GC medals only have the Officer’s rank and name, not the Force.

This creates difficulties when it comes to research, especially with a common name. Thankfully the medal was issued in a white cardboard box and has the recipient’s name and crucially Force details on the lid. When his group came on to the market it included this box. This ensured that I knew my man had been a Railway Policeman and within my sphere of interest.
I decided to research his Army career first. I was fortunate he had served in the Grenadier Guards as his service record was still held in their archive. If he had been in any other regiment other than the Guards it is a good chance that no records would remain. This is due to the vast majority of WW1 records being destroyed in a WW2 bombing raid. The Guards had always kept their own archive which was a massive stroke of good fortune for would be researchers like me!

Army form B2505 tells us much about John. He enlisted in 1915 aged 26. He was married the previous year to Daisy. He had 2 children born in 1915 and 1917. The family home was in Long Eaton in Derbyshire. John occupation is listed as “Factory Worker” and he undoubtedly was suited to this type of work. His height is listed as 6’2 with a 39” chest. A big man for the times when nutrition and public health was a concern for society.

Under the section “Distinctive Marks” he is shown as having 6 dot tattoos on both forearms. Something that would probably bar applications to some Police Forces today. His actual record of service makes fascinating reading. After attesting in Nov 1915 he is shown as “Missing” in 1916. The form is also stamped “Next of kin notified”. The next entry is in July 1917 when he is shown unfortunately for John; promotion didn’t last long as he was demoted soon after with the entry “Deprived of lance stripe for using obscene language to a senior NCO.”

He finished his war service a year later with no further entries. It appears he did not actually serve overseas which is very unusual. The 1916 entry about him missing begs the question where exactly he was! The army obviously had no idea hence they notified his next of kin.

It seems impossible he was a POW as he had not faced the enemy and POWs were inevitably recorded for the next of kin’s peace of mind. The suspicion in my mind is that he may simply have gone AWOL and returned of his own free will towards the war end. This was a massive problem for the authorities who sought to trace literally hundreds of absent troops with the impossible practicality of prosecuting them all especially those who had returned. The war effort needed these men back in the lines rather sitting it out in a cell.

Article courtesy of the British Newspaper Archives

Researching John’s Police career has been more problematic. Even with access to the BTP archives, very little seemed to have survived from his era. What we can safely say is John returned to his native Derbyshire and joined the London, Midland and Scottish (LMS) Railway Police.

I have the defence medal box which shows the address. This medal was issued to Police who had served at least 3 years through WW2. This would have been prior to the formation of the BTC police in 1949. Very little remains of the LMS Police records but Eddy Thompson did manage to find in the newspaper archives a snippet from his career. He was assaulted during a disturbance at Nottingham station in 1951. Suffice to say the suspect didn’t get away! John died in 1971. I am proud to be the current custodian of his medals.

 

This article first appeared in History Lines,  June 2013 edition (No. 46)