The Police in Time of War


On 29th December, 1899, Constable Herbert Peacock was recalled to the 2nd Battalion of the South Wales Borderers and went with them to South Africa. On 15th February, 1900, Constable Coombs was recalled to the Royal Field Artillery, Woolwich, but rejoined the Force in October of that year. Constable John Thomas Cooper, who was recalled to the Grenadier Guards, did not return to the Force until 22nd July, 1902.

THE GREAT WAR 1914 -1918.

On the eve of the outbreak of the 1914 – 1918 war, information had been received at Newport that the German steamship “Belgia “, (Hamburg- Amerika line) had been refused permission to enter Newport docks and had returned down channel and anchored ten miles from Newport.

At 2.56 a.m. on 4th August, a message was received that this country was at war with Germany. Immediately on receipt of the message, the Chief Constable, with twelve of his staff, armed with service rifles borrowed from Territorial headquarters, proceeded down channel in a tug, commandeered by Capt. Cutcliffe, the dock master. They boarded the vessel, and brought her back to Newport, making captain, officers and crew prisoners.

As the military were unable to render assistance, the whole task of boarding the vessel (manned by a large German crew, nearly all of them were German Naval Reservists) devolved on the police, and was carried out at considerable risk, owing to the small number of men available.

During the war, the Chief Constable encouraged his men to join the armed services and many of them did so. He even volunteered himself, but the Watch Committee were of the opinion that he would best serve his country by remaining in Newport as Chief Constable.

In February, 1915, R.S.M. Henry John Vatcher (he had been recalled to the forces on the outbreak of war) returned to Newport, where he had served in the police force from 1903 to 1914, and helped Major Charles D. Phillips raise the 12th (Service) Battalion, South Wales Borderers. He went with them to France in May, 1916. was wounded at Gouzeaucourt in May, 1917, was mentioned in despatches and in the following November won the Military Cross during heavy fighting at Bourlon Wood. He had served in the Boer War prior to joining the Newport Police.

By this time several Newport policemen had made the supreme sacrifice, including Captain Smart Cullimore. In all, sixty members of the force volunteered for service, seven lost their lives and three did not return to the police service. 

Back home in Newport, there were only 61 men to police the whole town for 24 hours, seven days a week, and those included the senior officers, criminal investigation and street patrol staff. Others had their whole time engaged in attending to wounded and to Belgian refugees. 

Because of their few numbers, the force was supplemented by a large number of special constables, both paid and unpaid, who took over many of the administrative and street duties. Some were paid five shillings per day, but others merely had their names printed in the Corporation Year Book.  The following letter, relating to the devotion to duty of one officer, Constable F. G. Ransome, is worthy of publication in full: – 

The Staff College, Camberley, 23rd June, 1919.

Dear Captain Gower,

Your letter re late Private F. G. Ransome, of the Grenadier Guards, has just come to hand. He was one of the Battalion Headquarter runners of the 1st Battalion of the Grenadier Guards, and acted as my orderly on 27th September, 1918, at the storming of the Canal du Nord and Hindenburg line about Flasquieres. As my runner he accompanied me on the day in question, the day on which I, incidentally, was awarded the V.C. I was wounded in the arm while directing some tanks, and Ransome, by his initiative in adjusting a tourniquet to stop my arterial bleeding, and devotion in accompanying me to the Regimental first aid post, undoubtedly did much to save my life. Later he again accompanied me as my orderly during the attack, and when the attack was over he insisted on accompanying me back across the open to the dressing station. The enemy was still in action with his artillery within 1,500 yards of the route we had to take, and recognising the risks to be incurred in the journey, I told him to return to the Battalion. This, however, he refused to do and shortly after, while he was helping me along, the Germans fired a shell at us at a range of under 1,500 yards. It blew poor Ransome’s arm off and badly wounded him in the leg. I then had to leave him to try and find a doctor. The doctor of the first Battalion I reached (1/Irish Guards) had been killed, and I had to go to another Battalion, where I found one. We then got back to poor Ransome he was suffering a great deal of pain, but unselfish to the last he told me that I better go on for fear of being hit by this gun which had already fired at us both with some effect. This was naturally unthinkable. Almost immediately afterwards he lost consciousness, and died before we reached the advanced dressing station of the Field Ambulance. I trust that this will give you the data you need. He was certainly a credit to the Police and a true type of gallant and devoted Englishman.

Yours sincerely, (Viscount) GORT.


August, 1939, saw the police force energetically preparing to meet the threat of the second world war, which broke out on 3rd September. Balloon barrages were flown in various parts of the town, premises were requisitioned and troops billeted at hotels, in people’s homes and elsewhere.

On 8th September, the first military convoy arrived. It was directed to Forge Lane, where the troops encamped before grouping and embarking at Newport docks. 

On 12th February, 1940, the police administrative department was transferred from the Town Hall to more commodious premises at the Civic Centre. This was a great advantage. The new premises had ample accommodation on three floors, a suitable canteen and excellent social facilities. All these were very necessary where men and women were to do duty for 24 hours of the day. 

Frequent air raid warnings kept the staff alert, but it was not until 26th June 1940, that Newport sustained its first bomb damage, when there was a direct hit on the Cleveland Oil Depot in Corporation Road. Very little damage was caused, although four Corporation officials were injured as they were proceeding by car to the scene. 

The town continued to receive periodic visits by enemy aircraft. though casualties and damage were slight. However, on 13th September, 1940, an enemy aeroplane fouled the balloon barrage, and crashed on a house in Stow Park Avenue, killing two children and severely damaging the building. The pilot was captured in Queen Street, but other members of the crew were killed in the crash.


At 8.20 p.m. on 9th October, 1940, the Alexandra Dock Hotel received a direct hit from a high explosive bomb, and several people were buried under the debris. A few minutes after the incident, Constable Charles Cook arrived on the scene, and with the help of Constable Emlyn Lewis rescued a man who, however, died a few minutes later. Constable Cook then began to burrow through the debris and rescued another man, who died the next day.

The constable continued to burrow, finding yet another man. Falling masonry struck him about the body and a beam caught fire but was extinguished with water poured from a succession of pint mugs repeatedly filled with water, and meanwhile Cook and other police officers and civilians who had arrived on the scene carried on their rescue attempts and released a man who had been pinned by a large piece of timber across his legs.

In the public bar near Mendalgief Road, most of the wall had collapsed, and the two upper floors had fallen into the bar. Gas was leaking and the dividing wall was leaning dangerously and likely to collapse at any minute. In spite of this, when Constable Edmund Wetter heard a woman moaning under the debris, he immediately began to shift the rubble with the assistance of civilians. He was successful in rescuing the woman and returned to help Constable Cook and the others.

Constable Lewis, who arrived on the scene soon after Constable Cook, also assisted in carrying a man to safety and rendered first aid. He then located the landlady but was unable to rescue her owing to falling masonry.

On 31st May, 1941, bombs were dropped over a wide area embracing Fields Park Avenue, Ridgeway Avenue, and Glasllwch Crescent, killing six persons, severely injuring 41, and causing extensive damage.

The night of the 1st July, 1941, was the worst experienced at Newport. Parachute mines were dropped on the Eveswell Street area, Kensington Place, Belle Vue Park, in a field off Christchurch Road, on Tredegar Park golf links, Beechwood Road, and near the Transporter Bridge. Thirty-seven people were killed and 42 seriously injured.

At this time 37 members of the force had volunteered for the armed services and the regular force was supplemented by persons directed by the Ministry of Labour and National Service and known as War Reserve constables. Meanwhile the Special Constabulary had also been increased.

The extent of the police’s war duties may be judged from the considerable work entailed in dealing with the constant flow of military convoys and the fact that 4,533 properties were damaged by enemy action, 51 persons killed and 63 seriously injured.

Street patrol work was difficult because there was seldom a night without a few fights and opponents changed from night to night. 

Several of the War Reserve constables carried out their duties magnificently. Three, Constables T. Ludlow, F. A. Chappell and N. D. Cox, joined the “regulars”, in 1940.

Then there was “Dai Flat Hat,” whose courage was outstanding. He was a most loyal and capable officer, would tackle anything, and even canvassed a little insurance while on the beat. He had been an insurance agent before joining and his wife carried on his job while he was at Newport. A great friend of the regulars, he was most obliging and became the Force’s barber, cutting the men’s hair while they were on reserve duty at the Civic Centre. 

Of the large number of War Reserve constables who served, only the three mentioned remained , the rest returned to more lucrative positions. Few would have reached the physical standard required in peacetime, however. 

Victory over Japan brought the town its first victory celebration. Huge crowds gathered outside the Town Hall and sang, danced, and carried the police shoulder high. Fortunately, intoxicants were rationed at this time.

American soldiers arrived in their fire engine and circled the town, and anyone who could get on had a ride with them. Such was the state of the town that the Deputy Chief Constable, Superintendent Cyril L. Williams, withdrew most of the police to the Town Hall police station, there to remain on reserve duty.

The whole celebration passed without serious incident, however, and as the hours passed, the people dispersed to their homes. By 4 a.m., the town resumed its normal tranquillity.


Constable C. H. Cook, G.M.

Constable E. Wetter, Order of the British Empire. 

Inspector W. A. Everson, commendation. 

Constable E. P. Lewis, commendation.

The Chief Constable of Newport, Mr Clifford Montague Harris, was honoured with the award of the Order of the British Empire for his war services.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *