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Ready willing andable - the Specials; FROM THE ARCHIVES.

Byline: Rebekah Oruye

NOWADAYS, Special Constables are recognised for the active, valued contribution that they make to West Midlands Police.

Their services have been used by the force for many years, with common law stating that every citizen should assist constables when required.

But it was in 1831, that the government passed the Special Constables Act, legally recognising the appointment of voluntary SCs.

David Cross, curator at the West Midlands Police Museum said one of the early, memorable uses of the SCs was during the social reform struggles, known as the Chartist Riots in Birmingham in 1838 and the recruitment of additional support during the First world War. The outbreak of the First World War saw numbers of Birmingham's police force slowly decrease, as most police officers were ex-military and were being recruited back into their respective units as training sergeant majors.

Mr Cross said: "By 1916 the force establishment which has been 1500 in 1914 was reduced to 750 men.

"With the extra demands made upon police for guarding ammunition factories in the city, dealing with the new Aliens legislation which required all none British citizens' to register with the police the call went out for 5,000 SCs. Despite the shortage of manpower, and the fact that special constables were unpaid, the men of Birmingham responded with enthusiasm. Each officer was given a truncheon, great coat, flat cap with an appropriate badge."

The role of SCs was redefined into its present form during the war. All recruits have all the legal powers of their regular counterparts when on and off duty and, as of April 1, 2007, can use their powers throughout England and Wales. Before then, their powers were limited to force areas only.

More pressure was placed on the police in 1917 when it was decided that the water supply pipeline from Wales needed protection over its 75 mile length. It was another batch of SCs who answered the call to duty. Photographs suggest many of them were armed with guns, possibly to fend off thieves.

Mr Cross said: "Birmingham's water supply came from Elan Valley. Two officers and 25 constables were on duty at Elan Valley itself and maintained a watch on the Foel Tower in the dam. There is no surviving record to show if these men were paid or not but it is suspected they were and a large number of men went on to receive awards for their duty."

The Birmingham water guard medal was instituted on December 5 1918 and 870 SCs were presented with the award. Up to 700 of the volunteers attended the town hall on January 10 1919 to receive the medal. At the end of the First World War, things started to return to normal for the police. Many SCs resigned, leaving the force with around 5,000 truncheons. It was decided to give them to the SCs with in recognition of their service. The police strikes in 1918 and 1919 and the UK general strike in 1926 again saw demand for the special constabulary and again in the Second World War.

Crime Files has delved into the archives of the West Midlands Police Museum which has a collection of equipment, photographs and stories charting the development of the police. This week we look at the early role of Special Constables, from policing riots to protecting the controversial Elan Valley pipeline.


HIstoric: Some of the Specials Constables who guarded the Elan Valley pipeline and inset, a detail from one the truncheons carried by a special constable and a medal struck in their honour.
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Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:Jul 29, 2010
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