As we remember those who died so that we might live, let us take a look at some of the incredible Special Constabulary officers who served without pay during wartime to support policing when many officers left to join the Armed Forces.
The Special Constabulary was first created in 1831, although their use was dependent on the declaration of a state of emergency. In 1914 an Act of Parliament removed the "Emergency" requirement and in 1916 uniforms were introduced.
During the First World War Police Officer numbers were significantly depleted as former servicemen were recalled and others enlisted. Large numbers of Special Constables were recruited to fill the shortfall. These were individuals who already had a fulltime job, often contributing to the war effort, or who had retired – but served their local police force for free for a set amount of hours a week. During the Second World War a limited number of paid specials were recruited, who worked full time.
Policing during the war was a dangerous occupation – across the West Midlands 36 officers were killed through enemy action or whilst on specific wartime duties such as protection duty at key locations. 16 of those were members of the Special Constabulary.
Officers such as Arthur Frederick Matts MBE who became a Member of the British Empire in March 1941 for his incredible service to the war effort, and being on duty during every air raid in Coventry – only to be tragically killed in April 1941 when Coventry Police Station suffered a direct hit.
Other specials who were caught up in enemy air raids include SC Frederick Barratt in Coventry and Ralph Corfield in Birmingham - both selflessly trying to help others as the bombs were falling.
Another very special Special who survived policing two World Wars, was Arthur Benson Spencer, an Estate Agent, who joined Birmingham City Special Constabulary on 4 September 1919, although the records show previous service from 2 May 1916. He was then aged 52, so was born around 1867.
The Birmingham Special Constabulary Long Service Medal was instituted on 1 October 1917. Awarded to those who:-
Served as Special Constables without pay during the Great War, 1914-1918, for not less than 3 years and have performed not less than 150 Police duties.
Served as a Special Constable without pay for a period of 9 years. Each years service during First and Second World Wars counted as three years
Arthur Benson Spencer was awarded
19/07/1919 Long Service Medal
10/01/1930 First bar
10/01/1940 Second bar
09/07/1943 Third bar (each year War service counts as 3 years)
He would have been about 76 years of age when he received his Third Bar. The records indicate that he died on 1 March 1948, when he was about 81 years of age.
Today West Midlands Police pays tribute to all its officers who died whilst serving overseas in the Armed Forces, and those who died at home.