Tuesday 29 September 2015

Michaelmas Blues

A Merry Michaelmas to all my readers.

Today is the Feast Day of the asexual St. Michael and All Angels. It’s an important date in European cultural tradition, being one of the four Quarter Days with which the Medieval world divided the years, all roughly corresponding to the present day equinoxes and solstices.

Of the many patronages attached to St. Michael is that of the police force and armed services. Consequently, the Catholic Church uses today’s feast day to hold a mass not only for St. Michael (hence Michael-mass) but for police officers, the armed forces, firefighters and emergency service personnel. Because of the colour of the uniform which most of these people wear this special mass is called the Blue Mass.

This year is the centenary of the appointment of the first female police officers. There were several women who had been given police roles before this but in 1915 the first female police officer with full arrest duties was appointed and several organisations were formed. One was the Women’s Police Service in England, and another was the organisation which became today’s International Association of Women Police, founded in the USA.

In salute to women who serve in the police forces around the world here are some British lgbt female police officers from past and recent history.

The origin of women serving in the police force in the UK grew out of several social issues of the period before 1915. One was the suffragette movement, another was the growth of the prostitution and white slave trade, and a third was the outbreak of the First World War.

As the majority of male police officers were called up for war service the government called for volunteers to replace them. They didn’t envisage women coming forward and before too long a part-time Women Police Volunteer force was created. It was led by Nina Boyle and Margaret Damer Dawson (1873-1920). Within a year a disagreement between them led to Margaret forming a new organisation called the Women Police Service (WPS). The first uniformed female police officer with full powers of arrest was recruited from the WPS in August 1915. Her name was Mrs. Edith Smith.

Margaret Damer Dawson acted as Commandant of the WPS until it was disbanded by the government after the war. They saw no need for a separate women’s police force once the war was over. Her second-in-command was her life partner Mary Allen (1878-1964). They designed the WPS uniforms themselves, and they continued to wear them long after the WPS was disbanded. They cut their hair short and, in their military-style uniforms, gave a very masculine appearance, as this photo of them both shows (Margaret Damer Dawson is on the left). In 1918 they were both honoured for their service to the police force by being awarded one of the recently created honours, the OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire).

Margaret died in 1920. By this time the Metropolitan Police had created its own women’s police division. Mary Allen’s decision to wear her uniform for the rest of her life led to the Metropolitan Police to accuse her of masquerading as one of their officers. All accusations came to nothing. She travelled the world advising other nations on how to set up their own female police forces. Because of her uniform she was often mistaken for an official representative from the British police force.

Mary stood for parliament in 1922 as an Independent Liberal but wasn’t elected. In between the World Wars Mary’s political views were to dominate her life. She became an ardent far-right supporter, and this was to place her pioneering work in the women’s police force into shadow. Her membership of the British Union of Fascists and outspoken views eventually led to her being accused of spying for the Nazis and was she given restricted movement around her home in Cornwall. Mary Allen died at the age of 86 in 1961 in a nursing home.

The role of women in the police force has grown in recent decades. Their bravery and courage are recognised by the British public with pride. No more so than when and police officer loses his or her life on duty.

In September 2012 the UK was on a high after the spectacularly successful Olympics and Paralympics. We were jolted back down by the murder of two female police officers in Manchester. British police are not armed when on normal duty, so the murder of any of them is shocking. An extra unhappy aspect to this particular murder is that one of the police officers was planning to get married.

PC Fiona Bone was planning her Civil Partnership to her girlfriend Clare Curran later that year. She and fellow police constable Nicola Hughes were called to a house burglary. It was a trap. When they arrived at the house they were met with a hail of 32 bullets and a hand grenade attack. One died at the scene and the other died later in hospital. The murderer gave himself up. Apparently he was wanted for the similar-styled murder of a father and son in May 2012. Thankfully he was given a whole life prison sentence.

The funerals of both PC Bone and PC Hughes attracted huge crowds. Their lives and sacrifices were honoured in parliament. Next week marks the second anniversary of their funerals.

Before I finish todays there’s a male police officer I’d like to mention on this day of recognition for the world’s police.

 Sam Ciccone died in May this year at the age of 71. He was co-founder of the first lgbt police association in the USA. Sam became a police office in New Jersey in 1964 rising to become a Detective Sergeant. In 1979 he moved to New York after its mayor banned discrimination in the police force on the grounds of sexual orientation. With fellow NYPD officer Charles H. Cochrane jr. Sam co-founded the Gay Officers Action League (GOAL) in 1982. GOAL now has over 2,000 members and many of them appear in uniform at various Pride parades across America.

I salute the work of all police officers.

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