Was your grandfather given a McMullen's pub?

New light on a continuing story

By Terry Cox

There is a persistent story that, following their return from the Great War, a number of Constables who had enlisted with the colours without the permission of the Chief Constable of Hertfordshire were dismissed the Force whereupon they were offered the tenancy of public houses by local brewer McMullens.  

McMullens themselves had no mention of providing pubs to numbers of former Constables, however it was agreed that it is precisely the sort of thing the very pro-army Mr. McMullen Senior would have done.  He certainly did provide a pub for the Herts Regiment Victoria Cross winner Alfie Bert.  Perhaps somewhere down the line the two stories had become entwined?  

Claims the Force had dismissed a number of returning Constables all seemed a little steep as the Chief Constable, Alfred Annie Letchworth Law, had himself returned to his old regiment, the South Staffs, risen to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, and then upon the Armistice returned to his position as Chief Constable.   Constabulary General Orders for 1919 and 1920 show the normal disciplines and dismissals for drunkenness and misdemeanors but no trace of any list of sacked officers for enlisting without permission.  

Recently however I stumbled upon some old legislation which has shed some light on the matter, but may just serve to deepen the mystery for us.  

The Police Emergency Act

In 1915 parliament passed the Police Emergency Act, which, among other things, prevented officers retiring from service without special permission and more importantly stipulated no police officer could enlist in His Majesty’s Forces without the prior permission of his Police Authority (I did not know they had Police Authorities then, I thought they were Watch Committees for cities and boroughs and Quarter Sessions for counties, but perhaps Police Authority was employed as a collective term?). 


I quote from Hansard 1919 “In order to maintain the Police Force at all we had to lay down a rule that a man must not enlist without the permission of the police authority. If it were not so, the eagerness to enlist would have led to an undue depletion of the Police Force, and would have made it impossible to assure the safety of the inhabitants of this country. There are many others as well as policemen who have been refused permission to enlist on the ground that the services which they are rendering in their civilian occupations are indispensable. A policeman who nevertheless does enlist must expect to incur the penalties of a breach of this rule that has been laid down.”   The discussion in Hansard also reveals that any police officer who enlisted without the prior permission of his Police Authority would be considered to “have retried himself from the Force” so the hours I invested in searching the 1919 General Orders for a body of men disciplined and dismissed the Force were wasted as the men would have simply appeared as having retired from the Force at the time they enlisted and so would never have appeared as the block of names I was looking for.  

The discussion in Hansard arises from a Metropolitan Police Constable who did enlist without permission, returned from the war to find himself out of employment and complained to his Member of Parliament how unfair this was when he had been fighting for his country.  When the MP raised the issue he was firmly put in his place.  There was sympathy for the former Constable.  

So where does this leave us?  I guess I need to go back to the County Records Office and spend a day or two searching the Constabulary General Orders from August 1914 to November 1918 for men who resigned or retired the Force to see if there is any pattern to suggest they may have been leaving to join the colours.  

This legal development does however tend to suggest there may be more than element of truth in the McMullen story.  If such a thing had occurred in Hertfordshire it seems highly likely the McMullen family would have been a great deal more sympathetic than parliament.  

Was your grandfather  given a Mac’s pub?

What we really need is someone to come forward as part of the centennial year research and tell us that their grandfather was given a Mac’s pub.  It could still happen.

This page was added on 06/01/2014.

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