In Honour of a Pioneer Policewoman
This article is taken from ‘In Honour of a Pioneer Policewoman,’ and was produced by Evolve, the Sussex policewomen’s network. Special thanks to Jacqui Jenkins.
Gladys Moss was born in Gloucester on 20 February 1884 to Samuel and Fanny Moss.
In 1906 she and her widowed mother, her elder sister Geraldine and her younger twin brothers all moved to Worthing in East Sussex. According to the 1911 census they lived at 44 South Street above Denton Grocers. Gladys worked as a nursery governess and in 1915 she was commissioned to go to Rangoon and bring two children back to England.
It was in 1915 whilst living in London that Gladys became a member of the Women’s Police Service (formally known as the Women’s Police Volunteers), an unofficial body of women formed under Commander Margaret Damer Dawson. These early policewomen were introduced over concerns for women’s safety and morals during the war. Commander Dawson firmly believed that only women could effectively tackle problems of female criminal behaviour and immorality. The women bore an armlet bearing the letters ‘WP’.
Training consisted of attending courts with notebooks and pencils. Gladys later reported that, to her surprise, she found ‘the magistrates friendly to the women scribbling away during cases’.
In later years Gladys spoke of her training and recalled a time when, patrolling with a colleague, they came across two women fighting. She said,
‘I told her, ‘ I’ll disperse the crowd – I didn’t know how to disperse a crowd, I’d never done it in my life – and we’ll try and get them home.’ ‘I shouted , “Go on, clear off the lot of you! And they went. I grabbed one woman, my colleague grabbed the other and we took them home and told them to behave themselves. Next morning when we reported, we had a good mark. The Inspector was very pleased!’
After her training, from 1917 until after the Armistice in 1918, Gladys served the Ministry of munitions at on of His Majesties Filling Factories in Hereford. She served as a policewoman, albeit most likely as an unofficial officer, supervising women and girls. During this time she featured in one police court case that resulted in a fine of two pounds for the young woman in question, on whom the alert young policewoman had found a half burned cigarette – in the munitions factory!
Just prior to the end of the First World War, Gladys was one of 3000 representative women war workers who took part in a procession in London to Buckingham Palace.
After demobilisation she returned to her previous occupation as a governess in Worthing until she was able to find another opening with the police. That opportunity came when a friend sent her a letter containing a small advertisement from the Worthing Gazette stating that a woman was to be appointed to the West Sussex Constabulary. Of the thirty women who applied for the job, Gladys was successfully appointed. She was sworn in as a police officer at the local court at Horsham. She recalled later, ‘It was 15 November 1919, a pouring wet day – how it rained! A policeman lent me his cape but it was so heavy I took it back to the station in half an hour.’
Record of Service
Gladys’ record of service shows that she applied to West Sussex Constabulary in 1919, age 35. She was described as 5ft 5” tall with a proportionate figure. She had a round face with a fresh complexion, brown eyes and brown hair. She had no distinguishing marks and was able to read and write. She was also described as single with no children, living in Worthing. At her medical examination she was found to be in ‘sound health’. gladys was appointed by Captain Arthur Williams at what was then the police headquarters at Horsham, where she undertook her training before being posted to Worthing.
WPC Gladys Moss
Dressed in blue uniform, large peaked cap and long leather boots she soon became a familiar figure in Worthing. she was stationed first at the police station in Anne street, worthing and later at Thurloe House in High Street, worthing. She was ultimately stationed at a sub police station at 48a Heene Road, Worthing which has now been replaced by a block of flats called Wesr View Court.
Her appointment inevitably caused some interest. The Worthing Gazette commented, ‘Her uniform was similar to that of the women ticket collectors, with whom the public have been familiar with at railway stations for a long time past.’
Shortly after her appointment Gladys made a name for herself as the first policewoman motorcyclist in the country. She was instructed by Police Sergeant Beacher at Horsham and went on to ride a motor cycle for about 14 years as she was responsible for cases concerning women and children across the whole of West Sussex. Sgt Beacher, who later became Chief Constable of Reigate Borough Police, also instructed her in Jiu-jitsu. For this she was extremely thankful in her all too frequent negotiations with inebriated and often wrathful males.
From the very commencement, Miss Moss was an active member of the Sports Club and was presented with a silver spoon memento to prove her prowess with the small-bore rifle.
Not much is known of the cases that Gladys investigated, but there are three recorded incidents in which she was involved, most notably the, ‘Poison Pen Case’. It was an important and sensational case in many ways, and is dealt with at length by Mr. Justice Humphreys in his book “Summing up”. Miss Moss’s work in it proved extremely important in its ultimate outcome.
The majority of Gladys’s work centred on enquiries connected with offences of ‘indecency’ and cases involving women and young girls. However she was not left out of murder cases and was involved in the enquiry into the murder of Vera Hood in Chichester.
As a First Aider, Gladys would occasionally be called on to crew the Worthing Police Ambulance. At this time the police in West Sussex provided ambulance facilities for their areas. The vehicles were donated by various individuals and operated by police officers trained in First Aid.
Her Final Case
During WW2 the Government imposed a total blackout of light in order to conceal built-up areas from German bomber planes.On the day of her retirement on Friday 2 may 1941, Gladys was responsible for investigating an incident where a light had been left visible – the perpetrator committing a ‘blackout offence.’
WPC Moss retired at the age of 57, having completed 21 years service in the west Sussex Constabulary as the only female officer. She had been stationed at Worthing for the whole of that period.
Her Certificate of Service bears the words ‘Conduct – Exemplary ‘. Her record shows that she was highly commended on 10 December 1920 and confirmed on 30 July 1932.
In April 1944, she commented,
‘Being a policewoman needs a lot of patience and perseverance and would only suit the right type of woman. Women are essential in the force. There is a lot of work behind the scenes, searching and taking statements from women which they would only care to give another woman. This has involved a lot of sordidness which has become rather tiresome of late.’
In the Force which became her life, she left a memory that all women constables who followed her admired, and one which we as well as they try to emulate.