Trail-blazing Gladys became first WPC in Sussex
In 1918, with the First World War raging, a ground-breaking change was made to the West Sussex Police Force. The Chief Constable was authorised to hire eight women to serve as special constables for clerical work. The trail-blazers were paid 38 shillings a week plus a uniform. In 1919, Gladys Moss was named the county’s first WPC, serving for 23 years.
This is her story.
During the First World War, Miss Moss joined an unofficial body of women formed under Commander Damer Dawson; later under Commander Mary Allen, to be known as the Women’s Police Service.
Gladys took up police work, serving the Ministry of Munitions at one of HM Filling Factories at Hereford, from 1917 until the end of the war.
During this period Miss Moss featured in one police court case, resulting in a fine of £2 for a young woman, on whom the alert young Police Woman (in an explosives factory) had found a half-burned cigarette.
With demobilisation, Miss Moss returned to her previous occupation, as a child’s governess, but police work had got under her skin, and in 1919 being chosen from 30 applications, she joined the West Sussex Constabulary.
On appointment in November 1919, as the first Woman Police Constable in the Force, she took up her duties at Worthing. This naturally caused a stir, and the Worthing Gazette commented on the occasion, stating that her uniform was
“similar to that of the women ticket collectors at the railway station”.
There is no doubt that Miss Moss encountered most of the difficulties that beset those blazing a new trail. Nevertheless, like a true pioneer, she overcame all the prejudices and all the difficulties, and in time won the respect and admiration of everyone.
Today, thanks to the conduct and hard work of their pioneers, women have a very definite place in the police scheme of things.
Miss Moss figured in many important cases during her service, and was several times commended for good work. The case she considers as important as any in which she was concerned was the Littlehampton “Poison Pen” case of 1923.
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.
Although she was stationed at Worthing she did cover the whole of West Sussex, and to that end she had the honour of being the first police woman motor-cyclist riding various types of machines for over 14 years. She received instruction in riding these from Sergeant “Billy” Beacher who was stationed at Horsham, later to become Chief Constable of Reigate Borough; at the same time he gave her instruction in ju-jitsu. For this she was extremely thankful in her all too frequent negotiations with inebriated and often wrathful males.
Inevitably, owing to the delicate nature of the enquiries involved, the major part of Miss Moss’s work was connected with indecency and, of course, cases wherein juveniles of the female sex were involved. Nevertheless, she was not left out of murder cases; for example the Vera Hood murder at Chichester.
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.
As a First Aider, Miss Moss would occasionally be called on to crew the Worthing Police Ambulance. At this time in West Sussex some Divisions were equipped with ambulances paid for by wealthy benefactors.
Miss Moss retired in May, 1941, at the age of 57, her Certificate of Service bearing the words
“Conduct – exemplary”.
She lived at 152 South Farm Road, Worthing, where any old comrade could always be sure of a welcome and a talk over old times.
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.