Allies of a Kind
One of the public order problems regularly faced by the police has been dealing with attempts by friends and relations to rescue an individual that, in their opinion, has been unfairly arrested. The unfairness can easily be relative; people that are very drunk often do not perceive of themselves, or their friends, as doing anything wrong. When the friends are in a large body, they can present a serious threat. Throughout the nineteenth century the police had problems with drunken soldiers or sailors. In the two world wars of the twentieth century this sometimes became a major issue, though often it was not reported in the press.
One of the most serious and violent incidents faced by officers of the Metropolitan Police involved Canadian soldiers, keen to go home at the end of the First World War. On June 17 1919 two Canadian soldiers based at a convalescent camp in Epsom were arrested for disorderly conduct. Over 200 of their colleagues decided to rescue their comrades, and they swarmed upon Epsom police station. Senior Canadian officers tried to restrain their men, but to no avail. The man in charge of the police station, Inspector Pawley, decided to surrender the two men to the Canadian authorities, but by then the disturbance had turned into a riot. The police station was torn to pieces, and when the police charged the soldiers Sergeant Green had his skull fractured; he died the following day. The damage to the station is clear from photographs. Eight soldiers were arrested, though they were men who had been hit by the police. Seven soldiers were tried at Guildford Assizes with rioting and manslaughter; two were found not guilty, while the other five were sentenced to 12 months' imprisonment. For a first hand account of how the riot occurred, read Inspector Pawley’s account of the riot.