Law and order on the home front during the Great War

There may have been a war raging in Europe but life went on for those left at home between 1914 and 1918.

Monday, 15th August 2016, 5:26 pm
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 1:20 am

The Sussex and Surrey Courier carried regular reports from the courtrooms of Sussex and, while fare dodging remains a common problem today, some of the other cases would appear unusual.

Take Emily Pratt and Sidney Bourne, for example. Emily lived in Buchan Hill and must have been quite well-to-do because Sidney was her chauffeur.

The pair were summoned for the misuse of petrol on January 25 1918 after having been stopped by PC Burningham.

Petrol was scarce and vital for the war effort and the good police officer gave evidence stating Sydney had driven Emily to cash a cheque in Crawley and then shopping in Horsham – something she could have easily done by train.

The case was dismissed as it was decided the car had been used for a legitimate purpose.

Charles Mills, of Malthouse Road, was not so lucky. He was fined 10 shillings for cycling without lights on his bike.

Over in Crawley Down, Rose Philpott, of Bowers Place, was summoned for not sending her daughter regularly to school.

Annie Chapman, the school attendance officer, told the court that young Marjory had only attended lessons nine times out of a possible 39.

Her mum was fined five shillings.

The tale of the fare dodger held a familiar ring and is probably told dozens of times in court rooms all over the country every day.

Winifred Knight was stopped by ticket collector, Frederick Thomas Taylor, at Three Bridges Station on November 20 1917 as there was something not quite right about the ticket she offered him.

The date had been erased from the half third-class Horley to Crawley ticket, numbered 2,862.

Frederick took her to see the station master, William Tiller, where Winifred declared: “It is the only ticket I have.”

A little bit of investigating by the booking clerk – a chap named William Cotterel – showed ticket number 2,862 had been issued on November 10.

Poor old Winifred told the court her friend had given her the ticket but hadn’t been able to come to the hearing – she was probably afraid she’d get the blame!

Despite the evidence pointing to Winifred having attempted to pull a fast one, the chairman of the bench said he hadn’t been entirely convinced by the case against her.

Then he fined her two shillings and sixpence. Life was strange back then!

One interesting article that appeared in the Courier in January 1918 involved Police Sergeant Capelin.

Now the sergeant was a fine, upstanding, trusted member of the community. Everyone knew him and he did his job well.

One decision he made in January 1918, though, would have left people up in arms if it had happened today.

PS Capelin was called to St Peter’s Road when Mrs Jacobs, the wife of Private Jacobs, who was serving in France, asked for his help.

The family dog, a spaniel which had just had puppies, was acting aggressively and refusing to let her into the house.

The Courier reported PS Capelin “found it quite impossible to get near the animal, and, opening the door sufficiently to admit the barrel of his gun, he promptly despatched the creature”.

Fair enough, you might say, they were different, difficult times and the dog was a danger to people.

But then he drowned the puppies.

Can you imagine the furore such an act would have invoked today?

Facebook and Twitter would have gone into meltdown. There would have been groups calling for him to be fired and more ‘angry face’ emojis than one man could happily cope with.

That was the way things were 100 years ago, though.

It would interesting to learn what our great-great-grandchildren make of some of the things we do today when they look back 100 years from now.

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