The women who earned their stripes on our streets

Hastings policewomen in 1944
Hastings policewomen in 1944

Today, female police officers make up a huge section of the service but in 1937 Hastings had only one, a Miss Joan Edwards. A contemporary male officer recalled: The men used to give her a hard time; making fun of her or just ignoring her. She left in the end.”

A subsequent officer, police sergeant Ethel Tucknott, was made of sterner stuff. One of her many successful arrests was of a flasher in Alexandra Park. She was walking in mufti on a day off, when an offender exposed himself to her and fled. Ethel, a very strong woman trained in Judo, caught and restrained him after a chase. On another occasion she arrested two men who were drunk and disorderly in the town centre and took them into Hastings Central Police Station single-handedly, with their heads clamped under her arms.

During the Second World War Hastings had 10 Women Auxiliary Police; Miss Mantell, pictured seated in the front, second left, was the police force photographer. She sometimes drove for Hastings chief constable Cargill. They were returning to Hastings from police business in July 1943, via East Grinstead, just after the town had suffered the second worst air raid disaster in Sussex. A bomb caused the building to collapse onto the audience, killing entire families. The final death toll was more than 100. Miss Mantell took a series pictures at the scene that helped in identifying the dead.

In her talks on her career as a “Special”, local history enthusiast Christine Hayward tells how she joined the Special Constable Reserve in September 1959. The post was part-time and unpaid, except for expenses. (In 1960 Christine became a police secretary; when she took up this job there were still only two female police officers.) Many of her spells of duties as a special were at the police box on The Stade, she said: “The most frequent contact with the public concerned lost children or the whereabouts the toilets. I was also on duty at carnivals, football matches, the half-marathon and the Jack in the Green celebrations, where I often had my nose painted green. In 1964 Hastings Police were determined that there would not be the kind of trouble that there had been in other seaside towns, when hordes of mods and rockers arrived.

“In one incident, to protect people from the mob, customers were locked inside Woolworths; it could not have helped arrested offenders next day that one of those shut in the store was Magistrate Coote.

“The police subdued the rioters by marching them on a tour of the surrounding countryside. I was on duty at the town hall during the 1966 visit of the Queen and Prince Phillip and part of the guard of honour when the Queen Mother’s helicopter landed at Winchelsea.” In 1994 Christine Hayward was given the long service medal.

She said that she found being a special a very rewarding occupation, adding, “ I never did arrest anybody, specials didn’t in those days.” Further Reading: Court in the Act - Crime and Policing in WWII Hastings by Victoria Seymour. Available from Waterstones priced £9.99.