British Government

The British Empire, still at its height in the late 1930s, consisted of the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland), the British Dominions (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Newfoundland, the Irish Free State before 1937, and the self-governing Crown colony of Southern Rhodesia), the British Colonies, and British India (the 'Raj'). The Empire in the pre-World War II era was a constitutional monarchy, with power exercised by Parliament in the King's name. The legislative branch consists of the Parliament, made up of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The majority party in the House of Commons selects a Prime Minister, who exercises executive power through His Majesty's Government and appoints Ministers and other members of the Cabinet.

The Crown

In general, all matters relating to government are said to involve The Crown, which generally means His Majesty's Government. All oaths of allegiance are given to the King and his successors, commissions in the military and government are given in his name, and he appears on bills, coins, and postage stamps.

The Monarch

The Head of State of the United Kingdom is His Majesty, George VI, styled as His Imperial Majesty, the King-Emperor in matters related to British India. He became King in December, 1936 following the abdication of his brother, Edward VIII, who gave up the crown to marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson. The current heir presumptive is The Princess Elizabeth.

While the Monarch's powers are mainly ceremonial and generally exercised only with the 'advice' (effectively, instruction) of the Prime Minister, he has several important duties:

  • He appoints the leader of the party holding the majority in the House of Commons to serve as Prime Minister, the Head of Government. If there is no party in the majority, the King will select the person able to form a coalition controlling the majority of votes.
  • He prorogues (adjourns) and dissolves Parliament, the latter resulting in a new election.
  • He, through his representatives, grants the Royal Assent to any bill passed by the Parliament, making it law. In practice, the Royal Assent is never refused, and has not been refused in over 200 years.
  • He exercises, on the advice of his Prime Minister, the 'royal prerogative'. These powers include:
    • Pardons
    • Recognition of foreign states
    • Declaring war and concluding peace
    • Granting honors such as military decorations, knighthoods, and peerages

The vast Royal Household includes administrators and functionaries of all types, and provides the necessary infrastructure for the King to perform his duties.

The Privy Council

A council of the King's advisers, the Privy Council consists of senior politicians, and has ceremonial and judicial duties. The Cabinet is technically a committee of the Privy Council. Membership is large, though day-to-day affairs are conducted only by a small number of government ministers, and consists of the senior bishops of the Church of England (the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and the Bishop of London), the current and former Prime Ministers, government Ministers, Lord Chamberlain, Private Secretary to the King, Speaker of the House of Commons, senior judges, and senior parliamentarians, including the Leader of the Opposition and any leaders of significant minority parties in Parliament. Membership is for life, and members are styled as 'The Rt. Hon.'.

The Privy Council serves as the highest court for cases throughout the British Empire, except for cases in the United Kingdom itself (which are appealed to the House of Lords). In practice, these cases are heard by the Judicial Committee of the Council. The Council also issues Orders-in-Council, predominantly in matters dealing with the British Dominions, which have the standing of law. If a reigning King or Queen becomes engaged, this is announced before the Privy Council, as is the death or abdication of the Monarch and the proclamation of the succession of a new monarch.


Parliament consists of two houses, the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Together with the monarch, they form the legislative branch of the British government. In practice, the vast majority of power is wielded by the House of Commons.

The House of Commons

The House of Commons consists of 615 popularly elected Members of Parliament, who have the post-nominal M.P.. As of the General Election of 1935, the majority party is the Conservative Party, which holds 386 seats. The Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, is the head of the Conservative Party in Parliament, and succeeded Stanley Baldwin, who retired in 1937. The Labour Party, headed by Clement Atlee, is the second largest, with 102 seats, and therefore forms the Opposition. The minority Liberal Party holds 21 seats, and a small number of seats are held by fringe parties.

The House of Commons holds the majority of parliamentary power. The Prime Minister is selected from the party holding a majority in the Commons, all "money bills" (bills regarding taxing and spending) must originate in the Commons, and, under the terms of the Parliament Act of 1911, they could pass laws without the consent of the House of Lords after a two year delay. Most members of the Cabinet are members of the House of Commons. While the majority party forms the government, the second-largest party forms HM Loyal Opposition, and will often have members assigned to debate government action in the same areas of responsibility as the cabinet. This is known as the Shadow Cabinet.

The commons are presided over by the Speaker of the House of Commons. The longest-serving member of the House is referred to as the 'father of the House'. M.P.s who do not hold any particular office in the Government are commonly called 'backbenchers', because the government ministers sit in the front row of seats. The House of Commons meets in the Commons Chamber at the Palace of Westminster.

Party discipline is very strong in the Commons, with party members generally voting the party line, as directed by the party whips. A member who disregards party instructions too often can have 'the whip withdrawn' - meaning they are effectively exiled from the party. However, a particularly unpopular measure may cause a mass defection, which is known as a 'backbencher revolt'. The defeat of an important piece of legislation in this fashion may cause the Government to fall, resulting in a new general election. Members of the government, including ministers, secretaries of state, and others who hold appointments from the Prime Minister, are always expected to vote at the party call, and are referred to as 'the payroll vote'.

The House of Lords

The House of Lords consists of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of the United Kingdom. The Lords Spiritual number twenty-six, and are the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of York, the Bishop of London, the Bishop of Durham, the Bishop of Winchester and the 21 longest-serving bishops from other dioceses in the Church of England. The Lords Temporal, numbering several hundred, have either inherited noble title (Duke, Marquis, Earl, Viscount, or Baron), or have been granted a hereditary peerage by the Crown. The House of Lords also includes the twelve Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, a group of individuals, generally senior judges, appointed to the House of Lords so that they could exercise its judicial functions. Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, more commonly known as Law Lords, were appointed to the House for life, and had to retire at the age of 70 (which could be extended to 75), and do not participate in political debates prior to their retirement.

Members of the House of Lords can be members of any party, though a significant minority are non-partisan, known as 'crossbenchers'. Lords Spiritual are also considered non-partisan. The Lord Chancellor presides over the House of Lords, and his 'seat' is a cushion referred to as the woolsack. The House of Lords Chamber is also the location of the annual King's Speech at the State Opening of Parliament, in which the government outlines its plans for the next legislative year. This event is surrounded by a great deal of historical pageantry.

Peers of the House of Lords have the right to be tried for felonies or treason in front of the House, rather than in the regular courts. In that case, the Lord High Steward, an office which is generally left vacant, presides over the House. Generally, the Lord Chancellor is appointed as Lord High Steward for the duration of the trial.

His Majesty's Government

The executive power of the British Government is vested in HM Government, sometimes referred to as Whitehall, the street on which many Ministry offices are located. The head of government is the Prime Minister, currently, since 1937, Rt. Hon. Neville Chamberlain, a member of the Conservative Party. The Prime Minister also holds the title of First Lord of Treasury, and it is this title that is on the door of the Prime Minister's official residence, 10 Downing Street. 10 Downing Street is frequently used as shorthand for the Prime Minister's Office, in the same way that an American might refer to 'The White House' making a given statement. The Prime Minister also has a country residence, called Chequers, in Buckinghamshire.

The Prime Minister serves at the pleasure of the King, which generally means that he continues in power as long as he continues to command the majority of the House of Commons. Should the Commons pass a vote of no confidence against the Government, or should any important piece of legislation (such as the response to the King's Speech, or the annual budget) fail to pass the Commons, the Prime Minister is generally expected to resign and call for new elections so a new majority can be formed.

The Cabinet

The Cabinet consists of the senior Ministers of HM Government, each one leading a Department. Cabinet ministers together share responsibility for all policy decisions of the government, commonly referred to as 'collective responsibility'. The Cabinet meets at least weekly, traditionally on Thursday mornings.

There are some 100 parliamentarians who are junior members of the Government who are not members of the Cabinet, including Ministers of State and Parliamentary Under-Secretaries of State; and unpaid Parliamentary Private Secretaries are in practice apprentice ministers. Cabinet Ministers and junior members of the government are all expected to support, and vote in favor of, government policy. If they cannot, then they must resign from the government.

A change to the members of the cabinet is referred to as a 'reshuffle'. Traditionally, the cabinet is reshuffled every summer. Of course, should the Prime Minister leave office, the entire cabinet is expected to resign upon the appointment of new Prime Minister, who may appoint a new Cabinet of his own choosing.

The Cabinet Office

The Cabinet Office is a portion of the Civil Service that supports the work of the Cabinet and the Government. It's head, the Cabinet Secretary, is the senior-most Civil Servant in the United Kingdom, and also holds the title of Head of the Home Civil Service and Permanent Secretary to the Cabinet Office.

The War Cabinet

Effective with the outbreak of war on 3 September 1939, the Prime Minister made the cabinet very much smaller. The so-called War Cabinet, consisting of the Lord Privy Seal, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Foreign Secretary, the First Lord of Admiralty, the Secretaries of the War and Air offices, the Minister for the Co-Ordination of Defence, and a Minister Without Portfolio. The other usually cabinet-level offices remain, but are not included in the meetings of the War Cabinet.


The Lord Chancellor's Office

Headed by The Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chancellor's Office has wide-ranging responsibilities. The Lord Chancellor, in addition to being a member of the Privy Council and the Cabinet, presides over the House of Lords. He is also responsible for the administration of the Courts, the appointment of judges, elevation of Barristers to King's Counsel, and maintaining control of the Great Seal of the Realm.

The Lord Chancellor has judicial responsibilities as well. He sits as a judge in the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords (the highest domestic Court in the United Kingdom), and was a member of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (the senior tribunal of the British Empire). He is the President of the Supreme Court of England and Wales, which includes the Court of Appeal, the High Court, and the Crown Court. He is also, ex officio, a judge in the Court of Appeal and the President of the Chancery Division.

Despite his many duties, the Lord Chancellor's Office is very small, and operates out of the Lord Chancellor's office in the Palace of Westminster. Living quarters are also provided for the Lord Chancellor in the Palace.

The Crown Office

Part of the Lord Chancellors Office, called the Crown Office, is responsible for the preparation and sealing of Royal documents, such as warrants to be signed by the monarch; letters patent, both those that are signed by the King himself and those that are approved by warrant; and royal charters. They apply the Great Seal of the Realm to any documents requiring it, and also maintain the Roll of Peerage and the Roll of Baronetage. The Crown Office also issues the writ of elections for new parliamentary elections, and accepts the returned ballot papers and stubs from the polling districts.

HM Treasury

His Majesty's Treasury, sometimes called the Exchequer or the Treasury, is responsible for developing and executing the British government's public finance policy and economic policy, including formulating the annual budget. It's head is the Chancellor of Exchequer, often considered the second most powerful member of the government after the Prime Minister.

Inland Revenue

The Inland Revenue, an executive agency that answers to the Treasury, is responsible for the collection of all taxes within the United Kingdom.

HM Customs and Excise

His Majesty's Customs and Excise is responsible for the collection of taxes on goods being shipped in and out of the United Kingdom, as well as the prevention of smuggling. Immigration controls are the responsibility of the Home Office.

Home Office

Under the direction of HM Principal Secretary of State for the Home Department, usually called the Home Secretary, the Home Office is responsible for the internal affairs of the United Kingdom, including policing in England and Wales, HM Prison Service, probation, parole, and matters of national security. They are also responsible for immigration and border controls, and issue United Kingdom passports through HM Passport Office.

Security Service (MI5)

The Security Service, commonly known as MI5 (Military Intelligence, Section 5), is the United Kingdom's domestic counter-intelligence and security agency. It is responsible for the protection of British parliamentary democracy and economic interests, counter-terrorism and counter-espionage within the United Kingdom.

Foreign Office

Headed by HM Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, more commonly referred to as the Foreign Secretary, this ministry is responsible for relations with foreign countries and the promotion of British interests abroad. His Majesty's Diplomatic Service, which staffs British Embassies and Missions abroad, is also part of the Foreign Office.

The Foreign Office is headquartered on Whitehall at St. Charles Street, and shares the building with the India Office, the Colonial Office, and the Home Office.

Secret Intelligence Service (MI6)

The Secret Intelligence Service, also known by its older name and abbreviation of Military Intelligence, Section 6 (MI6), is the foreign espionage arm of the British Government, responsible for human intelligence and counter-intelligence outside of the United Kingdom.

Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS)

The Foreign Office is responsible for the Government Code and Cypher School, based in Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire. Prior to the war, they mainly focused on decryption of diplomatic and intergovernmental correspondence. They are under the general direction of MI6.

The British Council

Formed in 1934 as the 'British Committee for Relations with Other Countries', it went through several name changes before finally becoming The British Council in 1936. It exists to spread British culture, language, sports, and other institutions to other nations. Since the outbreak of war, most of its European and Middle-Eastern offices are closed, but the Council continues to provide services to refugees and allied servicemen through its Resident Foreigners Division.

The Admiralty

The Admiralty is the cabinet office responsible for the Royal Navy. It is headed by a group known as the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, who sit as the Board of Admiralty. The political head of the Navy is known as the First Lord of Admiralty, currently Rt. Hon. Winston Churchill. The professional (uniformed) head of the Navy is known as the First Sea Lord.

The Admiralty is headquartered in a complex of five interconnected buildings situated between Whitehall, Horse Guards Parade and The Mall.

The War Office

The War Office is the cabinet office responsible for the Army. It is headed by the Secretary of State for War, commonly known as the War Secretary. The War Office building is located at the junction of Horse Guards Avenue and Whitehall in central London.

The uniformed head of the Army is the Chief of the General Staff. Until 1906, the Army was headquartered at Horse Guards, located between Whitehall and Horse Guards Parade in London. While now located in the War Office building, orders from Army Headquarters are still commonly referred to as 'from Horse Guards'.

The Air Ministry

The Air Office is responsible for the Air Force, and is headed by the Secretary of State for Air, commonly called the Air Minister. It is located at the Adastral House, on Kingsway in London.

The professional head of the Air Force is the Chief of the Air Staff.

The Meteorological Office

The Meteorological Office, commonly called the Met Office, is the official weather service of the United Kingdom. Given the importance of the weather to the Air Force, it is part of the Air Ministry and takes many of its readings at military airfields. The Met's temperatures and windspeeds for Central London, announced on the BBC daily, are measured from the roof of Adastral House.

Other Ministries

There are numerous other Ministries within the British Government. They include:

  • The Colonial Office: Responsible for the administration of the British Colonies, including the Colonial Service, which provides civil servants to fill certain roles in Colonial Government as representatives of His Majesty.
  • The Dominion Office: Responsible for relations with the British Dominions of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Newfoundland, and the self-governing Crown colony of Southern Rhodesia.
  • India Office: Under the Secretary of State for India and Burma, responsible for matters concerning British India.
  • Ministry of Information: The Government's information and propaganda arm, existant only during the First and Second World Wars. Based at the Senate House at the University of London.
  • Ministry of Health: Responsible for the medical and public health functions of central government.
  • The Scottish Office and the Welsh Office: Have extensive responsibilities for the government of those portions of the United Kingdom.
  • The General Post Office under the leadership of the Postmaster General controls not only the mail, but also telegraphs, telephones, and radio broadcasting throughout the United Kingdom.
  • Other ministries include the Ministry of Labour and National Service, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Food, the Ministry of Pensions, the Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Supply, and the Ministry of Economic Warfare. The First Commissioner of Works and Public Buildings is also a cabinet officer, as is the Paymaster-General.
  • While not generally included in the Cabinet, The Attorney General and The Solicitor General are the chief law officers of the Crown, advising the Government on assorted points of law and having wide ranging responsibilities for public prosecutions, charities, and other legal affairs.

Judiciary and Courts

Civil Courts

The vast majority of civil cases are handed by the County Courts. More serious and complicated cases are heard in the High Court, which has three divisions: The Kings Bench division hears cases involving contract and tort; the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division (informally and somewhat derisively called the Court of Wills, Wives, and Wrecks) handles divorce, maritime, and contentious probate matters; the Chancery Division is concerned with trusts, insolvency, and matters of equity jurisdiction.

Appeals from decisions of the High Court can be taken to the Court of Appeal.

Criminal Courts

Criminal Cases in England and Wales are handled by a multi-tiered system of courts.

  • Petty Sessions or Magistrates Courts deal with minor criminal matters such as poaching, drunkenness, and disorderly conduct. Two Magistrates or Justices of the Peace sit without a jury, and sentences are limited.
  • Quarter Sessions, so named because they are held quarterly in the County Seat of each County at Epiphany (winter), Lent (spring), Summer, and Michaelmas (autumn) terms, hear more serious cases after indictment by a Grand Jury. Two magistrates sit without a jury, and may hear any cases that are not subject to capital punishment or life imprisonment.
  • Assizes, held twice each year, are presided over by professional High Court judges (who 'rode circuit' to the various counties), and were heard with a jury. The assizes hear the most serious criminal cases following indictment by a Grand Jury. They can dispense any sentence, up to and including the death penalty.

London and the surrounding counties are a special case. The London Boroughs have their own Magistrate's Courts (the Bow Street Magistrates Court being one of the most famous), staffed by Stipendiary Magistrates, who are legally qualified and sit alone to decide cases. London is also the home of the Central Criminal Court, which sits at the Old Bailey. The Central Criminal Court hears all criminal cases from Greater London, including both the City (the Corporation of London) and the Metropolis. The highest ranking judge of the Central Criminal Court is called the Recorder of London and his deputy is the Common Serjeant of London.

Prior to 1907, there was no appeal from the decision of the criminal courts, and the only hope for reprieve was a Royal Pardon from the Home Secretary. However, there is now a Court of Criminal Appeals, which can hear appeals of convictions in the Quarter Sessions, Assizes, and the Central Criminal Court.

The House of Lords

The Judicial Committee of the House of Lords serves as the highest court of appeal for all cases within the United Kingdom. Cases appealed to the Lords are decided by the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, called the Law Lords, who give their decisions in speeches on the floor of the Lords.

Legal Profession

The United Kingdom has a split legal profession, with services provided by both Solicitors and Barristers. Each of these practitioners provides a different type of legal service:

  • Barristers are courtroom advocates. They have complete 'rights of audience' in all courts - that is, they have the right to appear and represent a client in any court in England or Wales. In contrast, Solicitors can only appear on behalf of clients in the Magistrates Courts and County Courts.
  • Solicitors handle the vast bulk of legal work. They have a monopoly on conveyancing - matters related to the transfer of property - and probate - the drafting of wills and trusts.
  • Only Solicitors can be directly engaged by clients for payment. If the services of a barrister are needed, the solicitor must 'instruct' (hire) the barrister on the client's behalf. On a solicitor may undertake any legal work that requires funds to be held on behalf of a client.
  • Barristers must represent any client offering a proper fee, regardless of the popularity of the case or the barrister's personal feelings. This is known as the 'cab-rank' rule. Barristers may, and indeed should, turn down work for which they are not qualified, however, such as one outside his usual area of practice.
  • Barristers are independent. While they may organize themselves into 'Chambers', which allow them to share administrative costs and more easily distribute work, each barrister practices individually. Solicitors, on the other hand, may form firms and partnerships.

Senior lawyers may be appointed by the Crown as Kings Counsel, an honorary title that marks the recipient as one of the preeminent few in the legal profession. Kings Counsel may put the letters KC after their name, and wear silk gowns in court, resulting in the process of promotion being referred to as 'taking silk', and KCs in general as 'silks'. In this era, all KCs were Barristers.

Scotland and Northern Ireland

Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own distinct legal systems. While Northern Ireland's is very similar to that of the England and Wales, Scotland's system, which calls heavily upon influences of civil law countries such as France, is very different.


London, the Capital, the center of both the United Kingdom and the British Empire. Home to the Crown and Parliament. In the pre-war years, the the Metropolis officially covered almost 117 square miles, and contained a population of over four million.

Local Government

Greater London actually consists of two, entirely different cities, one within the other. The City of London, known colloquially as The City or the Square Mile is an area a little over a square mile in the very center of London. It's local government is provided by a body officially known as the Mayor and Commonalty and Citizens of the City of London, but generally called the Corporation of London. The Lord Mayor is the Chief Executive of the City, and is assisted by two Sheriffs, all three selected from amongst the City's Aldermen, one elected from each of its 25 wards. All positions are elected not by the public, but by a combination of City business and the ancient Livery Guilds, the members of which are called Liverymen.

The City is the economic center not only of London but of the British Empire. Many historic buildings, including the Monument to the Great London Fire, St. Paul's Cathedral, Mansion House (the home of the Lord Mayor), The Guildhall (meeting place of the City Councils), The Temple (which includes the Middle and Inner Temples, where barristers are trained and have their chambers), the Old Bailey, Smithfield Market, and The Bank of England (sometimes called The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street).

The remainder of what will eventually be called Greater London is governed, and has been since 1888, by the London County Council and, since 1900, the 28 Metropolitan Boroughs that replaced the ancient parishes and district boards. The County Council included 124 councillors and 20 aldermen, the former popularly elected, the latter elected by the Council itself for six year terms. The County Council is headed by a Chairman, a very prestigious office, and was accorded the style of 'The Right Honorable', like Privy Councillors and the Lord Mayor of London.

The County Council is responsible for providing numerous services, including the London Fire Brigade; ambulance services; public assistance to widows, orphans, and disabled; public health services; sanitation; education and museums; regulation of business, building codes, and public entertainments; city planning; and road transport, bridges, and the like. Some of these services, such as the Fire Brigade, were provided also for the City, but most government inside the Square Mile is handled by the Corporation of London. The County Council is based out of County Hall in Lambeth, London.

The County of London, except the City of London, also forms a ceremonial county. The Lord-Lieutenant, a prestigious if honorary posting, was the Monarch's representative. There is also a High Sheriff for the County of London. Both offices are ceremonial in nature, with no role in local government.

Beneath the County Council were the 28 metropolitan boroughs. They had limited responsibilities, mostly devolved from the County Council, for dealing with roads, demolition of buildings, and licensing of some trades. Each has its own Borough Council. The old civil parishes still exist, but their only function is to administer the small number of remaining benefits under the so-called New Poor Law of 1847. By 1936, workhouses and other institutions for the poor had been almost entirely abolished.

Law Enforcement

There are at least two police departments responsible for keeping order in London. The Metropolitan Police are responsible for the so-called Metropolitan Police District, which includes the entire city and certain outlying areas. They are not, however, responsible for the Square Mile, which is policed by the City of London Police. Each of the four major railways (The Great Western Railway, The London and North Eastern Railway, The London, Midland and Scottish Railway, and The Southern Railway) also have their own constabularies, as do the Royal Parks, the Royal Park Keepers.

The Metropolitan Police

Known as The Met, or colloquially as Old Bill, the Metropolitan Police Force is responsible for policing the majority of the City of London. They are based out of New Scotland Yard, on the Victoria Embankment in Westminster, a series of red brick buildings overlooking the River Thames. New Scotland Yard's telephone number - Whitehall 1212 - is famous, and still used, though the 9-9-9 emergency system was introduced in 1937. The Met has 18,428 sworn constables as of 1939, and an operating budget of nearly £10 million. It is the largest police force in the United Kingdom by a substantial margin. The highest ranking officer of the Met is the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, who answers to the Home Secretary.


Rank Criminal Investigation & Special Branch Rank Insignia
War Reserve Constable Collar Number, Division, and WRC
Police Constable Detective Constable Collar Number and Division
Sergeant Detective Sergeant Three Chevrons
Station Sergeant or Clerk Sergeant Three Chevrons with a Crown above
Junior Station Inspector one bath star ("pip") above one bar
Station Inspector Detective Inspector One bath star ("pip") above two bars
Sub-Divisional Inspector Divisional Detective Inspector Two bath stars ("pips")
Chief Inspector Detective Chief Inspector A crown
Superintendent Detective Superintendent A crown above one bath star ("pip")
Chief Constable Chief Constable CID Crossed tipstaves within a wreath
Deputy Assistant Commissioner A large pip above crossed tipstaves in a wreath
Assistant Commissioner A crown above crossed tipstaves in a wreath
Deputy commissioner Same as Assistant Commissioner
Commissioner A crown above a large pip above crossed tipstaves in a wreath


Constables of the Metropolitan Police wear identification numbers on their collars and epaulets. They wear a single-breasted midnight blue uniform tunic with a silver whistle chain and a white and black striped band around the left sleeve cuff. They also wear the famous custodian ('bobby') helmet, featuring the Brunswick star badge. More senior officers wear open-necked tunics with shirt and tie and a peaked cap similar to military officers.


Prior to the outbreak of war, the Met had two major training establishments. Hendon Police College, located in Colindale, Northwest London, was established in 1934 to train officers for the Met, similar to the training of military officers. Graduates of Hendon, who could either be serving officers or direct from civilian life, had approximately a year of training before being given the rank of Junior Station Inspector. Constables were trained at Peel House, located in Westminster.

Weapons and Equipment

The Metropolitan Police are largely an unarmed force. However, during wartime, there has been authorization for officers to be trained with pistols, and War Reserve Constables, particularly, are armed with rifles and have special responsibilities for enforcing the blackout and preventing black marketeering.


Among the many divisions of the Metropolitan Police are:

  • Uniformed Division: Responsible for general policing duties, including patrol. There are 28 London divisions, as well as 3 dockyard divisions, under 4 districts, each commanded by a Deputy Assistant Commissioner, assisted by a Chief Constable.
  • Criminal Investigation Division: Detectives, responsible for the investigation of serious crimes such as murder, rape, robbery, arson, or other crimes involving serious detective work. The Met's was the first in the UK, founded in 1878. The Flying Squad specifically investigates armed robberies.
  • Special Branch: Responsible for anti-terrorism and anti-espionage work, the protection of (non-royal) VIPs, and other duties, they began as the Special Irish Branch to combat the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1883, though they now have wider duties. It is generally Special Branch that is charged with the actual arrest of spies, as MI5 lacks arrest authority.
  • Mounted Branch: Horse-mounted police, responsible for patrol and crowd control duties, especially at large public gatherings.
  • Thames Division: Equipped with motor launches, they patrol the 14 miles of the Thames River through London, as well as providing rescue services on the water as needed.

Women Police


There have been women in the Met since 1918, first as volunteers and then as paid members of the Service. In 1939, there are 155 women employed as Woman Police Constables (WPCs). Most are members of the Women Branch, the main duties of which are
patrolling, duties in connection with women and children reported missing, found ill, destitute or homeless, or in "immoral surroundings," taking statements from women and children, and dealing with female prisoners, though some women are seconded to the Criminal Investigation Division. Since 1930, all juvenile cases are handled by the Women Branch.

  • Ranks: All female police use the prefix 'Woman' in front of their rank. The highest rank held by a woman is Woman Police Superintendent, the head of the Women Branch. Female officers, even if assigned with CID, do not use the title of Detective.
  • Marriage: Rules of the Metropolitan Police require that a woman resign from the force if she marries.
  • Hours of Work: Women work 6-day, 48-hour weeks, but are not permitted to work night shifts,except for on-call duties.
  • Powers: Since 1930, Women Police have been fully sworn and attested as Constables, and therefore have powers of arrest. However, their duties are mainly concerned with women and children, and they tend to make very few arrests. Since 1937, women police are allowed to take fingerprints. They are not, however, allowed to join the Police Federation, the rank-and-file staff association.

The City of London Police


The City of London Police, under the control of the Commissioner of Police for the City of London, are responsible for law enforcement inside the Square Mile. Their structure is similar to the Metropolitan Police, but with a few distinct differences.

  • Uniforms: Unlike all other police agencies in the UK, the City of London Police have brass accessories to their uniforms and gold rank insignia. The sleeve stripes on their uniforms are red and white.
  • Ranks: The City Police have a simpler rank structure, owing to their smaller size.
  • Headquarters: The City Police Headquarters are on Wood Street, near Cheapside.
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