Had this been published two days ago, 30 August 2017, it would have been on the centenary of the death of one of the Constabulary’s most celebrated former Chief Constables.
Lieutenant Colonel Richard Chester-Master DSO, led the force from 1910-1917, and was among the hundreds of thousands who lost their lives in the Great War at Passchendaele in one of the conflict’s bloodiest and most contentious battles.
His period in charge was eventful. These days we might have called him an innovator.
At the turn of the last century, the police were working long hours and it was in 1910 Chester-Master implemented a weekly rest day, concluding that all constables and police staff should take 52 rest days a year. These rest days had to be taken every seven days and could not be accumulated – and when the Secretary of State agreed to increase the force by 12 extra constables soon after, it cemented the rest day in a constable’s timetable.
Conditions of service also changed under Chester-Master’s stewardship. Dissatisfied with existing conditions, he introduced wide-ranging changes relating to pay, uniform and behaviour that officers had to abide by.
With welfare in mind, he added martial arts to the training programme thus broadening the force’s range of abilities and providing a basic level of protection for beat officers.
But, bearing in mind recent events, Chester-Master clearly showed his visionary qualities when, also in 1910, he laid the foundations for the Constabulary’s first mounted section, preceding a more current announcement by almost 107 years to the month.
RC-M purchased saddles and riding equipment having arranged for horses to be hired and ridden by experienced officers whenever necessary. There is no record of what people thought or whether it was questioned on the grounds of cost, but given the absence of social media in 1910 and society’s general deference towards authority in those days, I suspect not. What is a matter of record is that the four-legged recruits helped to cut crime and the system stayed in place until shortly after the Second World War.
But the world was moving too, and Chester-Master’s time as Chief Constable coincided with a tumultuous period in British history. The Great War apart, miners were striking in Wales and Chester-Master’s commitment to mutual aid was in the shape of two sergeants and 23 constables who remained with Welsh forces for two months.
In January 1915, Chester-Master was recalled to his old regiment, the King’s Royal Rifle Corps and along with others from the Constabulary were called-up to ‘fight the Hun’. Retaining his old rank of Major, he was given command of a battalion where his courage and ability meant he was mentioned in Despatches three times and awarded the Distinguished Service Order.
When Lt Col Chester Master was killed in action at Passchendaele on 30 August 2017, the Acting Chief Constable said the country had lost a brave and experienced solder and Gloucestershire a valued and high minded official. His home town Cirencester remember him as the first ever ‘local’ to be appointed Gloucestershire’s ‘top cop’.