What you are saying, there is not the truth in this;
In August 1914, the unexpected Great War broke out and Britain mobilised her army. This included the total strength, 764 members in all, of the MMP and MFP as follows:
- 3 officers
- 508 other ranks (Regular)
- 253 other ranks (Reserves) recalled to the colours.
It soon became obvious that many more military policemen were going to be needed, and that the peacetime standards of MMP and the MFP were considerably lowered.
Within months of its outbreak the war had developed into an entrenched deadlock in Belgium and France, with other theatres of war established as nations joined the fight, or as German overseas possessions were fought for. Britain was forced to massively expand the army, and in the atmosphere of crisis that prevailed, military police recruiting procedures to be drastically revised. Probation became a thing of the past.
A number of old soldiers were enlisted directly from civil life, as were civil policemen, and units of infantry and cavalry were transferred en bloc. The practice of temporarily 'attaching' men, or complete units, for police duties continued.
At first each divisional establishment included an Assistant Provost Marshal (usually a captain) and 25 NCOs of the MMP. Corps headquarters had a small detachment of MFP men. The APMs on lines of communications duties had even fewer men. As far as provost duties were concerned, no instructions existed as to what these might be, and they had to be defined and acted on as they became apparent. In France these mainly included the manning of 'stragglers' posts', traffic control, dealing with crime committed by British soldiers, the control of civilians within the battle area, handling prisoners of war, and patrolling rear areas and ports. Of these, perhaps the operation of stragglers' posts has become the least understood, giving rise to the legend of the Redcap, pistol in hand, forcing shell-shocked Tommies forward to certain death. The facts paint an entirely different picture. Stragglers' posts or battle-stops, as they were sometimes called, were collecting points behind the front lines where prisoners of war were taken over from the infantry, runners and message-carriers were checked and directed. Walking wounded from Regimental Aid Posts were directed to casualty collecting stations for evacuation, and 'stragglers' were dealt with. This last-named duty involved halting soldiers who were obviously neither casualties, signalers or runners, re-arming and equipping them if necessary, and sending them forward to rejoin their units, individually or in groups. With so few MMP or MFP men available, this type of work was mostly done by 'trench police' or 'battle police', men from a division's cavalry squadron or cyclist company, regimental police or corps cavalry, who also directed traffic in communication trenches. All worked under the direction of the divisional APM. Later in the war, a typical division in the line employed over 250 officers and men on provost duties within its area. They manned four straggler posts, provided an MP presence at the casualty collection post, operated various road traffic control posts and a number of mobile traffic patrols.
Military police were familiar figures at Mons, the Marne, Ypres, and the Somme. In war-ridden France, British Military Police, that is the CMP, were used for the first time to control refugees and stragglers. The Battle of Ains was the first time that a traffic circuit was used, whilst the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in 1915 was the first time that traffic posts were used. The importance of traffic control in the battle area was evident from the start of the war, but a planned approach to the problem of traffic did not emerge for some time. At first, divisional provost troops attended to the needs of their own formation, but this attitude frequently led to delays. Improvements were made, but not in time to prevent a serious traffic control problem at the battle of Loos in September 1915. After the start of the battle, two divisions, the 21st and the 24th, were called forward from reserve to exploit a breach in the enemy's line. Their approach march has been described by one commentator as like trying 'to push the Lord Mayor's procession through the streets of London without clearing the route or holding up the traffic'. The infantry of the two divisions arrived at the battle late and exhausted, and their attack failed. In the wake of the disaster the problems of traffic control were properly tackled and corrected.
Absenteeism and desertion became an increasing problem as the war progressed. It was the duty of military policemen to apprehend deserters and hold them for trial by court martial. Much has been written about the British soldiers of the Great War who suffered death by firing squad for the crimes of cowardice or desertion. More than 3,000 sentences of death were passed by British courts martial between 1914 and 1920, of which 346 were carried out;
- 266 were for desertion,
- 18 for cowardice,
- 37 for murder,
- seven for quitting post,
- three for mutiny,
- two for sleeping while a sentry,
- six for striking a superior officer,
- five for disobedience and
- two for casting away arms.
Many of those shot were under suspended sentences of death and had re-offended. Against these figures should be balanced those of the 702,410 officers and men of the British forces who were killed in action. Assistant Provost Marshals and their men had the grim duty of supervising the executions of men sentenced to death. They themselves were not required to furnish the firing squads. Any serious offenders, if not sentenced to death, rapidly found their way to Field Punishment Centres or Military Prisons. These were run by men of the MPSC and by military policemen, while Provost Marshals had the supervision of the FPCs.
During the First World War,'Redcap' or 'Cherrynob' became the terms applied by British soldiers to any military policeman to the red cap cover which had been taken into use before the war to distinguish an MP on duty, when the blue uniform then worn resembled that of a civilian policeman. The practice of wearing red cap covers continued with khaki service dress, but was only worn by men of the MMP and MFP) Not all the men attached for provost duties were as efficient as the regular Redcaps, and their behaviour at times fell short of the standards of the corps. However, discipline in the British Expeditionary Force in France, and in the armies at home and in other overseas theatres was properly maintained throughout the war. The British suffered no serious breakdown of discipline like that in the French Army in 1917, and this was due in no small measure to the efforts of provost forces.
By the end of the war the strength of the forces under the control of the Provost Marshal of the BEF had grown to almost 15000 all ranks, while it has been reckoned that over 25,000 men served in a provost role during the war. Some 375 lost their lives and the corps won 477 decorations including 13 DSO's (Distinguished Service Order). Their achievements had a particular cost. The pre-war soldiers' respect for the Redcap had plummeted by 1918 to an all-time low, particularly within the ranks the 'poor bloody infantry', who saw the military policemen as the instrument of a brutal regime which had sent them into the line again and again and had savagely punished their weaker comrades. The constant Redcap presence, in the line and out, particularly that of a minority of over-zealous or bullying MPs, exacerbated the ill-feeling. This was a great pity, for the legend of the brutal Redcap devalued the achievements of British Provost forces, who had risen to the challenges of the war.
In the battle zone, where frequently they had to do duty in exposed positions under heavy fire and suffered severe casualties, the military police solved a important part of the problem of traffic control. In back areas the vigilance and zeal have largely contributed to the good relations maintained between our troops and the civilian population."
Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, Commander-in-Chief of the BEF
In December 1918 a military police motorcyclist had the honour to be the first British soldier to cross the Rhine in the occupation of Cologne. It was entirely fitting that a Redcap should lead the way for a victorious 'British Army of the Rhine'.