William Burnett Smithwick
I apologise in advance for the vague aspect of some detail within the following article but due to lack of records and despite research with the Liverpool Newspapers and the Police Review I have been unable to ascertain details for this Article but notwithstanding this is the tale of one of the Liverpool City Police’s most courageous albeit unwanted Sons need telling;
The Liverpool Police Strike of 1919 and the mayhem that followed in its wake has been well covered in many volumes of literature and is not the remit of this article, which is solely concerned with the above named Police Constable.
William Burnett Smithwick was born in 1888, this was towards the end of Queen Victoria’s Reign and in London a certain Jack the ripper was causing a stir but all was quiet at 19 Glendower Street on the banks of the Leeds Liverpool Canal, where John Smithwick, a Goods Shipper, and his wife were content with their new born Son.
Little is known of the young William but about 1908 he joined the Liverpool City Police and it is believed was posted to Essex Street in the “C” Division, he resided, probably lodged, at 30 Althorpe Street off Grafton Street near the South End Docks.
In 1914 William took a bride, Evelyn Edith Jones, and settled down to married life. William had passed his exams for promotion and all looked rosy for the young couple. This Idyll was soon to be rudely shattered by the advent of the First World War.
The Liverpool Watch Committee announced that any man who answered the call to Arms and made the rank of Sergeant would be a Police Sergeant upon his safe return. It is without doubt that such a man as Smithwick would have joined the Colours without the Carrot of Police promotion but that he bore it in mind is obvious by later events.
Lord Derby started to recruit for the Army and established the Liverpool “Pals” Battalions of the Liverpool Regiment. William presented himself at the recruiters table and was snapped up. He served throughout that dreadful war with a Bravery that made him stand out amongst many heroes of the day. He was brought to the notice of Lord Derby on many occasions. He was wounded and invalided home where he took charge of training.
On cessation of hostilities he returned to the Force only to find that he could indeed keep his Sergeants stripes but that the offer of being a Police Sergeant did not extend to being paid a Sergeants pay. From that day William became a champion on behalf of his colleagues who like himself had to contend with low pay and atrocious working conditions, he joined the embryonic National Union of Police and Prison Officers and became an official of same.
It was William who attended and gave evidence to the Desborough committee and his performance was remarked upon by Lord Desborough himself. It is not known if William was a strong advocate of strike action but he was very active with Union affairs and indeed was on his way back from a meeting with the Chairman, Jack Hayes, and the NUPPO Committee, when the strike commenced. What role William played in the weeklong strike is not known, some officers stayed home with their families, some picketed Police Stations and some went to extremes such as the beating of a lone Constable in Wallasey who refused to strike. It is probable that William who was a reasonable man was one of the officials who called for calm and made visits to other Unions and Police Officials to secure support.
Whatever role William Barnett Smithwick was called upon to play it is surely known that along with nine hundred and fifty four other Liverpool Police Officers he went into the Social wilderness of Unemployment and Struggle. “NO POLICE STRIKER NEED APPLY” was the employers cry.
William was very active in the campaign to have Police Strikers reinstated and to such end a meeting was arranged with Lord Derby, who held him in high esteem, and the Police strikers who had served in the Liverpool Pals.
Lord Derby regretted that he could not openly meet, Mr. Jack Hayes, a Sacked Metropolitan Police Striker, late Chairman of NUPPO and now a Labour Member of Parliament for Liverpool Edge Hill. William Smithwick was aware that during talks with the IRA circa 1920 a mysterious Mr. Edwards had been at all such meetings. This Mr. Edwards was in fact Lord Derby acting as peacemaker and so it is believed Jack Hayes attended the meeting as Mr. Edwards with the knowledge of Lord Derby. The meeting took place but what was discussed was never revealed by either side but all came to naught.
The Labour Party had promised that if they came to power all strikers would be reinstated and great effort was made by the Police Strikers to ensure a Labour victory, alas when it came the promise was broken and for a lot of the old guard of NUPPO and the Strikers in general it was the last straw.
The Government had avowed that no Police Striker would ever put on a Police uniform again and so many, mostly Irishmen, returned home and joined the new Garda in Ireland, some joined the equally new British Palestine Police, a blind eye being turned no doubt, and some joined non Home Office Police Forces such as Park Police but most were on the dole or doing menial labouring work.
It is beyond belief but William Smithwick was held in such regard that the Liverpool Corporation, always very vociferous in its condemnation of the strike, offered him a position as a Market Constable within the City of Liverpool. William accepted the job and threw himself into again serving the citizens of Liverpool.
During late 1927 or early 1928 William Smithwick was carrying out his duties when he became aware of an armed robbery taking place, the gunman had shot two people and was making off with his gains. Market Constable Smithwick gave chase and after a violent struggle the offender was arrested. See: William Smithwick Part two
For this outstanding act William was awarded the medal of the OBE, strangely ( But maybe for political reasons) was not awarded a Kings Police Medal and the award was not announced in the London Gazette but in the Edinburgh Gazette of the 8th of June 1928. Lord Derby requested that he be present at the award ceremony. William attended with his Daughter and was presented with the medal by the Lord Mayor Mrs. Bevan.
William Smithwick remained with the Market Police for many years and attained the rank of Chief Inspector and lived at 6 Adair Road, Liverpool 13.
After the award of the medal to William a letter appeared in the Police Review and the reply by the editor gives some indication of the very high esteem that William was held in by all who knew him.
Police Review 22nd June 1928
The appearance in the Kings Birthday Honours of Market Constable William Smithwick, Liverpool has brought me several letters inquiring if it is the William Smithwick who was an Executive Member of the Police Union in the days of 1918-1919. Yes, he is one and the same “Bill SMITHWICK” He was a witness before the Desborough Commission and a very good witness too. He has a remarkable war record in the Army; he was one of the local leaders of the Police Strike of 1919 and had a very hard time of it.
Eventually the Liverpool Markets Committee offered him employment as a Market Constable, which he accepted. I often see him at his work, bright and cheerful, and as popular as ever with all those he comes into contact with. His inherent courage, bordering on recklessness, has earned for him a place in the Kings Birthday Honours list.
He WAS, IS and ALWAYS will be a Loyal Comrade.