One of the UK’s first female police officers turns 100

A member of the Women's Auxiliary Police Corps, who helped in the war effort

Imagine it is 1939, war has just been declared and you are a young woman looking for a job.

At the time, one of the last places you would expect to land a job in such a situation is the police force but that's exactly what happened to Eileen Normington.

She was one of Britain's first ever female police officers and the pioneer has just celebrated her 100th birthday.

She first joined Devon and Cornwall police way back in 1939, when she was just 22.

She was the first ever woman to be on the beat in her home city of Plymouth and spent over 20 years on the force, working right through World War II.

Yet, despite her amazing commitment, she initially only took the job as it was a "bit of fun."

She told the Express:

 I heard a message on the wireless which asked women to go to their nearest police station and help out.

I was a youngster at the time and, as you can imagine, everyone was up in arms about the war being declared but I didn't think much of it.

I thought it would be fun to help the police so I went down that day and they said I could start the day after.

If only job interviews were that easy today.

Things got better from there for Eileen, as by the time she had returned home a police officer had already called.

The message was that whatever time I got in, I was to go up to the police station.

I  got there about 10pm and was asked by a policeman with memorable name of Thurley Beale, when I could start work.

She was stationed at the Greenbank Police Headquarters in Plymouth but her first job wasn't to catch a thief or a prevent a crime.

Eileen was instructed to interview any other women who came in wishing to join her as a female police officer.

Women came down in their droves to aid the police in their time of need.

This wasn't the first time the police had employed women although they had a slightly different job back then,

The UK government had deployed women officers to soldiers barracks in order to stop prostitutes from entering - Edith Smith is probably the most famous women officer during the First World War.

By 1945 women were mostly asked to help with 'suitable' duties like typing and filing, which left male officers to work out on the streets, especially during the Blitz.

Plymouth was badly effected by bombs during this period and staying inside the police station was sometimes perilous.

A bomb once smashed through a window in the HQ whilst Eileen was working. Although it failed to go off Eileen believes it may have still caused some damage later on.

I seem to recall a story that the bomb later did go off, tragically, when the bomb disposal unit was taking it on to the moors to deal with it, but I can't be sure.

Before the war finished in 1945, Eileen was promoted to leading auxuiliary policewoman, before transferring to traffic.

It was here where she met her future husband Jim and then eventually joined CID.

She stayed with the force until 1960 but the police in the area haven't forgotten her contributions.

Eileen, who still lives independently in Mutley, celebrated her landmark birthday just a few days ago with friends and current members of the Devon and Cornwall police.

When asked how see felt on her extra-special day she gave the most honest of replies.

Well, I'm on my way to the next one [birthday] now!

HT The Express Plymouth Herald

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