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History of the Guild (to 1977)

by William Wright

reprinted from 1977

The following is a brief history of the Metropolitan & City Catholic Police Guild, its origin and aims, and its evolution into a National 'Catholic Police Guild' written by William Wright (National/Retired Secretary and Fellow of the Guild) for the March edition of the Guild magazine in 1977.

It is hoped that this extract from the Guild’s history will prove of interest to the many new members who have joined during the past few years and will encourage them to uphold the traditions of the Guild and work together in furthering its growth, making its course meaningful and necessary.

We extend our hand of welcome to all Catholic Police Officers and staff so that we may become a National body of Catholic men and women who work together, pray together and socialise together. We intend to enhance friendship, to help those people less fortunate than ourselves, and to assist all priests and religious lay people in running their parishes, and in organising pilgrimages and ceremonials at the Cathedrals. There is indeed a tremendous amount of work to be done, but it is rewarding work.

"Just before the start of the 1914 - 1918 war, recruitment into the Metropolitan Police greatly increased, and for some unknown reason many of those recruited were Irishmen, and a large proportion of them were Catholics. They began to meet each other at Mass on Sundays and it was not long before their small band increased in numbers, they decided to get together on a social basis and met in their homes and in public houses. As their numbers increased they sought a permanent meeting place, they eventually found a backroom of a house in Clapham, South London.

As a result of one such meeting it was decided that they should approach the Administrator at Westminster Cathedral who at that time was Monsignor Howlett, and asked for his approval for the formation of a Catholic Police Guild. Monsignor Howlett wholeheartedly welcomed this suggestion and not only agreed with the idea but also agreed without hesitation when asked to become their President.

Delighted with the outcome of their meeting with Monsignor Howlett they returned to report their success at the next meeting and arranged a date for the inauguration of such a Guild. It was agreed that the inauguration ceremony should take place at Westminster Cathedral, and so on June 11, 1914, on the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Metropolitan and City Catholic Police Guild was officially instituted at Westminster Cathedral. The Celebrant at the Inauguration Mass was Monsignor Howlett.

The Guild then met to draw up the Constitution and Rules. The Object of the Guild was the encouragement of the spiritual and social welfare of its members. Membership was limited to Catholic serving police officers of the Metropolitan and City Forces.

It is known that meetings were held frequently and membership steadily increased during the First World War years but unfortunately records of those years seem to be non-existent. In 1918 at the end of the First World War, the Guild agreed to hold a Solemn Requiem Mass in Westminster Cathedral to remember and honour those Guild members who died during that war and this Solemn Requiem Mass has since been a main annual spiritual event in the Guild calendar. The Mass is held on a suitable date as near to Armistice Day as possible. As time marched on the Guild flourished, its membership continued to grow.

With the tragic declaration of World War 2 many policemen, including a large number of Guild members left the Force to serve with the Armed Forces. At the end of the Second World War it became necessary to amend the Constitution and Rules to include those members who lost their lives in the Second World War.

From then onwards the Solemn Service was enhanced by the attendance of the Metropolitan Police Band. Guild members paraded in the grounds at the rear of the Cathedral, 500 or more strong they marched behind the band down Ambrosenden Avenue and into the Cathedral, a very impressive sight indeed, watched by hundreds of spectators. To add to the dignity of the occasion the Cathedral Choir sang the Mass. Afterwards the parade formed up again and led by the band, marched past the main doors of the Cathedral steps. In 1967 the Constitution and Rules were again changed as it was considered that the Annual Requiem Mass should be offered for all deceased police officers, that is of any denomination.

Since the early 1960’s for some unknown reason the membership began to decrease from 600/700 to around 200/300. Although this tragic trend seemed to affect Guilds throughout the Catholic Church, it certainly became a grave source of concern to the Guild. This decrease in numbers of members who attended reached pathetically below the hundred. This was made more prominent by the attendance of the Band, who appeared to be in greater number and so, to save embarrassment it was decided reluctantly that the Parade would have to be discontinued.

In 1969 this service was held by those members who wished to attend, making their own way into the Cathedral and occupying the front seats reserved for them – with no parade. The Annual event for all deceased colleagues one would have thought, would have been attended by every Catholic policeman in the Force, but alas this was not so. However, in 1971 the service was greatly enhanced by the Metropolitan Police Trumpeters giving the triumph that is so fitting at the Consecration of the Mass. In more recent years it has been most gratifying to note the great increase in attendance. I have given a lot of emphasis to the Annual Requiem because it is the most important spiritual event in the Guild’s calendar and it is vital that it will always remain that way – the annual opportunity for every Catholic Policeman to remember, and to pray together for their deceased colleagues.

Ever since the inauguration of the Guild, its members, families and friends have assembled in the Crypt at Westminster Cathedral for Holy Mass annually on the Feats of Corpus Christi, to commemorate its founding on that great day. This service is always followed by a social get together at a suitable venue after Mass. There have been many outstanding events in the Guild’s history, but I think two of the most important were the Pilgrimages to Rome. The first such event took place fifty years ago this year, on the 3rd to 15th October 1927, about 80 members and friends took part in this great adventure. The contingent was led by the Rt. Rev. Monsignor Howlett. During this most memorable spiritual highlight, an audience with Pope Pius XI was arranged and all the members who attended had the honour of meeting His Holiness. After his touching address, the Pope was handed on behalf of the Guild, a hundred guineas, 80 for Peter’s Pence and 20 as a stipend for Mass on behalf of members and their families. The arrangements for this unforgettable pilgrimage were made by the Guild Secretary – Sub Divisional Inspector Albert Groom (RIP).

The year 1964 was the Guild’s Silver Jubilee year, and the highlight of that year was yet another pilgrimage to Rome – many Guild members and their wives attended led on this occasion by Rt. Rv. Monsignor Collingwood, who was President of the Guild at the time. The Rt. Rev. Monsignor Howlett retired from his much cherished office as President in 1948, after 34 years of invaluable service to the Guild, the Rt. Rev. Monsignor Collingwood graciously succeeded him. This pilgrimage was organised by Bro. Charles Dawson who was then Assistant Secretary to the Guild. Again the Guild was afforded the honour of an audience with His Holiness Pope Paul VI and presented him with a police truncheon mounted on a plinth, another tremendously successful venture.

Going back to 1942 a Police Guild was formed in Glasgow, this Guild soon became strong in membership and in 1949 became affiliated to the Met & City Guild. Then in 1960 a Police Guild was started in Bedfordshire – yet another great comradeship developed and members of each Guild exchanged friendship annually by sending representatives to each Dinner & Dance, a tradition and link the must remain.

As stated earlier since 1960’s membership greatly declined, after many meetings in an endeavour to try and rectify this problem, the meeting then being held in Central London, it was thought that the reason could be that the MPD was so vast that members were no longer prepared to travel great distances to meeting and as a result lost contact. It was decided to take meetings to the members, and in March 1964 the Constitution and Rules were again amended with a clause to allow local meetings to be held, hence the formation of five branches in the following areas: Central London, North West London, North London, East London and South London and later a branch in Epsom. All branches thrived and the idea proved very successful with their Chairmen and Secretaries under the control of one central committee who remained the governing body.

Each branch has a free hand to organise its own activities both Spiritual and Social, and much good work has been achieved. To list but very few, assisting with stewarding at the Walsingham pilgrimages. Helping with many charities in many ways both financially by organising fund raising functions and by stewarding such as ‘Save the Children’ jumble sales etc… Of course the main events in the Guild’s calendar are always supported by all branch members such as stewarding the great Ceremonials at Westminster Cathedral. It was with deep sorrow that in 1973 our faithful and dear friend Rt. Rev. Monsignor Collingwood, who held the reins as President to the Guild for twenty five years devoted service informed us that the time had come for him to go into retirement. We know that the Guild has lost a valuable friend as its figurehead.

As a result of many meetings to discuss ways to extend our image to all Catholic Policemen throughout the country, thoughts of a National Guild became evident. So in 1972 a working party was set up with this purpose in mind, as a result of two years hard work its committee working party’s report was put to the Annual General Meeting. A complete new set of Constitution and Rules had been drawn up, and these were unanimously accepted and it was agreed that all was set for launching the National Catholic Police Guild. Arrangements were then made for its inauguration, and on the feast of Corpus Christi 1974 a Solemn High Mass was arranged at Westminster Cathedral. The chief Celebrant was His Eminence Cardinal Heenan assisted by all the Chaplains of the various branches. After the Ceremony, a grand Social evening was arranged at the Quality Inn – Victoria. The Guild was now National and open to members of recognised Police Forces throughout the country. The title ‘Metropolitan & City’ was dropped and the new title ‘The Catholic Police Guild’ was adopted.


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