The Bobby Girls

Written by Johanna Bell
Review by Edward James

The Women’s Police Volunteers (WPV) was an auxiliary police force formed in Britain at the outbreak of war in 1914. Its mission was to uphold ‘moral standards’ at a time when they were expected to be under threat from the greatly increased numbers of soldiers and sailors in the country.  Its main task seems to have been to ‘move along’ prostitutes. Women police were considered more suitable than men in ‘protecting women from themselves’.

The WPVs were unpaid and had no powers of arrest, but they were uniformed, trained and operated from the regular police stations. They were indeed Britain’s first women police.

Bobby Girls follows the careers of three young recruits, seen through the eyes of the youngest, Maggie. Maggie is an upper-class girl who rather improbably deceives her parents into believing that she is working in an orphanage. Most recruits were older women experienced in police methods from their time in the suffragette movement; indeed, the WPV recruited via the suffragette press.

The blurb on the cover promises a ‘gritty’ story, but for the first 200 pages nothing much happens.  The police work seems trivial, although the girls find it exciting, and they pay their informants by treating them to jellied eels! The story becomes more interesting when Maggie is raped, but I found the resolution rather too easy.  This is an interesting setting, but I would have liked it much grittier.