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Honouring and Remembering British Police Officers who Lost their Lives in the Line of Duty

Search for Final Resting Place of First Woman Police Constable Killed on Duty

WPC Bertha Gleghorn

Bertha Massey Gleghorn

 Woman Police Constable 128

Metropolitan Police

Died 19 June 1944, aged 33

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Bertha Gleghorn, London, June 1944 – The United Kingdom's First Police Woman Killed on Duty

Article by London and Metropolitan Police Researcher Keith Foster

For many years the National Police Officers Roll of Honour has been striving to establish where Bertha’s last resting place can be found. Born in Shropshire in 1910, she was brought up by her step-father and mother in Durham, and at the time of her death during WW2 they were living at 10, Salutation Road, Darlington.

A routine early morning duty for Bertha had began with a short walk from lodgings to the local police station just north of Oxford Street. However, two weeks into June 1944 and the German reprisal weapons, “V.1’s”, had started to bring their menace to the city in large numbers. This particular morning such an aircraft, noted for its buzzing motor in flight, suddenly cut out and spiralled to earth, falling randomly without warning to complete another characteristic feature. It came down almost directly on the police station itself, and the typical blast effect caused a wall of masonry to collapse trapping her under the rubble. Although alive, she suffered very severe injuries and died a short time later in a nearby hospital.

Despite extensive searches at over 15 London cemeteries and crematoria, our investigations have failed to find her burial place. More disappointment came when we elected to request any details from Darlington itself, only to be informed that there was no trace there either of a burial or cremation at any of the town’s 3 sites.

Bertha Gleghorn had applied to join the London Metropolitan Police force in January 1940, a single woman aged 30, she had been working as a housekeeper for two elderly spinster sisters in west London. It is most likely she was following the example of her step-father, George who at 59 had retired from being a policeman himself in Durham.

From surviving police records in London we were able to trace a few more details about her family; - She was born Bertha Massey Lawson on 9th October 1910 to the then unmarried, Sarah Ann Lawson at Frankwell, near Shrewsbury. Sarah and Bertha were included on the Lawson family’s census return for April, 1911, Bertha’s relationship to Sarah’s father William, being described as ‘grand-daughter’.

Bertha’s death was registered with the surname Gleghorn and the informant given as:-– “father, George Gleghorn, 10 Salutation Road, Darlington”. This led to us finding the marriage certificate for George Gleghorn ‘widower’, aged 34, marrying Sarah Ann Lawson spinster aged 26, on 3rd August, 1915 at Darlington register office.

As a result of excellent assistance from the Darlington cemetery offices we have also found that both George and Sarah died and had been cremated in 1960 & 1971 respectively, and their ashes cast in the Garden of Remembrance. This finally eliminated any possibility that if Bertha had been buried in Darlington, surely the remains of George and Sarah would have followed into the same plot.

With the help of the Northern Echo’s readership, many based in locations where the surname Gleghorn is still very familiar, we hope someone will recognise some of the details of this lady whose burial we want to trace. It could be they don’t realise how important the knowledge is that they have, likely too that they don’t know somebody else needs to know, irrespective of any possible any previous family disputes.  We feel it is time for Bertha to be given her rightful place in both British police history, and the role of the women who continue to play a vital role in the ranks of all police forces across the U.K., as the first female police officer to be killed on duty not only within the Metropolitan Police but in the entire United Kingdom.

Read more about Bertha's story....

If you think you may have any further information please email Keith Foster at

kefo.44@btopenworld.com     Enter Bertha Gleghorn in subject box.

An edited version of this article by Darlington Reporter Vicki Henderson first appeared 26 November 2013 in The Northern Echo Newspaper

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Page updated 7 July 2014

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