Bertha Gleghorn, London, June 1944 – The United Kingdom's First Police Woman
Killed on Duty
Article by London and Metropolitan Police Researcher Keith Foster
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,
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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
firstname.lastname@example.org Enter Bertha Gleghorn in subject box.