Violet Swaine: Norfolk police’s number one woman officer

Norfolk woman police officer Violet Swaine, who has died aged 90, was officially known by the distinctive number PW 1 during her 25-year career.

She also became the first woman sergeant in the Norfolk Constabulary having joined the former King's Lynn Borough Force as an 'auxiliary' police woman in August 1946. It was only six weeks later that policewomen were officially recognised as police officers.

In a distinguished career, she received 19 commendations from magistrates and chief constables and for almost 10 years until 1967 was in charge of the county's nine women officers.

As the town's first police woman, she had retained her number, PW 1, after the force was absorbed into Norfolk Constabulary.

Selected for further training as a detective, she spent almost eight years in plain clothes until 1956, which was a highlight of her career.

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Then asked to return to uniformed duty, after two years in July 1958 she was promoted to sergeant and undertook a range of regular duties including responsibility for the Queen and other members of the Royal family on the Sandringham estate.

Born at Oulton Broad in 1921, Violet Mary Cole worked initially at a leading department store, Waller's in Lowestoft. By chance, she had just left the store on an errand when a lone bomber in 1942 dropped a stick of bombs killing 70 people.

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After the war, she was a manageress of a grocery store in King's Lynn but later saw a notice seeking WPCs in the town's Labour Exchange.

On August 25, 1946 she applied, was interviewed and was sworn in on the same day, starting work the next Monday as part of the 23-strong force at the police station, then beside Lynn's Town Hall.

On the night of the 1953 floods, she was on duty when rising water in the High Street caused the fuse boxes in the police station to blow.

Carried out of the flooded station by two police sergeants, she went to a nearby butcher's shop to phone the fire brigade and then manned the telephone until that line went dead. Later still, she helped in the rescue work in the flooded South Lynn area.

On her first Saturday on duty, she was sent to the football ground, which was an embarrassing start in uniform where she heard quite a few ribald remarks.

But she always enjoyed her years in the police service even though sometimes she was seriously injured. After an attack by an escaping burglar, she spent months recovering from a stomach punch and was then discovered to have contracted TB – a result of being bitten on the nose by a prostitute.

In 1968, she was presented with a 22-year long service award with WPC Joan Starling (now Parnell), who had joined in October 1946.

Throughout her career, which was before the days of equality, there was always a pay gap. Initially, women were paid about 17s (85p) less each week than the basic �3 15s for male officers.

She had married Douglas Swaine, who was a British Transport Commission's police officer in 1964. After her retirement on September 16, 1971, she reflected that she had served in three police forces without even having moved from King's Lynn – the borough force, the county force and finally the Norfolk joint force.

She became active in the National Association of Retired Police Officers. When she found that her husband could not attend the national convention, actually held in Norwich, she successfully got the constitution amended to allow all spouses to attend.

Her Methodist faith was always important to her and she was a regular worshipper at Lynn's London Road Chapel.

She leaves two nephews, Christopher and David, and a niece, Christine.

A funeral service will be held on Monday, January 23 at the London Road Chapel, noon.

Michael Pollitt

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