The CORPS of Royal Military Police (RMP), as it’s currently known, was named on November 28, 1946, at the conclusion of the Second World War in recognition of their service. As a corps, the Military Police maintain law and order among soldiers.
On active service (up to end of the Second World War) they also carried out duties in connection with military executions. Previously, there had been two separate units – the Corps of Military Mounted Police, created in 1877, and the Corps of Military Foot Police, created in 1885. Seen as two independent corps, they functioned as separate units until 1926, when they merged to form the Corps of Military Police (CMP), later becoming the RMP, having been granted the royal prefix by King George VI in 1946.
To this day, the head of the Military Police is known as the Provost–Marshall. The role’s origins can be traced back to the 13th century when, in 1241, Henry III made William Cassingham, aka
William of the Weald, Warden of the Weald and Sergeant of the Peace, as a reward for William’s actions in preventing Louis of France from reaching London by ambushing him near Lewes.
The first Provost-Marshall was Sir Henry Guildford (1489-1532), appointed in 1511 by Henry VIII, a favoured courtier who in 1513 was standard bearer in Henry VIII’s invasion of France. During the Peninsular War (1809-1814) Wellington asked for a Provost-Marshall to be appointed to deal with looters.
Throughout the Second World War, the Corps of Military Police served on the front line wherever the British Army served including at Sicily, Salerno, Anzio and Normandy.
In 1963, after the Royal Sussex Regiment left the Roussillion Barracks in Chichester, the Royal Military Police took control of the site and converted the premises at a cost of £454,000. Facilities included the officers’ mess, sergeants’ mess, classrooms, training wings, quartermaster and associated stores, regimental headquarters offices, nuclear biological chemical gas chamber, 30m range, medical centre and armoury.
The Royal Military Police had previously been located at Inkerman Barracks in Wokingham. Their commanding officer at that time was Colonel ‘Perisher’ Read. He’d enlisted in the army in India in 1921 as a boy soldier and worked his way up the ranks. He had been known as ‘Perisher’ since taking part in a rugby match and helping his team to win. A general supporting the losing side was heard to complain that they’d have won if ‘that Perisher Read’ hadn’t had the ball so much.
Members of the RMP were first trained as soldiers at an army training regiment. After this time they could specialise as Military Police, undertaking additional training which included further military training, self-defence, first-aid, driver training, as well as specific training in police duties and the law.
The barracks were also used as the training school for the Special Investigating Branch (SIB) the equivalent of civilian police’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID).
The centenary of the Mounted Military Police’s formation was celebrated in 1977, by a ‘friendly march’ held on July 31. There were varying lengths of march, bronze (six miles), silver (15 miles) or gold (25 miles) around the Downs at Goodwood, for which medals were awarded to participants. Teams were formed that were either local or from further afield with some military units from abroad. The end of the day concluded with a formal march past a saluting base with the Mayor and other dignitaries in West Street. These marches continued to be held until the early 1990s.
In 1978, the Queen was invited to lunch after inspecting the barracks to mark the centenary of the Royal Military Police formation.
In 1982, during the Falklands War, Captain Alfredo Astiz – an Argentinian POW – was flown to Britain and held prisoner at the barracks (specifically in The Keep by the west entrance) under the watch of the RMP. He was wanted by the French and Swedish authorities for the ‘disappearances’ (and presumed murders) of some of their citizens. The UK Government eventually decided they did not have the necessary authority to try him, as the crimes for which he had been accused did not involve British nationals. He was later returned him to Argentina.
On April 6 , 1992, the Royal Military Police were amalgamated into the Adjutant General’s Corps (AGC) but the unit retained their distinctive cap badge as well as red topped caps. After 118 years, the Mounted Troop was disbanded on March 5,1995, so that horses were then no longer kept at the stables in the barracks. This was marked by a disbandment parade consisting of a march through the city followed by a ceremony and drumhead service in the barracks.
Ten years later, in 2005, the Royal Military Police took the decision to move from their longstanding headquarters at Roussillon Barracks.
An official closing ceremony and “Beating Retreat” was held on Saturday, September 10, 2005. The RMP formally marched out of the barracks to their new base at the new Defence Police College at Southwick Park, north of Portsmouth.
By Pat Saunders, Volunteer at the Novium Museum