CHRIS LONGMUIR INTERVIEWS KIRSTY CAMPBELL OF DEVIL’S PORRIDGE
Today we welcome Kirsty Campbell to Getting into Character. Kirsty is one of Britain’s first policewomen and serves with the WPS (Women’s Police Service). Her story, Devil’s Porridge is set during 1917 when the First World War is at its peak.
CL: I am interested in your early life which you do not talk about in Devil’s Porridge. So, would you introduce yourself and start off by telling us where you were born?
KC: My name is Kirsty Campbell and I was born on the 19th of August, 1890, in my parents’ house in Broughty Ferry which is a few miles outside Dundee on the north-east coast of Scotland. My father is a mill-owner in Dundee and I am an only child. Looking back, I suppose my parents spoiled me.
CL: Except for a few mentions, you don’t refer to your family in Devil’s Porridge. Is there a reason for that?
KC: I am estranged from my family for reasons I do not feel comfortable discussing.
CL: But you say your parents spoiled you which suggests you had a happy childhood. When did the problems start? And were you happy as a child?
KC: When I was a young child I was very happy but I also got up to a lot of mischief and I was never out of trouble. I spent most of my time at the family home and I had a tutor who was quite strict. I remember I used to play tricks on him and he used to get angry but Papa always sorted things out.
Everything changed after my sixteenth birthday. I suppose I was restless at this time and thought there must be more to life than the cocooned existence I led. But my parents had traditional expectations of me and when my father suggested I should marry the son of a neighbouring mill-owner, I wasn’t interested. However, our respective families made sure we were paired up at various outings and events.
It turned out that the young man was not as nice as my parents considered him to be and he assaulted me at his family’s annual ball. It was the outcome of that assault that led to my estrangement from my family. Further than that, I am not prepared to discuss.
CL: That sounds like an unfortunate experience and I won’t push you to reveal what happened but I must say I am curious about the aftermath. Did you leave home right away or did you stay in the family home after the incident?
KC: My family would never have allowed me to leave home when I was 16 or 17, so I remained there until I reached 21. Life wasn’t too bad for a time but I went to a meeting to hear Winston Churchill speak in Dundee, I think I was 18 or 19 at the time, and I became interested in the suffragette movement. After that, they tried to restrict my movements, particularly when there were suffragette demonstrations planned, and they used to lock me in my bedroom to ensure I didn’t leave home to join them, but I got expert at shinning down the drainpipe.
CL: Your life certainly seemed to be changing from a protected upbringing to a militant suffragette. Because the suffragettes were militant at this time. Can you tell me something about this part of your life?
KC: I suppose I was militant although I refused to take part in the more violent activities, like setting bombs. But I did do my share of marching, protesting and chalking on pavements. I was fortunate because I was never arrested and imprisoned. My friend Martha suffered terribly when she was force-fed at Perth Prison.
I was a suffragette in Dundee for about two years before I finally left the family home. We travelled about a bit as well and I marched at demonstrations in Perth and Edinburgh as well as Dundee. My family didn’t like me doing this, but I did it anyway. Did I mention I was rebellious?
Then when I left home in 1911, I was a suffragette in London for the next three years until the start of the Great War. The suffragettes discontinued their militant activities at this time in order to support the war effort. That was when I became a policewoman.
CL: Very little is known about the early women police and they seem nothing like their modern-day counterparts. Official police histories barely mention them. So, can you tell me a bit about how the women police services came about?
KC: I suppose the reason that these early services are not mentioned in official histories is because they are voluntary services. And the other aspect is that the women’s police services originated from the suffragette societies which must be an embarrassment for the police force.
There were actually two different women’s police services initially. The WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union) and the WFL (Women’s Freedom League) founded the Women’s Police Volunteers (WPV), which a year later was renamed the Women’s Police Service (WPS). The second service set up in 1914 was the Voluntary Women’s Patrols founded by the NUWW (National Union of Women Workers). The Women’s Police Service wore uniforms but the Voluntary Women’s Patrols only wore armbands.
CL: That sounds a bit confusing. Which service did you join?
KC: I am in the Women’s Police Service. We are more professional than the Patrols. And, of course, we are the only ones who wear the police uniform.
CL: You say these are voluntary services. I can’t imagine the police welcoming you.
KC: Yes and no! I would say that the only difference between our voluntary force and an official one is that the police authorities do not pay us a salary, but they use our services as they would any other police service. The Police Commissioner, Sir Edward Henry, approved the Women’s Police Service and finds the work we do, useful.
We work alongside policemen because we don’t have powers of arrest. So, in London, when two of our women officers patrol they are followed by a police constable who makes the arrest if they need to charge someone with an offence. However, the male police constables do not like us and they shout abuse. Things like ‘Get back to your washtubs’ and other comments that are unrepeatable. We have learned to ignore the comments although they hurt.
CL: What about training? Or are you just expected to know what to do?
KC: If anything, I think our training is more thorough than that of many of the police constables. The main criteria to be a constable is height and physical fitness. Did you know that some of them can barely read?
When women apply to join the Women’s Police Service, they are expected to have some educational ability as well as an affinity for the work. And after acceptance, we are put through a course of training under police instructors at Peel House. This includes aspects of the law, which is quite boring. But the aspect of training I liked the most was the instruction in jujitsu. I have had the opportunity to use this on occasion and it came in quite useful when I apprehended an assassin in Devil’s Porridge.
CL: You have talked about your duties in London and I know that in Devil’s Porridge you start off in London and are involved in the aftermath of the Silvertown explosion but you move soon after to Gretna where you seem to get involved in all sorts of conspiracies.
KC: I suppose what happened in Gretna had its roots in the Silvertown explosion. Silvertown was a disaster area and it is where the first murder takes place. It is just sheer bad luck that Sally, who witnessed the saboteur running away, is sent to Gretna by the Ministry of Munitions where she becomes a target for the killer who is also in Gretna. I took it on myself to protect her and I team up with Beatrice Jacobs, a secret agent for MI5 – although she kept that a secret – and we do our best to protect her from the killer.
CL: I’m sure you don’t want to give the plot away and so spoil it for readers, so, perhaps you can give some indication of your duties in Gretna.
KC: Gretna was a revelation to me. It is a massive munitions factory, 9 miles long and 2 miles wide, that is spread out along the Solway coast, and is partly in England and partly in Scotland. They built the town of Gretna to provide accommodation and all kinds of services for the workers, mainly munitionettes. Do you know there are 30,000 workers employed at Gretna?
As a policewoman, the munitionettes call us the Lady Police, although I’m not sure I like that title, we have a responsibility to ensure no dangerous materials are taken into the factory area and often have to search the munitionettes. We get a lot of abuse from them. They often ask us if we get a thrill from it. But we became accustomed to abuse from the male police constables in London, so we know how to handle it.
We also have a duty to protect them from themselves. That includes patrolling the dance halls and cinemas. Did you know Gretna has all kinds of leisure facilities built specifically for the workers to keep them entertained when they aren’t working? My friend, Martha, is in the ladies football team.
CL: I find this all very exciting but I don’t want to probe further about the events in Devil’s Porridge although I’ll make sure to read the book. One last thing, though, what exactly is Devil’s Porridge.
KC: This was the name Arthur Conan Doyle used to describe the paste that was needed for the production of cordite. It was a mixture of nitroglycerine and guncotton which the munitionettes mixed together in lead tubs. They kneaded it with their bare hands in much the same way you would make bread and the final consistency was like porridge. It was very dangerous and was the reason that nothing could be taken into the mixing stations. You see, if anything dropped into the mixture, even a speck of dirt, it would generate a massive explosion.
CL: Oh, my goodness. That sounds terrible. But I notice you mention Arthur Conan Doyle. I always associate him with the Sherlock Holmes books, so how did he get involved?
KC: He wasn’t really involved with Gretna, but he did a tour of the factory and then wrote an article about the munitionettes. It was published in the Annandale Observer in December 1916.
CL: This is all very interesting and I hope to follow up a lot of the information you have provided. But, in the meantime, I notice you are wearing your police uniform. It doesn’t look very comfortable.
KC: I prefer my uniform. I take pride in it.
CL: I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend.
KC: I do occasionally wear other clothes but I feel most comfortable in my uniform. All right, the material is rough and my boots are not very flexible. Did you know that there is a rumour that our boots were land army rejects because they were too hard? But you get used to them. On the other hand, our uniforms are made by Harrods, and I think they provide authority to us when we are on duty.
CL: There is something else I’ve been puzzling over. You mentioned you were an only child, but I know you have a sister who was a late baby. She must have been born before you left Dundee.
CL: Well, on that note, can I thank you for allowing me to interview you. I have learned a lot.
KC: You are welcome. Now, I must be off, I believe you have another mystery for me to tackle in Dundee. I’m not sure I like the title, though. Bloody Murder, I hate to think what you have in store for me.
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Devil’s Porridge is set during 1917 when the First World War is at its peak.
A murder followed by an explosion at the Silvertown Munitions factory in the East End of London sets off a chain of events which leads to Gretna. Arriving at Gretna Kirsty joins forces with Beatrice Jacobs, a Belgian refugee who is working undercover as an MI5 agent, to protect a young munitionette who can identify the Silvertown saboteur. Together they follow a murderous trail that entangles them with saboteurs, Irish revolutionaries, a German spy, and a plot to assassinate the King.
Available from Amazon and all good bookstores.
You can buy Devil’s Porridge here http://mybook.to/DevilsPorridge
You can buy The Death Game here http://mybook.to/DeathGame
My website: https://www.chrislongmuir.co.uk/
My Blog site: http://chrislongmuir.blogspot.co.uk/
Twitter: @ChrisLongmuir https://twitter.com/ChrisLongmuir
Chris is an award-winning novelist and has published three novels in her Dundee Crime Series. Night Watcher, the first book in the series, won the Scottish Association of Writers’ Pitlochry Award, and the sequel, Dead Wood, won the Dundee International Book Prize, as well as the Pitlochry Award. Missing Believed Dead is the third book in the series.
Chris also publishes a historical crime series, The Kirsty Campbell Mysteries, set during and just after the Great War. This series features Kirsty Campbell, one of Britain’s first policewomen. There are currently two books in this series; The Death Game, and Devil’s Porridge.
As well as the above, she has published two non-fiction books. ‘Crime Fiction and the Indie Contribution’ which is an examination of crime fiction as well as an evaluation of independently published books in this genre. And ‘Nuts & Bolts of Self-Publishing’, an in-depth look at self-publishing with step-by-step instructions on how to publish ebooks and paperbacks.
Her crime novels are set in Dundee, Scotland, and have been described as atmospheric, page turners. Chris also writes historical sagas, short stories, and historical articles which have been published in America and Britain. However, A Salt Splashed Cradle is the only historical saga currently published. Writing is like an addiction to me, Chris says, I go into withdrawals without it. She is currently working on a new Kirsty Campbell novel.
Chris is a member of the Society of Authors, the Crime Writers Association and the Scottish Association of Writers. She designed her own website and confesses to being a techno-geek who builds computers in her spare time.