How did the First World War influence crime in Somerset?

Higson, Charlotte (2020). How did the First World War influence crime in Somerset? Student dissertation for The Open University module A826 MA History part 2.

This dissertation was produced by a student studying the Open University postgraduate module A826 MA History part 2. The research showcased here achieved a distinction.
Please note that this student dissertation is made available in the format that it was submitted for examination, thus the author has not been able to correct errors and/or departures from academic standards in areas such as referencing.
Copyright resides with the author.


During the First World War approximately one quarter of the adult male population of England and Wales were enlisted in the army. This study questions the impact of such a change in population, as well as other effects of war, had on crime in Somerset. The men who left represented, traditionally, what was viewed as the most criminal part of society, but also they were acknowledged to be the heads of households, controlling women and children.

It is widely accepted that criminal statistics do not provide a true picture of criminal activity. However, local records offer the opportunity to study the individuals more closely and review the details of their supposed offences. There are many current questions surrounding the level of juvenile crime, female offenders and the impact of wartime legislation. Using numerous police and court records, as well as newspaper reports, this research provides a contribution to those questions in regard to a rural county. The period from 1911 to 1921 has most frequently been studied in the urban context, and this work challenges the idea of uniformity of wartime experiences.

This study concludes that there was no breakdown in morality of rural society in Somerset. Whilst the county town experienced crimes and offenders which more closely followed national trends, populations of smaller communities appeared to reduce the number and type of crimes they reported and prosecuted. It also concludes that despite the accepted reduction in police numbers, surveillance of the public intensified with Defence of the Realm legislation and centralisation of law enforcement increased.

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