Strike’s SIB 2: A History of the SIB

When we last saw the Special Investigation Branch of the Corp of Military Police (CMP), it consisted of 19 newly minted soldiers in brand new uniforms, formed from Scotland yard’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID), on the recommendation of Chief Inspector George Hatherill. The unit that formed up on 29th February 1940 might wear military dress, but they were still civilian detectives using the training they had gained within the Metropolitan Police to solve what were familiar crimes. What was needed was specialist training for military duties, such as: the military chain of command; King’s Regulations (rules and regulations covering all aspects of military life) and the army system of indent, issue and accounting, which they received at the military police training school at Mytchett Barracks, near Aldershot. The original recruits would go on to form instructors at the first SIB Training Centres in Egypt and at Gatton Park in Surry. Join me after the jump to find out how the SIB would fare in war and peace.

The SIB at War 1940-1945

Not all the original 19 would leave France. At the beginning of May 1940 German forces overran Belgium, Holland and parts of France; the British Expeditionary Force, and the fledgling SIB, was forced to retreat to Dunkirk. Sadly, Major Campion (the ex-Detective Superintendent in command), who had been wounded previously, was killed when the German Air Force bombed the hospital in Boulogne, becoming the first fatality of the SIB. The remainder of the SIB was evacuated to Britain along with 300,000 British and French personnel. Despite its short service in France, the SIB had proved its worth.

“Leda had always blamed Ted, the ex-military policeman, for Strike’s unnatural interest in the army and investigation. Speaking from the middle of a blue haze of cannabis smoke, lecturing him on Britain’s shameful military history, on the inextricable links between imperialism and capitalism, and trying, without success, to persuade him to learn the guitar or, at the very least, to let his hair grow.”

Troubled Blood p 177

The incipient SIB was formed into 6 teams comprising an officer, a warrant officer and a sergeant. After the escape from France each SIB team was allocated to a command in England, Scotland, or Northern Ireland to continue their work. At this stage the expansion of the SIB was relatively slow, over time, however, its domestic case load expanded, especially in respect of fraud and forgery investigations and of breaches by service personnel of rationing regulations. Subsequently the SIB became active in other theatres including the Middle East (from May 1941), North Africa and Italy from late 1942, and India from autumn 1943 and grew considerably in both size and capability with SIB personnel seen in all theatres of war. A call was also made by the War Office for former policemen now serving in the armed forces to transfer to the CMP and specifically to the SIB in anticipation of D- Day. Following the landings and subsequent advances, several new SIB sections were rushed to Europe as supply lines became longer, and depots bulged with valuable supplies that were tempting to thieves.

How to Make a Detective – Early SIB Training

The first SIB training courses consisted of suitably adapted civilian detective training, and were run from April 1942 by Major J. G. Ellis, one of the original 19, at the CMP Depot at Mytchett where Rudolph Hess was interned. In the same year training courses for SIB recruits were also started at the CMP base at Almaza in Egypt. The courses were based upon the normal civil police detective constable to sergeant examination, and was deemed by Major Ellis to be ‘necessarily stiff’, but nevertheless leading to the turning out of many first class recruits. By 1945 the SIB of CMP (India) had produced its own Instruction Book which incorporated many areas of civilian detective practices, providing formal guidance on crime scene investigation, report writing, witness statements, evidential rules, identification parades, formal descriptions, and scientific techniques, amongst other topics.

“Trained by the British Army in investigative procedure, Strike resisted the powerful temptation to tug it out and read it: he must not taint forensic evidence.”

Career of Evil p21

The SIB at Peace – Cold War and Decolonisation

Following the cessation of hostilities in 1945, and the subsequent reduction in the size of Britain’s military forces, the SIB also reduced in size. On 28th November 1946 King George VI granted the ‘Royal’ prefix to the Corps of Military Police to become the Corps of Royal Military Police (RMP)  in recognition of its outstanding wartime record. RMP was chosen to avoid confusion with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.  By 1950 the SIB had become a permanent part of the peace-time RMP, with its function clearly established as the investigation of serious crime. Guidance was provided to the RMP Provost branch as to the sort of crimes that required the calling in of SIB personnel including sudden deaths; serious assaults; raids on war department installations; losses and thefts above £50; all losses and thefts of guns and ammunition; any violation of mail; information which might prevent crime; and any other offence requiring a special investigation.

During war time, when the whole world was khaki, wearing uniform was no disadvantage, but in peace sometimes it was advantageous not to advertise that SIB investigators were members of the army. In ‘home’ deployment: in The UK or Germany SIB members wear civilian dress. The Corps of Military police have been known to the rest of the army as ‘monkeys’ since Victorian times as the pill box hat they used wear reminded soldiers of the traditional companion of organ grinders. With the change to civilian dress the SIB ‘monkeys’ became ‘suits’.

“He had been a monkey, and then a suit, feared and disliked about equally by the average squaddie. If ever the SIB talk to you, you should say ‘No comment, I want a lawyer.’ Alternatively, a simple ‘Thank you for noticing me’ will suffice.”

Cuckoo’s Calling p127

During the past 80 years ‘The Branch’ has altered its size and composition repeatedly in order to support military operations in across the world including Palestine, Korea, Kenya, Suez, Cyprus, Aden, and Malaya and most importantly in Germany during the ‘Cold War’. SIB investigators have also deployed in support of the Army in the Falkland Islands, the Balkans, East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, the SIB maintains a permanent presence in Cyprus and Kenya, in the Falkland Islands, Canada, in Germany and in the UK. This has not come without cost and a number of SIB personnel lost their lives whilst on Active Service in Korea, in Northern Ireland and in Iraq.

 

Ex members of the Special Investigation Branch have an association- the SIBA with the suitably discrete emblem of a branch, so that members may recognise each other. The branch has 19 points to represent the 19 original recruits from Scotland Yard.

Please let me know below if you have any comments or corrections, and if you have any topics that you would like me to research.

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