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Sgt Betty Orpin Caithness-shire Constabulary 1950s | by conner395
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Sgt Betty Orpin Caithness-shire Constabulary 1950s

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Elizabeth ('Betty') Richard was born at Wick on 16 October 1909, the eldest daughter of Mr & Mrs David Richard. She later travelled to Toronto, Canada where she took up nursing. On returning to Scotland she worked for a time at Stratheden Hospital in Cupar, Fife.


In 1935 she passed her final examination of the Royal Medico-Psychological Association and was appointed Matron of the Boys Orphanage at New Broughton, Jamaica. Service at the Metropolitan Nursing Home in Denmark Hill, London,led to her joining the Metropolitan Police as a Woman Police Constable (WPC).


She joined that Force on 25 April 1938 and resigned on 26 November 1939.


In 1940 she married Frank Orpin, a Marine Engineer in the Merchant Navy. Sadly he was lost at sea, presumed killed in action, ten months later. Betty Orpin then returned home to Wick and worked for two years in the office of the Procurator Fiscal (Public Prosecutor). The Fiscal, Mr Sinclair, considered that her work, knowledge and influence were such that he and Betty were 'joint Fiscals'. He said so in a letter he wrote to Betty on her leaving his employ.


Mrs Orpin's nursing experience was such that the powers-that-be, who were responsible for organising war work, sought to have her return to nursing. The Chief Constable of Caithness, William Keir Cormack, however made strenuous efforts to have her instead return to Policing.


Mr Cormack was one shrewd cookie. He had served as Chief Constable of the County since 1912, and he knew his way around. He finally succeeded in convincing the Ministries involved, and on 16 May 1943 she was appointed a member of the Women's Auxiliary Police Corps (W.A.P.C.).


Betty Orpin was the third female in the County of Caithness to be so appointed, but her two predecessors had not remained long. The other two girls had been enrolled in the W.A.P.C. in 1942, but one of them departed that self-same year and the other left the service during 1943. Betty would be very different in that respect.


Betty served as a member of the W.A.P.C. until the end of the war. Forces were then being strongly encouraged to appoint regular female officers. The days of the Police Service being a male-only preserve were finally gone.


The Scottish Home Department approved the appointment of one Policewoman for the County of Caithness on 15 December 1945. Fifteen days later Betty Orpin officially transferred from the W.A.P.C. to the Caithness-shire Constabulary.


She was stationed at Wick, where she remained throughout her service, and for most of which period she would be the only female officer in the County.


The manner in which she was regarded by her colleagues, and superiors, comes clearly to light in a report from Chief Constable John W. Georgeson (who had been promoted to Chief Constable in 1952) to the County Clerk in June 1961:




"It has been found that there is a need for a Woman Police Constable at Thurso and as the female civilian employee in Thurso Office would appear to be suitable for such an appointment, I beg to recommend - for consideration by the Police Authority – that application be made to the Scottish Home Department for a change in the Force's establishment to permit the appointment of a Woman Constable in place of the civilian employee."


"The Woman Constable at Wick, Mrs E. Orpin, has a total of 18 years and 4 months approved service, and in addition she has a period of one year and 114 days service in class "A" of the war-time Women's Auxiliary Police Corps of this Force which she is unable to count for pension purposes (the Regulations permit only one-half of W.A.P.C. Service to be taken into account)."


"As W.P.C. Orpin's work in the Force is well-known in the County, I feel that it is my duty to quote for the information of the Police Committee the following excerpt from H.M. Inspector of Constabulary's Annual Report for the year ended 31st December 1959:

'although the organisation and deployment of policewomen vary from force to force, there is generally a senior policewoman to supervise the work and welfare of the Staff. There is scope within existing establishments for re-assessing the present-day responsibilities of these officers and, in appropriate cases, for improving their status'


The Chief Constable's letter was duly considered by the Police Committee at its meeting on 15 June 1961. It was minuted that :

"The Chief Constable, in a letter dated 8/6/61, drew attention to the length of service which had been rendered by Mrs E. Orpin, the Woman Police Constable stationed at Wick. The Committee agreed that it would be appropriate to recognise Mrs Orpin's service by promotion to the higher rank of Temporary Sergeant. It was noted that such higher rank could be authorised on a personal basis, in recognition of the responsibilities of her post, and the Clerk was instructed to write to the Scottish Home Department accordingly."


The next day Mr Georgeson, the Chief Constable, wrote to the County Clerk again to provide some further information to strengthen the case. After all it had only just been decided to ask for a second WPC, and it was probable that the Scottish Office would consider there was no reason for a Sergeant with only one Constable to supervise.


Chief Constable Georgeson intimated that Betty Orpin was now 51 years of age and would be expected to retire at 55, but that provision existed to postpone such retirement until the age of 60. It would be another 6 years and 8 months before Betty would eligible for a pension, when she reached 25 years' service. That would see her aged 58 and four months, so she would only be able to continue for another 20 months after that anyway.


Mr Georgeson reported that he did:

"not anticipate that she will serve for longer than the 25 years and therefore she would hold the rank for only 6 years and 8 months."


He had obviously broached the subject (but perhaps not the question of promotion) with the officer before committing himself (and her) on paper.


"My reason for giving this information is that I would like the Department to appreciate the position as regards age, in case it may be thought that W.P.C. Orpin's age is, say, 40 years and the Department are then of the opinion that she should serve for a longer period before the increase in rank is authorised."


As it transpired the Scottish Home Department in Edinburgh did not have a problem with increasing the female establishment, especially since the extra WPC post was to replace a civilian clerkess post, so the difference in expenditure was minimal. In a letter of 12 September 1961, while approving the change, the Department regretted to report that the Secretary of State:

"would not feel justified in approving a post of Sergeant in a policewoman establishment of only two officers."


The matter did not rest there however and - by exactly what means is not known - it was finally approved that Betty would be promoted. She finally became a Sergeant - and a substantive Sergeant at that! - on 26 August 1962.


On 15 October 1964 Chief Constable Georgeson gave Sergeant Orpin official written notification that he was postponing her compulsory retirement on account of age:

"for five years from 16/10/64 on which date you attain your 55th birthday."


In fact Betty Orpin seems to have decided that serving until she was 60 years of age was just a bit too much. On 13 December 1967 she intimated her intention to retire from the Police with effect from 2 February 1968. As to the significance of that particular date, the arithmetic of pensionable service in her case, given her W.A.P.C. service and previous time in the Metropolitan Police, explains it:-

1 year 7 months (25.04.38 - 26.11.39) in the Met ; then

2 years 7 months (16.05.43 - 30.12.45) in the W.A.P.C.; and

22 years 2 months (30.12.45 - 02.02.68) in the Caithness Force;


26 years 4 months in all.


Of course, as was pointed out earlier, only half of W.A.P.C. service was eligible to be reckoned as pensionable service. This meant, in her case, one year and three months, so the revised pensionable service was:


1 year 7 months in the Met ; then

1 year 3 months in the W.A.P.C.(reckonable); and

22 years 2 months in the Caithness Force;


25 years 0 months in all.


She therefore retired as soon as she reached 25 years reckonable service and was thus entitled to a Police pension. When she retired she was 58 years and 4 months old, which was precisely the age which had been stated by the Chief Constable in seeking to have her promoted to Sergeant.


On 27 December Mr Stevenson, the Clerk to the Caithness Police Committee wrote a personal letter to Sergeant Orpin. He informed her that he had been directed by the Police Committee to:

"convey to you their very deep appreciation at the excellent services which you have rendered during your tenure of service with the Caithness Force and also their very best wishes for a long and happy retirement. The Committee's appreciation is being duly recorded in their minutes."

"To these I would like to add my own personal thanks for the unfailing help and co-operation which we in the County Offices have received from you at all times."


The fact that such a personal letter was sent to Betty really does indicate the level of esteem in which she was held within - and without - the Force.


In particular the Chief Constable held her in the highest regard.


Chief Constable John Georgeson had been a member of the Caithness Force himself since he joined it as a Constable in 1936. He had been promoted to Sergeant in 1947 and then direct to Chief Constable in 1952. (The only intermediate rank in the force at that time was Inspector, of which the Force had two) He had therefore worked along with Betty for her entire career, apart from his service in the Air Force from June 1944 to August 1945.


His career was also coming to an end - as he would retire in May 1969 when the Force would merge with Orkney and Shetland (although he would continue to draw a Police pension for the almost unheard of period of 30 years, until his death in 1998).


Mr Georgeson also decided that he would provide his tribute on paper, writing to Betty in January 1968:

"In accepting your resignation I told you of my high appreciation of your work over the years. You have given the Force and the public a service which is never likely to be equalled by any other person, as you have devoted your life to your work and have never failed us at any time.”


"We shall all miss you very much - I already realise the loss to the Force and so do the senior officers, but many of the other personnel will only really appreciate how much you have helped them when they find that they are unable to call on you for special work, assistance or extra duties, as they have so often done in the past."


The 'John O'Groats Journal' newspaper also committed the community's appreciation in an article published in the issue of 19 January 1968:

POLICEWOMAN TO RETIRE: The first Policewoman to be appointed by Caithness Constabulary - Mrs Elizabeth Orpin - retires on Monday first. She is a native of Wick, being the eldest daughter of Mrs Richard, 18 Seaforth Avenue, and the late Mr David Richard.

Sergeant Orpin had experience in the Metropolitan Police in the early pre-war days, joining the Force from the Metropolitan Nursing Service. Following the death of her husband in the Merchant Navy during the war, she returned to Wick and for two years was employed in the office of the Procurator Fiscal. She joined the Caithness Constabulary in 1943.

A highly efficient, courteous officer, she will be greatly by her colleagues whose good wishes, along with those of the community are extended to her for the future.


The 'Press & Journal' newspaper that same week also published an article, detailing her career, included a quote from Chief Constable Georgeson that:

"she is the equivalent in many situations of two good Police officers."


While that may at first sight appear both sexist and patronising, it must be remembered that this relates to another, now distant, time when very different attitudes prevailed. It is in fact a tremendous tribute to her in an era when many male officers considered females were useful only for typing and making the tea.


The 'P & J' also noted that Betty was Past Chairman of the Scottish Police Women's Conference, and had been awarded the Police Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. It is recorded, and this information undoubtedly came from the Force itself, that her service had included:

"guiding young girls; liaison with parents; emergency care of women and children; and for a time she had also been responsible for road safety. She was a specialist in work with aliens; was an expert driver and was the office administration officer."


Judging by that list of talents and skills, it was certainly no wonder that the Force would miss her, and would definitely be unable to replace her. Indeed Betty was a legend!


After her retiral from the Police, Betty Orpin continued to occupy the family home at 18 Seaforth Avenue in Wick, until she passed away at Caithness General Hospital, Wick, on Saturday 15 August 1987. She was then aged 77 years, and had been retired from the Police for no less than 19 years. She was laid to rest in Wick Cemetery three days later.


Goodbye Sergeant Betty – you were one of a kind!

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Taken circa 1955