left-hdr rt-hdr

war graves
membership application
contact us

RMPA (NI) / RMP History

Table of Contents

1. RMPA in Northern Ireland.    

2. Royal Military Police.

3. The Corps March.


Northern Ireland, during the late seventies and early eighties, was still in turmoil with many gun and bomb attacks being carried out by the IRA as well as protestant paramilitary’s adding their own agenda. Security was extremely tight in all areas, many people did not venture out at night, so where do you begin to try and start to form an RMPA Branch in the province.

There had been an association in earlier years which had met in Victoria Barracks Belfast but once the troubles started to escalate it was no longer feasible to have meetings or run the branch, so it folded. Depot had very few records and only a few names of former members - most of these had moved on and were not traceable.

In 1981, the author of this brief history decided to set about re-forming the NI Branch and, with the help of one other, he started out on a task that would take nearly 4 years to accomplish. Because it was a military association everything had to be kept a close secret; there was no possibility of advertising in newspapers, everything had to be done by word of mouth. The first area of concern was where could meetings be held?. It was impossible to have them in local pubs or clubs; luckily the resident Provost Company at Thiepval Barracks in Lisburn came to the aid of the fledgling Association and offered it the use of the RMP Cpl’s Mess.

This venue was ideal but still involved massive security to get into the barracks. In the early days Association members would be held at the guardroom, sometimes for up to 45 minutes before being allowed entry into the barracks. Many new members found this too tiresome so did not bother attending. The dedicated and determined members however, held firm and stayed the course. Nowadays, all members are pre-screened for security to accelerate entry into the Barracks.

By 1985 the Association was ready to open the Branch and representatives from Depot attended the inaugural meeting in Sandhurst Block, Thiepval Barracks. A committee was elected and the branch was up and running. Within the year the Branch had acquired it own Standard and although this was proudly paraded on the UK mainland, it would take many more years before it could be paraded on the public streets of Northern Ireland.

During the early years, the majority of the members were former members of the corps of Royal Military Police who were either serving or retired members of the RUC, Prison Service, or other areas of the Public Sector. The one thing all members had in common was the fact that in the eyes of the IRA, each was a legitimate target for assassination. Under such circumstances, personal security was understandably incredibly important and a cause for constant concern by members and their families.

A major issue for members was the problem of trying to arrange and hold functions in a safe environment, usually a Prison or Police Service Club, with attendant armed military and police patrols in the immediate area for enhanced security protection. Such stringent security precautions often caused unease amongst members and sufficient numbers to justify holding any social activity could never be guaranteed. Venues and catering would be booked and paid for, only to see a function fall before it commenced due to a security alert rendering the location off limits! More often than not in those early years, social activities were organised with fingers firmly crossed and a positive attitude of ‘it will be alright on the night’.

It was frustrating to know that other branches were free to go about their business whereas the Northern Ireland Branch faced severe restrictions in whatever it did. The Branch not only survived the many hardships occasioned by the ‘Troubles’, but flourished throughout. In no small measure its past and continuing success is due to a membership that has remained constant and loyal throughout its existence.

The Branch can now look back over more than 30 years of meteoric change in the political and social landscape of the Province. The peace process has endured for close to 20 years and such is the change in social attitudes that the Branch now routinely parades at formal public functions across Ireland in full regalia, berets and medals, with its Branch Standard unfurled and leading the way. It has forged close fraternal links with the recently formed RMPA Branch in the Republic of Ireland and Military Police Association of Ireland, which represents retired veterans of the Republic of Ireland’s Defence Force Military Police.

In 2006, the relaxation in security around the province allowed the Branch to organise and host the RMPA’s very public 60th annual re-union in Bangor, Co Down; an event that would have been unthinkable until the late 1990’s!

The success of the 60th RMPA reunion cannot have been in any doubt when, in 2011, the Branch was once again proud to be selected to host the 65th annual RMPA re-union in Belfast.

In 2015, RMPA Northern Ireland Branch celebrated the 30th anniversary of its reformation. It continues to be a vibrant, thriving organisation which looks forward to the next 30 years and beyond with confidence and determination to leave a strong and successful legacy for all future RMPA members.

The author of this brief history joined RMP in 1965 and served with 101 (Army) Pro Coy, Dortmund Det, HQP&SS Bahrain, 173 Pro Coy (NI), 247 Berlin Pro Coy, Verden Det 111 Pro Coy, BATUS Canada and finally as first RMP CONCO Grand Central Hotel Belfast. He left the army in 1980 and joined the NI Prison Service where he served until his retirement in Dec 2009. He has served as the Chairman of the NI Branch since 1985.



Ancestors of the modern Royal Military Police

Britain’s Royal Military Police claims to have a tradition of service to the Crown and Nation longer than any regiment of corps with an antecedence stretching back to at least 1241, when Henry II appointed one William of Cassingham as a Military ‘Sergeant of the Peace’. He and his Under-Provosts were the ancestors of the modern Royal Military Police.

Provost Companies

As the Provost Marshal's office gradually assumed more and more duties of a policing nature within the Army, he was provided with State-paid troops, referred to in Henry VIII's day as Provost Companies the term still used today to describe a formed body of Military Police.

The first recorded Provost Marshal in English history of whom there is a personal record, is one Sir Henry Guldeford (or Guylford) appointed in 1511. The Provost Marshal was responsible for maintaining discipline within the English armies together with the King's personal security. He was also described as the 'first and greatest gaoler of the Army'.
Britain's first standing military police force came into being in 1813, when the Duke of York, Commander-in-Chief of the British Army proposed the formation of a Staff Corps of Cavalry to be attached to the Adjutant-General.

Commanding Officers of Cavalry Regiments were then ordered to submit the names of soldiers to serve in this new unit, detachments of which were allotted to each division of the Peninsular Army, similar to today's Provost Companies, which allocated to every manoeuvre and logistic brigade.

The Red Cap

Wellington asked for a Provost Marshal to be appointed to hang looters and by the end of the Peninsular War the Provost Marshal controlled 24 Assistant Provost Marshals. The Assistants were also authorised to hang offenders and eventually each division had its own Assistant Provost Marshal.

Until a uniform was approved, members of the Staff Corps of Cavalry were identified by a red scarf tied around the right shoulder of their original uniform, which while some consider this to have been the origin of the famous 'Red Cap' of the Royal Military Police and its forebears, it was certainly the most likely precursor of the 'MP' armband (and now the Tactical Recognition Flash), which identifies the modern Military Policeman or Policewoman.

Although disbanded in 1814 at the end of the Peninsular War, following Napoleon's defeat at the battle of Waterloo the Duke of Wellington re-formed the Staff Corps of Cavalry to police the occupying British Army in France. Later, in the Crimean War, a Mounted Staff Corps comprised of almost 100 troopers from the Police Constabulary of Ireland, with some recruited from the Metropolitan Police, was established to prevent the theft of supplies and to maintain discipline in camps. This 'Corps' was disbanded with the cessation of hostilities.

Mounted Military Police

Back at home, a Mounted Military Police (MMP) Corps was formed of man with 'at least 5 years service, of sober habits, intelligent, active and discreet' on 13th June 1855, to police the new Army cantonment at Aldershot. This development was the beginning of the existing organisation of the Corps of Military Police.

On 1 August 1877, the Military Mounted Police was formerly established as a distinct Corps for service both at home and abroad, and it is from this date that the RMP claims its current place in the British Army's 'Order of Battle'. In 1882, a Military Foot Police (MFP) was raised as a separate Corps for service in Egypt.

An enormous expansion of the MMP and the MFP role saw the number of troops engaged on Provost related tasks increased to about 25,000 all ranks by the end of the First World War, where the Military Police had began to be employed on operational tasks: route control; host-nation liaison; and straggler control.
In 1927, the MMP and the MFP were amalgamated to form the Corps of Military Police (CMP) with an initial strength of 508 all ranks, the same as the combined strength of the two units before the war in 1914.

In the 1930s CMP was radically reorganised: in 1935 Provost companies and sections were formed with fixed establishments, in 1937, a Field Security Wing (the 'Green Hats') was formed, although it was transferred to a new Intelligence Corps in 1940, some 800 Automobile Association scouts joined the Supplementary reserve of the CMP between 1938 and the outbreak of war; and again in 1938 direct enlistment from civilian life into CMP was allowed for the first time.

Second World War

During the Second World War, the Corps expanded from its pre-war peacetime establishment of 4,121 to over 32,000 by 1943, seeing service in all theatres starting with the British Expeditionary Force to France in 1940. The Military Police were present on every battlefront and in every country where British Troops fought or were stationed, directing traffic often under fire and where they were increasingly seen as a symbol of steadfastness and of fair play. Many specialist units were also raised and it was in 1940 that 19 volunteers from the Metropolitan Police Criminal Investigation Department were drafted to form a Special Investigation Branch (SIB) to serve with the BEF.

The SIB RMP task then, as now, was the investigation of serious crime involving military personnel or Service interests. In 1941, the Vulnerable Points Wing (the 'Blue Hats') was formed with men of lower physical categories to patrol and guard key installations and infrastructure. In 1942, the Auxiliary Territorial Service for women formed a Provost Section. Later, a Ports Provost Wing (the 'White Hats'), with 9 companies was formed for service overseas.

At war's end, General Sir Myles Dempsey KCB KBE DSO MC paid the following tribute:
"The Military Policeman became such a well known figure on every road to the battlefield that his presence became taken for granted. Few soldiers as they hurried over a bridge which was a regular target for the enemy, gave much thought to the man who's duty it was to stand there for hours on end, directing the traffic and ensuring its rapid passage".

The Royal Prefix

In 1946 in recognition of its outstanding war record His Majesty King George VI graciously granted the 'Royal' prefix to the Corps of Royal Military Police (RMP) in recognition of its outstanding wartime record. CRMP was chosen to avoid confusion with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or RCMP.

Since 1945, the RMP has served in every theatre and campaign undertaken by the British Army since 1945 including the Falkland Islands, the Gulf, Rhodesia, Rwanda, Bosnia, East Timor, and Kosovo. In many cases they have been the first to arrive and last to leave and currently there are over 150 RMP personnel deployed on operations across the globe in the Balkans, Iraq, and in Afghanistan.

In 1977, in her Silver Jubilee Year, Her Majesty the Queen graciously agreed to become Colonel-in-Chief. In 1992, the RMP became part of the federated Adjutant General's Corps (AGC) as part of the Provost Branch, which also now includes the Military Provost Staff (MPS) and the Military Provost Guard Service (MPGS).

Significant Dates:

• 1511 First Provost Marshal of whom a personal record is known
• 1813-14 Staff Corps of Cavalry raised by Wellington for Peninsular War
• 1815-18 Staff Corps of Cavalry reformed for Waterloo Campaign
• 1854-55 Mounted Staff Corps formed for service in the Crimea
• 1855 Military Mounted Police (MMP) formed to police the new military cantonment at Aldershot
• 1877 MMP established as a Permanent Corps
• 1882 Military Foot Police (MFP) formed for campaign service in Egypt
• 1885 MFP established as a Permanent Corps
• 1926 Corps of Military Police (CMP) formed with amalgamation of MMP and MFP
• 1937 Field Security Police (FSP) Wing formed
• 1940 Special Investigation Branch formed - FSP joins new Intelligence Corps
• 1946 Royal Prefix granted to CMP
• 1953 First RMP Direct Entry Officers accepted
• 1977 HM The Queen becomes Colonel in Chief

sword of peace

• 1992 Formation of AGC Federation Corps of which RMP forms a part of the Provost Branch

Original Companies


3. THE CORPS MARCH By Lt Col. C. Wilkinson OBE (written c.1959)

This article has been written partly by request and also because many members of the Corps, both past and present, have in recent years enquired about the origin of the Corps March. It therefore seems appropriate that there should be an official record readily available for anyone to refer to on this subject.

Just over 10 years ago Major-General I D Erskine, DSO who was then Provost Marshal, decided that the Corps should have a march of its own. He asked many people for their ideas including the Commandant, Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall, None of these, however, seemed to be particularly suitable and so finally General Sir Miles Dempsey, who was then Colonel Commandant suggested a tune called “The Watch Tower” which had been played by the Massed Bands at the Aldershot tattoo in 1936.

On 2nd May 1949, General Sir Miles Dempsey with Major-General I D Erskine, Brigadier L F E Wieler (who by this time had become Provost Marshal) and Colonel H V McNally (Deputy Provost Marshal, War Office) visited the Royal Military School of Music to hear an arrangement of this tune played specially for them by the Kneller Hall Band. As a result, it was considered that this would make one of the finest marches in the army and so it was there and then chosen.

Listen to 'The Watchtower'

Back to Top






Copyright 2016 The Northern Ireland Branch of The Royal Military Police Association


In The News