1. News
  2. The Epsom Riot and the Death of Police Sergeant Thomas Green

The Epsom Riot and the Death of Police Sergeant Thomas Green

4 June 2019 (by admin (admin))

Bourne Hall - 100th anniversary event - The Epsom Riots and the Death of Police Sergeant Thomas Green

On the night of the 17th of June 1919 Epsom Police Station was attacked by a mob of 400 Canadian soldiers from a camp on Epsom Downs. Tensions had been running high in the county as the troops awaited re patriating to Canada. Earlier in the evening two of the soldiers had been arrested after a disturbance at the Riflemen pub and this was the excuse given to march on the Police Station to demand their release.

Despite attempts by army officers to stop them the mob descended onto the quiet market town. At the police station they were met by Inspector Charlie Pawley and all the constables and sergeants he could muster. Many had been called in from their homes including Station Sergeant Thomas Green, a 53-year-old veteran of both the Royal Horse Artillery and the Metropolitan Police, Epsom was then part of W Division of the Met Police. Thomas was not in uniform as he had not been on duty. Another attempt to dissuade the soldiers from causing trouble failed as did an attempt to hand over the military prisoners. Missiles began to be thrown at the police standing in front of the station building, forcing the defenders back into the building. The rioters began smashing the windows and ramming the front door with a large fence post ripped up from a nearby garden. They then attempted to set fire to the building.

Apart from the police officers Inspector Pawley’s family were also inside the station, he lived above the shop. Thomas Green put it to Pawley that they must charge and push the soldiers away from the building or lives would be lost.  Taking half the defending police armed with truncheons except for Thomas who had equipped himself with a poker, they charged into the flank of the rioters. The fight was short and bloody, but it worked, and the rioters were pushed back onto the road. A sort of calm descended, and the soldiers began to leave. Local Doctors arrived as did the commanding officer from the camp and began to treat the injured police. No one at this time realised that Thomas was missing until a Mr Polehill, who lived opposite the police station, came to say he had a badly hurt man in his house, brought there by soldiers. It was Thomas Green.

Thomas, deeply unconscious suffering from a terrible head wound, was taken to Epsom infirmary, he died at 7 15 the following morning. He left a widow and two teenage daughters. 

At the camp the soldiers were paraded and anyone who had a recent wound not satisfactorily explained was arrested and taken away. Those arrested would appear in court, two were discharged by the Judge the other five were sentenced to 12 months in prison. They had been found not guilty of manslaughter only rioting.  Thomas was buried with full police honours in Ashley Road cemetery, not far from the Derby racecourse. The convicted soldiers on release returned to Canada except one who was too ill to travel. 

Ten years later one of the convicted, Alan Macmaster walked into Police Headquarters in Winnipeg. There he confessed to be the murderer of PS Thomas Green. A statement of his confession was taken and sent to Scotland Yard. In return, Scotland Yard replied that Macmaster had been tried and found not guilty, therefore he was no longer wanted. The matter went no further. In 1939 Alan Macmaster took his own life plagued by guilt, of the death of Thomas Green.

On the 17 June at the Methodist church in Ashley Road Epsom between 1.30pm and 2.30pm we are holding an exhibition and talk for schools of this important local and national social history event at the end of WW1.