Gibraltar Chronicle Logo
Features

Over 50 years later, Violet Schembri remembers her time in RGP

When Violet Schembri joined the RGP in 1964, her starting pay was £8 per week at a time when her male colleagues were being paid £10 a week.

“But in those times, £8 a week was considered good wages for a woman in Gibraltar,” said Violet. “And, although the men got £2 more, they did all the night shifts and patrolled the streets which we girls didn’t do.”

Just four years later, having met and married an American naval officer, Violet left Gibraltar to settle in his hometown of Brownsburg, Indiana, USA, and she has lived there ever since. But she is currently back on the Rock and sharing the memories of her four years in the RGP. In fact, Violet was one of the first intake of female officers ever to be recruited into the RGP.

In 1964, she had just returned to the Rock after being in England for three years and, in her words: “I came back to the Rock and I didn’t have a job. Then I saw that the RGP were advertising for their first police women and I thought I’d apply, just for a lark. The advert said that the minimum age was 22 and I was only 19 but I passed the entrance exam and they took me on. They wanted four recruits and I think they only had four applicants!”

And what was her family’s reaction? Her mother’s exact words were: “A policewoman? What, with all those men!”

Violet’s RGP intake of four women and two men was seen as an historic event and it created lots of press attention.

“We girls were a novelty – in fact, people stopped to point at us in the street.”

After their training course, the female officers were given a taste of the various departments. Violet went from Central Registry to Prosecution, then to Immigration and finally to Traffic.

“They decided that I was best suited to Traffic – and I loved it,” said Violet.

“In those days Gibraltar didn’t have any traffic lights and I really loved being on point duty – sometimes at what is now the Trafalgar Roundabout, sometimes on Line Wall Road near City Hall and sometimes at the junction of Glacis Road and Casemates Hill – the more I did, the more I liked it. I loved the idea that, when I held my hand up, all the traffic had to stop.”

The female officers’ uniforms were a straight copy of those then being worn by policewomen in the Metropolitan Police; a thick woollen tunic and skirt in winter and a white shirt with shiny brass buttons (‘which my mum used to polish for me’) in summer.

“And stocking with seams – which always had to be perfectly straight. One day my boss said “Your seams are not straight” and I said “And you shouldn’t be looking at my legs!”.”

“I loved being in my uniform. In those days mini skirts were in fashion so we always rolled the waist over to make the skirts look shorter.”

Violet insists that she didn’t feel any discrimination against her but, it must be said, she didn’t feel that she was doing the same job as a male officer.

“We were needed occasionally when a woman needed to be searched and there were a couple of prostitutes who we had to deal with but we knew that we would always be brought out to be on display at big events such as Queen’s Birthday Parades. I could do shorthand so I was often used in the offices at the Central Police Station in Irish Town.”

But she did have one serious grievance.

“In the Central Police Station, there were no Ladies toilets. We fought tooth and nail to get our own toilets but we never succeeded. We always had to use the toilets which, other than us, were reserved just for the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner.”

“I must say that all the male officers were real gentlemen towards us,” insists Violet.

“Indeed, they treated us with kid gloves. Everyone always referred to me as “Miss Schembri” and my male colleagues were always very respectful. None of us had any problems whatsoever.”

“The only people who were worried about us were the officers’ wives! In the early days, only single female officers were recruited and, if we went to an RGP social evening without a partner, we could feel the wives’ eyes burning into our backs. Of course, it was very different if we turned up with a boyfriend. Then it was different - they were all very friendly.”

“But we did have a really good social life. There were lots of Navy ships’ visits in those days and they always invited the RGP’s female officers to their cocktail parties and receptions. There was always a stack of invites waiting for us and we could pick and choose which ones we would go to.”

This feature was prepared by the Royal Gibraltar Police as part of a campaign to highlight the work of its officers.

Most Read

Opinion & Analysis

Mired in Brexit uncertainty

Download The App On The iOS Store