First Female Police Recruits: 'They were a fine bunch of young women'

From Eyewitness, 7:00 am on 26 November 2020

In 1943, while many New Zealanders were away fighting in the war, 18-year-old Marie Storey (nee Nixon) made the decision to join the police force and she was part of the third intake of women to do so.


Patrol in Willis Street, 1944. Left: Jan Sneddon, (m. Pope), centre: Marie Storey

Patrol in Willis Street, 1944. Left: Jan Sneddon, (m. Pope), centre: Marie Storey Photo: Supplied


But the police force was nothing new to Storey. Her father was a Senior Sergeant and editor of the Police Gazette. He had witnessed the very first intake of women to join the force.


“He came home one evening in 1941 and said he’d seen history made in New Zealand - the first ten police women sworn into the police force,” Storey recalls.



Her father remarked, "They were a fine bunch of young women."


In that very moment, Storey also made her mind up - she wanted to join the force. 


A year later, she saw an advertisement in the paper calling for new recruits. She had no real expectations of what the job would entail, only, she knew she wanted an outdoor job where she also had the opportunity to contribute to the community.


Her application was accepted, and she was placed in a three-month female-only training programme which was held over the summer.


Storey was posted to Wellington and she says back then, roles for women in the force weren’t the same as they are today.


Much of her time was spent patrolling parks and community areas where groups of people congregated, and also on jobs that concerned women and children.


Female officers were also used as decoys to catch male predators. 


One evening Storey was sent out to Mount Victoria in Wellington where she had to confront one of her biggest fears - she was scared of the dark - an obstacle she would have to quickly overcome.


“There had been women living nearby complaining of a male molesting them,” she says. 


This particular night was pitch black and deadly quiet. And Storey says all she could see was the city lights below.


The lack of visibility was one obstacle. The second obstacle was that she was alone on the job. A detective had been assigned to accompany her, but on this occasion he was nowhere to be seen.


So Storey set off up an uneven, dirt track in total darkness, making her way back-and-forth at least half a dozen times. What’s more, she had to do it clambering in a skirt, blouse, hat, gloves and a handbag  - appropriate attire for women in the day. 


Patrol in Willis Street, 1944 Marie pictured right with Jan Sneddon, (m. Pope)

Patrol in Willis Street, 1944 Marie pictured right with Jan Sneddon, (m. Pope) Photo: Supplied


Uniforms didn’t come into being for women until 1952, ten years after they had joined the force.


A sudden gust of wind and a loud noise sent her shooting back down the hill in a fright.


“Probably my feet didn’t touch the ground,” she laughs.


“I don’t know how I got down the track in the dark without falling at the speed I was going,” she says.


Storey made her way to the bottom of the hill and into a clearing. Out of nowhere the detective appears. 


“My word, that was a great turn of speed you put on,” he said to her.


The detective looked back up the track and turned to her. 


“There should be two of us on this job tomorrow night, anything could have happened to you before I got there.” 


The detective had stated the obvious. The man was caught a few days later.


Storey has a sense of humour about the job and some of the trickier situations that arose over the course of her four year career. 


She served as a constable between 1943 and 1947 and was forced to resign after marrying, as this was not permitted by the force at the time. 


Today, Storey is proud of the way women have contributed to the police force.


“Policing to a certain degree has to change because society has changed,” she says. 


“I really admire women that take policing on...these days they've got more than what we had to deal with.”   


To find out more, listen to this episode of Eyewitness where Marie Storey shares her experience of the challenges and rewards of being an early recruit of women in the police force.