Obituary: Mona Sutherland Mackenzie. pioneering WPC and special constable

Mona Mackenzie, pioneering Highlands police officer. Picture: Contributed
Mona Mackenzie, pioneering Highlands police officer. Picture: Contributed
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Born: 13 March, 1928 in Inverness. Died: 23 May, 2016, in Inverness, aged 88.

More than 70 years ago she was a bright, intelligent young woman with ambitions to become a doctor. She had won a scholarship to university and hoped to study medicine.

But the cost of supporting a daughter through a degree was prohibitive for young Mona Urquhart’s parents and she turned down the opportunity, working instead as a typist for her local town council.

Though thwarted in her chosen direction, her aspirations remained and she resolved to forge a very different future for herself: she would become a police officer.

Testament to her determination, in just two-and-a-half years she had succeeded – despite the odds against her. She was only 19 for a start and had already been rejected by the City of Glasgow Police who refused to consider her until she was 21.

However, in a strategy calculated to help her reach her goal, she had moved from Inverness Town Clerk’s office to a job as the Inverness Burgh Police Force’s shorthand typist.

And, having clearly impressed the hierarchy, the Chief Constable Andrew Meldrum, who would go on to become HM Inspector of Constabulary for Scotland, supported her ambition. Unwilling to lose her talents, he turned to the Scottish Office and successfully applied for special dispensation to appoint her as a constable.

She completed her basic training at the Scottish police college at Tulliallan, passing out top of her class, and began her service as WPC1 of Inverness Burgh Police on 5 September 1947. But just as her tenacity had earned her the coveted role, so fate – and bureaucracy – would relieve her of it less than three years later. What they could not do was erase her trailblazing achievement in becoming the first directly recruited female police officer in the Highlands and Islands.

The daughter of railway worker Paul Urquhart and his wife Mary, a station porter during the Great War, she was born and brought up in Inverness where she was dux of the city’s Crown Primary School before finishing her education at Inverness Royal Academy.

She began work with Inverness Town Council just as the Second World War was drawing to a close in Europe and became a police typist the following year. At that time there were no female officers in the Burgh Police. Inverness-shire Constabulary had two women officers but they had joined during the war, through the Women’s Auxiliary Police Service which was disbanded in peacetime, and had become part of the force by default.

On the day Mona Urquhart, WPC1, officially joined the Burgh force another young constable was also appointed, a male officer, PC12, Daniel Mackenzie from Dingwall, and by February 1950 she and Dan had tied the knot.

But the rules dictated that a married woman could not remain as a police officer and she resigned from the force that same month. Undaunted, she immediately enrolled as a special constable and continued to serve with the force, albeit in different capacity, for more than 30 years.

Up until 1968, when the burgh police merged with the Inverness-shire force to become Inverness Constabulary, there were only two serving WPCs and Mona was frequently called upon to cover one of their shifts at the weekend. Her other main duty was attending events such as Royal visits but later she would regularly be on patrol in Inverness on Friday and Saturday nights.

Meanwhile her husband had become the burgh force’s first police dog handler and one of her proudest moments is encapsulated in an image from 1966 featuring her as the Highlands’ first WPC, Dan as the Highlands’ first dog-handler and Sandy the Alsatian as the Highlands’ first police dog. Five years later Dan lost an eye following an injury and had to give up the dog-handling role but Sandy remained as the family pet.

Dan became a Court Officer in Inverness but died in 1976, aged 52, just a few weeks after retiring through ill health. His widow continued as a special constable before compulsory retirement at 55 in 1983.

After being forced to give up her job as a WPC and subsequently becoming a mother, Mona had also gone back to work outside the force, initially as a legal secretary for Inverness solicitors MacNeill & Critchley and later as a personal assistant at the Highlands and Islands Development Board.

After retiring at 65 she continued to remain busy. She volunteered with the WRVS at Raigmore Hospital, Inverness and learned to speak Gaelic, passing her Higher in the subject so she could converse with Gaelic-speaking friends. She was also heavily involved in supporting the Royal National Mod, Scotland’s festival of Gaelic music and culture, when it was held in Inverness.

However her interest in the police service never waned and her place in its Highland history was not forgotten. Last year, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of women in policing, she was presented with a framed Certificate of Service. Then in November, at a memorial service marking the anniversary of the deaths on duty of two fellow Burgh police officers she had worked with, an emotional Mona led the procession to their graves in Tomnahurich Cemetery.

She is survived by her daughters Pauline, Mame and Caroline, four grandsons and three great grandchildren.