Today in anti-war history, 1917: spycops’ fit-up! Alice Wheeldon & her daughters go on trial for ‘plot to murder’ Prime Minister Lloyd George.

“Alice Wheeldon and her family were commie scum
Denounced World War 1, sheltered deserters on the run
Fitted up by MI5, died from the prison damp –
You won’t see Alice’s head on a stamp!”
(‘Spycop Song’, Dr Feelshite)

If you thought that revelations of the last few years about undercover police officers infiltrating campaigning and political groups, trade unions, families of people killed by racist and the police (just a few examples), and in some cases acting as agent provocateurs, had been going on for just 50 years, since the founding of the Special Demonstration Squad, and was some kind of aberration from our democratic traditions – think again. In one form or another, this practice has been an integral part of policing dissent and controlling or disrupting movements for social change – for hundreds of years. It is literally the norm, not a deviation.

101 years ago today, Derby socialists and war resisters Alice Wheeldon, her daughters Hettie, Winnie and Winnie’s husband, Alfred Mason, went on trial at the Old Bailey, all charged with conspiracy to murder the Liberal Prime Minister Lloyd George and Labour Party cabinet minister Arthur Henderson.

In fact the supposed ‘plot’ was a fit up, set up by a spy working for the intelligence unit of the Ministry of Munitions.

Alice Wheeldon lived in Derby, with her four children Nell, Winnie, Hettie and Will; the family were all active campaigners for many social issues of the time, notably women’s rights, pacifism and opposition to conscription. Alice and Hettie were activists for women’s suffrage, members of the Women’s Social & Political Union before World War 1, as well being involved in socialist propaganda. To make a living she sold second hand clothes in the market and later from a shop.

If enthusiastic support for the pointless carnage of the First World War was still by far the view of the majority of the population, opposition had grown over the previous two and a half years. The mass deaths, privations, hunger and hardships at home, forced conscription into the armed forces, as well as mass government repression, had sparked hatred and demoralisation, resentment, and resistance. Soldiers were passively and actively avoiding combat and would soon by mutinying; strikes were multiplying, organised by grassroots shop stewards movements, (as the trade union leaders mostly supported the ban on workplace struggles during wartime); food riots and rent strikes had broken out in 1915 and 1916. And refusal to be conscripted, resistance and draft-dodging, had given birth to underground networks of war resisters, mostly young men on the run from the authorities, often sheltered by sympathetic pacifists, socialists and anarchists. A plethora of organisations – the No Conscription Fellowship, the Socialist Labour Party, British Socialist Party, the Industrial Workers of the World, parts of the Union of Democratic Control, the North London Herald League, Sylvia Pankhurst’s Women’s Socialist Federation in East London; parts of the Independent Labour Party, the Women’s Freedom League, the shop stewards networks, anarchist groups and christian pacifists… and so many more…  

The government feared all these movements were linked, and to some extent there were rebel networks, with loose origins in the workers’ movements that had erupted before the war, the militant suffragettes who had rejected jingoism when war broke out, and the leftwing political groups who denounced the war on internationalist grounds. From the outside it could also appear that this opposition could link up to wider discontent among the ‘general population’, and that a serious rebellious threat could arise to the war effort and even to the state and the vast capitalist interests that had needed the war.

The government was determined to disrupt and discredit the growing opponents of the war, and pretty much allowed the secret state to operate freely, with carte blanche to use whatever methods seemed necessary. The press was already happy to trumpet that strikers, pacifists, etc were passively doing ‘the Kaiser’s work’, if not actually being paid by Germany; the more evidence could be drummed up that honest and peaceful opposition to the conflict was in fact a cover for more sinister, treasonous and violent intent, the more potential support for opposition they thought could be warded off.

The Ministry of Munitions Intelligence Unit, a branch of an organisation that was to partly evolve into MI5, faced with an immediate threat of being dismantled, conceived a strategy of discovering a treasonable plot in Derby, which with its munitions factories, was a heartland of Britain’s war effort. 

The Wheeldons were on the one hand a typical anti-war family with William Wheeldon and Alf Mason (Winnie’s husband) both facing conscription, (William was an anarchist ‘absolutist’ conscientious objector), and all of the family including Alice’s sons-in-law were heavily involved in both overt and underground resistance: in the above ground activities of the No Conscription Fellowship, but also in hiding men on the run, helping them escape the country in some cases. They sat also in the middle of the networks the authorities and military intelligence an Special Branch had in their sights: Arthur MacManus, (then ‘courting’ Alice’s daughter Hettie, and a friend of her son William), was heavily involved in the shop stewards meetings and planning class struggle in the factories, particularly in nearby Sheffield, the stronghold of the shop stewards committees since the pioneering Glasgow stewards had been largely broken up by arrest and repression in 1916. Their friends and comrades spread across the midlands and the north of England. 

An MI5 agent, using the name Alex Gordon, and posing as a conscientious objector on the run from the authorities. He had turned up in Sheffield, just as 10-12,000 skilled engineers and other workers came out on strike against the conscription of a fitter, Leonard Hargreaves, at Vickers plant there, in what appeared to be a case of the employers breaking agreements with the unions to not force certain grades into the army. the strike terrified the government, who backed down and released Hargreaves. (It’s worth noting that bitter divisions were opening up in the working class, as unions representing skilled workers were prepared to strike over such actions, but less skilled workers were often not supported.) ‘Gordon’ was not the only spy around – several other ministry of munitions agents were reporting on the strike, the socialists and other workers opposing the war in Sheffield and nearby towns. The reports of the spies tended to focus on prominent individuals like the Sheffield shop stewards activist and later communist theorist, J. T. Murphy, Arthur MacManus, and others, as being largely responsible for anti-war and workers agitation – missing the point that both movements were made up of grassroots networks based on daily grievances and built horizontally, not hierarchically. But the spies fed into their handlers view that taking out some of the prominent faces would crush the movements entirely. 

Alex Gordon was really Francis Vivian, who had been involved in the British Socialist Party before the war, so may have been known (if only by repute) to some of his targets, building trust. He moved across to Derby, in late 1916, supervised by another spy, known as Herbert Booth, who reported to Major Melville Lee at the Ministry of Munitions. Booth and Gordon seem to have played on the Wheeldon family’s angry desire to strike back at the warmongering government they hated, and a plot was hatched, according to the Wheeldons later, to poison dogs guarding prison camps where arrested ‘conchies’ and war resisters were being held, so they could be helped to escape. However, Gordon and Booth presented the poison, which was ordered, as evidence of a plot to poison the new Prime Minister, David Lloyd George. They reported a succession of conversations, a mix of invented and real talk, no doubt, of threats and plans to off the Prime Minister and his cabinet colleague, Labour’s Arthur Henderson, who was widely vilified by anti-war socialists; as well as unnamed others.

Alice Wheeldon, Hettie Wheeldon, her daughter Win Mason and Win’s husband Alf Mason were all arrested at the end of January 1917. William Wheeldon was picked up but managed to escape and disappeared. 

The four were tried at the Old Bailey with the Attorney General, the trial beginning on March 6th 1017; future Lord Chancellor, the rightwing politician F.E. Smith leading the prosecution. The legal profession was apparently leant on heavily not to defend them, and the lawyers who did were not very effective. The accused were brow-beaten and their case was not really presented; the dice were loaded against them. The government were determined to use them as a example. Whether or not the spies’ superiors believed the plot was real, or their political bosses really feared for their lives, the trial was a useful weapon to beat the anti-war movement with, at least to split moderate critics of the war from the more radical elements.

Gordon was not present to testify in the trial so the defence could not cross-examine him on his evidence.  The court proceedings show that the evidence was flimsy and that the intention of the prosecution was to publicly destroy the reputations of the accused and then to convict them on that basis.

Hettie Wheeldon was acquitted but the others were sentenced to varying prison terms and their application to appeal was refused. Alice received ten years imprisonment, Alf Mason seven years, Winnie five years. 

Alice went on hunger strikes in Aylesbury Prison, which severely affected her health. Conditions inside were harsh and she was over fifty. Given her failing health and officialdom’s fear that she might die in prison, which could rebound badly on them, she served less than one year of her 10-year sentence. Doubts had also started to arise about the trial and the authorities may have thought they would settle if she was quietly released. From Holloway Prison she was released on licence at the instigation of the Prime Minister – the same Prime Minister she was accused of conspiracy to murder. Her daughters Nellie and Hettie accompanied her back to Derby but her life was made impossibly hard. She was ostracised by many neighbours, and her clothes business was ruined. She and Hettie (who had lost her job as a teacher despite her acquittal) tried to grow and sell veg to survive. They tried to pick up their political activism, re-establishing links with some of the comrades. But both Hettie and Alice caught the flu in the terrible 1918-19 epidemic that struck at a weakened Europe after the war, and for Alice, worn out by prison, it was fatal. She died in February 1919. 

Win and Alf Mason were released unexpectedly at the end of the war, having also gone on hunger strike. After their release, in 1919, Winnie and Alf moved to London where they lived for a number of years with Winnie’s other siblings. Eventually they moved to Hampshire where Winnie was noted for raising awareness of the rise of Fascism. In 1949, shifted to Welwyn Garden City where Alf had built a modern house in the new town. Win was diagnosed with lung cancer and died there in 1953; Alf died in 1963.

Hettie married Arthur MacManus, in 1920 and they had a stillborn child, but she died from peritonitis following on from appendicitis the same year. Arthur became a leading member of the new Communist Party of Great Britain (Alice’s other daughter Nellie also became a CPGB activist). William Wheeldon’s story is perhaps the most poignant in the story of the anti-war movement, in Britain and internationally, and where it ended; he became a communist, moved to the Soviet Union and made there, believing in and working for the Soviet project for many years, Until Stalin had him arrested and shot in the purges in 1937, where he was forced to confess to being a longtime British spy.

A hundred years after the frame-up of Alice and her family, after the profit-ridden carcass-fest of World War I, there is a campaign growing to remember the Wheeldons and the Masons. Derby people and the family have long been convinced that the impact of these outrageous charges has reverberated down the generations. Now Deirdre and Chloë Mason, great grand-daughters of Alice Wheeldon and the grand-daughters of Alf and Win Mason, are seeking to clear their ancestors names so history will record that this was a miscarriage of justice… 

Check out the website of this campaign

A plaque was placed on Alice’s shop in Derby a couple of years ago to mark the plot.

Sheila Bowbotham’s excellent history/drama crossover, ‘Friends of Alice Wheeldon’ is a great book, and worth reading if you can get hold of it.

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The machinations of the secret state that backed the fit-up of the Wheeldon family is complex and we would like to write about it, especially given the relevance of spies infiltrating movements for social change to our own time. This will have to wait for another time; but sufficient to say, spies sponsored by both Special Branch and the Ministry of Munitions Intelligence Unit were both operating against socialists, strikers, anti-war activists. But they were also competing against each other for influence, and reported to rival power centres in government. The spies themselves were part fantasists, part telling their handler what they wanted to hear, and part freelance self-interested opportunists. Some of them experienced half-regret for their actions: ‘Alex Gordon aka Francis Vivian attempted in some bizarre way to re-ingratiate himself with socialists after the trial, part-justifying and part apologising for his part in it. This dynamic is familiar to those of us targetted by modern spycops, some of who have publicly blown the whistle on their former bosses, some of who have returned to friends and lovers after their deployment ended, torn between their ‘job’ and the attraction of the life of rebellion and love that our movements at their best are capable of… But many more hide behind the walls built by the police and secret state, fearing exposure, claiming they are afraid of our revenge, or more honestly, the embarrassment of people they now finding out the glorious war they fought against environmentalists and families of racist murder victims, while deceiving women into sex.

As a heavily restrictive Inquiry into Undercover Policing attempts to cover up most of the history of political spying of the last half century, under the guise of pretending to uncover it, some of those spied on are attempting to push for as much information on those who spied on us and those who controlled them as we can get. Results so far are not encouraging; most of the names revealed so far have been brought into the open by us.

For more information about current campaigning vs undercover policing, check out:

Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance

Undercover Research Group

Police Spies Out of Lives

The Network for Police Monitoring

http://spycops.info/

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The massive potential of the rising anti-war movement, the rebel networks of which Alice and all her family and friends were part of, was in the end broken, partly by the repression of the state, both open and secret, But also by the divisions of he movements themselves. The shop stewards movement launched strikes in 1917, but they were crippled by the splits between skilled and unskilled workers. The coagulating brilliant links that the conchies, suffragists, socialists and the class-conscious workers were forging did produce the Leeds Convention in June 1917, influenced and cheered by the Russian Revolution, attempting to unite trade unions and protest against the war. But it allowed itself to be dominated by the Labour Party and union leaders, who helped to derail its revolutionary potential. The powerful links developing through the war did continue to grow, and produced massive strikes in 1919, which in parallel with mutinies in the army could have led to a more fundamental social change – but was sold out by unions leaders, and hamstrung by people’s own doubts and lack of desire to push forward.

This post could have covered much more of this interesting period and the fascinating people and groups evolving at this time, and resisting the capitalist war machine with heroic but grounded love for each other, as well as clear-sighted hatred for the classes that profited from the slaughter.

Across the years we salute Alice, William and Hettie Wheeldon, Win and Alf Mason, their friends and comrades, and the movements they played a part in. If the world they hoped to build has not yet come about – tremble on your thrones, powers of the earth! Just you wait, you bankers!

 

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An entry in the
2018 London Rebel History Calendar

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Yesterday in suffrage/anti-war history, 1915: the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies splits over support for WW1.

This should have gone out yesterday… but we were partying with Lady Stardust…

By the 1890s there were seventeen individual groups that were advocating women’s suffrage in the UK. This included the London Society for Women’s Suffrage, Manchester Society for Women’s Suffrage, Liberal Women’s Suffrage Society and the Central Committee for Women’s Suffrage. On 14th October 1897, these groups joined together to form the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). Millicent Garret Fawcett was elected as president. Other members of the executive committee included Marie Corbett, Chrystal Macmillan, Maude Royden and Eleanor Rathbone.

The NUWSS held public meetings, organised petitions, wrote letters to politicians, published newspapers and distributed free literature. The main demand was for the vote on the same terms “as it is, or may be” granted to men. It was thought that this proposal would be “more likely to find support than a broader measure that would put women into the electoral majority, and it might nevertheless play the part of the thin end of the wedge.” (Remembering that up to two thirds of men were also unable to vote up until the twentieth century). Its message was directed at the Liberal Party, who it was hoped would win the next election. However, as one historian pointed out, the NUWSS’s achilles heel was that it remained “irrationally optimistic about the Liberal Party”. Liberal thinkers had been very supportive of votes for women individually, and Liberal-oriented groups had formed the original backbone of the movement that produced the NUWSS. But Liberal Party leaders consistently failed to implement women’s suffrage, gradually alienating many activists.

Dissatisfaction among women activist with the slow progress of support for women’s suffrage within the Liberal Party coincided with the increasing strength of a working class movement with an ambivalent attitude, at best, to women voting. While many Independent Labour Party, Social Democratic Federation members and trade unionists were supporters of female suffrage, just as many were opposed. However, many suffragists, both among what were later divided into the militant and constitutional camps, also became socialists, members of the Labour Party and trade unionists… If there is a tendency to portray suffragettes as posh (especially in fiction, films etc), the movement was in fact broad based, with mass working class membership; although in common with many other social movements, the power structures of the existing society were reflected in their organisation (a dynamic not unknown today…) and middle class women tended to dominate the leadership positions.

Though initially supportive of the militancy of the Women’s Social & Political Union when it was founded in 1903, including prison hunger strikes, NUWSS leaders like Millicent Garret Fawcett increasingly disagreed with the Pankhursts over their ‘violent’ tactics, especially deliberate property damage, which she thought were alienating MPs and the ‘voting public’. She favoured lobbying, education and gradual winning people over by persuasion, and focused efforts on Bills in Parliament, such as the 1912 attempt to give votes to all heads of households.

As growing political tension in Europe slid into World War One, in common with trade unions and socialists groups, the NUWSS campaigned against the possibility of war. IN Summer 1914, Millicent Garrett Fawcett issued a statement on behalf of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance. “We, the women of the world, view with apprehension and dismay the present situation in Europe, which threatens to involve one continent, if not the whole world, in the disasters and horrors of war… We women of twenty-six countries, having bonded ourselves together in the International Woman Suffrage Alliance with the object of obtaining the political means of sharing with men the power which shapes the fate of nations, appeal to you to leave untried no method of conciliation or arbitration for arranging international differences to avert deluging half the civilised world in blood.”

Two days after the British government declared war on Germany (on 4th August 1914), the NUWSS declared that it was suspending all political activity until the conflict was over. That night Millicent Fawcett chaired a meeting against the war. Speakers included Helena Swanwick, Olive Schreiner, Mary Macarthur, Mabel Stobart and Elizabeth Cadbury. Fawcett said there were millions of women who thought that war was a “crime against society”. She added: “A way must be found out of the tangle… In the first place they should try and avoid bitterness of national feeling. They should on the one hand keep down panic and on the other the war fever and Jingo feeling.”

However, in common with Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst and the WSPU leadership, when it came down to it, Garret Fawcett and many NUWSS leaders supported the War effort, partly pragmatically, believing mass women’s support for the war effort would lead a grateful granting of the vote for women in response. But also, because the movement reflected the wider society, and if for some, the struggle to win the vote was just part of a wider program to change society for the better, there were others who wholeheartedly bought into the nationalist and imperialist mindset of the time. And that wasn’t just the suffragettes – millions of socialists, trade unionist and even some anarchists fell in behind the war myth.

Although Fawcett supported the war effort she refused to become involved in persuading young men to join the armed forces. The WSPU under Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst’s leadership took a very different view. After secret negotiations with the government, on the 10th August the government announced it was releasing all suffragettes from prison. In return, the WSPU agreed to end their militant activities and help the war effort. Christabel Pankhurst, arrived back in England after living in exile in Paris. She told the press: “I feel that my duty lies in England now, and I have come back. The British citizenship for which we suffragettes have been fighting is now in jeopardy.”

After receiving a £2,000 grant from the government, the WSPU organised a demonstration in London. Members carried banners with slogans such as “We Demand the Right to Serve”, “For Men Must Fight and Women Must Work” and “Let None Be Kaiser’s Cat’s Paws”. At the meeting, attended by 30,000 people, Emmeline Pankhurst called on trade unions to let women work in those industries traditionally dominated by men. She told the audience: “What would be the good of a vote without a country to vote in!”. Emmeline would go on to spearhead campaigns to shame men who had not volunteered into signing up, carry out vitriolic attacks on pacifists and opponents of the war, denouncing any opposition as treason and accusing anti-war activists of being German spies. (She went as far as specifically making lists of trade unionists who went on strike, passing the names to the army and demanding they be forcibly enlisted and sent to the trenches. On at least one occasion this was carried out.)

Despite not going anything like this far, Millicent Garret Fawcett refused to argue against the First World War. At a Council meeting of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies held in February 1915, Fawcett attacked the peace efforts of people like Mary Sheepshanks. Fawcett argued that until the German armies had been driven out of France and Belgium: “I believe it is akin to treason to talk of peace.” Her biographer, Ray Strachey, argued: “She stood like a rock in their path, opposing herself with all the great weight of her personal popularity and prestige to their use of the machinery and name of the union.”

The NUWSS contained probably more pacifist feminists than the WSPU; as a result the organisation’s support for the War was less strident, (and unlike the WSPU they continued to campaign for the vote throughout the slaughter). There was a tussle in the organisation over whether to support or oppose the war, though, and many pacifists were forced out, after they tried to push the NUWSS towards an anti-war position. On March 4th 1915, this split came to a head at an NUWSS executive meeting, and while the majority of the executive – and possibly the activists – were anti-war, the pro-war leadership managed to mobilise the mass of the (mostly passive) national membership, in support of their position.
Ray Strachey, a leading acolyte of Millicent Garret, and definitively pro-war, wrote to her mother: “We have succeeded in throwing all the pacifists out… They wanted us to send a delegate to the Women’s Peace Conference at the Hague, & we refused. Then they resigned in a body – and they included the majority of our senior officers and committees! It is a marvellous triumph that it was they who had to go out and not us – and shows that there is some advantage in internal democracy, for we only did it by having the bulk of the stodgy members behind us.”

After a stormy executive meeting all the officers of the NUWSS (except the Treasurer) and ten members of the National Executive resigned over the decision not to support the Women’s Peace Congress at the Hague. This included Chrystal Macmillan, Margaret Ashton, Kathleen Courtney, Catherine Marshall, Eleanor Rathbone and Maude Royden. “Wounding language was used on both sides. Mrs Fawcett did not normally turn disagreements among friends into quarrels but this one she experienced as a personal betrayal. It became the only episode in her life that she wished to forget”.

Kathleen Courtney wrote when she resigned: “I feel strongly that the most important thing at the present moment is to work, if possible on international lines for the right sort of peace settlement after the war. If I could have done this through the National Union, I need hardly say how infinitely I would have preferred it and for the sake of doing so I would gladly have sacrificed a good deal. But the Council made it quite clear that they did not wish the union to work in that way.” According to Elizabeth Crawford: “Mrs Fawcett afterwards felt particularly bitter towards Kathleen Courtney, whom she felt had been intentionally and personally wounding, and refused to effect any reconciliation, relying, as she said, on time to erase the memory of this difficult period.”

In May 1916 Millicent Fawcett wrote to Prime Minster Herbert Asquith that women deserved the vote for their war efforts. In August he told the House of Commons that he had now changed his mind and that he intended to introduce legislation that would give women the vote. On 28th March, 1917, the House of Commons voted 341 to 62 that women over the age of 30 who were householders, the wives of householders, occupiers of property with an annual rent of £5 or graduates of British universities. MPs rejected the idea of granting the vote to women on the same terms as men. Lilian Lenton, who had played an important role in the militant campaign later recalled: “Personally, I didn’t vote for a long time, because I hadn’t either a husband or furniture, although I was over 30.”

The Qualification of Women Act was passed in February, 1918. The Manchester Guardian reported: “The Representation of the People Bill, which doubles the electorate, giving the Parliamentary vote to about six million women and placing soldiers and sailors over 19 on the register (with a proxy vote for those on service abroad), simplifies the registration system, greatly reduces the cost of elections, and provides that they shall all take place on one day, and by a redistribution of seats tends to give a vote the same value everywhere, passed both Houses yesterday and received the Royal assent.”

The First World War ended in November 1918. Millicent Fawcett lost “no fewer than twenty-nine members of her extended family, including two nephews” in the war. Whereas the WSPU “were prepared to accept votes for women on any terms the government had to offer… the NUWSS continued to press its old case for equality with men”. Garret Fawcett was urged to stand for Parliament in the 1918 General Election, but aged seventy-one, she decided to retire from politics.

After the granting of the franchise for women under 30 in 1919, the NUWSS became the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship, working mainly for a lowering of women’s voting age to 21 to match men.

Read a PDF of The British Women’s Peace Movement during World War I. 

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An entry in the
2018 London Rebel History Calendar

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All this week in suppressed military history: soldiers strike, demonstrate and riot, demanding faster demobilisation, 1919

When World War 1 came to an end, in November 1918, there were millions of men in uniform across Europe. After the initial nationalist fervour and pro-war enthusiasm that had seen mass enlistment in the first year or two, the war fever had largely abated. Mass slaughter, the stalemate of trench warfare, the horrors of soldiers’ experience – trauma, disease, cold, horrific wounds, as well as vicious military discipline, punishment of those who refused orders, were unable to fight any more… Many of those on the many fronts across the continent had been conscripted.

After over 17 million deaths and even more wounded, all most of those in the respective armies wanted to do was go home. Long years of war had left widespread cynicism and disillusion with the war aims, with the high command, with pro-war propaganda…

Out of this war-weariness, and inspired by the Russian Revolution of 1917, (itself a product of army mutinies and revolts from a population enraged by the privation and poverty the war had aggravated), French and British army mutinies had erupted in 1917-18. Revolts, mutinies and uprisings among her allies left Germany mostly fighting alone by the beginning of November, and German mutinies had played a major part in Germany’s decision to open talks about ending the war with the allies…

But celebrations of peace were somewhat premature. Several western governments, notably Britain, France and the US, were determined not to end the fighting, but to carry on the war – against their former ally, Russia.

After the October Revolution had overthrown the liberal government there, the new Bolshevik government had fulfilled one of the main aims of the revolution – to pull Russia out of the war.

This in itself enraged France and Britain, as it left Germany free to move large forces to the western front. But the overthrow of tsarism and then the bourgeois Kerensky government, and the beginnings of social revolution across Russia, also terrified governments worldwide. And the leading allied nations were among the most worried. What if workers across Britain took Russia as an example? There had already been a huge upsurge in workplace organising, strikes, and social struggles as the war progressed… The British and French establishments were determined not only that radicals inspired by the Soviet upsurge be repressed, but to organise military intervention in Russia, to support the anti-revolutionary forces already fighting a civil war there, and if possible help them restore a more acceptable regime and crush working class power.

By this time of course, in Russia itself, the processes were already at work that would hamstring working class control and produce a Bolshevik dictatorship which would largely destroy any real communist potential within 3 years… However, it was all one to the western powers.

Plans to mobilise some of the millions conveniently still under orders and turn them against Russia were already underway long before the Armistice between Germany and the Allied powers was signed on 11 November.

An agreement had been drawn up in December 1917 between France, Italy and Britain to act against the Bolshevik regime, subsidise its opponents, and prepare ‘as quietly as possible’ for war on them.

Between February and November, British troops had already been sent to invade parts of Russia. Clauses within the peace agreement itself make it clear that troops were to be moved across Europe to the east, and ensured that free access to the Baltic and Black Sea for French and British navies would ease plans to invade Russian territory.

And immediately after the ‘peace’, plans were stepped up, along with a concerted propaganda campaign against ‘bolshevism’ in the press, designed to whip up support for military intervention.

But the plans involved reckoning on thousands of soldiers as pawns, and that British workers would have no view or no say in the matter. This was to be a serious miscalculation.

In the early months of 1919, there were still over a million British soldiers still in uniform, some in France but many more in army camps in this country. Many were expecting immediate demobilisation now the war was over; this expectation turned to frustration and then to eruptions of protest. Attempts to delay demobilisation in order to facilitate intervention in Russia were certainly going on, but bureaucratic delays and simple problems of scale were also for sure causing backlogs and a slow process of sending soldier home. But in January 1919, a number of mutinies, protests and demonstrations in army camps in southern England and around London, demanding immediate demobilisation, broke out, causing serious alarm in government circles; especially as industrial unrest was increasing. Mutinies, links between discontent in the armed forces and on the home front had led to the Russian Revolution and to revolutionary uprisings still then raging in Germany, Hungary and elsewhere…

Preventing millions of enlisted and conscripted soldiers from returning to civilian life when the war was over was bound to spark resentment – the only question was how this would be expressed, as grumbling, or active protest.

The answer soon came, appearing first of all in army camps in Folkestone and Dover, on the south coast of England.

“On the morning of Friday, 3 January 1919, notices were posted that 1000 men were to parade for embarkation at 8.15 a.m. and another 1000 were to parade for embarkation at 8.25 a.m. The men wrote across them: ‘No men to parade’. Word was passed along from rest camp to rest camp that men in one, nearly 3000 of them, had held a meeting and had decided not to march down to the boat, but to visit the mayor of Folkestone. Shortly after 9 a.m. a large body of men from No. 1 Rest Camp marched in orderly fashion to No. 3 Rest Camp at the other end of the town. There the column was heavily reinforced, and all marched down the Sandgate Road to the Town Hall. On the way they shouted in chorus: ‘Are we going to France?’ and answered with a louder ‘No!’ Then: ‘Are we going home?’ – and in response a resounding “Yes!’ Over 10,000 men assembled at the Town Hall. Several climbed on to its portico and delivered speeches: their complaints that many applications for demobilisation, in order to return to waiting jobs, were being ignored, were greeted with cheers. The mayor told the men that if they went back to camp they would hear good news: a remark answered by the singing of ‘Tell Me the Old, Old Story’! During the demonstration at the Town Hall the soldiers saw an officer taking photographs from the window. They entered the building and demanded an interview with him. He turned out to be an Australian taking the pictures as a souvenir, and offered the film to the soldiers – which they accepted. Finally, the town commandant, Lieutenant-Colonel H.E.J. Mill, promised the men that if ‘any complaints would be listened to’: and they then returned to their camps in a long procession, preceded by a big drum. At the camps they were told (1) that the pivotal and slip men who had work to go to could, if they wished be demobilised at once, from Folkestone; (2) that those who had any complaints could have seven days’ leave in order to pursue their case; and (3) that those who wished to return to France could do so. ‘They seemed reassured,’ reported the Times Correspondent, who underlined that there had been ‘no rowdyism’. He said that later a number of the men did return to France: however, the Daily News correspondent wrote that the morning mail boat to France had sailed without any troops.

On Saturday morning, 4 January, there was a new demonstration. Despite the assurances given the previous day, ‘a certain number’ had been ordered to France that morning. They refused, and a large number marched to the harbor to station pickets there, while other pickets were posted at the station, meeting the trains with men returning from leave: all joined the strike. Only officers and overseas troops embarked on the boats for Boulogne, which left ‘practically empty’. According to the Morning Post correspondent, an armed guard had been mounted at the harbour,

‘whereupon a representative of the soldiers threatened that, if it remained, they would procure their arms from their quarters at the rest camp and forcibly remove the guard. The latter was consequently withdrawn, and the malcontents placed pickets at the approaches to the harbour to prevent British soldiers from entering. Dominion soldiers were allowed to go.’

Probably about the same incident, a Herald investigator several days later said that the guard consisted of Fusiliers with fixed bayonets and ball cartridges. When the pickets approached, one rifle went up: ‘the foremost picket seized it, and forthwith the rest of the picket fell back’. Everywhere the feeling was the same, he said: ‘The war is over, we won’t fight in Russia, we mean to go home’.

The same reporter stated that the soldiers also tore down a large label, ‘For Officers Only’, above the door of a comfortable waiting room. The Times report went on to say that several thousand men, including the new arrivals carrying their kits and rifles, marched to the Town Hall, where they were once again addressed by their spokesmen. It was announced that a ‘Soldiers Union’ had been formed, and that it had elected a committee of nine to confer with the authorities in the Town Hall. There would be, immediately afterwards, a meeting with the general and town hall commandant at No. 3 Rest Camp. The whole mass of about 10,000 men marched there to await the report of the conference, which lasted into the afternoon. Finally, the delegation announced to the soldiers that the pledges made the previous day had been renewed. Late that evening, in fact, special staff from the Ministry of Labour arrived, and went to each rest camp to complete the necessary formalities.

One more the correspondent remarked that there had been ‘no rowdiness’, and that the townspeople spoke ‘in the highest possible terms’ of the soldiers’ behaviour. Thereafter everything proceeded as had been agreed.

It is not without interest that, as it turned out, one of the nine delegates was a solicitor in civil life, and another a magistrate. The composition of the delegation was: one sergeant of the Army Service Corps (chairman), a corporal of the Royal Engineers, a gunner of the Royal garrison Artillery, and the rest privates, several of whom were trade unionists.

After this unprecedented action at Folkestone, another took place at Dover on Saturday 4 January. About 2000 men took part, holding a meeting near the Harbour Station, at which a deputation was elected to see the military and civil authorities. The Daily Chronicle report gave further details:

‘A number of men had reached the Admiralty Pier , where transports were waiting for them, when suddenly there was a movement back, and men began to leave the pier. They streamed off along the railway, in spite of official protests, and on their way to the town met a train loaded with returning troops bound for the pier. The soldiers called on the newcomers to join them, and the carriages were soon emptied. Continuing their march, and all in full field kit and carrying their rifles, the troops mustered at Creswell, and from the railway bridge some of their number addressed the others on demobilisation grievances. They decided to send a deputation to the military and civil authorities, and the men then fell in and marched to the Town Hall, which was reached just before 10 o’ clock… The troops represented scores of different units, and a number of Canadian and Australian men.’

At the Town Hall, they formed up on either side of the road and in the side streets. The mayor admitted them into the Town Hall, and the overflow into the adjoining Connaught Hall. While waiting for a reply from the military authorities, the men sang popular songs, and the arranged for their free admission to the cinema. In the afternoon, at the Town Hall, they received promises that grievances would be ‘looked into’, and returned to their rest camps. A War Office statement printed by the Times said that the soldiers’ representatives were seen first by General Dallas, GOC Canterbury, and then by General Woolcombe, head of the Eastern Command. He had returned from leave when hearing of the ‘trouble’, and from Folkestone had telephoned he Home Army Command at the War Office for instructions. A report in the Times next day stated that ‘all cases had been enquired into’, and that soldiers were being allowed freely to telegraph their employers: if the latter replied favourably, the men could go home to start work at once.

Later on Friday, 3 January, the London evening papers had printed brief accounts of what was happening at Folkestone: which of course had become known at Dover. But almost immediately, in the words of the Evening News the following Monday, ‘the censorship came into action, with the result that all authentic news was stopped’ (though the Star, on Saturday, 4 January defied the ban). There can be no doubt about the military authorities’ reaction. The London letter in the Plymouth Western Morning News on 6 January, referred to ‘someone’s desire to conceal the truth: an attempt had been made on Friday and Saturday to hide the trouble at Folkestone… despite the efforts of the War Office to conceal it, nearly 10,000 men took extreme action’. The Birmingham Gazette on 8 January confirmed that ‘when the Folkestone trouble first arose, the War Office invoked what is left of the censorship system to keep the whole matter out of the newspapers.’ And on the same day The Ties, evidently more directly accessible to War Office pressure than the provincial press, revealed another aspect of the events by now occurring in many places when it stated in its leading article:

We are asked to publish, but have no intention of publishing, a great many letters on the subject of demobilisation which show the deplorable lack of responsibility on the part of the writers… fanning an agitation which is already mischievous and may become dangerous… These demonstrations by soldiers have gone far enough.

But The Times was too late. The demonstrations had certainly spread far beyond Folkestone, thanks to the reports in Friday’s evening papers: The Times itself had to report, on Tuesday 7 January, that the Folkestone and Dover demonstrations had been ‘followed by similar protests in other parts of the country’, and there might be more that day.

At other camps in Kent the demonstrations had already begun. At Shortlands, near Bromley, where there was a depot of 1500 men of the Army Service Corps, a committee of twenty-eight had been formed at breakfast on 6 January, including five NCOs [non-Commissioned Officers – officers who had risen through the ranks from private. Ed] and three cadets. Their chairman was a private from Canada, who had been at the front, and been transferred to the ASC. They marched in column to Bromley, where they held a meeting in the Central Hall. The chairman stated their main grievances: delay in demobilisation, and being held in the army to do civilian work. During the meeting a message arrived at the camp, saying that there would be no more drafts overseas, those men already out on a convoy would be sent back to the depot, and demobilization would start on Wednesday, 8 January. On their return, the commanding officer asked for names of the ‘ringleaders’, but this was refused, and next morning he had a two-hour meeting with the committee. Apart from the promises already made, he agreed to send to the War Office a ‘points system’ of priorities for demobilisation which the committee had drawn up. This provided: married men with work to go, and those running a one-man business – 1 point; years of service to be additionally credited a follows: 1914 4 points, 1915 3 points, 1916 2 points, 1917 1 point; men over military age, 1 additional point; those transferred from the infantry, 1 additional point. It appointed a sub-committee of five to visit other ASC Depots in the London area… On 8 January the committee issued a statement that all the other ASC depots had approved the scheme, but with 2 points instead of 1 for men with one-man businesses. Two days later demobilisation began.

At Maidstone on 7 January, a demonstration of several hundred soldiers of the Queens, 3rd Gloucestershire and 3rd Wiltshire Regiments, marched down the High Street at 10 a.m., and held a meeting explaining their grievances. Thence they marched to the Town Hall, where the mayor received a deputation from them and promised to forward their representations to the proper quarters. The demonstration had been preceded by interviews with their officers, at which the soldiers had demanded an end to unnecessary guard duties, drill and fatigues. During the afternoon demonstrations it became known that these demands had been conceded. The demonstrations had been renewed by 600-700 men of all three regiments.

At Biggin Hill, Westerham, on 7 January, some 700 men working on aeroplanes and wireless instruments refused to go on parade, and took possession of the camp. All its sections were placed under guard except for the officers’ quarters. They got ready twenty-eight motor wagons for a journey to Whitehall. They were persuaded not to see the plan through by the ‘tactful speech’ of their former colonel, who addressed them in a large hangar. The next day (8 January) he promised his help if they put their grievances in writing. This they did, complaining of: (1) insufficient food, badly cooked; (2) indescribable sanitary conditions, with eight washbasins for 700 men; (3) exploitation by officers, who required the men to do private jobs for them; and (4) delays in demobilisation. The ex-colonel offered to accompany a deputation to the War Office if required. On 9 January officials from the War Office visited the camp, and made immediate improvements in the sanitary and working conditions. On 10 January all except thirty-four men were sent home on ten days’ leave. Meanwhile, on 8 January, a number of RAF lorry drivers had refused to convey the 200 civilians working on the aerodrome from their homes in South-East London several miles away; this had been done previously by civilian drivers, and the RAF men demanded pay for this work at civilian rates. They resumed work on 11 January, after an investigation had been promised.

At Richborough ‘there was a demonstration by troops’ on 8 January’; but beyond this bare mention in Lloyd George’s own paper, nothing so far had been found.

As the London newspapers were already reporting the early strikes at Folkestone and Dover, unsurprisingly, the movement soon spread to the capital and its environs:

“At Osterley Park – a big manor house in its own grounds, west of London – at least 3000 men of the Army Service Corps were stationed. Most of them had served in France, and had been wounded, in the infantry; later they had been drafted into the ASC, and nearly all were ex-drivers of London buses, many with long trade union experience. They had recently laid their grievances about demobilisation before their commanding officer, but had had no definite reply. Accordingly, on Monday, 6 January, the soldiers broke camp, and about 150 took out three lorries and drove to Whitehall, intending to call on Lloyd George. They told reporters that more would have come with them, but officers had removed parts of the mechanism of other lorries. From Downing Street, where they were joined by man of other regiments, they went to the Demobilisation Department at Richmond Terrace, where a deputation of six was received by a staff officer of the Quarter-master-General’s department. He informed them that from Wednesday 8 January, 200 a day would be demobilised, adding that their complaints could not be investigated unless they returned to camp. This they did, followed by several staff officers and Ministry of Labour officials in a car. In the afternoon a second deputation of two privates came to Whitehall from a meeting of both ASC and other units. The War Office later issued a statement to the meeting saying that a beginning had already been made with dispersals for the Army Ordinance Corps, the Army Service Corps, the Army pay Corps and other military organisations. Meanwhile, at the afternoon parade in Osterley, a staff major had also told the soldiers that the Army Council, in session on Saturday 4 January, had decided to put the Army Service Corps on the same footing as other units, and that none of them would be sent on draft overseas.

The special significance of the latter assurance is underlined by a statement in the evening Pall Mall Gazette, on the day of the demonstration, that ‘the excitement among the Army Service Corps at Osterley and elsewhere is attributed in many quarters to oft-repeated rumours that plans are being prepared for the sending of a force to Russia’. In spite of assurances received on this score, all training ceased on 7 January, and 100 men were told they were being demobilised immediately. The demonstration of the others proceeded the following day.

At Grove Park (southeast of London), about 250 Army Service Corps drivers broke camp on 6 January and marched to the barracks half a mile away, asking to see the commanding officer. A sergeant-major who tried to stop them at the gates was knocked over in a scuffle, and the men entered. There they were ‘met in a conciliatory spirit’ by a senior officer, who, standing on a box, expressed sympathy with their grievances, and said everything in the officers’ power was being don to secure their release. A spokesman of the men said that many of them had had letters from their employers offering them re-employment, but nothing had been done, and they were being kept in the army doing no useful work. At the commanding officer’s request, they paraded again after dinner and filled in ‘Form Z16’ (for demobilisation). Fifty men who had been ordered to go to Slough, three hours journey by lorry to scrub huts, refused, saying it was unreasonable to expect men to stand closely packed in lorries for such a period.

At Uxbridge (North-West London), on Monday 6 January, 400 men from the Armament School (used as a demolition centre) broke camp at midday and marched along the High Street singing ‘Britons Never Shall be Slaves’ and ‘Tell Me the Old, Old Story’. At the market place they held a meeting, where they were addressed by the commandant, and then marched back. One of them told a reporter that, apart from the slowness of the demobilisation, ‘the food had been rotten since the Armistice, 1 loaf between 8 men, 5 days a week sausage.’ That morning the men had upset the tables, and gone out. On their return they formed a Messing Committee composed of 4 or 5 privates, 1 sergeant and 1 officer. Not satisfied, on Tuesday 7 January, they set up a Grievance Committee in each squad, composed of officers as well as men, to bring forward their complaints to the commandant. They also sent a deputation by lorry to the War Office.

From Kempton Park (southwest of London), on Tuesday 7 January, shortly before 3 p.m., thirteen large army lorries drove to the War Office in London, with forty to fifty soldiers in each lorry. General Burns had visited the depot that morning, but had not been able to give them any satisfaction. All were in high spirits, ‘determined to get what they called their rights. On the lorries they had chalked ‘No red tape’, ‘We want fair play’, ‘We’re fed up’, ‘No more sausage and rabbits’, ‘Kempton is on strike’. Held up at the Horse Guards (the War Office), they elected a deputation of eleven, which went into he War Office ‘amid ringing cheers’. The result of the interview was not published, but it could not have differed from what was secured elsewhere.

At Fairlop naval aerodrome (near Ilford, east of London), orders were posted on the morning of 7 January that eighty men were to proceed to other camps. All 400 men paraded and asked for a conference with the commanding officer, Colonel Ward: the transport men meanwhile got out their lorries to go to Whitehall, should the interview prove unsatisfactory. The colonel, however, came to a mass meeting held in a hangar, and agreed that every man with papers showing he had employment to go to, or who came from a one-man business, should have a day’s leave immediately, to get the papers endorsed, and could then go home pending demobilisation.

At the White City (well within the boundaries of West London itself), about 100 Army Ordnance Corps men on 7 January refused to leave barracks for the 1.30 p.m. parade, and sent a deputation to one of the officers demanding (1) speedier demobilisation, (2) shorter working hours, (3) no church parades on Sunday, and (4) weekend passes when not on duty. They asked for a definite answer within a week, and meanwhile resumed duty.

In the Upper Norwood Camp (in South-East London), there was a distribution centre for men discharged after lengthy illness. ‘After many previous discussions among themselves’, they sent a deputation on Sunday, 5 January, to interview the commandant. Then, on 6 January, they discussed with him complaints raised by the men, chiefly, that, even after twenty-eight days in hospital, they were being discharged.

But the most impressive demonstration of all in the London region, was that at Park Royal (in North-West London) on 7 January, where there were 4000 men of the Army Service Corps. That day a committee elected by the soldiers submitted to their commanding officer the following demands: (1) speedier demobilisation; (2) reveille to be sounded at 6.30 in the morning, not 5.30; (3) work to finish at 4.30 in the afternoon, not 5.30; (4) no men over forty-one to be sent overseas; (5) all training to stop; (6) a large reduction of guard and picket duty; (7) no compulsory church parade; (8) no drafts for Russia; (9) a committee of one NCO and two privates to control messing arrangements for each company; (10) a written guarantee of no victimisation. Most of these demands were agreed to.

However, at 1 p.m. on 8 January a big deputation arrived at Whitehall to present heir demands themselves. This had been agreed to by the committee: they left volunteers behind to look after the 300 horse at the depot. Their intention was to see the Prime Minister.

At Paddington, and again at the Horse Guards parade ground, they were met by General Fielding, commanding the London district, who tried to stop them, even threatening to use the police against them. Fielding promised them that demobilisation would take place ‘as soon as possible’: but as regards the assurance which they wanted that ‘they would not be sent to Russia’, he could give them none. This failed to satisfy them; they defied him, and marched in a body to Downing Street. Apparently the general told them ‘they were soldiers, and would have to obey orders’.

Finally Sir William Robertson, former Chief of the Imperial General Staff, came out to speak to them and hear their demands. He agreed that the commanding officer of the Home Forces should receive a deputation of one corporal, one lance-corporal and one private for half an hour. The deputation returned with a group of officers, who announced that the outcome of the talk was satisfactory, and Sir William Robertson had promised to send a general to Park Royal to investigate their complaints. While all this was going on, crowds of the general public were watching the proceedings and encouraging the men. One of the offices invited the men to go back to camp. But they insisted that first of all they must hear a report from the deputation itself. Two or three of its members spoke. They confirmed that the same percentage of men at Park Royal would be demobilised as elsewhere: no one who had been overseas or was over forty-one would be sent on draft – ‘including to Russia’, added the Daily Telegraph reporter – and those already notified for draft were to be sent on Christmas leave, if they had not been already.

On their return, the men held a meeting in the canteen and expressed their satisfaction at the settlement.

Among the demonstrators at the War Office on 6 January were 259 soldiers due to return from leave to Salonika. They were nearly all time-expired men who had served in Greece (some for as long as three years) and before that in India. They were addressed by the Assistant Secretary for Demobilisation, General de Saumarez, who told them that those with demobilisation papers already prepared would be discharged immediately, and the remainder could go to the reserve battalions at home. If they could get their employers to send them the necessary form requesting their discharge, they too would be demobilised at once. Next morning, Thursday 9 January, after assembling at the War Office again, they were marched to Chelsea Barracks, and there either demobilised or sent on fourteen days leave for the purposes indicated.”

The events continued to spread around the country and among British soldiers stationed in abroad, including those already embarked for intervention in Russia. We don’t have space to detail all of it here, but there were protests, strikes and subsequent negotiations – at Lewes, Shoreham, Smithwick;

at Aldershot, Winchester, East Liss, Beaulieu Camp near Lymington, on the Isle of Wight… Bristol, Falmouth, on Salisbury Plain, Newport and Swansea… Felixstowe, Bedford, Kettering, Harlaxton in Lincolnshire; at Leeds, Manchester, Blackpool; in Scotland – at Edinburgh, Stirling, Leith, Rosyth and Cromarty…

In Southampton, in ‘mid-January… the docks were in the hands of mutinous soldiers and 20,000 men were refusing to obey orders… deserted troop ships picketed by soldiers’. Lord Trenchard, sent to sort the situation out, was shouted down and hustled when he went to speak to 5000 men in the customs sheds. He ordered 250 soldiers from the nearby Portsmouth garrison marched to the sheds and load their rifles, he forced the men’s surrender, and used water hoses to drench and subdue 100 others… More than some of the other protest, the Southampton situation scared the government, who saw it as an embryonic soviet, and repressed any mention of it in official papers or memoirs for decades.

The spirit of rebellion spread, if much more uncertainly, to the navy: at Milford Haven, where there was a ‘mutiny not accompanied by violence, on board a patrol ship, the HMS Kilbride: the men refused to carry out their duties on the pay they were receiving (in contrast to the way the army dealt with the protests, 7 sailors were court-martialled for this, 1 being sentenced to 2 years hard labour, 3 to 1 year and 3 to 90 days detention);
at Devonport, where the lower ranks elected a committee to air their demands;
at Liverpool…

The protests, rebellions and mutinies were not limited to Britain – because the majority of British soldiers were still posted overseas. British soldiers in France erupted in much the same way as the British-based squaddies had done. There was unrest and some rioting, across many detachments. The climax was an outright mutiny at Calais, on 27 January. After a private was arrested for making a seditious speech, railwaymen and Army Ordnance Corps men went on strike; although the private was quickly released, this sparked a strike among 5000 soldiers, who demanded immediate return to England, with leave to seek employment. The soldiers’ mutiny was heavily repressed with armed force, and the ‘ringleaders’ received long sentences at court-martial; the Army Ordnance Corps protest lasted longer, and won some concessions. But discontent went on, and there was some fighting after one of the most vocal was nicked.

Read a first-hand account of the Calais Mutiny

There were also similar rebellions at Le Havre, Etaples (scene a year and a half before of a serious wartime mutiny), Boulogne, and Dunkirk.

… and among troops already involved in the British-allied plan to intervene militarily in Archangelsk, in northern Russia to support ‘white’ (anti-Soviet) forces. British, French, American and Polish forces were under British command here, but socialist propaganda and discontent were rife, and news of the demob protests reached these troops via socialist papers. Troops in Archangelsk refused orders to advance, mass meetings were held, and committees elected, and the commanders of the invasion force reported back to London that they were not confident of the men’s reliability. Some ‘ringleaders’ had to be arrested… But a serious blow was dealt to the allied attempt to smash the Russian Revolution by force.

The soldiers’ strikes not only forced the government to speed up demobilisation and lightened wartime conditions for those awaiting release.

It also did make the government think twice about conscripting soldiers into an intervention force for sending to Russia. Clearly squaddies were not necessarily going to be happy to be pawns this time. Public opinion in Britain was already heavily against intervention in Russia… But the widespread and almost immediate concessions to the protests show the scale of the terror that the British government was barely managing to conceal – that the increasing industrial unrest, social weariness with war privations and dissent among the forces would link up, as they had in Russia… The idea of a British Revolution may seem ridiculous now, but it seemed a genuine possibility in 1919… If you lose control of the armed forces (not forgetting that the police also went on strike I 1918 and 1919…)

The soldiers strikes of January certainly scotched the idea that a mass military force could be sent to help smash the Russian Revolution. It wasn’t the end of the British government’s plans to support the ‘white’ armies fighting against the Bolsheviks: attempts to send arms and other aid to the white Russian forces continued for over a year and a half, but were eventually in practical terms scuppered by the organised action of workers on the docks.

In fact though the fear of the British authorities that the soldiers’ strikes could develop into revolution was very likely overstated. Overwhelmingly the demonstrations, even when they became more confrontational, was for immediate demands, and largely subsided when they were granted. As a leading historian of WW1 mutinies and dissent concludes:

“most of these affairs focussed on the men’s demand for immediate demobilisation. With few exceptions, notably the confrontations at Folkestone, Dover and Whitehall, the demobilisation mutinies were dealt with by local and regional Commands. Their cumulative effect was serious because it caused the Government to accelerate demobilisation. But even the most optimistic socialists never felt it was a prelude to revolution. For example, the British Socialist Party newspaper, The Call, on 16 January 1919, commented: ‘The soldiers’ strike has arisen primarily out of disgust with which the intelligent fighting man regards the attempt to deal with him on the question of demobilisation as with an unreasoning machine and that it is not the outcome of considered revolutionary opinions, it would be foolish to dispute.’ 

Though the Communist historian Andrew Rothstein has tried to politically inflate these events into a tribute to the Russian Revolution, where a mutinous flag was flaunted it was the Cross of St. George or the Union Jack, rather than a rebellious red banner. Furthermore, few politically significant links were sustained between the mutineers and their turbulent industrial counterparts.” (Julian Putkowski, A2 and the Reds In Khaki)

Interestingly, though, the text from which this quote was taken details the extent of British secret state spying on soldiers’ and ex-servicemens’ organisations that sprang up in 1919, most notably the Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Union, which does seem to have been associated with the Folkestone mutiny, and was itself connected to the left through its links with the newspaper, the Daily Herald. It is really worth a read: A2 and the Reds In Khaki

We took the accounts above from Andrew Rothstein’s book, ‘The Soldiers Strikes of 1919’.

We also hope to type up the full accounts of all the January 1919 protests soon…

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An entry in the
2018 London Rebel History Calendar

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Today in London transport history: women tube workers return to work after equal pay strike, 1918

It’s generally well-known that during World War I, thousands of jobs normally done by men were taken over by women, as hundreds of thousands of men left to fight in the trenches and at sea (whether voluntarily, or increasingly as the war dragged on, against their will). The mass enlistment of women into work and supporting the war effort is generally also credited with the British government finally agreeing to ‘grant’ (some) women the vote in 1918, in supposed gratitude to the part women had played during the war.

Less well-known is a large-scale strike in August 1918, that began in West London and spread around a number of other cities and towns – women workers, doing jobs usually restricted to men, striking to obtain equal pay for equal work. On top of the labour shortage, the war brought new jobs as part of the war effort – for example in munitions factories. The high demand for weapons led to munitions factories becoming the largest single employer of women during 1918. There was initial resistance by employers and male workers to hiring women for what was seen as ‘men’s work’, but the introduction of conscription, in 1916, made the need for women workers urgent. The government began coordinating the employment of women through campaigns and recruitment drives.

Thus women were soon working in areas of work that had previously been reserved for men, for example as railway guards, ticket collectors, bus and tram conductors, postal workers, police, firefighters and as bank ‘tellers’ or clerks. Some women also worked heavy or precision machinery in engineering, led cart horses on farms, and worked in the civil service and factories. However, they received lower wages for doing the same work, and thus began some of the earliest demands for equal pay.

Women’s employment rates increased during WWI, from 23.6% of the working age population  in 1914 to between 37.7% and 46.7% in 1918. It is difficult to get exact estimates because domestic workers were excluded from these figures and many women moved from domestic service into the jobs created due to the war effort. The employment of married women increased sharply – accounting for nearly 40% of all women workers by 1918.

But because women were paid less than men, male workers suspected that bosses would continue to employ women in these jobs when the men returned from the war. (in fact this didn’t happen; usually the women were sacked to make way for the returning soldiers, though in some cases women remained working alongside men but at lower wage rates.) A series of unofficial strikes by men did take place, protesting at the ‘dilution’ of the workforce by women, and responding to what they saw as a threat of wages generally being reduced. However, these actions “simply exaggerated the manpower shortage, and had the unexpected effect of forcing up piecework rates for the women.” Other male workers took the slightly less chauvinistic approach of persuading the women workers to join trade unions, in a bid to prevent them being used as pawns in wage-lowering.

However, even before the end of the war, many women refused to accept lower pay for what in most cases was the same work as had been done previously by men. Public transport was an area where women were employed in large numbers.

“By February 1915, 21% of the men employed in London’s bus and tram services had joined the armed forces and only 3.5 percentage points of the shortfall had been made up. By late 1915 it was quite obvious that women would be needed to keep London’s transport infrastructure working. The first female bus conductor was taken on by Tilling’s (one of the smaller of the main bus operators) on their No 37 route in late 1915. The London General Omnibus Company (LGOC), the main bus provider in the capital, lagged a bit behind but eventually took on bus female bus conductors in February 1916.”

By the end of the war, the London General Omnibus Company alone was employing over 3,500 women, and thousands more were employed by the other bus and tram operators in London as well as on the tubes.

“As with most expansions of women’s work during the war, this change was greeted with much publicity around women doing their bit and how they could do ‘man’s work’. By mid-1918, the number of women employed on buses across the country had increased from 300 to 4,500 (on trams it was even greater: from 1,300 to nearly 22,000). It was estimated that 90% of conductors on trams and buses were women. Generally, men were retained as drivers and doing some of the heavier (and dirtier) engineering roles. The conducting role was said to be beneficial to the health of those women who did it.”

Although strikes were nominally illegal, the latter half of the war did see a rise in stoppages. Public transport was no exception. There had been a large bus strike in 1917, sparked when the London General Omnibus Company refused to recognise the Vehicle Workers Union. It lasted a few days, and was mostly solid. Out of a total of 1900 buses, only 20 were running on May 13th! The day after, it was reported that “The situation in the London bus strike today has undergone very little change. There was a repetition this morning of yesterday’s scenes as thousands of workers proceeded to business. Trams and tubes absorbed much possible the extra traffic thrown upon them.”
Services were resumed on May 15 pending negotiations – after discussion the strike was ended on the 18th. The strike was part of a huge wave of strikes in 1917, building as prices raises and wage constraints during the war hit hard, as knuckling under ‘to support the war effort’ began to crumble under disillusion with the war aims, horror at the casualties – and the surge of hope inspired by the February Russian Revolution…

Both management and the unions had consistently opposed conceding the principle of equal pay for what was obviously equal work.

“A large majority of women tram and bus conductresses joined unions by 1918. Many had been practically compelled by men members to join the union. The understanding was that they should be employed on exactly the same terms as men whilst their employment must terminate by the end of the war. In some cases women were employed on short shifts, but this policy was opposed by the Union. It was feared that any relief of this kind would not only give employers an excuse for deductions from wages, but add to men’s hours of work. It might even have the undesirable effect of encouraging women’s employment in the future. Women drivers who were entirely composed of commercial private employees formed a comparatively small section of members, probably less than 1/8th.

The larger number of women drivers involved for auxiliary war service were not encouraged by the government to join Trade Unions. Women tram and bus conductors who were well organised for a start, had little difficulty in obtaining men’s minimum rates of wages, but the question of war advances was a matter of constant dispute. The important National Award for February 1918 which men received an aggregate advance of 20/- a week on pre-war rates, laid down that, “Where agreements or awards already exist providing the same rates to be paid to women as to men, such agreements or awards are to hold good and an increase to be paid accordingly.” In the absence of such agreements, women were to receive only an advance of 4/- on the current rates. The London Women Bus Conductresses were at once accorded the full bonus and a subsequent decision of the committee of production by which they were refused, a further advance of 51- met with such a determined resistance that the decision was reversed. All women were however by no means so successful Outside London the women’s claim had been prejudiced for the most part by the terms of previous awards by which they received not more than about two thirds of men’s war advances. In London, however, their claim was undeniable and here they secured the full sum of 20/-, bringing up their earnings to 63/- a week. In the following July a fresh appeal was made to arbitration, and men were granted a further advance of 5/- a week. But this time the women were left out. The award met with an unexpected storm of indignation. London women bus conductresses were not accustomed to such treatment. They had, moreover, begun to taste power. A protest meeting was held at once and they announced their intention to take drastic action unless their claim received attention. It did not receive attention.”

Their claim for equal pay ignored, women workers on London buses and trams went on strike in August 1918 to demand the same increase in pay (war bonus) as men. The strike spread to other towns in the South East and to the London Underground. This was the first equal pay strike in the UK which was initiated, led and ultimately won by women.

The immediate cause of the trouble was that whereas the award of the Committee on Production gave a war bonus of five shillings to the men it declined a similar concession to the women employees.

On August 16th, 1918, a meeting of women at Willesden bus garage decided, without consulting or even informing either the management or the trade union leaders, to strike the following day. The next morning Willesden stopped work; they were immediately joined by women at Hackney, Holloway, Archway and Acton bus depots or garages, and thereafter the strike spread like wildfire. By the evening thousands of women had stopped work. The demand was initially for a 5 shillings War bonus, a demand which became upgraded, as the dispute escalated, to a call for equal pay for women workers, or as the strikers put it ‘Same work – same money’. « One conductress thus explained the situation, “When we were taken on by the Company they promised to give us whatever rise the men had. We are doing just as much work as the men who realise the justice of our case and are supporting our strike.”

It was reported that : “Male employees who are opposed to the women’s claim base their opposition to the fact that many conductresses are the wives of soldiers and are receiving separation allowances, whereas the men have families to support. No intimation of their intentions was given and many early morning workers found themselves unable to get to business. The inconvenience increased during the day. People in the Hayes and Hillingdon districts who desired to get to Uxbridge or Southall to do their Saturday shopping were faced with the alternative of walking or going without provisions. There was no question of buying locally for many of the villages are rationed for meat, butter etc at town shops and were therefore in an awkward position.”

Many of the men conductors and drivers who had heard nothing about the plan, as it had been more or less secretly organised by the women. The strike continued to spread. By August 23rd, women bus and tram workers at Hastings, Bath, Bristol, South Wales, Brighton, Folkestone, Southend, Weston-super-Mare and Birmingham had joined in, about 18,000 women out of the 27,000 employed in the industry had stopped work.

Back in London, many women working on the tubes – supported by some men – had also stopped work, on the same issue. The transport strikers had a series of mass meetings at the Ring, Blackfriars, where 4,000 women, many of them with children, well supplied with sandwiches and lemonade, made a day out of it.

“Sir George Asquith, the chief industrial commissioner, had held a number of conferences with the parties engaged in the dispute with the hope of arranging a settlement, but it was not until Wednesday night that an arrangement was reached.   A conference under the auspices of the National Transport Workers Federation was held in the morning and a resolution was passed committing the unions affiliated to the organisation of “Immediate appropriate and determined action” to enforce national adoption of equal pay for equal labour to women and men. The unions represented at the conference were the Amalgamated Association of Tramway and Vehicle Workers London and the Provincial Union of Licensed Vehicle Workers, National Union of Vehicle Workers, National Union of General Workers and Dock, Wharf and Riverside General Labourers Union.

The terms of the resolution adopted by the conference were sent to Sir George Asquith, chief industrial commissioner, and in the afternoon delegates from the conference were received by him. After discussion lasting four hours the following official announcement was made, “The three Unions concerned with representatives of the National Transport Workers Federation met with Sir George Asquith today and after lengthy conference decided to recommend to the Executive Committee the following terms.

Resumption of work pending reference to the Committee on Production of interpretation of their awards, namely whether under Clause 14 of the Award of July 9 the Committee be understood to nullify any agreement or undertaking and in particular any such undertaking as is alluded to in Clause 4 of the Award of March 8 and on the claim that equal total payments be made to women as to men for equal work in the tramway and omnibus, undertakings who were parties to the Award of March 8 and July 9 and that any present changes of payments are to date from the beginning of the first full pay day following July 9 and that any future changes of payments should take place jointly with those of the men. The Hearing will take place on Monday next at 2.30 and the Awards will be issued as speedily as possible.”

The public were surprised and not a little inconvenienced, but its sympathies were in the main on the side of the women. Even The Times admitted the strength of the women’s case which lay precisely in this – That their work was as well done as any man could do it and that everyone could see that it was. The Committee of Production by which body the award had been given was obliged to yield to the storm and to re-consider its decision and the women won their case. Such was the victory of the women tram drivers that Mary McArthur, the Leader of the Women’s Union declared the award to be the absolute vindication of the principle for which we are contending.”

The bus and tram strike was eventually settled on August 25th, after a tumultuous meeting at the Ring, and despite a vocal element opposing calling a halt to the struggle. However, the women working on the underground stayed out until August 28th. The women received the extra 5s War bonus, but the principle of equal pay was not in fact conceded. The details of organisation of this important struggle are obscure; indeed it is rather surprising that this strike, which must be one of the largest ever engaged in by women for their own demands, has not attracted more attention from historians of the labour movement.

London had even seen its first strike for equal pay by women working on the trams and buses – legislation wouldn’t arrive until the Equal Pay Act in 1970.

Parts of this post were taken and slightly edited from Don’t be a Soldier! by Ken Weller.

And Hayes People’s History

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2017 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online.

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Today in London history: War is the Ruin of the Drinking Classes, 1917.

Immediately after the outbreak of World War I, Parliament passed the Defence of the Realm Act  (on 8th August 1914) criminalising anything they could think of that could impede the war effort. A notable section of the Act restricted licensing hours in pubs, to reduce drunkenness, hangovers and nipping off work early for a swift one impacting on war production… Before the war, pubs could open from 5 am in the morning to 12.30 pm at night. The DORA slashed licensing hours in cities and industrial areas, which could only now open 12.00 noon to 2.30 pm and 6.30 to 9.30 pm. (However, in most rural areas, people could continue to buy alcoholic drinks throughout the day. Mostly cider, presumably.)

Other governments involved in the conflict were also worried about this problem. In August 1914 Tsar Nicholas II outlawed the production and sale of vodka. This involved the closing down of Russia’s 400 state distilleries and 28,000 spirit shops. The measure was a complete failure, as people, unable to buy vodka, produced their own. The Russian government also suffered a 30% reduction in its tax revenue. Attempts to reduce alcohol consumption were also made in Germany, Austria-Hungary, France and Italy.

This drastic reduction in British opening times was only the beginning of a campaign against alcohol that was to last throughout the war. “David Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, led the campaign against alcohol. He had been told by shipbuilders and heads of war factories, that men’s wages had gone up so much that they could earn in two or three days what would keep them in drink for a week. A Newcastle shipbuilder complained that double overtime on Sunday meant no attendance on Monday.” In January 1915, Lloyd George told the Shipbuilding Employers Federation that Britain was “fighting German’s, Austrians and Drink, and as far as I can see the greatest of these foes is Drink.”

This campaign was to reach absurd proportions.

“Lloyd George started a campaign to persuade national figures to make a pledge that they would not drink alcohol during the war. In April 1915 King George V supported the campaign when he promised that no alcohol would be consumed in the Royal household until the war was over. Lord Kitchener, the Secretary of State for War and Richard Haldane, the Lord Chancellor, followed the king’s example, but [Prime Minister] Herbert Asquith, who was a heavy drinker, refused to take the pledge. The National Review commented: “The failure of the Prime Minister to take the King’s Pledge has naturally aroused comment.” Asquith retorted angrily that Lloyd George had “completely lost his head on drink.” Not in that way, I mean, he’s gone over the top on the sub- oh forget it, poor me another one. Lloyd George being a welsh chapel lad was a teetotaller anyway, so it wasn’t exactly a stretch…

With mass enlistment from young men, to be followed (as the first wave of recruits died en masse in France and Belgium) by mass conscription, women were recruited in large numbers to work in many industries where male workers had previously rigidly excluded them (often through the trade union structures), as well as particularly in making munitions and other war materiel. This was to open up all sorts of opportunities to women, sparking social change that shot off in all sorts of directions. However, one that most bothered the government, pro-war press and the Daily Mail-reading swivel-brained, was that the wages these women workers were al of a sudden receiving gave them massively increased spending power. And they liked to spend it on drink:

“The government was particularly concerned about the amount of alcohol being consumed by female munition workers. A survey of four pubs in London revealed that in one hour on a Saturday night alcohol was consumed by 1,483 men and 1,946 women. Newspapers claimed that soldiers’ wives were “drinking away their over-generous allowances”. The Times reported that “we do not all realise the increase in drinking there has been among the mothers of the coming race, though we may yet find it a a circumstance darkly menacing to our civilisation”.”

The moral outrage sparked by women living it up gathered pace. The Liverpool Echo – under the headline “Light on the ways of women drinkers” – reported in 1916 that “the great increase in the number of women visiting public houses during the past year has demanded drastic treatment”. Press reports and letters from the public talked about “the army of women crowding the public houses”, that the amount being drunk by women was “abnormal”, drinking the pubs dry so that and that male workers heading home from work were “unable to obtain any refreshment”.

Women drinkers were compared to prostitutes; a new scare warned soldiers would return at the end of the war to “find their wives dishonoured and drunkards”.

The bizarre range of measures thought up to “eradicate this blot” included banning women from pubs, selling licences to BUY drink, fitting clear windows to pubs, removing “partitions, snugs and other obstacles likely to facilitate secret drinking”.

In October 1915 the British government finally fell off the edge, announcing a number of several measures to enforce further reductions in alcohol consumption. “A “No Treating Order” laid down that any drink ordered was to be paid for by the person supplied. The maximum penalty for defying the Government order was six months’ imprisonment. The Spectator gave its support to the legislation. It argued that it was the custom of the working-classes to buy drinks for “chance-met acquaintances, each of whom then had to stand a drink to everyone else” and believed that this measure would “free hundreds of thousands of men from an expensive and senseless social tyranny”.

It was reported in The Morning Post on 14th March, 1916: “At Southampton yesterday Robert Andrew Smith was fined for treating his wife to a glass of wine in a local public-house. He said his wife gave him sixpence to pay for her drink. Mrs Smith was also fined £1 for consuming and Dorothy Brown, the barmaid, £5 for selling the intoxicant, contrary to the regulations of the Liquor Control Board.”

Ernest Sackville Turner, in his book, Dear Old Blighty (1980) has pointed out: “In Newcastle police reported a licensee who, with his manager, had sought to evade punishment by causing a customer who had ordered eight drinks to consume all of them. As time passed the Order began to be flouted, to the relief of bar-room scroungers who had been having a thin time, but the police fought back. In Middlesbrough fines on innkeepers went as high as £40. The licensing authorities had powers to close public-houses which allowed treating and occasionally exercised them.” 

The government also increased the level of tax on alcohol. In 1918 a bottle of whisky cost £1, five times what he had cost before the outbreak of war. This helped to reduce alcoholic consumption. Whereas Britain consumed 89 million gallons in 1914, this had fallen to 37 million in 1918. Convictions for drunkenness also fell dramatically during the war. In London in 1914, 67,103 people were found guilty of being drunk. In 1917 this had fallen to 16,567.”

Another effect of the war on drinking was a huge increase in prices. However wages were also increasing. Price and wage inflation rocketed during WW1. Prices had scarcely increased since the 1850’s, in some cases actually having fallen. In four years of war, they doubled. Pre-war the average weekly wage varied from 26s. 4d. per week to 34s. 4d. Half the women employed were paid from 10s. to 15s. per week. In 1917 London bus drivers were earning 60s. per week, cleaners, never the best paid, were getting 40s. By 1918 even agricultural labourers, the lowest paid manual workers, were earning 60s. to 70s. a week. Munitions workers earned considerably more – from £6 (120s.) to as much as £10 (200s.) or £20 (400s.) per week.

So drinkers had, for the most part, plenty of money to afford the higher price of beer, but the problem was a limited supply of beer available. Pubs were allocated a ration of beer based on their pre-war sales; however in some areas the population had increased dramatically – for instance where there had been an influx of munitions workers. In some places, there was just not enough beer to go around. And this caused trouble. Shortages encouraged publicans and brewers to raise prices; this narked their customers, but when some landlords couldn’t resist breaking agreements to put up the price of a pint across a neighbourhood, all sorts of aggro broke:

“The Price of Beer Yesterday – Threatened Strike of Publicans. —- BATTLE OF THE BAR.
Weekly Dispatch, April 8th 1917

There were some remarkable fluctuations in the price of beer in London yesterday, with a tendency to go back to the old prices.

At the Black Dog in Shoe Lane, London, bitter was only 3d a half pint – 2d. less that the price fixed by the Licensed Victuallers’ Central Protection Society London: at the Temple in Tudor Street the charge had also gone down to 3d.; at the Mail Coach in Farringdon Street it was still at 5d.; at Gatti’s Restaurant in the Strand itt was 4.5d.; at the Wellington Restaurant, Fleet Street, 5d.

In South London, in Camberwell and Peckham, there has been a battle of the publicans ever since Monday last. At a meeting it was agreed to put up the prices, but when the time came a minority did not do so. The news spread quickly and the old-price houses were beseiged. Another was held and again an agreement to raise the price was reached, but this time a few of the publicans had a vendetta against the men who played the trick on Monday. One man in Peckham Road put outside his house a notice stating that as other publicans in the district had been disloyal the old prices would be charged until further notice. Many others are doing the same. Yesterday in these old-price houses, it was fighting room only. In Manchester a boycott of formidable character is taking place.

In Manchester and Salford yesterday pickets were stationed near many beerhouses in the industrial areas, and the takings of hundreds of licensees decreased by over 50 per cent.

In Liverpool the boycott also continues. There has been a great drop in the trade and, contrary to expectation, the workmen have shown no sign of buying beer at the new price. At Sunderland the premises of one publican who declined to advance the prices and charged 4d. a pint were crowded to the doors, while people intending to enter premises charging 6d. and 7d. were assailed with cries of “Come out, you blacklegs” from pickets.

A strike was threatened by publicans in Chatham and Rochester yesterday. The licensed victuallers and beerhouse keepers there have decided to accept no further supplies of malt liquors from the brewery until they reduce their rates to the prices prevailing in the greater
part of the county of Kent. According to present arrangements the public is henceforth to pay 10d. a quart for its mild ales and 1s. 6d. a quart for bitter ales.

PROHIBITION BY PRICE.
“It’s prohibition by price – so far as beer is concerned.” said a London publican yesterday. He said that his sale had dropped by 50 per cent since the prices were increased in his establishment last Tuesday.

Old walked in and asked for “a pint of bitter,” and when told the price had been raised to tenpence walked out without touching the drink – a remarkable example of self-denial but typical of the kind of protest the British workman will always make when he feels, rightly or
wrongly, that he is being badly imposed upon.

The new rise in the price of beer in a consequence of the war, which to many men is a more startling fact than the inflation in the prices of foodstuffs or luxuries. Twopence on on tobacco was serious, but as one ounce lasts the average smoker two or three days he did not feel the
call on his pocket so much. But tenpence for the morning pint every morning has come as a brutal shock. Mild ale is only 7d., but to a man accustomed to bitter the change is extremely distasteful.

SPIRITS AS ALTERNATIVE.
But the consequence of the prohibitive price would not be serious if it simply compelled a man to become a total abstainer.

The truth is that beer drinkers are not becoming total abstainers; they are becoming addicted to spirits.

The other day a man walked into a well-known buffet in Fleet Street and ordered a small bottle of Bass. At the same time the man standing next to him asked for a Scotch whisky. For the Bass the barmaid demanded the new price, 7d.; for the whisky she turned to the other customer and said, “Fourpence, please.”

The beer drinker hesitated, then looking at the whisky, said: “Will you change the Bass for a Scotch?” The barmaid said that she could not do that, and the convert to whisky grunted, “Well, this is the last bottle of beer I’m going to buy. I shall save threepence by drinking spirits.” At the same place a customer had two glasses of mixed vermouth and they did not cost him any more than a pint of beer.

A manager who controls many public-houses, both in the City and the East End, said yesterday that there had been a very sharp rise in the consumption of whisky.

“Several men I know,” he said’ “who for years have had a pint of beer every morning, which was their only intoxicating drink for the day, and never touched spirits, now call for a ‘double Scotch.’ It costs them twopence less than the beer.”

He says that the same habit is also growing among the dockers.

The publican, of course, refuses to condemn these customers for giving way to what is a bad habit merely because the country’s food peril makes it imperative that the brewing of beer should be drastically cut down. The publican’s attitude is that beer is a very important food to a numerous body of workers, whose constitutions have become so habituated to the drink that they feel ill without it.

OLD STOCKS AT OLD PRICES.
A curious situation created by the new prices is that many public-houses which have large cellars and a considerable supply of barrels bought at the old price have not yet raised their charges. The result has been a migration, temporary, of customers from a new-price house to an
old-price house close by.

The new scale of prices as fixed by the Licensed Victuallers’ Central Protection Society of London is:

half pint ______Glass
Mild ale ______3.5d. _____-
Bitte ________5d. ______4d.
Stout ________5d. ______5d.
Burton _______6d. ______5d.
Mild and Bitter _4.5d. _____3.5d .
Stout and Mild __5d. ______4d.
Mild and Burton _5d. ______4d.

Other prices: Small Bass 7d.; Guinness 8d.; London stout (screws) 5d.; pale ale (screws) 5d.; barley wine nips 6d.; lager, light or dark, 8d.

It has been pointed out on behalf of the brewers that the existing large stocks of malted barley, sufficient to brew the 10,000,000 barrels of beer authorised for this year, are useless for any other purpose.

This has been denied by Dr. Saleeby, who says that malt cake is an admirable food for cattle, and can be turned directly into meat an milk, and that if the cakes were supplied to farmers they would release for food the unmalted barley, oats, and sedes now being used as food for cattle.

In any case the public have got to make up their mind that, high price or low price, there is not enough beer to supply the old demand, or anything like it, and a good many people have got to do without it.

It is stated that a dozen or more metropolitan brewers have decided to offer their customers (or “tied” houses) the old “four ale” at 90s. a barrel and a trade discount, which will enable the publicans to sell at 3d. a half-pint and make a reasonable profit. These brewers have always maintained that 100s. per barrel, the present price, was more than the circumstances warranted. There is a feeling that the present prices for beer will come down before the end of this month.”

Many licensing laws and restrictions introduced during World War 1 remained on the stature for decades. Because social control during wartime tends to become entrenched. Wars are very useful for that.

The above article was nicked from here…

Other bits were taken from here (sure the telegraph was somewhere there slagging women off for drinking back then)

And here.

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An entry in the
2017 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online.

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Today in London’s radical history: Brotherhood Church finally closes its doors, 1934.

On corner of Southgate Road and Balmes Road, on Islington’s border with Hackney, where a block of flats now stands above a Tesco Express, there once stood a church, for a few years one of North London’s leading socialist and anti-war spaces…

According to Ken Weller:

“The Brotherhood Church was founded in 1662, as an independent congregational chapel. In 1862 it moved to Southgate Road; at this time it was a conventional chapel, although it had some fairly radical connections. In 1892 the Reverend Bruce Wallace became the Minister. Wallace was a Christian Socialist. In 1887 he had founded the socialist paper Brotherhood at Limavady in Northern Ireland, in which he developed the ideas he was later to put into practice.

When Bruce Wallace took over he renamed the Southgate Road Chapel the Brotherhood Church, and it rapidly became the centre of a whole range of radical and socialist activities. The Brotherhood Association, the Church’s ‘political’ wing, had about 15 branches by the turn of the century, mostly in London but one or two elsewhere.

There were also several associated churches, for example those at Croydon, Harrow Road, Forest Gate and Walthamstow (It’s possible that the Walthamstow Brotherhood Church was connected with the Walthamstow Free Christian Church. whose minister, Reg Sorenson played an important part in the movement opposing World War 1 in North London). Also connected with the Church was the Co-operative Brotherhood Trust which operated several workshops and shops, of which at least one, the shop at 37 Newington Green, seems to have lasted until after the 1914-1918 War. In the 1890s, the Croydon Brotherhood Church was the main publisher of Tolstoy’s social writings; its minister.J. C. Kenworthy was also a well known anti-War campaigner.

About the turn of the century, the Brotherhood movement spawned a number of communities in the countryside where members lived together. There were four of these in Essex alone, and while many were relatively short lived, one at least, ‘The Commune’ at Stanford-le- Hope, was in existence until the Second World War. ‘The Commune’ and some other Brotherhood-connected groups seem to have played quite an important part in the informal network helping ‘dodgers’ on the run. After the end of the War ‘The Commune’ provided a recuperative haven for a number of anti-War activists, notably Reg Sorenson and Fenner Brockway and their families.

The politics of the Church were basically christian socialist and pacifist – a number of its members were Quakers. There was a strong Tolstoyan anarchist current and William Morris was an important influence.

The Church had strong links with the socialist movement, exemplified by the record of one of its prominent members, H. A. Barker.

Barker also illustrates how, whenever you look at the wartime radical movement, you have only to scratch the surface to find strong connections with previous radical waves embedded within them. Barker (1858-1940) was a Trustee of the Brotherhood Church for its last 30 years. A builder by trade, he was born in Shoreditch and seems to have lived in the general area all his life; as a boy he had been confirmed at the Southgate Road Chapel before it was taken over by Bruce Wallace. Barker was a pioneer socialist. He was probably a member of the Labour Emancipation League, a forerunner of the SDF, and he was certainly a very early member of the latter. In December 1884 Barker left the SDF with the Socialist League split, and he became a very active member of the new body, of which he eventually became National Secretary between 1886 and 1888.

In 1888 Barker left the Socialist League with a number of other members who objected to the growing anti-parliamentarianism of that organisation, and he helped to found the Labour Union, a short-lived socialist group which played a prominent part, with H. A. Barker much to the fore, in the industrial struggles in North London in the 1889-1890 period, notably the successful and pretty violent strike of coal porters at the St Pancras Arches complex in July and August 1889, which led to the formation of the Coal Porters’ Union. The Labour Union was also heavily involved in a disastrous strike of postmen at Mount Pleasant and other local post offices in July 1890, which was completely smashed by the authorities.

Barker went on to play a leading part in the formation of the Independent Labour Party (ILP) and he was a member of its first executive. He was an active member of the Brotherhood Church from its formation until its closure.

A notable event at the Church under Bruce Wallace was the Congress there in 1907 of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party which was attended by virtually all the prominent figures of both the Bolshevik and Menshevik wings of the Party (Among those present at the Brotherhood Church on this occasion were Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, Plekhanov, Gorky, Zinoviev and Rosa Luxemburg).

In January 1911 the Church was taken over by F. R. Swan, who got the job with the help of the Reverend R. J. Campbell of the City Temple. Campbell had been Secretary of Finsbury ILP. Swan had lost his previous living because of his support for Victor Grayson, the successful independent socialist candidate in the Colne Valley election of 1907. He was a member of the ILP and had joined the staff of the Daily Herald virtually from its foundation.

Under Swan’s ministry the Church became even more explicitly political. Its service took the form of a reading from the Bible – in accordance with a clause in the Church’s trustee agreement – readings from other books, the singing of songs from the Labour Songbook, and a speaker. Among the huge number of speakers before the War were Annie Besant, Sylvia Pankhurst, Keir Hardie, Tom Mann and George Lansbury.”

During WW1 the Church was one of the main North London centres of anti-war activity, on socialist-pacifist grounds, but opening its doors to anti-war activists of other stripes too, such as the North London Herald League, Sylvia Pankhurst and other East London federation of Suffragettes/Women’s Suffrage Federation/Workers Socialist Federation (our Sylv and friends liked to change the moniker of their crew more often than Karl Marx changed his razor blades).

Various elements of the Brotherhood Church movement seemed to have played a very significant part in the informal networks helping men on the run from the authorities and dodging conscription during the war.

As recounted last week on this blog, several anti-war meetings here were attacked by ‘patriotic mobs’, often composed largely of soldiers, and not uncommonly stirred up by the police and Special Branch.

“Perhaps the peak of the Brotherhood Church’s involvement in the anti-War struggle came in July 1917 when, in response to the February Revolution in Russia, the Leeds Convention met to set up Councils of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Delegates. The Convention decided, among other things, to hold a series of regional meetings, one of them to be held in London. The original London hall having failed to materialise due to police pressure, the meeting was moved to the Brotherhood Church.

This meeting took place on July 28th. There were about 250 delegates including a number of servicemen. There had been some attempt to keep the venue of the meeting private but even so the authorities were well prepared. Basil Thomson, head of the Special Branch, noted in his diary on 27th July in relation to the meeting:

They will have a rude awakening tomorrow, as I have arranged for the Daily Express to publish the place of the meeting and strong opposition may be expected.

Leaflets were also distributed in the area stating that a pro-German meeting was taking place and that ‘scores of old soldiers and others are going to march to the canal bridge to show these traitors what we think of them’. The leaflets called on the local population to ‘remember the last air raid and roll up’. Part of the job of mobilising the mob was taken on by Horatio Bottomley, then MP for South Hackney, who ran a sort of mini-Tammany Hall locally which had a ‘stable’ of roughs on call.

Long before the meeting was due to start the mobs had begun to gather. It was estimated that they eventually totalled 8,000, many of them in uniform. The leaders of the military contingent seem to have been a Canadian soldier and two Royal Naval Air Service men. Also present were our old friends the Anti-German League. There was also a strong force of police in attendance.

By 3 pm the Church was completely surrounded. At 3.15 a sledge-hammer mysteriously materialised and the front door of the Church was smashed in and the fight started. The delegates who had already arrived were trapped in the small hall at the back. Meanwhile the crowd systematically smashed up the main hall; windows and fanlights were broken and frames ripped out, the furniture was almost completely destroyed, water pipes were pulled out of the walls and the hall was partially flooded.

Bertrand Russell – who was there – described what happened to the trapped delegates:

‘A few people, among them Francis Meynell attempted resistance, and I remember him returning from the door with his face streaming with blood.

The mob burst in led by a few officers; all except the officers were more or less drunk. The fiercest were viragos who used wooden boards full of rusty nails. An attempt was made by the officers to induce the women among us to retire first so they might deal as they thought fit with the pacifist men, whom they supposed to be all cowards. Mrs Snowden behaved on this occasion in a very admirable manner. She refused pointblank to leave the hall unless the men were allowed to leave at the same time. The other women present agreed with her. This rather upset the officers in charge of the roughs, as they did not particularly wish to assault women. But by this time the mob had its blood up, and pandemonium broke loose. Everyone had to escape as best they could while the police looked on calmly. Two of the drunken women began to attack me with their boards full of nails. While I was wondering how one defended oneself against this type of attack, one of the ladies among us went up to the police and suggested they should defend me. The police merely shrugged their shoulders. ‘But he is an eminent philosopher’, said the lady, and the police still shrugged. ‘But he is famous all over the world as a man of learning’, she continued. The police remained unmoved. ‘But he is the brother of an Earl’, she finally cried. At this the police rushed to my assistance. They were, however, too late to be of any service, and I owe my life to a young woman whom I did not know, who interposed herself between me and the viragos long enough for me to make my escape. But quite a number of people, including several women, had their clothes torn off their backs as they left the building.

Another illustration of the violence of the situation and the attitude of the police was what happened to Leonard Howard of the North LHL. With blood streaming down his face he was attacked again and again. He eventually took refuge in a furniture van, and the police finally acted- they grabbed him and threw him back to his attackers…

Needless to say the conference broke up; when John Maclean turned up a bit later all he saw was ‘a howling mob of male and female dervishes’ . Among the consequences of this rather one-sided fighting were numerous injuries, including lacerated heads and serious cuts; one delegate nearly had his eye gouged out by a stick; and a young woman had her throat badly cut when someone in the crowd tried to grab her necklace.

A. M. Barker the 18-year-old son of H. A. Barker – was present at the time and wrote of his experience to me:

But I will tell of an awful scene of a woman being swung around by her hair, the technique of women’s fighting in those days – and which could cause terrible scalp wounds – and a crowd of god knows how many howling ‘do her in’ and horrible language. . . . The next morning I found the Church itself wrecked, a shameful shambles of broken windows, broken down doors, smashed pews, piano, organ, and the floors of the Church almost solid with brickbats. I almost broke down and cried at this terrible shameful sight.

The police arrested only one man – one of the delegates. The excuse given for the police inactivity by the sub-inspector in charge was ‘that to have attempted to arrest anyone would have depleted our force and given them [the rioters] the opportunity of attacking the Church.’ In actuality the role of the police consisted entirely of gently shooing the rioters from the ruined hall after they had worked themselves out – a classic example of low-profile policing?”

The authorities were heavily involved in the attacks on, and harrassment of, the anti-War movement. They were certainly involved – as the entry in Basil Thomson’s diary indicates – in sometimes making sure that potential attackers were informed of the venues of meetings. What happened at the Brotherhood Church was not an isolated event: what happened on a local scale was repeated nationally.

“With the coming of peace the Church continued to function, but it was in severe financial difficulties, having to foot the bill for repairing the damage it had received during the War. It continued to be a centre for a wide range of political activities. For example, the first two conferences of the Young Communist League was held there, and trade union branches, local Labour Parties, the SPGB, the Women’s Co-operative Guild and the Shoreditch Unemployed all met at the Church. Eventually funds ran out and the Church finally closed its doors on March 18th, 1934. Regular meetings of the congregation continued at the Essex Road Library until the death of F. R. Swan in October 1938; the last meeting was held on January 12th 1939.

After the final closure, surviving members of the Brotherhood Church apparently used to meet in Walthamstow until the early 1960s. But a Brotherhood Church still exists at Stapleton, near Pontefract, Yorkshire. This community is a direct descendant of the Brotherhood community at Purleigh in Essex, which was itself an offshoot of the Brotherhood Church at Croydon.”

On a personal note, your past tense typist, in my wayward youth, met some socialists raised in the Stapleton Brotherhood Community, who were active in my local anti-poll tax group… the spirit lives on… This post is dedicated to John and Bracken x

This post was lifted with some text-slaloming from Ken Weller, Don’t Be a Soldier.

For information on some of the Brotherhood communities see Dennis Hardy, Alternative Communities in nineteenth Century England, 1979.

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2017 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online.

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Today in London’s radical history: jingoistic mob break up anti-war meeting, Islington, 1917.

Although in the run-up to the outbreak of World War 1, trade unions and Labour movement figures had produced a lot of hot air about resisting the war, but when the conflict began, the Labour Party, like many socialist parties across Europe, fell in with the nationalist fervour and war fever. Overwhelmingly working class organisations capitulated to the war effort.

But from the start small minorities in all countries opposed the war; on moral grounds, or because they saw it as was – a struggle for power between rival capitalist gangs, that meant nothing to their lives. Brave groups and individuals spoke out against the war, or refused to be forced into the army.

As the war progressed and its true horror in terms of carnage on the battlefield and deprivation at home became apparent, the courageous stand taken by relatively few at its start began to strike a deep chord among the working class. It was this wider movement which in its turn became the basis of the massive wave of industrial and social unrest which shook British society to its foundations in the first years of peace.

And resistance grew as the war dragged on. Soldiers of all armies, all sides, mutinied, deserted, refused to fight, who shirked and dodged and avoided fighting. Strikers defied calls for sacrifice to fight for better wages and conditions (despite mass repression); thousands refused to pay rent, rioted at high food prices, demonstrated against the hardships the war was causing. The war ended in revolution in Russia, in Germany, and elsewhere; in mass strikes and mutinies all over the world…

On the ground, the resistance to the war had from the start been based in localities; in local networks of socialists, or class conscious workers, in some places suffragettes… In many places these groups overlapped and merged with one another, as the war drove on.

In the North London borough of Islington, an overwhelmingly working class area then (don’t laugh), a strong anti-war movement grew up. This was most notably manifested in the North London Herald League, a broad-based socialist grouping… But the NLHL was not the only centre of the anti-War movement in North London. Another was the Brotherhood Church in Southgate Road (Since demolished: the site is now occupied by a Tesco Express. Grim). (We will return to some of this lost centre of Christian socialism on March 18th…) Briefly, it was a seventeenth century chapel converted in 1892 into a christian socialist and pacifist space, influenced by figures as diverse as Tolstoy and William Morris and strongly part of the local socialist scene.

Ken Weller takes up the story:

“In the month that World War 1 broke out the Church had its first anti-War meeting, at which the main speaker was [veteran socialist] Herbert Burrows. From then on the opposition of the Brotherhood Church to the War remained constant, although its attitude was pacifist rather than militant. By and large the importance of the Church during the War was as a place for meetings. Those involved in the anti-War struggle found it very difficult to obtain halls for meetings and the existence of the Brotherhood Church as a friendly reliable venue made it much in demand, so much so that George Lansbury described it as ‘the Mecca, the meeting place of those who wanted peace.

As an illustration of what this meant, we can take the first six months of 1916. On January 16th, a ‘Stop the War’ meeting at the Church was attacked by hooligans who, as well as assaulting individuals, pelted the meeting with thunderflashes and other missiles. On January 30th, the ‘Anti-German League’ held a meeting of about 700 people outside the Church, calling on the authorities to close down peace meetings there. The Chairman of this meeting was Alderman Vorley.

On March 10th, Sylvia Pankhurst spoke at a meeting organised by the WSF. This meeting was attacked and broken up by a mob which included many soldiers in uniform led by an officer; Canadian troops were prominent. An interesting feature of this meeting, and perhaps an omen of things to come, was that quite a few of the soldiers who had come to disrupt found that they were in agreement with the WSF’s case. Finally in June 1916 there was a series of large meetings at the Church called by the No-Conscription Fellowship at which the main speaker was Clifford Allen. There seems to have been no substantial disruption of these meetings.”

Attacks on the Brotherhood Church continued through the war. In July 1917 when, in response to the February Revolution in Russia, the Leeds Convention met to set up Councils of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Delegates. The Convention decided, among other things, to hold a series of regional meetings, one of them to be held in London. The original London hall having failed to materialise due to police pressure, the meeting was moved to the Brotherhood Church. However when it took place it was attacked by a mob, stirred up by stories of ‘pro-Germans’ plotting there, placed in the rightwing press by Basil Thompson, head of Special Branch, under whose remit fell sabotaging and undermining anti-war protestors and the left generally.

The Church was heavily damaged and many of the 250 delegates at the meeting savagely attacked. Another anti-war meeting took place on an anti-war meeting in September 1917.

Much more on the North London anti-war movement can be found in Ken Weller’s excellent Don’t Be A Soldier – probably your writer’s favourite book ever…

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2017 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online.

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Today in radical history: National Conference of Women meets, Central Hall, to discuss basis for WW1 peace, 1915.

On 14th April the Union of Democratic Control (UDC) summoned a National Conference of Women to discuss the basis of a permanent peace settlement” at Central Hall in London.

This was designed to feed in to the Hague Women’s Peace Conference (set for April 28th). Read a previous blog post on British women’s involvement…

We haven’t yet found out much about this conference; but here’s a brief introduction to the Union of Democratic Control…

The Union of Democratic Control was formed at the outbreak of World War 1:
“At the end of July, 1914, it became clear to the British government that the country was on the verge of war with Germany. Four senior members of the government, David Lloyd George (Chancellor of the Exchequer), Charles Trevelyan (Parliamentary Secretary of the Board of Education), John Burns (President of the Local Government Board) and John Morley (Secretary of State for India), were opposed to the country becoming involved in a European war. They informed the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, that they intended to resign over the issue. When war was declared on 4th August, three of the men, Trevelyan, Burns and Morley, resigned, but Asquith managed to persuade Lloyd George, his Chancellor of the Exchequer, to change his mind.

The day after war was declared, Trevelyan began contacting friends about a new political organisation he intended to form to oppose the war. This included two pacifist members of the Liberal Party, Norman Angell and E. D. Morel, and Ramsay MacDonald, the leader of the Labour Party.” This was the beginning of the Union of Democratic Control (UDC).

The four men agreed that one of the main reasons for the conflict was the secret diplomacy of people like Britain’s foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey. They set down three main objectives for the UDC: (1) that in future to prevent secret diplomacy there should be parliamentary control over foreign policy; (2) there should be negotiations after the war with other democratic European countries in an attempt to form an organisation to help prevent future conflicts; (3) that at the end of the war the peace terms should neither humiliate the defeated nation nor artificially rearrange frontiers as this might provide a cause for future wars.

The Union of Democratic Control issued a manifesto and invited people to support it. Over the next few weeks several leading figures joined the organisation. This included J. A. Hobson, Charles Buxton, Ottoline Morrell, Philip Morrell, Frederick Pethick-Lawrence, Arnold Rowntree, Morgan Philips Price, George Cadbury, Helena Swanwick, Fred Jowett, Tom Johnston, Bertrand Russell, Philip Snowden, Ethel Snowden, David Kirkwood, William Anderson, Mary Sheepshanks, Isabella Ford, H. H. Brailsford, Eileen Power, Israel Zangwill, Margaret Llewelyn Davies, Konni Zilliacus, Margaret Sackville and Olive Schreiner.
Trevelyan’s house (14 Great College Street, London) became the UDC’s headquarters. As the organisation expanded the organisation took larger premises at 37 Norfolk Street (1915) and 4-7 Lion Court, Fleet Street (1917). The UDC was mainly funded by prosperous Quaker businessmen such as George Cadbury and Arnold Rowntree.

The UDC was one of the first political groups to appoint women to senior positions in an organisation. Helena Swanwick was a member of the Executive Committee and twelve women were on the General Council. This included Isabella Ford, Margaret Llewelyn Davies and Margaret Sackville.
The UDC soon emerged at the most important of all the anti-war organizations in Britain and by 1915 had 300,000 members. E. D. Morel, as secretary and treasurer, became the dominant figure in the UDC. In August 1915, the UDC decided to pay Morel for his secretarial duties. Morel also wrote most of the UDC pamphlets published during the war. Others who wrote pamphlets included Ramsay MacDonald, Norman Angell, Arthur Ponsonby, J. A. Hobson, Charles Buxton, Norman Angell, Helena Swanwick, Richard Tawney and H. H. Brailsford. Members of the UDC also established a League of Nations Society.

Whereas the Manchester Guardian and The Nation were fairly sympathetic to the aims of the UDC, the majority of the press, consumed with patriotic fervour, were extremely hostile. Members of the UDC came under vitriolic attack for their opposition to the war. The Daily Express, edited by Ralph Blumenfeld, led the campaign against the UDC. In April 1915 it printed wanted posters of E. D. Morel, Ramsay MacDonald and Norman Angell. Under headings such as: ‘Who is E. D. Morel? And Who Pays for his Pro-German Union? it suggested that the UDC was working for the German government. On 1st October 1914, The Times published a leading article entitled Helping the Enemy, in which it wrote that “no paid agent of Germany had served her better” that MacDonald had done. Horatio Bottomley, argued in the John Bull Magazine that Ramsay MacDonald and James Keir Hardie, were the leaders of a “pro-German Campaign”. On 19th June 1915 the magazine claimed that MacDonald was a traitor and that: “We demand his trial by Court Martial, his condemnation as an aider and abetter of the King’s enemies, and that he be taken to the Tower and shot at dawn.” John Bull also made a big splash of the revelation that MacDonald was illegitimate.

The Daily Express listed details of future UDC meetings and provoked its readers to go and break-up them up. Although the UDC complained to the Home Secretary about what it called “an incitement to violence” by the newspaper, he refused to take any action. Over the next few months the police refuse to protect UDC speakers and they were often attacked by angry crowds. After one particularly violent event on 29th November, 1915, the newspaper proudly reported the “utter rout of the pro-Germans”.
The Daily Sketch joined the campaign against the UDC. It told its readers on 1st December, 1915, that to: “kill this conspiracy we must get hold of the arch-conspirator, E. D. Morel”. Over the next few months Morel was physically assaulted several times, but continued to run the organisation. By 1917 membership of the UDC and affiliated organizations had reached 650,000.

The government now saw Morel as an extremely dangerous political figure. Basil Thompson, head of the Criminal Investigation Division of Scotland Yard, and future head of Special Branch, was asked to investigate Morel and the UDC. Thompson reported that the UDC was not a revolutionary body and its funds came from the Society of Friends and “Messrs. Cadbury, Fry and Rowntree”. Given Thompson penchant for inciting attacks on opponents of the war and sending agent provocateurs to wreck leftwing groups, this suggests the UDC was relatively benign. Many radical anti-war activists in other organisations were also members of the UDC however.

Despite Thompson’s failure to find any evidence of criminal activity, the Home Secretary ordered Morel’s arrest. On the 22nd August, 1917 Morel’s house was searched and evidence was found that he had sent a UDC pamphlet to a friend living in Switzerland. This was a technical violation of the Defence of the Realm Act and Morel was sentenced to six months in prison. His health was already poor, and he never fully recovered from the harsh conditions of Pentonville Prison.
Frederick Pethick-Lawrence, formerly a leading supporter of the Womens Suffrage movement, was treasurer of the UDC, and in the spring of 1917 was chosen as the organisation’s candidate in the South Aberdeen by-election. Pethick-Lawrence got only 333 votes whereas the government representative won with 3,283 votes. Although he was forty-six years old, the government attempted to conscript Pethick-Lawrence in 1917. He refused but instead of being imprisoned he was assigned to a farm in Sussex until the end of the war.

In the 1918 General Election all the leading members of the Union lost their seats in Parliament. However, by 1924, they had returned and several, including Ramsay MacDonald (Prime Minister/Foreign Secretary), Philip Snowden (Chancellor of the Exchequer), Arthur Henderson (Home Secretary), Charles Trevelyan (Minister of Education) and Fred Jowett (Commissioner of Works) were all members of the new Labour Government. E. D. Morel was not given a Cabinet post but was MacDonald’s leading adviser at the Foreign Office.

Members of the Union of Democratic Control were strong opponents of the Versailles Treaty. Several senior army officers joined the UDC in protest against the treaty including General Hubert Gough, Brigadier-General C. B. Thompson, Commander Kenworthy and Colonel Bruce Kingsmill.
In the 1930s the UDC campaigned against fascism in Germany and Italy, supported China in its struggle with Japanese aggression and advocated Indian independence.

Mostly lifted from the Spartacus site

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An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online

Today in London’s radical history: anti-war women’s meeting to plan Hague peace conference, 1915

The outbreak of World War 1 brought crisis and division in many of the movements struggling for a better world before the war. Socialists, anarchists, unions – many split bitterly as war propaganda and the frenzy of patriotism ratcheted up.

The suffragette movement faced similar angry divisions. All three of the main Suffragette groupings saw some support for the war effort, usually the majority, and a minority opposing the war, either on pacifist, or on internationalist grounds.

Controversies between the two clearly opposed groups within the National Union of Suffrage Societies, the largest, though not the best known or most prominent, suffragist organization, were sharpened by different notions concerning the preparations and proposals of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance (IWSA) congress in The Hague. NUWSS leader Fawcett unambiguously argued that talking of peace while the German soldiers were not driven back was betrayal. However, Catherine Marshall and Kathleen Courtney, influential members of the NUWSS, refused to follow the instructions of their president and in February 1915 they accepted an invitation from Aletta Jacobs to meet in Amsterdam. At this meeting, which also included the British Chrystal Macmillan, Emily Leaf and Theodora Wilson-Wilson, a Quaker, the Germans, Heymann and Augsburg, and some Belgian and Dutch members of IWSA, the programme of the congress to be summoned on April 28 1915 in The Hague was planned.

The inner clashes within the NUWSS culminated after the return of the British delegation from Amsterdam. Five enthusiastic British women came back from the Netherlands determined to do everything for the success of the congress. These women organized a women-only meeting in Caxton Hall for February 26th 1915. The meeting of the executive board of the NUWSS that took place on March 4 1915 launched a flood of resignations of many influential members. Courtney and Marshall resigned as secretaries and Royden as editor of the journal Common Cause. Courtney subsequently explained her decision: “I have some months felt strongly that the most vital work at this moment is the building up of public opinion on lines likely to promote a permanent peace and I am also convinced that such work is entirely in accordance with the principles underlying the suffrage movement [ … ] The Council, however, made it quite clear that they were not prepared to undertake work of this kind. They passed certain resolutions, it is true, but only on the understanding that they were not to be acted upon [ … ] To my mind, this refusal to do the work which the moment demands, it is also a refusal to recognise one of the fundamental principles of the Suffrage Movement.”

The atmosphere of the April meeting was very tense and even the usually reserved Fawcett expressed her bitter disappointment over the resignation of her co-workers; she was well aware that the successes of the NUWSS were largely a result of the hard work of these women. She particularly regretted the resignation of Marshall, whose delicate parliamentary and by-election work, where she achieved many successes due to her ability to come close to the members of Parliament, would not be easy to supersede.

In the following months the situation within the NUWSS became more acute because Fawcett and her co-workers – particularly Lady Balfour and Helena Auerbach – made an effort to prevent peace propaganda within the organization and to enforce a pro-war attitude. Their activities considerably aggravated the position of the internationalists who remained on the executive board of the NUWSS. The tense atmosphere within the NUWSS is well documented by the letter from Swanwick to Marshall on 22nd March:

“Mrs Fawcett wrote to offer to call on me here yesterday, so I invited her to tea and she came. I was absolutely blunt with her & told her that though we didn’t retaliate, she couldn’t expect us to sit under speeches like those she and Lady Frances had been lately dealing out to us – I tried to make her see that she couldn’t decently call her colleagues traitors & lunatics; but she just flushed & blinked & rambled away over all sorts of quite irrelevant things [ … ] just before she went I told her I intended to resign from the Executive & she implored me not to [ … ] I feel that so long as she dictates to the NU there is no place for me within it.”

According to the list compiled by Marshall at the meeting of internationalists of 9th May 1915, those who sharply refused to talk of peace were Fawcett, Lady Frances Balfour, Ray Strachey, Miss Palliser, Auerbach and Miss Atkinson. On the other hand, at this term resigned Ashton, Isabella Ford, Alice Clark, Courtney, Cary Schuster, Mrs Harley, Marshall, Leaf, Swanwick, Royden, Mrs Tanner and Mrs Stanbury

Organizing committees for the preparation of the Hague Women’s Peace Conference conference were formed not only in London, but the movement quickly expanded also to Manchester, Newcastle, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Liverpool and Dublin. The number of applications to the congress at The Hague reached 180 delegates, including the representatives of all possible British women’s organizations. The Hague congress aroused great interest among the British women activists and few organizations criticized it. Together with the nationalists of the NUWSS, the suffragettes of Emmeline Pankhurst stood against the peace activities and condemned the Hague conference, declaring that it is necessary to defend France and “to prevent her being crushed by the over-sexed, that is to say over-masculine [ … ] Germany. This terrible business, forced upon us, has to be properly finished to save us from the danger of another war perhaps in ten years’ time”. Sylvia Pankhurst, who enthusiastically supported the Hague congress with other members of the East London Federation, was rebuked by the wealthy Lady Astor (who became in 1919 the first female Member of Parliament). She told Pankhurst she would not have provided the Federation with her valuable patronage if she had known Sylvia would attend the congress.

The British government was also irritated by the notion of so many women setting out to the war-stricken continent. On 16th April 1915 the delegates were refused permission to travel to Holland by the Permit Office; moreover the Permit Office cancelled even those permissions already issued:

“His Majesty’s Government is of opinion that at the present moment there is much inconvenience in holding a large meeting of a political character so close to the seat of the war.”:

Marshall immediately appealed to the Home Office, which promised her permission for twenty-four chosen delegates.

The Admiralty then coincidentally closed the North Sea to shipping, however, the women found out that one more boat was sailing the following day from Tilbury. The delegates on the authorized list made every effort to board that boat; even Ashton and Royden arrived from remote parts of the country at dawn. However, the authorities continued to postpone the issue of permission until no boat was available. The disappointed women lodged at a hotel near the Tilbury dockside and waited there for ten days until the end of congress; only then did they decide to return home.

In spite of these setbacks, the British women were represented at the congress by three peace activists; Macmillan and Courtney were already in the Netherlands and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence arrived, despite danger and postponements, with the American contingent. Schwimmer (a Hungarian working for women’s organizations in London) travelled independently via Scandinavia. These women joined approximately 1,200 delegates from many countries, including Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Hungary, Italy, Norway, Sweden, the United States, and predominantly, of course, from the Netherlands. German delegates were stopped at the border and only twenty-eight of them crossed.

The gathered delegates were welcomed by Aletta Jacobs. The most important decision of the congress was approved on the last day when Rosica Schwimmer proposed, instead of a written resolution, to elect envoys who would be sent personally with the resolutions of the congress to the heads of both belligerent and neutral countries. This proposal provoked strong resistance but the emotive speech by Schwimmer finally convinced the delegates to support it. Among other things she said: “lf brains have brought us to what we are in now, I think it is time to allow also our hearts to speak. When our sons are killed by the millions, let us, mothers, only try to do good by going to kings and emperors.”

From May 1915 two groups of envoys operated in Europe and America, appealing to the rulers of the leading world powers to stop the war and renew peace. The first group of women was led by Jane Addams and Aletta Jacobs. The second group, led by Schwimmer and Macmillan, negotiated with the Swedish foreign minister, who was willing to host a mediating conference if the women brought him notes from two governments, one on either side, announcing that such an initiative would not be unacceptable.

The envoys almost achieved their objective when the British and German foreign ministers agreed not to oppose such a conference. After Addam’s departure to the United States, Schwimmer also decided to sail to America where President Woodrow Wilson received them. Although it seemed the women’s envoys came near to achieving their purpose, no statesman dared to grasp their appeal and call a mediating conference.

In Britain, news from the congress arrived through a telegram sent by Courtney from The Hague; she announced that despite the absence of 180 British women the meeting was a great success. On 11th May a conference chaired by Marshall took place in London at Central Hall, where the delegates decided to found a new organization, which at its first annual general meeting in the autumn adopted the title Women’s International League (WIL). The society announced it would struggle for “linking together two movements felt to be vitally connected: the Women’s Movement and the Pacifist Movement”. WIL was founded particularly thanks to the support of the leading suffragists; Swanwick was elected as the chair, with Royden, Ashton and Courtney as her vice-chairs, Ford and Marshall became members

Of the executive committee. Yet the membership was much wider and was not confined just to the rebels of the NUWSS; within a year the membership of the WIL increased to 2,458 members affiliated in thirty-four branches.

This account is lifted from this great report on the British women’s peace movement in WW1

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An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online

Today in London’s rebel history: The Call launched as the voice of the British Socialist Party anti-war faction, 1916.

The Call was a socialist newspaper, founded as voice of the British Socialist Party’s anti-war faction, and launched on February 24th 1916.

The British Socialist Party had been founded in 1912 as a merger of the Social Democratic Federation and a number of small groups. Although it initially grew to as larger size than previous socialist groups in Britain, it carried within it the fatal flaws that had crippled much of the life of the SDF – deep splits over patriotism and militarism, a domination from the centre by HM Hyndman, the SDF founder, whose uneasy mix of rightwing ideas and Marxist orthodoxy had alienated large numbers and caused numerous splits.

The BSP did benefit from some involvement in the brief upsurge of workers struggles that some call the syndicalist revolt (1910-14). But the outbreak of World War 1 in 1914 exposed the fundamental divisions that broke the party apart.

After the declaration of War on August 4th, the national headquarters of the BSP supported the War; in line with the Labour Party and the memberships and leaderships of most trade unions. On September 5th its Executive Committee unanimously agreed to a manifesto supporting recruiting. The ‘old guard’ of the BSP were taking the patriotic line – however many of its local activists were deeply opposed to the War on internationalist grounds.

The result was chaos in the BSP. As with other parts of the workers, socialist, and anarchist movements there were battles on the question of the War. Views could even change rapidly within local branches. North Islington BSP for example took a pro-recruiting position in June 1915; by November the same year it had reversed this stance, yet in May 1916 it elected H. M. Hyndman, ‘grand old man’ of the BSP and leader of the pro-War tendency, as its delegate to the BSP Annual Conference; still later, it took a strongly anti-War position!

Nor were the fights restricted to verbals – a public meeting of the Socialist National Defence Committee. (including the most rabid war-mongers of the BSP) ended in tears after EC Fairchild of the internationalist faction suggested that, considering the aimless and endless slaughter on the Western Front, a negotiated peace might be a good idea. Violence erupted and Albert Inkpin, secretary of the BSP, was ejected with blood streaming down his face.

In February 1916 a group of the party’s active members founded the newspaper The Call, which played an important part in uniting the internationalists.

From 1916 onwards, The Call, edited by Fred Willis of Willesden (and later Inkpin) became the paper official journal of the British Socialist Party, replacing Justice, which had been the paper of the SDF/BSP since the mid-1880s. . The Call was produced between 24 February 1916 until the 29 July 1920, when it became the Communist the organ of the Communist party of Great Britain.

The Call was started in anticipation of a split in the BSP which eventuated two months later at Easter 1916 – at the 24-25 April national conference. This Conference reversed the BSP’s pro-War policy. This decision led to a walkout by the ‘patriots’, who took Justice, the party’s paper, and most of its assets with them. This faction then created its own organisation called – in hindsight unfortunately – the National Socialist Party. The NSP later changed its name back to the Social Democratic Federation and they took a violently patriotic line. After the War the new SDF had its National Headquarters at 54 Colebrooke Row, Islington. It had a strong Islington Branch which included among its members W. S. Cluse and Fred Montague. The SDF finally went out of existence in 1939.

“Despite the success of the split from Hyndman, since the slaughter of the war went on and the mood of Britain was still very patriotic, the mood of the paper is gloomy, indeed the battle of the Somme started in July 1916 while the Irish rebellion was crushed during its opening conference. One has the impression that an immense change in optimism occurred after the first Russian Revolution which was warmly greeted in the paper on the 22 March 1917. There was a huge growth in all the Marxist currents in Britain without much direct Russian involvement through instructions or money. Still the BSP, as in the pre-Hyndman era, up to the end of 1918 though its members were often exceedingly active in the Trade Unions did not try to organise their members in groups and develop a line therein in the Bolshevik style.

Walter Kendall in his book, The Revolutionary Movement in Britain, 1900-21: the Origins of British Communism, 1969, deals with The Call, the BSP and its evolution into the Communist party. Most of his material about The Call is in Chapters 6 and 9. Kendall’s thesis seems to be that there was an organic growth until some point between early 1918 and early in 1919 when the changes that occurred were increasingly pushed through with Russian money and agents and did not arise out of British conditions and so were, in a sense, artificial, all of which is dealt with in great detail in the Part 2 of the book. Studies since the archives have been opened up have tended to confirm Kendall’s thesis as regards the amounts and frequency of Russian subventions though whether the CP was simply an artificial creation of the Russians is a much more debatable point.

A number of the leading members wrote articles for the paper, Dora Montefiore for instance, the other prominent woman is Zelda Kahan and apart from these two there is Fairchild, the editor, Walton Newbold MP, Fineburg, Dukes, Watson, Ward, Tom Quelch, and last but not least Theo Rothstein who also writes under the name John Bryan and the initials W.A.M.M. Many articles and editorials are anonymous.”
(Ted Crawford)

The British Socialist Party played a leading role in the “Hands off Russia” movement founded 18th January 1919, a campaign launched to stop British Government intervention (British troops landed in Murmansk, Archangel, Baku and Vladivostock in the summer of 1918) and aid to the “White” and “Czarist” Russians during the Civil War. The Campaign was famous for the “blacking” of the ship the “Jolly George” bound with armaments for the White Russians.

The BSP entered into negotiations with other socialist groups to form the CPGB, and formed the largest consitutent bloc in the new party’s membership. Effective with the merger, the BSP and its newspaper, The Call, was terminated, replaced by the new party with its new weekly publication published in London called The Communist.

An index of some articles published in the Call can be read at:
https://www.marxists.org/history/international/social-democracy/call/index.htm

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An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online