Saturday, 8 November 2008

The Great Unrest 1910-11. Part 7: Consequences of the Unrest

This section looks at some of the policies which were adopted following the Great Unrest including extensive plans to defend London from riots, especially in wartime. It also considers the extent to which the First World War quelled the unrest which had been so virulent in 1910-11.

Consequences of the Great Unrest

The riots of 1911 alerted government to the potential burden that strikes could place on police forces nationwide. On 17 August 1911, Sir Edward Troup, Under Secretary of State at the Home Office reminded police and local authorities that they should recruit special constables to augment their forces. Many forces felt no need for special constables and in Llanelly and Manchester such steps were seen as dangerously provocative. The Glamorgan and Hull forces felt no volunteer was suitable. Of the 9,000 volunteers, 2,500 were sworn in, over half in Liverpool. Though only around 300 insisted on being paid, this cost central government over £500 [equivalent to £31,000 at today’s values].[1]

In 1911 the Army Act was amended to permit Army Council-appointed inspectors recording all the horses, motor vehicles and boats which could be ‘impressed’ into service in case of ‘emergency’ or war. Keen motorists, among them politicians, wrote to the newspapers and the Home Office suggesting a national register of those among the 120,000 car owners in Britain who were willing to lend their vehicles to the government in time of crisis feeling this would mean ‘any railway strike would be shorn of many of its terrors’. The idea floundered as motorists and the government recognised volunteer drivers would be at the risk of attack. In such suggestions one sees attitude that would find fruition in the volunteer action during the 1926 General Strike.[2]

As early as 1909, officials anticipated a European war and there was concern over unrest breaking out in wartime. In February 1909, Director of Military Training, Major-General Murray warned of the problems facing wartime London ‘with vast numbers of ignorant, underfed and discontented unemployed, together with the alien and criminal population...’.[3] Though Churchill felt such concerns were exaggerated, in March 1911, he, Haldane and Murray met with the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, General Sir William Nicholson and Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Edward Henry to develop plans for combating unrest in London. Later Murray believed the strikes of 1911 had brought the Home Office around to the War Office’s way of thinking.[4] Given the experience of the general transport strike in Liverpool which had cut food supplies to that city and had result in looting and food riots, it is unsurprising that when the London dock strike broke out in August 1911, Asquith assured the King that there were 20,000 troops ready to intervene if the dispute was prolonged and particularly if rioting broke out. The dockers’ leader, Tillett saw this as intimidation towards strikers. However, given the potential chaos, the government was obliged to be ready to cope with such problems provoked by a strike.[5]

By January 1913 the ‘Suppression of Civil Disturbances in London’ guidance had been printed. It argued that to protect the listed range of locations, including the royal palaces, 250 vulnerable points necessary for public service and 160 locations of military importance in London needed over 13,500 troops. The allocation of forces was given in immense detail with London divided into five zones stretching up to 15 miles from the centre. The ‘armed guards’ protecting the vulnerable points would be ‘given definite orders to fire to protect the premises they are watching or to prevent crime or riot.’, i.e. very similar to the incidents which had occurred in rioting 1910-11. The plan came into force on 2 August 1914 and steps of this kind were implemented during the Metropolitan police strike of 1918.[6]

In November 1914, a survey was conducted of the forces around London which could combat disturbances; the total was around 15,000 the same as had been in London during the 1911 rail strike. Despite Henry’s disdain and counter to standing guidance, an intelligence network, under Sir Schomberg McDonnell, was established in all five zones.[7]

The Home Office opposed militarisation of the police even in wartime. Henry who resisted the formation of two Metropolitan Police Territorial Army battalions. Once war had broken out, he had only 2,500 officers on any shift. London had a population of 7.25 million and only about 5,000 of the 29,000 German and Austrian males of military age in Britain had been interned. Henry feared that the police were stretched even without ‘imposing upon them duties of a quasi military nature’. However, he did permit 5,000 M.E. Mark II carbines to be stored in the Tower of London, plus 500,000 rounds of ammunition and 5,000 fifty-round bandoliers for police use. Henry personally issued 1,000 Scott-Webley automatic pistols to police.[8]

The remaining period of peace saw only sporadic strike-related disturbances, the most serious being in Dublin in August-December 1913 which witnessed riots leading to two deaths. Though the strike disturbances had waned, unrest associated with female suffrage and Irish Home Rule struggles continued.

One commonly asked question is whether the Asquith government was encouraged to declare war in the belief that rousing patriotism would counter domestic unrest. To some extent the war had this effect as ‘[d]isputes melted away as fast as the hours of the day...’. Paul Johnson believes that ‘in a state approaching revolution - only our submersion in a general European catastrophe averted a crisis ... [o]ur parliamentary democracy was, perhaps, saved in the mud of Flanders.’.[10] In addition reports to the Cabinet Committee on Industrial Unrest predicted large scale strikes in Autumn 1914 and that Lloyd George held such concerns.[11]

The concept of declaring war to calm domestic unrest was applied to Imperial Germany by Hans-Ulrich Wehler as the ‘Flucht nach vorn’ - escape forwards. He sees German √©lites as using war to counter the rise of the socialists. Wehler feels that British √©lites were more adaptable than their German counterparts, but in the 1910s were becoming equally as ‘inflexible and irresponsible’ and Britain faced greater actual unrest than Germany.[12] No government could have articulated such a reason for declaring war and it is clear there was little forethought among ministers until days before the declaration. Whilst as Peter Rowland shows Grey’s anti-German stance was challenged in 1911, generally Grey’s foreign policy had been secretive from even the Cabinet, and the distractions of Ireland had meant little attention had been paid to developments in the Balkans. It was assumed that many ministers would resign rather than support going to war, though ultimately only two did. These different factors suggest, that in contrast to the Kaiser’s circle, the British government had no strategy to use war this way.[13]

Though reducing the number of strikes, the outbreak of war did not end unrest and wartime rioting resembled that seen in 1910-13.[14] As David Englander shows, the motives of those involved in anti-German riots in 1915, largely were often economic and looting was seen as justified. In addition, he notes that over half of these rioters were women. However, despite the parallels to the pre-war unrest, in contrast to the riots of 1910-13 the labour movement condemned these wartime disturbances as disrupting the work of shops.[15]

Following government attempts from the mid-1900s to encourage the creation of police reserves, there were 150,000 by the end of 1914, however, it remained difficult to suppress rioting. Troops were used against riots in South Shields, Gravesend and Southend. In 1917 anti-Semitic riots in Leeds and London aimed at the 30,000 Jewish refugees from Russia seen as shirking military service. Despite the war and ultimately rising living standards on the home front, violent unrest could still break out.[16]

Owing to shifts within classes; a fall in real wages and trade union developments, Britain in the early 1910s witnessed new heights of industrial unrest. Violence stemmed from these disputes, but usually with different, often more parochial, motives. Working and middle class people became involved in destruction that normally they would never had considered. This rioting occurred against a background of a new form of industrial action, virulent rhetoric and novel types of protest linked to the issues of Ireland and female suffrage that appeared to legitimise outrageous behaviour, that as Meacham notes, even contemporaries saw as distinct to nineteenth-century popular unrest.
[17] The government’s response showed continuity, augmented to cope with the extent of disturbances and its greater involvement in industrial conciliation.

The first line of defence, local police forces, were too weak and fragmented to counter the riots’ scale and ferocity. Only the military, directly controlled on a national basis by the government could tackle them effectively, even then this proved challenging. At full mobilisation in August 1911 British forces would have found it impossible to deal with rioting occurring in more than a few towns. That experience prompted government plans to counter subsequent similar action. The deaths during the riots were avoidable, but with different approaches or commanding officers far greater bloodshed would have been witnessed. As Churchill noted, more people were killed by the rioters than by soldiers’ bullets.[18] Though the government had to maintain law and order, and this was unpopular with sectors of the population, the successful suppression of unrest meant it never approached the civil war many anticipated.

[1] National Archives [henceforward NA], HO 45/10659/212708 sub-file 114a, Sir E. Troup, circular, 17 August 1911; ‘Special Constables’, 23 August 1911; sub-file 190, ‘Hull’, 23 August 1911; sub-file 238, Letter to Accounting Officer, Treasury, 15 March 1912.
[2] NA, HO 45/10659/212856, pamphlet, ‘The Impression of Horses in Time of National Emergency’, 1912; The Times, 23 August 1911, Lord Montagu to the Editor, ‘Road Transport During Strikes’; A.W. Gamage to the Editor, 25 August 1911; The Daily Telegraph, 1 September 1911, ‘Our Food Supply’; The Autocar, 2 September 1911, ‘Notes’; NA, HO 45/10571/176569, sub-file 3, W. Joynson-Hicks, M.P. to Home Secretary 29 August 1911; sub-file 4a, undated memorandum on visit of Mr. Stenson. Michael Bentley, Politics without Democracy, 1815-1914, (London, 1996), p. 327, states there were 140,000 cars in Britain by 1914.
[3] NA, WO 32/5270, A.J. Murray, 11 February 1909.
[4] NA, WO 32/5270, Memorandum of Conference at the Home Office, 6 March 1911; Major-General A.J. Murray to C.I.G.S. [Chief of the Imperial General Staff, General Nicholson], 22 September 1911.
[5] Barbara Weinberger, Keeping the Peace? Policing Strikes in Britain 1906-1926, (Oxford, 1991), p. 105.
[6] NA, HO 144/1650/179897, sub-file 16, ‘Suppression of Civil Disturbances in London’; WO 32/5270, map; letter to G.O.C. London District [Lloyd], 2 August 1914; Weinberger, p. 146.
[7] NA, WO 32/5270, B.B. Cubitt to G.O.C. London District, 6 November 1914; Major-General Sir Francis Lloyd to War Secretary, 17 September 1914; HO 144/1650/179987, sub-file 15, Sir E. Troup to Secretary, War Office, 10 March 1915; sub-file 16, Sir E. Henry to Sir E. Troup, 5 May 1915, unaware that the intelligence network was already in place, Henry dismissed even the idea as ‘childish’.
[8] NA, WO 32/5270, Major-General A.J. Murray to C.I.G.S., 22 September 1911; HO 144/1650/179987 sub-file 12, E.R. Henry to General Sir J. Wolfe Murray, 21 November 1914.
[9] George Dangerfield, The Strange Death of Liberal England, (London, 1966), pp. 257-8, 260, 264.
[10] Lord George Askwith, Industrial Problems and Disputes, (London, 1920), p. 359; Paul Johnson, ‘Preface’ in Dangerfield, p. 10.
[11] David Powell, The Edwardian Crisis: Britain 1901-1914, (Basingstoke, 1996), p. 128.
[12] Hans-Ulrich Wehler, The German Empire 1871-1918, (Leamington Spa, 1985), pp. 192, 198.
[13] Bentley, pp. 345, 361; Kenneth O. Morgan, The Age of Lloyd George. The Liberal Party and British Politics, 1890-1929, (London, 1971), pp. 53-4; Peter Rowland, The Last Liberal Governments: Unfinished Business, 1911-1914, (London, 1971), p. 362.
[14] Weinberger, p. 124.
[15] David Englander, ‘Police and Public Order in Britain in Britain 1914-1918’ in Clive Emsley & Barbara Weinberger, ed., Policing Western Europe. Politics, Professionalism and Public Order, 1850-1940, (New York, 1991), pp. 106-107, 116; Weinberger, p. 125.
[16] Englander, pp. 93, 109-110, 113-114; Whiteside in Turner, pp. 86-7; Weinberger, pp. 125-6, notes that concerns over the rising cost of living and dissent over excessive profits motivated most industrial unrest, as before the war.
[17] Standish Meacham, ‘“The Sense of an Impending Clash”: English Working-Class Unrest before the First World War’, American Historical Review, Vol 77, no. 4 (1972), p. 1346.
[18] The Times, 23 August 1911, ‘The Labour Unrest’.

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