Oldham Historical Research Group

'What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
- Only the monstrous anger of the guns.'
from 'Anthem for Doomed Youth' by Wilfred Owen

1914 - 1918


Tuesday August 7th ... Oldham Standard
Complete rout in Oldham
Meeting Abandoned

A Peace meeting had been announced to be held in the market Place, adjacent to Henshaw Street, on Monday evening. But loyal Oldhamers saw to it that it was not held, and though such of the promoters as could be spotted by the indignant throng who assembled were somewhat roughly handled they on the whole got off much lighter than they might have anticipated.

The meeting was to have formed one of a series of five gatherings flamboyantly announced in the advertising columns of a local newspaper as constituting 'A Week's Peace Mission'. Half past seven was the hour announced for the commencement of the meeting, and seven o'clock saw a large and somewhat threatening crowd assembled on the piece of spare ground which faces the entrance to the Market Hall. A Dotted about here and there among the waiting throng which was largely composed of men of the New Zealand Field Artillery, were a number of plain clothes police officers and the Chief Constable (Mr. D.H. Turner), too was present. The advertised time drew near but there was no sign of the peaceites; they were conspicuous by their absence, and when 7:45 came along a large portion of the crowd came to the conclusion that the agitators had decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and, emulating the Arab, had silently stolen away.

But suddenly word went through the throng, in the mysterious way that such news does, that they had mistaken the venue, and that preparations had been made for holding the meeting higher up Henshaw Street, at the further end of the Market Hall. B Immediately the crowd, headed by the brawny New Zealanders, moved off to the spot indicated, and a glance showed them that the tidings they had received were correct. Ensconced in a sheltered corner just off the street were a little group of men whom the people had no difficulty in recognising as the leading 'lights' of the week's 'mission.' They stood supine round a folding platform - about twice the size of a camp-stool, and an improvement on the soap-box generally associated with the ranting 'tub-thumper'.

At first the crowd contented itself with looking sullenly on, until one wag, with ironical courtesy, ventured to ask , "Please, Mr. Peaceman, when are you going to begin?" adding, with delightful naivety, "We're all anxious to hear you start." The peaceites ignored the question, whereupon queries assailed their ears from all parts of the crowd, one man reminding them that there were "lots of boys from New Zealand." present. "I am sure you don't want to disappont them," the speaker went on. "They've come ever so many thousands of miles to fight in this war. I know they would be pleased to hear that they were wrong in doing so." This sally amused the crowd vastly, and when another bystander invited them with a sweep of the arm to "Look at the peace chaps," adding "Don't they look a brave lot?" there was a yell of laughter mingled with a chorus of groans.

The handful of peaceites scanned the faces of the throng apparently in the expectation of finding a few supporters among it, but they were doomed to disappointment, and presently the twitting and jeers of the onlookers became too much for them, and they folded up their platform and made off down C Curzon Street and High Street in the direction of the town Hall. A dense crowd, booing and yelling , followed at their heels, the new Zealanders, who relished the fun immensely, being in the van. there was however nothing in the shape of real disorder until just before the Platt monument was reached, D Then it was that one of the 3 or 4 peace-at-any-pricers half turned round and ejaculated something to the antipodean Tommies crowding behind.

Whatever it was he said was drowned in a wholesome yell of execration, and it had the effect of applying a match to tinder. The smouldering temper of the crowd broke into flames and the peaceites not liking the new tone in the yells took to their heels. Hundreds pelted after them and they had not got only a yard or two before they were in the toils, a particularly dead-set, of course, being made at the man who had twitted them, and who was subsequently stated to be the secretary to the I.L.P. - Wilfred Hill.

Seeing that things were now looking ugly a number of policemen who had been keeping an eye on the soldiery and the yelling mob behind them surrounded the peace-mongers - now reduced to about three in number. But their efforts to protect the unpopular propagandists availed little, for the New Zealanders and others managed to yank them out of the clutches of the constabulary, and to handle them pretty roughly ere the officers of law and order were able to recapture them and shepherd them along the street. Hill, who was alleged to have taunted the soldiery, received numerous blows, none of them, shall we say, too lovingly dealt, and doubtless today he is a much bruised if not a wiser man.

His companions, too, shared in the tangible expressions of execration dealt out unsparingly by those such as could reach those who had overtly offended their sense of patriotism. E As the top of Mill Street was reached the police made an effort to get the peaceites down there, but for a time they were unable to do so, the onrush of the mob sweeping them on to the Town Hall steps, where peaceites, their protectors, soldiers and civilians fell all in a heap. Swiftly regaining their feetand sorting out their 'captives' the constables gave 'a strong push and push altogether' and managed to beat back the surging crowd, and, with reinforcements at hand to force their way into Mill Street and to get some of the 'peace lovers' into the shelter of the police station. F Whilst the peaceites, three in number, were covering the short distance to the welcome doors that led to safety from the howling mob a cordon of policmen attempted to hold the top of the street, and they succeeded in doing so for a few seconds. These sufficed and the pacifist trio got safely past the swinging doors just in the nick of time, a yelling detachment of soldiery and civilians coming hard on their heels. These latter attempted to follow their 'prey' into the police station itself, and a tussle took place on the very threshold that under ordinary circumstancesfew express an overweening desire to cross. Policemen in reserve pouredthrough the swing doors, and reiforced those who had acted as guards to the peaceites, and gradually they were able to force the clamorous and now exceedingly angy mob back, and a few minutes later, but not before many had received a bruise or two, they had the crowd dispersed and the purlieus of the Town Hall resumed its wonted evening aspect.

Meanwhile, the three pacifists rescued from the crowd were in the shelter of the station, nursing their hurts and recovering the breath which had almost been beaten out of their bodies. They were:-
Wiilfred Hill, the Local Secretary of the Independent Labour party.
Smith Slater, joiner, and
George Hird, cop packer.

Hill has made himself more or less notorious during the last few months. He lives at 7 Gibralter Street and by occupation is an insurance collector,
Slater resides at 30, Harper Street and
Hird at 12 Gloucestor Street.
As we have said the crowd was speedily dispersed from the region of the Town Hall, but the evening's trouble was by no means over.

Not content with seeing their friends roughly handled and being led off to the Town Hall for their own protection, Arthur Winterbottom, a conscientious objector, remained at the top of Mill Street in company with several young women, one of whom wore a 'peace movement badge'. The females muttered remarks of an unpopular character, which caused the Chief Constable, who was present to invervene and warn them of the consequences if they did not desist. They did for a moment or two, and then walked along Mill Street F to the front of the Police Office, discussing the events of the night. But they were soon moved on, and on returning to the top of the street again one observed that she had spoken many times in the Market Place. G "Yes," but you will be speaking somehwere else if you don't shut up," ejaculated the Chief Constable, who issued another warning to them.

Ultimately they wended their way towards the crowd, but whether some further remarks were made or not we cannot say. At any rate they were jostled along Clegg Strreet H and along Union Street. I When near the Infirmary the women got separated from Winterbottom,, and he was at once seized by the crowd, J despite the gallant efforts of the police. He was very badly mauled, sustaining a black eye and several bruises. In endeavouring to protect him one of the plain clothes offiers received a 'knock-out' blow from a determined New Zealander, who on realising his mistake at once apologised. With difficulty Winterbottom was got to the Police Office, F where his injuries were attended to. Other members of the peace party, including two women, had their hats torn off their heads and trodden upon.

For about half an hour things remained on the quiet side, but it leaked out that 'in case of wet weather the meeting would be held in the I.L.P. rooms'. Off set the New Zealanders and a crowd of people to Union Street where the I.L.P. rooms are situated K. There the mob found the doors barred, or at least locked. But this set-back did not deter them. They forced the doors open, but no members of the I.L.P. were to be found. However, when once inside the soldiers emptied the temperance bar, seized the playing cards and music, and flung them out of the windows, to the delight and amusement of the crowd outside. They next pulled the curtains down from the windows and they threw these and the curtain rods into the street also. They did no other damage to the building but were content with flinging the articles mentioned into the roadway.

One of the soldiers emerged from the room, and was carried shoulder high by his colleagues. Later he mounted a passing motor lurry and spoke a few words in condemnation of the peace party, and the large crowd cheered to the echo.

The four pacifists were nursing their injuries for some hours within the precincts of the Town Hall, and it was not until very late in the evening they were enabled to escape quietly to their homes. But it was nearly midnight before the streets became altogether normal, and the crowd finally dispersed.

Somewhere in the neighbourhood of 10 o'clock there was a further outbreak of trouble. A section of the protesting crowd making their way home along Greengate Street, encountered a supposed pacifist, and promptly set upon him and gave him a severe drubbing despite his howls that he was being killed. He was at the added misfortune of being cut off from all sorts of asistance, there being no policmean at hand to rescue him and conduct him to safety, with the result that he was pretty badly mauled before the fury of his attacker was exhausted.

Some of the adherents of the Peace Party state that despite the threatening attitude of the crowd they would make an attempt to hold their meeting in Henshaw Street - on the spot where the portable platform was erected - had they not been informed by the Chief Constable that he would not permit them to do so, on two grounds - firstly that it would have meant an obstruction of the street, and secondly that a breach of the peace would most probably be occasioned. He, however, raised no objection to them, at their own risk, holding their meeting on the usual spot - the waste ground fronting the Market Hall, though he strongly advised them to be reasonable and not attempt to do so, in face of the obvious temper of the crowd. They wisely decided to take his advice and, as stated, attempted to get away, and probably would have done so without violence had they not foolishly provoked the crowd who followed them into going further than merely hooting and yelling at them.

Prior to the attack on on the headquarters of the I.L.P. a detachment of the New Zealand warriors made their way into the old Market Place accompanied by hundreds of civilians, clamouring for a speech. The soldiers made their way to the 'island' where are situate the railings guarding the entrances to the underground lavatories. Arriving there one stentorian-voiced Antipodean artilleryman announced that if the throng would 'cut their gab' 'Billee' who was a 'first class talk man' would 'say a word or two'. 'Billee' laughingly protested that he was no 'speech-man' but his comrades told him they knew better, and playfully hoisted him shoulder high with injunctions to "weigh out and let the cowardly peace-blighters have it straight from the shoulder." 'Billee' made an endeavour to comply, but he had only got out a few disjointed syllables when he slipped from his precarious perch on the shoulders of two comrades and his oratorical effort came to a sudden and ignominious conclusion.

"Come on; get on with it." enjoined his pals and they again hoisted him high, when a brilliant idea occurred to them. Why not sit him on top of the lavatory railings? No sooner thought than done, and 'Billee' found himself perched on a very spiky and uncomfortable coign of vantage, and the only kind of 'speech' that could be got from him was a series of squeals as the inhospitable spikes assailed the nether part of his anatomy. 'Let me down, you tykes!" he called to his 'pals'. "If you don't I'll tell the people all about you - you perishers!" This was too much for his 'supporters'. They withdrew their support and left 'Billee' dangling unpicturesquely by the tails of his tunic which were held fast by the spikes. His comrades were enjoying the spectacle immensely when news came that the main body had moved on to the I.L.P. rooms, and releasing 'Billee' they hied them thither in a hurry.


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