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



When everyone is longing for the joy-bells to ring on the proclamation of peace it is strange, unless the circumstances be considered, to hear that a peace mission for Oldham was barred and the few advocates of peace who had intended to begin the mission were mobbed and ill-treated. We have no desire to defend the maltreatment of these men. All that can be written of the discreditable street scenes of Monday night in Oldham must be by way of extenuation, not of defence. That the townspeople would not have attacked the speakers and their few supporters had a meeting been held and the New Zealand Artillery men not been there is probable. That the missionaries of peace on Monday acted in a way to bring on trouble is certain. That they were brutally assaulted and that the assault on them was a discredit to the borough is no less certain.

If men are to be mobbed and meetings broken up because their views are unpopular, and the community acquiesces in the violence, there is an end to free speech. What is now done to peace cranks could be done with equal show of reason to defenders of the rights of any minority after the war. Like the defiance of law shown by conscientious objectors against a Conservative Education Act the weapon is a dangerous one. Therefore we regret that Mr. Hill and his friends were assaulted and the I.L.P. rooms raided. but it should be added that if they had acted with any fair degree of common sense it is likely they would not have been sick and sore next day.

A week's peace mission was advertised. Its promoters must have desired an audience; no-one wishes to speak to a handful of the converted only if he or she is full of a great cause. They must have known that public interest would be roused. What sense was there in huddling into a corner off Henshaw Street, where a meeting could not be held, instead of getting a lurry on to the ground at the back of the Red Lion Hotel, and speaking out, after an appeal for a fair hearing? They would have been no worse off at the finish, and, though the meeting would have been noisy and maybe the row and the heckling continuous, they would have done their best. When they resolved not to hold the meeting in their corner they should have got away quickly and with as little wish to call the attention of the crowd to themselves as possible, Instead of that judicious stealing away they lingered on at their badly chosen standing spot, and halted every now and then as they walked along towards the Town Hall.

One of the numerous correspondents, whose letters have appeared in the 'Evening Chronicle' finds the report of the disturbance given in Tuesday's issue substantially correct, but he detects in it an apologetic note, a wish to let the assailants down lightly. He will think, no doubt that this comment is an apology. We are not conscious of attempting apologetics for violence, but simply wish to point out that the I.L.P. and peace men - and women - puit themselves in the way of trouble after the meeting was given up. For the attack on Mr. Winterbottom the young women with him were in reality the unconscious instigators. If he and they had gone home quietly after the row, and more than all, if the women had restrained that dangerous member, the tongue, all would have been well with them. We are not sorry that the peace mission was abandoned sine die, but we do regret the manner and the cause of that abandonment.


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