The Battle of Cory Hall, November 1916: Patriots Meet Dissenters in Wartime Cardiff.
With respect to the rightly famous historians indicated, the imposition of artificial criteria in the selection of facts, however excellent the scholarship informing the choice, must lead to loss of fidelity.(4) Lasting trends are convincingly demonstrated. Events in contradiction to the pattern, however, sometimes become casualties of clarity. For someone interested in more immediate questions, this is not always acceptable. Not everyone has adopted this method; not everyone agrees with the patterns identified. Indeed, B. Waites, considering a much more restricted timeframe, and writing without a well-defined, pre-existent idea of which events were important, describes a marvellous social-political diversity in which few generalizations are possible.(5) His theme is not uniformity and continuity but striking, unpredictable variation across society, unique to the war. K.O. Morgan argues convincingly that post-war political requirements have strongly influenced the way period politics and politicians are remembered, and produces a version of the war on the home front different in significant respects.(6) G. Searle,(7) and C. Wrigley,(8) seeking to demonstrate different patterns, describe a very different reality than that often supposed. How to explain Lloyd George's ascension to power -- still less the demonstrable popularity of his wartime leadership -- while accepting much that had been written elsewhere? Historians interested in more particular, or local questions, often produce a vision of wartime reality at variance with commonly perceived patterns.(9)
What follows is an attempt, by reference to events in one particularly important local system at one significant juncture in time, to suggest the general outline of a picture more adequate than that sometimes employed to describe the Lloyd George, wartime period. The focus will be on identifying one instance, by no means unique, during which the problems implicit in a society under pressure became particularly acute, producing an outcome different from what might be commonly supposed. No claim is made that patterns identified had much relevance outside the war. The incident to be considered is the Battle of Cory Hall, a cause celebre in November 1916, by 1918 already forgotten. It is interesting not only as a particularly poignant example of a type violence all too common throughout Britain by 1916, but also for some particular characteristics which set it apart from hundreds of similar clashes and make it important for itself.(10)
For our purposes, the context in which the battle was played out is of greatest ultimate interest. Cardiff and region, was just where we might expect a unified working class response to have occurred. Social divisions were marked. The miners and seamen of the region were socially and politically conscious and combative. Keir Hardie, the father of the ILP, had sat as Labour MP at Merthyr Tydfil between 1900 and his death in 1915. Lloyd George, at least initially, a radical, nationalist populist from North Wales, was a power in the land. The pre-war Tonypandy disturbances and the first great strike of the war -- the South Wales miners' strike of 1915 -- had been local troubles.(11) Looking ahead, Aneurin Bevan, at this time a very young man, was already politically active and far more radical than he later became. If, therefore, no uniform working class response was possible in Cardiff, it is likely that no uniform working class reaction to the war was ever possible anywhere.
This is not only a retrospective judgement. It was the common sense of the day. Throughout the war the region was closely watched both by the government and the "dissenters."(12) If first conscription, and then the idea of broader re-structuring and compulsion were tolerated here, then they would, most considered, be tolerated everywhere.(13) If they were successfully opposed here, following the unification by the dissenters of the working class response, then a rough ride might lie ahead nation-wide. This question was particularly acute since the Battle of Cory Hall occurred just as the casualties experienced on the Somme were making the tightening of conscription and workplace realignment, and even thorough-going industrial compulsion, necessary. The Asquith government, moreover, was in its death-throes. But what would replace it: a Lloyd George-Unionist"patriot" fusion,(14) or a government of amalgamated dissent led, perhaps, by one of Asquith's more disgruntled colleagues?(15) The clash, therefore, took place in a region which might have been expected to produce the unified working class response pre-war, wartime and post-war syndicalists dreamed about, at a time particularly favourable to such a development, and moreover, at a crucially important juncture in the war when a peace government might have emerged without domestic disturbance tantamount to civil war.
The patriot leadership was alive to the significance of South Wales. Mrs. Pankhurst (a virulent patriot), for instance, had identified the area as a government sore spot even in 1915, and had brought her fears to the attention of Lloyd George. If Lloyd George had been inclined not to take too pessimistic a view in 1915, this was not the case in 1916. The dissenters, as well, were well aware of the potential and importance of the region. In 1916 E.D. Morel and the Union for Democracy Control (UDC) were attempting to manipulate the volatile mixture in South Wales for their own purposes. Morel was looking to construct a coalition between the UDC, the Labour Party, and the militant "Triple Alliance" in order to bring on something like a general strike, stop conscription, force a change of government and perhaps end the war. Charles Treveleyan had been active in the region, in the months before Cory Hall, advocating just such a project.(16) Bertrand Russell, as well, was on hand for the No Conscription Fellowship (NCF) conducting through the summer a series of "wonderful" anti-conscription meetings.(17) It is worth remembering, in this regard, that the Sheffield engineers' strike exploded two days after the Battle of Cory Hall. Morel's grand coalition of dissent was almost realised.(18) Had it not been stillborn he might have at least had a chance to achieve some of the items in the UDC wartime agenda.
Ultimately, however, the dissenters failed. What they achieved was the Battle of Cory Hall rather than a general strike. Lloyd George rather than E.D. Morel was the man of the hour. The failure in Cardiff put paid to the effort to consolidate dissent into a combination capable, in 1916, of shifting the national agenda. This failure was rooted in social-political facts which, even in Cardiff in November 1916, favoured the patriot rather than the dissenting platform. Far from finding in South Wales a unified anti-war, class based response, what transpired in Cardiff indicates not simply a polarised society, but a splintered working class reaction to the war. Most of the patriot rioters -- perhaps in even greater proportion than the dissenters -- were working people, making common cause with their bosses against individuals whom they believed to be enemies of the nation. The considerable interest demonstrated locally in the Independent Labour Party (ILP)-UDC message, however, must be taken as a demonstration, once again, that if the working class was not uniformly dissenting, neither was everyone convinced that victory at whatever the cost was equally the interest of all.
So what happened in Cardiff? A dissenting meeting convened under the aegis of the National Council for Civil Liberties (NCCL) by a local ILP leader and miners' agent, James Winstone, at which J.H. Thomas (the Railwaymen's leader and Labour MP) and Ramsay MacDonald were scheduled to speak, was broken up with considerable violence by a mob led by Cardiff's leading citizens, including local trade union leaders and an ILP MP, while the police looked on. It can be said at the outset that what happened in Cardiff had been brewing for some time, was all the more violent for this fact, and typefied the personal and political conflicts which were leading, by 1916, to virtually unbridgeable patriot-pacifist chasms even in predominantly working class areas. The Cardiff region did not suddenly become split in 1916; it had been split for some time. The war accentuated cleavages.
A dominant political force in Cardiff city in the years prior to the war had been the Cory family (hence Cory Hall) -- a family of ship and colliery owners, of whom, in 1916, two members were sitting in the House of Commons. Sir Clifford Cory was chairman of the Cory Brothers Colliers, Justice of the Peace (JP) and deputy Lord Lieutenant for Glamorganshire, High Sheriff, and MP for the St. Ives Division, Cornwall, 1906-24, and a supporter of Lloyd George. His brother, Sir James Herbert Cory, was a ship owner, JP and likewise deputy Lord Lieutenant, elected for Cardiff in November 1915 as a Conservative, following the death of the sitting MP. Aside from the Cory brothers, a leading establishment figure, implicated in the disturbances that followed, was David Alfred Thomas (Baron (January 1916) and later Viscount (January 1918) Rhondda of Llanwern: hereafter "Rhondda"), senior partner in Thomas and Davey Coal Shippers, JP and deputy Lord Lieutenant; later food commissioner in the Lloyd George government. Rhondda sat for the local rural constituency, Merthyr Tydfil, as a Liberal from 1888 until he transferred to Cardiff. In 1910, he retired from politics until his translation to the House of Lords. The Corys and Rhondda were the bosses. Quite plainly, they were among those who owned Cardiff and environs, both economically and politically, and, in the immediately pre-war years and wartime period, their domination had been growing as concentration and combination continued.(19) Already, most of the coalfields were in the hands of five combines -- Rhondda's Cambrian combine, and Cory's being two of the largest. At this time, A. Hutt tells us, to "journey in South Wales [was] not to journey from one county, or one valley to the next, but to travel from territory to territory of one or other of these combines."(20) With outright control of one quarter of South Wales coal production, and a hand in much of the rest, Rhondda especially was a power to be reckoned with.(21) His coalfields, moreover, had been the epicentre of the Tonypandy disturbances.(22) Naturally, the owners and the "better sort" viewed the anti-war agitation as unpatriotic. As dissenting agitation steadily grew to implicate existing, and widening, class and labour disputes, dissent began to look more and more socially and politically dangerous -- even, in potential, revolutionary. In Cardiff, as elsewhere, dislike gave way to steady and ever more active opposition.
Against the bosses was arrayed organised Labour -- the coal miners of the valleys, the seamen and dockers of the port, and the iron and steel workers of Ebbw Vale, Tredegar, Merthyr, and Pontypool. Their opposition to the established order was all the more complete since the coal and steel industries in the region had grown up so quickly in the last half of the nineteenth century that they had created small towns without any amenities, built on slag heaps, and big towns that were "sinks of vice."(23) The population of the Rhondda valley, for instance, had grown from perhaps 1,000 persons, in 1850, to 152,781 in 1911. The population of the valleys was, moreover, distinct from that of the towns. The miners and steelworkers; in large measure, were drawn from the rural Welsh population, different in ethnicity, religion, and language from the town population, gentry and established clergy -- "the enemies without."(24) A powerful, and very diffuse trade union structure, super-imposed upon the local chapel movement, reinforced local identities and provided the framework for powerful local, working class loyalties.(25) To make matters worse, the fractured nature of Welsh geography, which encouraged isolation, had allowed very advanced notions to develop in the minds of younger workers in particular. Ultimately, these notions were encouraged, and inculcated through a vigorous system of independent schools, necessary, in any case, due to the prevalent religious nonconformity of the region. Twenty-one of thirty members of the miners' committee called to discuss union reform, in the years prior to the war, for instance, were products of the Plebs League schools. Notable local agitators graduated from these to attend, not Oxford or Cambridge, but the Central Labour College.(26) Cultural distinctiveness, therefore, made the acceptance of divergent and advanced ideas easier, and encouraged the creation of local self-help education systems which, by the immediately pre-war period, were beginning to make such ideas universal. Moreover, unlike many miners, Welsh miners tended to be home owners, which made them voters even before 1919 -- politically active voters it might be added.(27)
The result? A social-industrial situation characterised by yawning, obvious, and ugly divides, which was commonly interpreted by reference to political ideas much less compromising, better thought out, and more firmly held than those typical in the working class as a whole. Aneurin Bevan was later to write of the downright revolutionary fervour which underlay labour politics in South Wales in his youth.(28) In the years just before the war, this fervour had produced powerful unrest, expressed in ugly Labour disturbances which made South Wales the most turbulent region in a generally stormy time. In 1908, the SWMF (South Wales Miners' Federation) had voted overwhelmingly for affiliation to the Labour Party.(29) The years 1910-12 had seen constant disruption. In 1911 members of the SWMF had shocked their less convinced brethren in Durham, Northumberland, and North Staffordshire by their militancy. Welshmen were, the MFGB (Miners' Federation of Great Britain) was informed, touring the country preaching syndicalist general strike. Could they not somehow be restrained?(30) By 1914, Noah Ablet, the Marxist author of The Miner's Next Step, was agitating for nothing less than a seven-hour day and eight shillings an hour minimum wage.(31) These were very advanced notions for 1914. Abler was willing to achieve them by means equally advanced.
Until his death in 1915, a leader of the miners nationally, the local Labour MP for Merthyr Tydfil in the coal belt, and the founder of the ILP, was the venerable Keir Hardie. Prominent among his collaborators were two miners' organisers, Charles Butt Stanton, and James Winstone. Both of these men had been amongst the new generation of radical leaders which had come to the fore of the local Labour movement following the retirement of gradualist, Lib-Lab, William "Mabone" Abraham from leadership of the SWMF in 1912. Where Mabone had insisted that "half a loaf is better than none," Stanton, Winstone and their fellows insisted that "we are demanding the whole bakehouse."(32) Winstone had been notable as a resolute industrial/political leader. Stanton, the Aberdare miners' agent and, after 1912, a SWMF delegate to the MFGB, on the other hand, had been the quintessential young man in a hurry, noted for his fiery and uncompromising approach. He had no time for gradualism. "[T]he faint hearted, over-cautious, creeping, crawling, cowardly set who pose as leaders but do not lead," he insisted, "are responsible for the rotten conditions of things today."(33) When, in 1910, the mine owners had threatened violence, Stanton had threatened them in turn with "fighting brigades" which would return blow for blow.(34) He was one of the most convinced, and violent syndicalists in South Wales.(35) "Before the war," Stanton was later to tell the House of Commons, "I was a fighting men, and I did something more than the honourable Member for Derby [J.H. Thomas] did. I had the full confidence of my men [then], and I could have it today."(36) Both Stanton and Winstone, of course, were members of the ILP.
The war, as might be expected, accentuated the gap between workers and owners, town and country. It also split the ILP, separated the miners and steelworkers from the seamen, and divided the miners against themselves. To existing social splits were added inter-working class cleavages which were all too apparent by November 1916. It was inevitable that the seamen would tend to the patriotic position. They were, after all, member of what was essentially a fighting service. The seamen, moreover, were less exposed to the radicalism of ASE (Amalgamated Society of Engineers) members -- men beside whom many miners lived in the valley towns. But neither were the miners a united whole. It is true that the war hardly calmed tensions in the pit towns. Conscription was provocative. It was widely suspected that the government would ultimately resort to universal industrial realignment, even compulsion, and use this to crush the labour movement. The strike of 1915, was almost repeated in 1916; it became, thereafter, a situation of almost permanently incipient strike.(37) On the other hand, industrial disputes, however angry, were not always directed against the fact of war. While some might insist that the time had come for a general strike to produce revolutionary change, others reacting to the same set of problems, equally adamantly, could advocate a change of government, and more efficient prosecution of the war. Strikes are always a sign of unhappiness, but not always of socialism.
There were other sources of division. While Welsh workers might dislike their bosses, they also identified strongly with the victimised nations of the First World War. Ethnicity, like class, was a far less stable variable during the First World War than has sometimes been supposed. The war, Lloyd George asserted, was not being fought for further imperial aggrandisement, but on behalf of the "little five-foot-five nations" -- like Wales, he need not have added.(38) Welsh clergymen (chapel and church), moreover, were almost universally and violently anti-German. In Wales, of course, chapelswere not only religious, but social, political and national institutions. Monday's convinced Socialist, was very apt to be Sunday's chapelgoer.
By this time, moreover, all ideological splits in Wales overlay a splintering of local radicalism, already underway. This split was occurring exactly on the nationalist fault line. In the years immediately prior to the war, Welsh radicals had won important victories, most particularly land reform, and the disestablishment of the Church of England in Wales. Before the war, national and class agendas had coalesced. By 1914, they were beginning to pull apart. The national Labour line was that class issues must be predominant, and that Welsh nationalism was little better than a parochial distraction, even an autism. Many workers were not so certain. Mabonist Liberalism -- Liberalism combined with a gradualist Labour agenda mixed with Welsh nationalism -- was still very powerful.(39) Lloyd George was Wales favourite son: a Welsh radical with a populist agenda become Prime Minister, who was surrounded by other Welshmen, and who kept a Welsh household at 10 Downing Street.(40) His annual pilgrimage to the national eisteddfod was known throughout Wales as "Lloyd George's day."(41) Ultimately the split between radicals and Mabonists would lead to the foundation of Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru in 1925.(42) In the war years this split was already developing and evident. In the 1910 election, for instance, Ben Tillett, a BSP (British Socialist Party) import, had been swamped in Swansea city; while even in a Labour strong-hold like Merthyr Tydfil Keir Hardie had run second to Edgar Jones -- a local nationalist, and a Baptist clergyman.(43) In 1913, the Liberals attempted a local counter-offensive in Merthyr, running a second candidate -- T. Artemus Jones, a product of the nationalist movement -- and nearly unseated Hardie.(44) Just as the squires and mine owners often seemed to be members of a foreign oligarchy, so Keir Hardie and his supporters sometimes appeared to be little better than foreign interlopers seeking to foist an internationalist agenda upon a movement which had always focussed, in part, on national regeneration.(45) In many respects, Mabonist Labour was closer to Rhondda than to Keir Hardie, and to Lloyd George than Ramsay MacDonald. As D.A. Thomas, after all, Rhondda had been a radical, a nationalist, and a founder of Cymru Fydd.(46) For members of the Plaid tendency, working class politics did not appear to be inconsistent, necessarily, with patriotic support for Britain's cause. This, of course, was by no means a sentiment particular to Wales. For most British working class people victory in a war against a well-hated enemy -- already established as militarist, classist and ruthlessly nationalist -- appeared to be exactly a class interest.
From the beginning, therefore, the ideological response of Welsh workers, even those in categories most likely to favour dissent, was confused by conflicting motives. Welshmen were not slow to strike. They were quick to volunteer. In the first year of the war, nationally miners led the way in rates of enlistment. By July 1915, one quarter had enlisted. Some of the highest rates of enlistment, even within this highly patriotic category, were registered in Glamorganshire. Wales, as a whole, ultimately achieved the highest rate of participation in the war of any constituent part of the United Kingdom.(47) Political strikes and enlistment: these were symptoms of a divided and unhappy local society. While Labour radicalism remained a feature of local political life, working class patriotism of a particularly virulent variety was evident from the beginning.(48)
In South Wales, as elsewhere, the division of the working class into feuding patriotic and dissenting factions was formalised. When Keir Hardie died in September 1915 a by-election followed. Since Merthyr Tydfil was a two-seat constituency, in which the senior seat was held by a Liberal, and the junior by Labour (Keir Hardie), the contest that ensued occurred almost entirely between competing branches of the ILP. What should have been an administrative process quickly became a bitter straggle between Hardie's Lieutenants, Winstone and Stanton. In a very nasty contest for nomination, both sides flung charges of corruption and treachery. Both miners' factions were just "not playing the game." Cards were not being checked. Boys were being allowed to vote. Branches were saying that they would not be bound by the general verdict.(49) Which side was held to be most guilty of corruption depended upon the personal political position of the commentator. Meanwhile, the leadership of the miners' union, nationally, Fell to Robert Smillie, a convinced dissenter. The war, Smillie considered, was an unmitigated disaster. Conscription was the beginning of total compulsion, which would not be removed after the war and was, therefore, an evil which would have to be fought.(50) Some miners certainly agreed. Once again, however, the views of Smillie were not universally shared. Many miners had already volunteered, and many of these were ultimately returned from the front to the pits as essential labour. Here they constituted a significant patriotic leaven. The Presidency of the SWMF, after the retirement of Mabone, had gone to William Brace, the miners' agent for Monmouthshire. A Labour MP, and the leader of a very combative section of a combative union, he was also a convinced patriot who had already taken office in the government as the parliamentary under-secretary at the Home Office -- a position he would hold through 1018.(51) By 1915, Mabone himself had joined the patriotic British Workers National League (BWNL).(52)
In the end, Winstone received the nod to stand as official ILP candidate after achieving a narrow victory over Stanton after three polls. Winstone continued to toe the cautious line established by the leadership of the ILP's peace Faction. If not exactly anti-war, or revolutionary in any sense of the word,(53) Winstone was definitely anti-conscriptionist and pro-UDC.(54) Stanton, meanwhile, was a Fully engaged patriot. On 6 August 1914, he had shown his cards when he led a patriot mob in an attack on Keir Hardie in his constituency office.(55) On its formation, he accepted office as a Vice-President of the BWNL. By the end of 1915, his partisanship had become so violent that even Max Blumenfeld (the highly patriotic and anti-socialist editor of the Express) floated his correspondence past members of the government prior to publication, censoring what did not pass muster as too inflammatory.(56) Despite his defeat, he ran in the by-election as an "unofficial" ILP candidate. It was a sign of the disarray in Labour ranks, however, that Stanton rather than Winstone was the candidate officially backed by the Labour Party National Executive.(57) Which, therefore, was the traitor to Labour? Although big guns were rolled out in support of Winstone -- J.H. Thomas and the Bradford Labour leader, and then chairman of the ILP, Fred Jowett -- in the contest that followed Stanton was returned as ILP member for Merthyr Tydfil with a plurality of 4,000 votes, and with support from the government parties and the BWNL.(58) Opposing as he did the most important planks in the ILP wartime platform, it is probably closer to the troth to see Stanton, by this time, as an angry and resentful independent much closer to Lloyd George than to Ramsay MacDonald, or even Arthur Henderson. So he is remembered, in any case, in Labour histories.(59)
Stanton's membership in the BWNL is a very significant fact in itself. The BWNL was a new British, Socialist grouping, formed in 1915, by its enigmatic leader Victor Fisher -- like many of the BWNL's other leaders, a one time Social Democratic Federation stalwart.(60) The BWNL was composed, specifically, to "free the Socialist movement ... from the stigma of Anti-nationalism which it was incurring through the policies and methods of the Independent Labour Party and kindred organisations"(61) and to "combat the pernicious and pestilential piffle of the Pacifist cranks."(62) Its policies were designed to draw British society closer together against the external enemy, while ensuring that the war was waged in the most effective possible manner, and Britain organised for the peace such that existing short-comings were corrected. Under the influence of Lord Alfred Milner the BWNL program was defined in a direction ever more acceptable to the governing parties -- particularly the Unionist party, with which the BWNL was working closely by 1916.(63) Milner looked to the BWNL as an instrument capable of combatting the influence of the ILP in the Labour Party, and possibly of playing a vital, subordinate part in the revived Unionist Party for which he continued to hope.(64) Meanwhile, Milner passed the assets and organisation of the defunct National Service League (NSL) to the BWNL as a reward for doctrinal convergence.(65) By 1918, the BWNL had redefined itself as a coalition political party, the "Coalition National Democrats," which, after a promising beginning in the first post-war election, suddenly, and with very little trace, disappeared, its vote absorbed by the interwar Conservative party. While it existed, the BWNL claimed to be the political expression of the true believing, working class, patriot response. It was no negligible force. Its policies were those common to many war-time patriots: middle class, working class, Unionist, Coalition Labour, Coalition Liberal, Milnerite, Chamberlainite. Because of its policies, its social provenance, and the fact that it was so combatively anti-Socialist, the BWNL can also be considered a working class party of the militant, corporatist, far Right -- proto-fascist would probably not be too far off the mark. While the war lasted, this response was as typical, as natural, as widespread as, and far more in public evidence than, the far more celebrated UDC-ILP amalgam. If the UDC-ILP combination arrayed against the wartime government and its policies, therefore, was a sign of a polarised society, the BWNL was the symptom of art increasingly disparate and internally polarised working class response.(66)
Hardly surprisingly, the Merthyr Tydfil by-election was noted for its mudslinging, hateful character. Stanton's campaign literature was particularly violent, and became increasingly so. Stanton and his BWNL and Unionist supporters had decided to do whatever was necessary to win.(67) They pulled out all the stops. One of their pamphlets, "What Mr. Winstone's Party and Supporters have Said on the War," began by instancing anti-war statements of leading Labour politicians, continued through "What the Germans think of Mr. Winstone's Party" (counting on it to produce revolution) and ended by declaring that "Every vote for Winstone is a Vote for Germany."(68) Another pamphlet, "Put Your Patriotism First and Vote for Stanton," accused Winstone of being little better than the Kaiser's nominee.(69) In the end, Stanton won election, very probably because he slung more mud, obtained more and more powerful outside support, and because the miners were themselves split Winstone-Stanton/UDC-BWNL with the patriots predominant. Nationally, Lord Milner and Mabone considered the election a "historic turning point," marking the shift of Labour from a dissenting to a patriotic position.(70) Lloyd George was "jubilant."(71) The horrified dissenters reacted by consolidating their control of the local party machine. While Stanton had been elected as the official LP candidate, the local association quickly made itself notorious by being the only one to vote against continued participation in the coalition government.(72)
It is important to note that in the political pattern developing locally through 1916-17 Merthyr Tydfil was hardly unique. Stanton's election was part and product of a nation-wide movement. Labour candidates who stood on a dissenting platform in by-elections were universally defeated. Meanwhile, by manipulating voting procedures, dissenters gained control of local party machines and moved them to ever-greater levels of opposition. A case very similar to that of Merthyr Tydfil, for example, developed a few months later in North Salford, during the height of the "swing to the Left." Here Ben Tillett was convincingly elected on a violently patriotic platform. During the war, Tillett's Worker's Union was, like its chief, virulently patriotic. Tillett himself was a BWNL associate and although he sat in the house as an LP candidate, and would ultimately become the PLP government whip, the vote which elected him was organised by the local Unionists (his election was warmly welcomed, he was told, in the Carlton Club), the National Socialist Party and the BWNL. Labour support came from Hyndman (NSP leader, and BWNL associate), J. Havelock Wilson (BWNL and leader of the violently patriotic National Amalgamated Seaman's and Fireman's Union (NAFU), and James O'Grady (Labour MP but also a leading member of the BWNL). Meanwhile Tillett's opponents seized control of the local Labour party -- using it to pursue an agenda directly opposite to Tillett's at the Nottingham party conference in June 1917.(73) The only member of the UDC convincingly re-elected, at this time, was Arthur Henderson who re-fought his seat prior to entering the Lloyd George coalition. Participation in the National government, however, was hardly consistent with the dissenting program.(74) Elsewhere, local parties, unions and Trade Union Councils were suffering strain. Before the end of the war, some formally split into feuding factions -- as, for instance, did the TUCs of Birmingham and Liverpool. By November 1916, Labour unity was a myth. A splintered, increasingly polarised working-class political response was the rule and the patriots, almost everywhere in the ascendant.
Meanwhile in Cardiff, an unpleasant political became a still more disagreeable labour situation rather quickly. The miners, as we have seen, had long been in a state of almost chronic unrest which did not end with the commencement of hostilities. They were now split against themselves. Moreover, the patriot faction was aligned, through the BWNL, with the seamen of the town, and of course, ultimately with the Liberal and Unionist owners. The whole constituted a patriot mob waiting to be assembled; indeed, looking for all excuse to assemble. Meanwhile, workplace grievances, accentuated by the war, were producing calls for industrial action. Given that one of the most dangerous grievances was looming compulsion, existing ILP-UDC policy, and the identity of the miners' leadership nationally, any strike would almost certainly take a political, and anti-war direction. An attempt to expand any strike in scale (from South Wales to nationwide) and scope (from miners to the "triple alliance" with dockers and railworkers) was also inevitable. The bosses could be counted upon to resist such pressure as dangerous, even perhaps implicitly revolutionary. Patriots, of whatever social provenance, would never accept any action likely to damage prospects of victory, and might well attempt pre-emption if such an action were anticipated. The situation in South Wales, in 1916, was volatile indeed.
When, therefore, a year after his electoral defeat, James Winstone announced that an NCCL meeting would be held in Cory Hall, at which J.H. Thomas and prominent dissenters would speak, this was taken to represent not simply another dissenting meeting. It was also viewed, implicitly, as a class challenge, a national danger, and a gauntlet flung at Stanton's feet. It was not a gauntlet he failed to pick up.
The irony of the situation was that the Cory Hall meeting may have been intended as no provocation at all. The UDC did intend to stir the pot in South Wales. The miners were restive, and they had been targeted by the dissenters. The Cardiff meeting, however, might not have been associated with this campaign at all. Trevelyan and Russell had come and gone. If anybody was in Wales to foment trouble, it was them. The meeting scheduled for November 1916, moreover, was not even a UDC meeting. It was NCCL -- not quite the same thing -- even though this body had already been identified by local opponents as a "pro-German" conclave.(75) Moreover, the keynote speaker in Cardiff on this occasion was J.H. Thomas. He was not a very convincing dissenter. He was a TUC supporter of Arthur Henderson rather than Ramsay MacDonald. He was in Cardiff not to stop the war, but to head-off a wildcat strike by South Wales railworkers which appeared to be in the offing.(76) He was there, as well, to deal with the miners. The manpower emergency meant that men were being recalled to the colours, and exemptions were being cancelled. Particularly obnoxious was the case of one miner, the father of five children, who had been called up.(77) In both capacities, Thomas was acting as the agent of Sir William Robertson, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, who had appealed to him to help defuse local labour problems which might grow into national problems.(78) Thomas was in Cardiff, therefore, not to further, but to defeat Morel's purpose.
Why then was Thomas appearing on a dissenting platform? While neither anti-war nor anti-government (he had already spoken to over one hundred recruiting meetings), Thomas was anti-conscription; not necessarily, however, because he had moral objections. Thomas believed that peace at home could only be preserved if conscription did not necessarily involve mandatory, government-controlled workplace re-alignment, and ultimately, universal labour compulsion. Since it would, there should be no conscription. Compulsion could not be implemented without a showdown with organised labour, and this sort of disruption at home might well mean defeat. At the meeting in Cardiff, he was to speak in support of the motion: "That this conference holds that military compulsion has already involved industrial compulsion, and endangered industrial conditions, and demands that this invasion of the rights of labour at once cease, and that guarantees be given for its non-recurrence."(79) This was hardly a ringing call for opposition to the government; less still incitement to class, or anti-war activity. Thomas was representative, therefore, neither of the patriot nor of the dissenting tendencies. He was one of the rapidly shrinking majority of confused in the middle, exposed to contrary influences and motives. By 1916, the position of people like Thomas was beginning to become uncomfortable -- and for Thomas himself, in Cardiff, was already dangerous.
Thomas's motion was never put. Whatever he intended to accomplish, Stanton decided from the beginning to stop this meeting from taking place. Not only would he not tolerate dissent in his South Wales, but neither was he inclined to back down before what looked very like a personal challenge underwritten by his despised enemy, Winstone. "If I have my way," Thomas later quoted Stanton to the House of Commons as saying to his supporters,
they will never hold the meeting in the Cory Hall. If the police are there to interfere let them. If I have a following I am prepared to prevent these people getting inside the doors by all means short of murder.(80)
As Stanton did not bother to correct or deny Thomas's charge, but rather gloried in it, we can safely presume that this was a tree statement of his intention from the beginning.
Notification that the Thomas meeting was to be held, was followed almost immediately by advertisements for a counter-demonstration. Headlines in local newspapers blared: "Britons Beware!!! Great Patriotic Citizens Demonstration," and "PEACE PLOTTERS. AN AMAZING AGENDA FOR CARDIFF CONCLAVE." An open letter was carried in the local press (Western Mail and South Wales Daily) from Captain Atherley Jones: organising secretary and later Chairman of the British Empire Union; a one-time NSL organiser, failed recruiting officer, and semi-professional rabble-rouser of a type inherited by the BWNL from the NSL.(81) "It may interest, your readers to know," it began,
although I have been up to London last week and placed the whole facts before different Departments, it has not yet been decided to prohibit the holding of the Peace Conference at Cory Hall, Cardiff, on Saturday, the 11th November, at 2:30 p.m. Consequently a counter-demonstration has been arranged and will take place in Cardiff on Friday the 10th November 1916, at 7:30 p.m.(82)
A committee chaired by Major-General Sir Ivor Herbert, the Lord Lieutenant of Monmouthshire and "a pillar of non-conformist radicalism,"(83) was organised to co-ordinate the patriot response.(84) It included most of Cardiff's most prominent citizens -- the Corys, Rhondda -- combined with its most convinced patriots - the BWNL and other patriot leaders, the Stanton miners' and seamen' s representatives. This committee operated, moreover, under the implicit authority of Lloyd George who sent Herbert a letter of support(85) Lord Rhondda chimed in as well, with a far more inflammatory contribution. "I very much regret that I cannot be with you this evening," Rhondda began,
for the resolution to be proposed at the meeting has my hearty concurrence. I wish we could infuse a dash of Cromwell into the Cabinet. The Government are, in my mind, showing far too much lenience toward both the peace prattlers and the conscientious objectors. I should like to have them in hand myself for a few hours. We may, however, regard with contempt the insignificant number of those who want to discuss peace conditions at this time, and with even greater contempt the half-baked intelligence that suggests the discussion. I have strong objections myself, as all decent persons must have, to taking life, but I have a darned sight stronger objection to the other fellow taking mine. We were forced reluctantly into this struggle, but being in we mean to win. We were fighting for peace and for such conditions as will ensure, as far as it is humanly possible to do so, peace for our time; but we know that it is idle to talk of peace until we have given the Huns a thorough thrashing. They can have peace as soon as they are prepared to accept our terms. What the peace prattlers want is a patched up peace, which would mean armed neutrality, with huge standing armies in every country in Europe, and render vain all the sacrifices we have made. To that sort of peace no sane man will consent.(86)
The reception accorded to the speech of Ben Davies, the Pontypridd miners' agent, and an ally of Stanton, indicated the populist agenda of the local patriot movement. "[T]he dangers to the country was not altogether outside," he concluded:
There was danger within. There was the danger of apathy, the danger of Government weakness, the danger of a premature peace. [There was danger of profiteering]. I notice ... that not many of you applaud that ... I don't know whether we shall lose the British Empire in this war and find it in Lord Rhondda's pocket (loud laughter). I was surprised this week to find that he is putting the German Empire in as well.(87)
Another popular speaker and Stanton friend was Victor Fisher himself, the BWNL chairman, who, like Davies, was careful to indict profiteering as a scarcely smaller threat to the war effort than pacifism. For the moment, however, Ramsay MacDonald was a greater threat than Lord Rhondda.
Having heard the messages and speeches, the committee decided to stop the meeting, at whatever cost, by whatever means were necessary. Given Stanton's existing determination, it is likely that there would have been an attempt to do so in any case.
The dissenters, apprehending trouble, placed their hopes in government forbearance, and police protection. Ivor Thomas, local organiser of the NCCL, wrote to Ramsay MacDonald shortly before the meeting was scheduled to take place. "(Captain) Atherley Jones and his "gang," he informed MacDonald,
are very busy, with the aid of the "Daily Express," "Morning Post," "Western Mail," and a couple of other papers. They have tried to get the authorities to prohibit the conference. I think they have failed. Their move is to organise a counter demonstration to be held the night before our conference -- you know the object -- Do you think we could claim police protection against organised hooliganism?(88)
In the event, something more than simple "hooliganism" occurred, while both the police and the Home Office (HO) proved particularly ineffectual at maintaining the public peace. They did indeed know the patriot "object." This was not a new story in wartime Britain. Similar clashes had occurred many times before. Neither the police nor the HO, however, expected that events would develop to the degree that they did in Cardiff. Given the inflammatory social-political situation in South Wales, it is unlikely that anybody could have done much to prevent or ameliorate what transpired. There was at least one attempt, however, to ensure that events did not get too far out of hand. The HO, apprehending danger from the scheduled counter demonstration, had considered prohibiting either one, the other, or both meetings.(89) In the end the counter-demonstrators were forbidden to approach within a quarter mile of Cory Hall.(90) The Cardiff police were directed to try to keep patriots and dissenters apart, and a police reporter was detailed to take minutes of Ramsay MacDonald's speech.(91) Events would show how insufficient these dispositions were.
Faced with intimidation, the dissenters, with some misgiving, continued preparations for their meeting. James Cory, on behalf of the patriots, made one last attempt to induce the Home Secretary, Samuel to prohibit the meeting.(92) When this didn't work, the patriots determined on more direct action. Stanton had pledged, after all, to do whatever was necessary to ensure that the meeting did not take place. The morning of the scheduled meeting (11 November), the patriot committee sent a message to Samuel. "As you have not seen fit," it went,
to prohibit the pacifist meeting to be held to-day at 2:30 p.m., the seamen of the port are taking the matter into their own hands, and you must accept full responsibility for what will undoubtedly occur if the meeting is held. We absolutely refuse to be held responsible.(93)
A national organiser of the NASFU and BWNL, Captain E. Tupper, signed this message. The fact that Tupper was on the ground gives some indication that at least the powerful NASFU considered that something special was happening in Cardiff. Tupper was the union's hard man -- always in place to supervise those aspects of union business which NASFU's leader (J. Havelock Wilson) considered required a heavy hand. NASFU provided more than their fair share of BWNL's hard men. Something ugly was going to happen from this point, unless the government intervened.
That afternoon, while the dissenters began to gather, the advertised counter-demonstration took place at a nearby Congregational Church under the auspices of the British Empire Union (Atherley Jones) and the BWNL (Stanton and Fisher). Invited, as well, were members of local chapters of the seamen's union and of other friendly trade union organisations and women's groups from across South Wales.(94) Having been harangued by the scheduled speakers -- including the Earl of Plymouth, the Earl of Dunraven, Rhondda, Lord Merthyr, and, of course, Stanton and Jones -- the patriots set out to break up the meeting. They were led by a band of miner, ex-soldiers carrying a banner inscribed with the motto of the Welsh Fusiliers, "Better Death than Dishonour." Meanwhile, outside the hall itself, angry seamen crying "dirty tykes" and "rotten shirkers" were confronting dissenters. Later, as the meeting commenced, "pro-British" orators took up position outside to speak to a growing crowd. These speakers more closely reflected the feelings of the patriot mob than did the more temperate message of Lloyd George or even that of Rhondda. "Our boys are fighting and dying for the infernal curs and traitors inside," one speaker cried:
Are you going to stand for this? "NO!" ... Is Cardiff going to be disgraced in the eyes of the British Empire and its Allies? "NO!" ... The miserable blighters are entrenching themselves behind women and children whom they have taken into the hall with them. The poor kiddies and the women are not to blame.(95)
Victor Fisher, on hand outside the hall, charged the dissenting delegates with being "dastards and cowards, some of whom ... were the paid agents of the enemy, and ... traitors not only to their country but to civilisation."(96)
Even before Stanton's parade arrived, 900 dissenters found themselves besieged by 1,500 patriots. The patriots, by and large, were composed of Stanton's miners and the seamen of the port. Those inside were representatives of 290 trade union branches, thirty-seven trade councils, one hundred peace organisations, thirteen religious bodies, sixteen co-operatives, and twenty-nine women's organisations.(97)
As the crowd in front of Cory Hall worked itself into a lather, Stanton's marchers appeared. Having paused for a moment at the quarter mile limit, they were led on by Stanton and Captain Tupper. According to the Daily Express, at the quarter mile limit, Tupper cried to the crowd, "Who'll follow Stanton and myself to Cory Hall? Its not the first time I've had to go against the police!." The crowd had answered, enthusiastically, "We will!."(98) A few minutes later the marchers arriving cheering, and singing outside Cory Hall.(99) Once the parade had arrived, and been united with the crowd of patriots already assembled, the violence began. Singing "God Save the King," and with cries of "To hell with the Kaiser," "Get into Khaki" and "No Peace. Down with the Traitors!," the marchers broke through the police barricade and rushed Cory Hall. They were led, apparently, by a man carrying a Belgian flag, and by a Sergeant Major who had lost an arm at Ypres.(100) The besieged dissenters attempted to bar the doors and keep up their spirits by singing "Keep the Red Flag Flying." Ramsay MacDonald, seeing which way the wind was blowing, appears to have slipped out of the back door -- his disappearance later described as "sleuthy" by an unsympathetic Western Mail(101) -- and escaped injury and insult. Once the doors gave way, however, and the mob entered the building, neither J.H. Thomas nor the chairman of the meeting, Winstone, were so lucky. Thomas tried to quiet the rioters. Stanton, however, having first cautioned his patriots to take care of the women -- who had fainted -- refused Thomas's offer to parley and ordered his men to "Clear the Germans out." From there, Stanton proceeded to the speaker's platform where he struggled with his enemy, Winstone.(102) Both Thomas and Winstone, having suffered considerable insult and abuse, were eventually led away by police -- the while being pelted by mud and tomatoes and subject to cries of "traitor" and "coward."(103) The patriots, having taken possession of the hall, listened to a series of speeches from prominent local citizens. Their meeting ended with the passing of a resolution calling on the Government "to use all the resources of the nation in a relentless prosecution of the war."(104) Such, in brief, was the Battle of Cory Hall.
The Chief Constable of Cardiff, as might be expected, faced some criticism for his handling of the affair -- the most outrageous patriot excess yet. His defence, however, was hard to fault. With much of his force enlisted in the army, he had only 150 constables available for street duty. While there were 1,183 special constables in Cardiff, he had thought it unwise to call them out, as he considered it likely that, given the nature of the duty that would be required of them, they would be less than reliable. It was, he thought, too much to expect of even the best disciplined policemen that they should stop what they conceived to be a patriotic demonstration in order to protect another which they deemed little short of treasonous. It is important to keep in mind as well, that by the autumn of 1916 special constables were generally older, retired policemen (aged fifty to sixty), or members of the Volunteer Force (VF) available for such duty.(105) Retired men were unlikely to be up to the duty. Volunteers were unlikely to be disinterested. A considerable number of volunteers, moreover, appear to have enlisted as special constables during the early war spy scares -- as, for instance, that with which the war began, and that which followed the publication of John Buchan's The Thirty-Nine Steps in 1915. Few of these were likely to have much appetite for facing an angry mob of patriots.(106) There was very little the Home Office could say. This was a dilemma which it could not resolve itself: how to protect dissenters and prevent disturbances if the only method of doing so was the prohibition of meetings held in support of the war effort?(107) Was such a policy even wise? Furthermore, the Chief Constable's position was understandable: how was he to restrain anything with the nature of the force available to him? If the police and volunteers were unreliable, then the only option remaining would be the employment of soldiers to protect the dissenters. That seemed plainly impossible, intolerable, and ridiculous.
Nor was public opinion any firmly set rock upon which to anchor government policy. Indeed, in general, both the public and the House of Commons were more censorious of the meeting dispersed than of the rioters who scattered it. On 14 November, J.H. Thomas, back in London, opened debate on the question in the House by asking the Home Secretary for an explanation of the failure to protect the meeting he was to have addressed. Did he, Thomas wanted to know, propose to take any action to prevent a repetition of what had been, in effect, "incitement to riot, ... and thus preserve the right to meet in public to discuss questions of national importance".(108) A good question, but the temper of the time was illustrated better by Colonel Craig, who, before Thomas had spoken, asked the Speaker, in making a motion for adjournment, whether he could "suggest the best way in which this House can express its thanks to the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Stanton) for breaking up [this] pro-German meeting".(109) Major General Sir Ivor Herbert -- powerfully implicated in the disturbances himself -- demanded of the Home Secretary whether he had been informed before the event that the dissenters were about to convene a "meeting calculated to offend public feeling and provoke the breach of the peace that actually occurred"?(110) Stanton, entirely unrepentant, promised more of the same if further dissenting meetings were allowed to take place. "I would like to ask you, Mr. Speaker," he said,
... whether you are aware of what has appeared in the Press that they threaten us in Merthyr with another of their pro-German meetings, and whether you are aware that we will not tolerate it, whatever the consequences? Also whether you are aware that we are not going to be hounded out of what we believe to be our rights as Britishers by a crowd of pro-Germans, who, if they come to Merthyr, will be dealt with whether you deal with them or no?(111)
The Home Secretary, Samuel, could do little but reiterate the Asquith government's position. The Chief Constable, he said, had not apprehended grave disorder. He believed that he could prevent the two demonstrations from mixing. The gentlemen organising the patriot counter-demonstration had promised that they would depend entirely upon legal and constitutional methods of stopping the meeting, and had written to this effect to the Chief Constable. A week later, when it became clear that a grave disturbance was in the offing, the Chief Constable had attempted to prohibit the Cory Hall meeting under the Defence of the Realm Act as certain to produce grave disorder. On second thought, this did not appear to be an available solution. How to prohibit what was not illegal, even if people found it objectionable? Would prohibition be politically wise? Could it be accomplished without, perhaps, doing unacceptable damage to the constitution?(112) No action was taken. In the future, the government did
... not propose to use the powers of the Defence of the Realm Acts to interfere, so far as it can be avoided, with the expression of opinions on matters of policy. Even if some disorder results when a small minority places itself in open opposition to the sentiments of the nation at large, that is preferable, so long as the disorder is not of a grave character, to the minority being able to assert that the Government uses its power to suppress meetings by force of law and to prevent views attacking the Government's policy from being expressed. On a careful review of all the considerations, on the one hand, and on the other, I thought it inadvisable to prohibit the holding of the conference.(113)
In short, dissenters were free to make public their opposition to the war; and the patriots were equally free to beat them up. The government, meanwhile, was constrained to do nothing. The best policy was no policy.
Thomas was not mollified. No policy meant mob rule, he asserted, and there would certainly be a repetition, given especially that the dissenters had indeed announced their intention of holding another conference at Merthyr Tydfil, while Stanton had just announced his intention of breaking it up. Government indecision, in effect, amounted to complicity with the patriots. This made a mockery of the government's assertion that it was fighting for democratic freedoms.(114) Ramsay MacDonald spoke in the same vein -- his speech interrupted, many times, by the heckling of Stanton and his friends.(115) If Thomas and MacDonald were angry, Stanton was scarcely coherent, so enraged was he by what had transpired. He is worth quoting at length because he was so indicative of the leadership of this branch of the Labour movement, at this juncture in the war. "What the Cardiff people did," he warned
is what the people of Merthyr Tydfil are going to do. Seeing that they [the dissenters] have failed in Cardiff -- and they did fail splendidly and magnificently -- we in Merthyr Tydfil have been threatened with a meeting ... then there will be trouble again ... I am not going to tolerate these people coming into our midst, poisoning the minds of our people and creating all the mischief they possibly can. There is a much greater danger and menace than some people would realise ... Is it the business of the Government to stand by and back up a crowd of traitors -- [Honourable Members: "Oh! Oh!"] -- absolute traitors to our Flag, to our country, as against the men who have fought for that Flag, who have their sons at the front, and who are doing all they can to try to win this war? ... [I]t is not for me to say, I can prove that they are having money from Germany -- there is German money shifting around. I can judge by the hoardings, and by the money that is being spent, and it does not come out of the sixpence or shillings of the delegates who paid to get in there ... We want to be loyal citizens and to play the game, whatever we may have been, but we ask the House to believe that we were only actuated by the most honest motives as Britishers. We want to win the War, and we believe these people were treacherous in what they were doing, and we went there at any risk to put an end to it, and none of us are sorry.(116)
If it came to it, Stanton was prepared to go to jail; both he and Captain Tupper were of like minds, and both had been in prison before for their union activities. They were going to stop dissenting meetings wherever they took place, by whatever means necessary, and despite the consequences. If there was a solution to this dilemma, the Asquith government never found it: the Lloyd George solution was to embrace the patriot horn.
The attitude of the press was substantially that of the House: predominantly supportive of the patriots, rather than sympathetic to the dissenters. This is not surprising given the fact that much of the national press was controlled by the press lords (the Northcliffe-Rothermere combine, and Beaverbrook especially) -- themselves convinced patriots, and already implicated in inciting domestic violence against dissent. The Times considered it a "pity when people are forced to take the law into their own hands," and thought that "the Government must realise that there is still a limit to human endurance."(117) The Express considered the riot "a natural result of a gratuitous affront," and carried its coverage under the headline "PEACE CRANKS ROUTED. Cardiff's Lesson to the Friends of Germany. Mr. Winstone pelted with Tomatoes."(118) The Daily Mail, similarly, covered the story under the rubric: "THE FLIGHT OF MR. RAMSAY MACDONALD. FIRST TO BOLT."(119)
Of all the major papers, only the independent Daily News and Manchester Guardian were censorious of the patriot excesses. Of course the proprietor of the Daily News was the prominent Quaker, George Cadbury, while a staunch Liberal, C.P. Scott, ran the Manchester Guardian. Their disapproval was to be expected. Stanton, the News reported, at a meeting the day before the riot, had exhorted "his approving audience to stop these men by any means short of murder." "He appears," it continued, "to have been permitted to carry his threat into execution with singularly little opposition."(120) The Guardian considered the whole episode "A Discreditable Affair."(121) It was "deplorable," both thought that a breach of the peace could be advertised in advance and permitted to go ahead. This was also, by and large, the line taken by the local South Wales Daily News: "[t]he best reply to pacifism is to oppose it with the truth in free and fearless discussion. In every such encounter it will be routed in the future as in the past."(122) At the time, of course, many were not inclined to be even so tolerant.
The public hostile, the press and House of Commons unsympathetic, the dissenters could do little more than attempt to put their case before the only sympathetic audience they could find, at public meetings of like minded individuals, growing increasingly shrill if only in the effort to be heard. The day after the battle of Cory Hall, MacDonald ended a speech at such a meeting by declaring:
But still there were circumstances which made it impossible to hold the conference yesterday. There are certain people and certain things that are so loathsome to men who have any self-respect and common decency, that when the former appear the latter prefer to go. At this moment, when the best of our land are giving their lives for what they believe to be the liberty of the country -- that those should be championed by a man who reeled and staggered to that conference [Stanton] -- (shame) -- is one of the most insulting and disgraceful things ever thrown in the teeth of the British Army (shame).(123)
"That conference," MacDonald promised, "is to be held. (Applause). Those resolutions are to be passed, and the speeches that were not delivered yesterday are only postponed for a week or two and will not suffer by the postponement."(124) MacDonald, from this point, steadily began to become more intransigent, it having become clear that there was little tolerance coming from the other side in the debate, and still less desire for compromise. For his part, J.H. Thomas, a supporter of the war, was left wondering how he could continue to advocate quiet on the home front, in the interest of the war effort, when things like the Battle of Cory Hall were allowed to happen.(125) It was a sign of his confusion that tremendously angry as he undoubtedly was, Thomas still played a crucial part in bringing Lloyd George to power and would certainly have served with him if invited to the War Cabinet.(126) By November 1916, Britain was becoming an uncomfortable place for moderates; particularly for working class moderates. It was not a good sign that there were other forces on the British Left, by the end of 1916, increasingly ready for actions ever more radical -- if only to sufficiently overcome the extremism of opponents on the Right to permit an alternative agenda to be put forward.
What does this unfortunate incident suggest about the social-political shape of Britain in the last years of the First World War? Some facts stand out. It seems probable that the First World War did accentuate unrest in a section of the British working class and allied this to a dissenting leadership consolidated by common opposition to the war. By 1916 there was, as well, a class component to anti-war dissent if only because the UDC had selected the ILP as the vehicle through which it would express its program. Certainly there were dissenters from all classes. In selecting the ILP, however, the UDC ensured that through the latter war years, antiwar dissent became increasingly a class issue, associated with Labour politics. Dissenters not willing to accept this were forced to chose between loyalties. Some -- Lord Lansdowne, Reginald McKenna, John Simon for example -- fell silent. By November 1916 already, effective opposition to the war was beginning to imply Labour politics.
On the other hand, socialism was not the only or the only possible working class response. In other sections of the working class -- throughout Britain, as in Cardiff -- the war blunted the class question, as G.D.H. Cole had anticipated before the war, and a patriotic, even chauvinistic, response was far more in evidence.(127) While a portion of the working class was drawn into dissent, a larger part allied itself with other patriot social segments and the government. This faction advocated efficient and ruthless prosecution of the war. For members of this grouping, the social question at home was of far less immediate relevance than the fight against international militarism, itself identical with the fight for King and Country. Certainly there were enemies at home -- profiteers, spies, and defeatists, for instance -- but these were to be eliminated as national rather than class enemies. To advocate anything other than victory by whatever means proved necessary -- worse to do anything likely to undermine prospects of victory -- was for the patriots to be nothing more than a traitor, regardless of social provenance or political agenda. Against social division would be set the national, patriotic ralliement. A militant and radical version of the pre-war Chamberlainite and Milnerite policies would be implemented. On this basis, Britain would be prepared to see the war through to a victorious conclusion. In the peace, first Britain and then the Empire would be reformed in the interests of efficiency in a corporatist economic, social and political direction. The patriot amalgam we see exploding in Cardiff, writ large, would become the basic fact of national life, through the war and into the post-war period. While the patriots did not survive as a coherent force into the peace, they were still the motivating force behind the Lloyd George government, which certainly intended to become a permanent political synthesis, assembled to implement the patriot program. This program was essentially fascistic. That it did not have the powerful post-war effects of some of its continental counterparts did not mean that it was not a significant element in British politics while the war lasted.
Throughout the war years, but more particularly in the last dark years of the conflict, the most adequate picture of inter-class, and intra-working class relations is one drawn to represent steadily growing polarity and increasing radicalisation at each of the poles -- the middle melting quickly. The demarcation line separating dissenting from patriotic coalitions, however, slashed clear across pre-war class lines and represented an ideological rather than a social divide. When the Battle of Cory Hall took place, in many parts of Britain it had almost disappeared. By 1916, in one direction, anti-war dissent was producing a movement toward militant socialism; and, on the other, the patriotic response a much more powerful and socially coherent shift toward something like wartime fascism. For members of the working class, at least, social standing influenced but did not decide which side of the divide an individual working man found himself on.
That Britain was moving toward social-political conflict at home was quite apparent to many contemporaries and was a principal reason the moderate Asquith government could no longer continue in power. If the social-political conflict was prevented from becoming obvious and generalised, this was largely because the Lloyd George government through 1917 and 1918, while ensuring that it did as little as possible to exacerbate the situation, was plainly aligned with the patriot faction -- that social-political grouping most ready to employ violence while remaining throughout the war by far the stronger of the two. In effect, greater strength, the demonstrated readiness to resort to whatever violence might be necessary, and, ultimately, the conquest of the state machine gave victory to the patriots before the issue had ever been properly joined. The social-political history of Britain during the latter years of the First World War, therefore, is in part the story of a reaction preceding a revolution which never properly got under way.
(1) J. Turner, British Politics and the Great War (New Haven, 1992), p. 10.
(2) J.M. Winter, Socialism and the Challenge of War (Cambridge, 1974).
(3) P. Clarke, Liberals and Social Democrats, (Cambridge, 1978).
(4) See, for example, R.J. Evans, "The Future of History," Prospect (October 1997).
(5) B. Waites, A Class Society at War (New York, 1987).
(6) K. Morgan, Conscience and Disunity (Oxford, 1979), pp. 1-15.
(7) G. Searle, Country Before Party: Coalition and the Idea of National Government in Modern Britain, 1885-1987 (London, 1987).
(8) C. Wrigley, David Lloyd George and the British Labour Movement in Peace and War (New York, 1976); Lloyd George and the Challenge of Labour (New York, 1990); and, B. Pimlott (ed.), "Trade Unions and Politics in the First World War," Trade Unions in British Politics (London, 1982).
(9) See, for example, P. Dewey, "Military Recruiting and the British Labour Force During the First World War," History Journal, XXVII (1984), 199-224; and, J. Corbett, The Birmingham Trade Council, 1866-1966 (London, 1966).
(10) See also B. Millman, Dealing With Dissent. The Government and Dissent on the Home Front 1914-1918 (London, 2000).
(11) See, for instance, J.M. Winter, Socialism and the Challenge of War. Ideas and Politics in Britain, p. 208; R.P. Arnot, The Miners. Years of Struggle (London, 1953), pp. 164-70; K.O. Morgan, "Peace Movements in Wales," Welsh History Review, X (1988); and, A. O'Brien, "Patriotism on Trial: The Strike of the South Wales Miners, July 1915," Welsh Historical Review, XXX (1984).
(12) I have used "dissenters" to indicate all elements in what was, after all, a remarkably diverse anti-war movement. "Dissenters" should be taken to include not only Left Wing opposition to the war, but Liberal, Christian, and pacifist objections of all kinds.
(13) R.J. Adams and P. Poirier, The Conscription Controversy in Great Britain (London, 1987) p. 132.
(14) I have used "patriot" in the First World War sense: someone who supported recourse to war, and the war effort, whatever their social provenance or political beliefs.
(15) The Unionist Lord Lansdowne, and the Liberals Reginald McKenna and John Simon were all considered possibilities.
(16) K. Morgan, Rebirth of a Nation. Wales 1880-1980 (Oxford, 1981) p. 163. See also, McMaster University Hamilton (hereafter referred to as MUH), Russell Papers, volume 710.
(17) MUH, Vol. 410, Clifford Allen to Bertrand Russell, 27 June 1916.
(18) C. Wrigley, David Llyod George and the British Labour Movement in Peace and War, pp. 179-81
(19) By 1916, they had already gone far to replacing as the predominant elite, the local gentry, then still evident, but in the process of liquidation. See, for example, D. Cannadine, The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy (New York, 1999), pp. 123, 125, 631.
(20) C. Williams, "The Hope of the British Proletariat: The South Wales Miners, 1910-1947," Miners, Unions and Politics 1910-1947 (Aldershot, 1996), p. 133.
(21) Rhondda, This Was My World (London, 1933), p. 199.
(22) D. Egan, "A Cult of Their Own?: Syndicalism and the Miners' Next Step," Miners, Unions and Politics 1910-1947, p. 20.
(23) House of Lords Records Office (hereafter referred to as HLRO), Lloyd George Papers, F 4/2/10, "Barnes Memorandum of Interview with Mr. D. Lleufer Thomas, Chairman of the Wales Commission of Enquiry into Industrial Unrest," 20 August 1917. See also, C. Williams, "The Hope of the British Proletariat: The South Wales Miners, 1910-1947," Miners, Unions and Politics 1910-1947, p. 133.
(24) D. Gilbert, Class, Community and Collective Action (Oxford, 1992), p. 67. See also, P. Morgan and P. Thomas, Wales the Shaping of a Nation (Newton Abbot, 1984), p. 141; and, K. Morgan, Rebirth of a Nation. Wales 1880-1980, pp. 124-26.
(25) See, for example, H. Francis, and D. Smith, The Fed. A History of the South Wales Miners in the Twentieth Century (London, 1980), pp. 12-14, 41.
(26) D. Gilbert, Class, Community and Collective Action, p. 80; C. Williams, "The Hope of the British Proletariat: The South Wales Miners, 1910-1947," Miners, Unions and Politics 1910-1947, p. 125; P. Morgan and P. Thomas, Wales, the Shaping of a Nation, p. 144.
(27) D. Gilbert, Class. Community and Collective Action, p. 80.
(28) B. Simpson, Labour: The Unions and the Party (London, 1973) p. 68. See also, M. Foot, Aneurin Bevan (London, 1962), pp. 32-35; and, V. Brome, Aneurin Bevan (London, 1953). For radicalism in Wales, in general, see G. Jones, Modern Wales (Cambridge, 1984), pp 226-44.
(29) K. Morgan, Rebirth of a Nation. Wales 1880-1980, p. 137.
(30) H. Clegg, A History of British Trade Unionism Since 1885 (Oxford, 1985), II, 47. Kenneth Morgan makes the claim, on the other hand, that "Above all, Edwardian Wales was a land of relative peace." K. Morgan, Rebirth of a Nation. Wales 1880-1980, p. 137.
(31) G. Jones, Modern Wales, p. 255.
(32) C. Williams, "The Hope of the British Proletariat: The South Wales Miners, 1910-1947," Miners, Unions and Politics 1910-1947, p. 125; and, H. Francis, and D. Smith, The Fed. A History of the South Wales Miners in the Twentieth Century (London, 1980), pp. 18-22.
(33) C. Williams, "The Hope of the British Proletariat: The South Wales Miners, 1910-1947," Miners, Unions and Politics 1910-1947, p. 124. Stanton had been "considered to be a near revolutionary' in the period before the war. K. Morgan, Rebirth of a Nation. Wales 1880-1980, p. 144.
(34) K. Morgan, Rebirth of a Nation. Wales 1880-1980, p. 148.
(35) D. Gilbert, Class, Community and Collective Action, pp. 76-77; and, H. Clegg, A History of British Trade Unionism Since 1885, II, p. 45.
(36) Commons Debates, LXXXVII, 14 November 1916, column 718-719; and, columns, 721-722.
(37) R.P. Arnot, The Miners. Years of Struggle, p. 170.
(38) K. Morgan, Rebirth of a Nation. Wales 1880-1980, p. 160.
(39) P. Morgan & P. Thomas, Wales, the Shaping of a Nation, p. 144; G. Jones, Modern Wales, p. 249; and, K. Morgan, Rebirth of a Nation. Wales 1880-1980, p. 145.
(40) G. Jones, Modern Wales, p. 256. Support for Lloyd George, Jones tells us, was "whole-hearted" throughout the war. In the 1918 coupon election, waged in Wales as a test of Lloyd George's personal popularity, coalition Liberals won 25 of 36 Welsh seats, with Labour victorious in 10.
(41) K. Morgan, Rebirth of a Nation. Wales 1880-1980, p. 137.
(42) Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru, Plaid Cymru or the Plaid: a Welsh party, with a platform mixing nationalist, rural and soft-sell socialist planks.
(43) K. Morgan, Rebirth of a Nation. Wales 1880-1980, p. 144. Merthyr was a two seat constituency, so both were returned.
(44) Ibid., p. 144.
(45) P. Morgan and P. Thomas, Wales, the Shaping of a Nation, p. 146. Welsh radicals had already demonstrated dislike of any form of internationalism. Sometimes this took the form of outright pro-British chauvinism. In the riots before the war the property of Jewish landlords had been a particular focus of attack. K. Morgan, Rebirth of a Nation. Wales 1880-1980, p. 148.
(46) G. Jones, Modern Wales, p. 249. Similarly, his daughter (later the Viscountess Rhondda) had been a radical, pre-war suffragette. During the war, however, she worked for her father and the government -- ultimately serving as head of the women's section of the Ministry of National Service. S.M. Eoff, Viscountess Rhondda. Egalitarian Feminist (Columbus, Ohio, 1991), pp. 34-63.
(47) J.M. Winter, The Great War and the British People (Basingstoke, 1986), p. 35; and, K. Morgan, Rebirth of a Nation. Wales 1880-1980, p. 160.
(48) K. Morgan, Rebirth of a Nation. Wales 1880-1980, p. 166.
(49) Public Records Office, PRO files (hereafter referred to as PRO, PRO) 30/69/1159, Merthyr Tydfil Association to MacDonald, 20 October 1915.
(50) J.M. Winter, Socialism and the Challenge of War. Ideas and Politics in Britain, p. 209.
(51) Williams, "The Hope of the British Proletariat: The South Wales Miners, 1910-1947," p. 125; and, H. A. Clegg, A History of British Trade Unionism Since 1889, Vol. II, bibliographical appendix.
(52) K. Morgan, Rebirth of a Nation. Wales 1880-1980, p. 165.
(53) In January 1916, Winstone, with many other leading dissenters, signed a petition addressed to Sir John Simon, asking him to move into open opposition to lead the fight against dissent. Simon had just resigned from the government on the issue of conscription. Simon was hardly a revolutionary firebrand. BLO, Simon Papers, Simon 52, circular letter to Simon, 11 January 1916. On the other hand, Winstone had addressed recruiting meetings, and already had a son at the front. K. Morgan, Rebirth of a Nation. Wales 1880-1980, p. 173.
(54) PRO PRO 30/69/1159, Winstone's speech accepting nomination at Merthyr Tydfil.
(55) K. Morgan, Rebirth of a Nation. Wales 1880-1980, p. 165.
(56) Example: HLRO, Blumenfeld Papers, Ce. 1, Robert Cecil to Blumenfeld, 28 January 1916. "I have received your letter of the 26th and am very much obliged to you for having kindly let me see the letter which Mr. Stanton has sent to you for publication in the `Daily Express.'// The reproduction of so fiery a letter in your paper would not, I think, be in the public interest." 57K. Morgan, Rebirth of a Nation. Wales 1880-1980, p. 173.
(58) R.J. Adams & P. Poirier, The Conscription Controversy in Great Britain, p. 132.
(59) For example, Carl Brand refers to him, though not by name, as "an independent pro-war Labour man with unofficial Unionist and Liberal backing." C. Brand, British Labour's Rise to Power (Stanford, California, 1941), p. 49.
(60) The SDF, a Marxist grouping, was the predecessor to the BSP. It splintered in 1914 into patriot and pacifist factions -- most of the leadership (Tillett, Hyndman, Fisher himself) going on to found a network of patriot successors of which the BWNL was the most significant. The BSP, meanwhile, did not succeed in purging its remaining patriots until 1917, at which time it became fully engaged in dissent. For Fisher see, J.O. Stubbs, "Lord Milner and Patriotic Labour," English Historical Review, LXXXVII (1972), 719. Fisher's first formed the "Socialist Nationalist Defence Council" (SNDC), which was renamed "British National Workers League" (BWNL) in May 1916. By 1917 the organisation had been rechristened the "British Workers League" (BWL). In what follows BWNL will be used throughout for clarity.
(61) London School of Economics (hereafter referred to as LSE), MacDonald Papers, J8 Vol. VI, "Memorandum L.U. No. 4, "The Rank and File Movement," 14 September 1918. See also, BWNL advertisements in Bodleian Library Oxford (hereafter BLO), Milner Papers, NSL to Milner, 18 April 1916.
(62) J.O. Stubbs, "Lord Milner and Patriotic Labour," p. 717.
(63) C. Wrigley, Lloyd George and the Challenge of Labour, p. 7.
(64) See particularly: BLO, Milner Papers, Milner 44, "Report of a Meeting of Joint Conference of a Sub-Committee of the National Service League and the British Workers" National League.... " Milner on the Unionist Party: "Unionism on its present lines is hopeless, and the only chance ... is to have a new policy ... trust to luck and the future to reform ... our present party, with perhaps a strong contingent of the saner workmen." Milner to Amery, 1907. J.O. Stubbs, "Lord Milner and Patriotic Labour," p. 717. See also, p. 728 (Milner to Lady Roberts, February 1916): "The ultimate idea is a League of Patriots for the furtherance of all the objects which men, who put country fist, have at heart. I am at present working very hard, but quietly, to further a purely working class movement, which I hope will knock out the "Independent Labour Party" and start a Workers' League among the Trade Unionists, which will make Imperial Unity and Citizen Service "planks" of its platform."
(65) BLO, Milner Papers, Milner 44, "Report of a Meeting of Joint Conference of a Sub-Committee of the National Service League and the British Workers' National League.... "He was at this time the Chairman of the NSL, and had probably first become apprised of the existence of the BWNL through the NSL R.H. MacLeod, the Secretary of the NSL, and G.W. Jarrett, an organiser, were prominent in the BWNL. J.O. Stubbs, "Lord Milner and Patriotic Labour," p. 718. Milner also arranged financing through his friends in producers' leagues, among the press proprietors (Waldorf Astor particularly) and the Unionist party, pp. 726-27, 735.
(66) There has been a tendency to write off the BWNL (and patriotic Labour as a whole) as a movement having its roots in the obsolescent deference of older trade unionists, led by elderly Victorian, Lib-Lab super-annuants, associated with equally old fashioned, paternalistic Unionists. Even Stubbs, the historian who has written at greatest length on the BWNL, comes back to this judgement. The implicit conclusion is that the UDC-ILP ultimately triumphed because it was the party of youth, espousing the cause of the future. If anything, the UDC espoused a political creed far older than anything the BWNL produced. In need hardly be added that Keir Hardie, Charles Trevelyan, George Lansbury, E.D. Morel and the others were not young. Arnold Lupton, MP, one of the more active dissenters, imprisoned in 1917, was a septuagenarian. Lloyd George was younger than almost all of the most prominent dissenters. Victor Fisher was only thirty-four in 1914.
(67) J.O. Stubbs, "Lord Milner and Patriotic Labour," pp. 723-24.
(68) PRO PRO 30/69/1159, "What Mr. Winstone's Party and Supporters Have said on the War," November 1915.
(69) PRO PRO 30/69/1159, "Put Your Patriotism First and Vote for Stanton."
(70) K. Morgan, Rebirth of a Nation. Wales 1880-1980, p. 173.
(71) J.O. Stubbs, "Lord Milner and Patriotic Labour," p. 724.
(72) C. Brand, British Labour's Rise to Power, p. 37.
(73) Ibid., p. 49; and, J. Schneer, Ben Tillett (London, 1982), p. 193. H. Clegg, A History of the British Trade Unionism Since 1889, II, biographical appendix.
(74) C. Brand, British Labour's Rise to Power, p. 32.
(75) PRO PRO 30 30/69/1160, Atherley Jones Circular, 16 November 1916.
(76) P. Bagwell, The Railwaymen (London, 1963), p. 352.
(77) Commons Debates, LXXXVII, 14 November 1916, column 711.
(78) Commons Debates, LXXXVII, 14 November 1916, column 717; and, P. Bagwell, The Railwaymen, p. 356. Present at the September meeting between Thomas and Robertson were the Minister of Munitions, the President of the Board of Trade and the Minister of Labour.
(79) Commons Debates, LXXXVII, 14 November 1916, column 711.
(80) Commons Debates, LXXXVII, 14 November, column 715.
(81) PRO PRO 30/69/1160, "The Career of W.H. Atherley Jones."
(82) Carried in Western Mail and South Wales Daily on 30th and 31st October 1916.
(83) K. Morgan, Rebirth of a Nation. Wales 1880-1980, p. 162.
(84) Western Mail, 9 November 1916. The advertisement for the counter-demonstration called upon citizens of Cardiff to "COME IN YOUR THOUSANDS AND PROVE THAT YOU ARE TRUE BRITISHERS'; also, Commons Debates, LXXXVII, 14 November 1916, column 715.
(85) PRO PRO 30/69/1251, New Wales Daily News, 11 November 1916.
(88) PRO PRO 30/69/1251, Thomas to MacDonald, October 1916.
(89) PRO Home Office (hereafter referred to as HO) 45 10810/311932, Samuel to Cardiff Chief Constable, 10 November 1916.
(90) Daily Mail, 13 November 1916.
(91) PRO HO 45 10810/311932, Cardiff Police to HO, 9 November 1916.
(92) PRO HO 45 10810/311932, file 19, Public Meeting at Cardiff, 9 November 1916.
(93) Times (London), 13 November 1916.
(94) PRO HO 45 10810/311932, file 19, Cardiff Police to Samuel, 9 November 1916.
(95) Ibid., file 19.
(96) PRO PRO 30/69/1251, New Wales Daily News, 11 November 1916.
(97) PRO PRO 30/69/1251, The Pioneer, 18 November 1916.
(98) Daily Express, 16 November 1916.
(99) Daily Mail, 13 November 1916.
(100) PRO HO 45 10810/311932, file 19; Times (London), 13 November 1916; Daily Express, 13 November 1916; and, Daily News, 13 November 1916.
(101) Western Mail, 13 November 1916.
(102) Daily Express, 16 November 1916.
(103) PRO HO 45 10810/311932, file 19. See also, file 20, Cardiff Chief Constable to Samuel, 13 November 1916.
(104) Times (London), 13 November 1916.
(105) PRO War Office (hereafter referred to as WO) 161/107, "VF: Organisation and Administration," "Memorandum on Volunteer Force," 12 October 1916. Volunteers available for duty as special constables were designated "Section P," and a list of names maintained. See also, for police reserve, PRO Metropolitan Police (hereafter MEPO) 5/118, Special Reserve. J.J. Tobias has argued that one of the characteristics of British police organisation (outside Ireland) is that it is a reflection of the local society which produces it. Police are recruited locally. Chief Constables are drawn from local society. The Police, therefore, have always shared the inhibitions, beliefs and prejudices of society in general and are unlikely to act except insofar as, and in the direction that, society will permit. J.J. Tobias, "Police and Public in the UK," Journal of Contemporary History, VII, 201-20.
(106) C. Dakers, The Countryside at War (London, 1987), p. 119.
(107) PRO HO 45 10810/311932, file 20.
(108) Commons, Debates, LXXXVII, Session 7 November to 23 November 1916; 14 November 1916, column 593.
(109) PRO HO 45 10810/311932, file 26, November 1916. Commons, Debates, LXXXVII, 14 November 1916, column 593.
(110) Commons Debates, LXXXVII, 14 November 1916, column 593.
(111) Ibid., column 594; also, column 596.
(112) Ibid., column 595.
(113) Ibid., column 596.
(114) Ibid., column 596.
(115) Ibid., column 731-39.
(116) Ibid., column 721-26.
(117) Times (London), 13 November 1916.
(118) Express, 13 November 1916. The dissenters were denounced, variously, as the Kaiser's "agents," his "friends" and his "dupes." The UDC, was stigmatised as the "U(nter) D(eutsches) C(ontrol)." Those attending, the Express continued were "chiefly pasty-faced, weedy lads who could be picked out of the crowd as conscientious objectors."
(119) Daily Mail, 13 November 1916. Its coverage continued that upon the approach of the counter-demonstrators, a white and shaking MacDonald "was off the platform in an instant and through a side door, of which he had apparently made earlier acquaintance."
(120) Daily News, 13 November 1916.
(121) Manchester Guardian, 13 November 1916.
(122) South Wales Daily News, 13 November 1916.
(123) Aberaman Leader, 18 November 1916.
(124) Aberaman Leader, 18 November 1916. The Conference was ultimately held but only because Samuel, by his personal intervention, was able to convince Stanton to allow it to take place. E.S. Pankhurst, The Home Front (London, 1987), p. 418.
(125) Commons Debates, LXXXVIII, 14 November 1916, column 720.
(126) P. Bagwell, The Railwaymen, p. 356; and, J. Davies, The Prime Minister's Secretariat, 1916-1920 (Newport), p. 19. On 8 December 1916, Thomas offered to serve in the government as Minister of Labour provided that he received a seat in the War Cabinet. When this was not possible, the offer lapsed.
(127) G.D.H. Cole, The World of Labour (London, 1913).
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|Date:||Apr 1, 2000|
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