THE First World War was certainly welcomed in much of Britain.
All but a few MPs backed it. Most major newspapers were heavily biased in favour.
Yet there was opposition. As Adam Hochschild explains in his superb book To End All Wars (Pan Books, 2010): "The working class showed less zeal than the better-off, volunteering for the army at a noticeably lower rate than professionals and white collar workers."
Few places were more working class than Glasgow. And none had a more working class leader than Keir Hardie. As a poverty-striken boy, he worked in the docks. He helped form the Scottish Labour Party and ran his paper The Labour Leader in the city.
By 1892, he was an MP and a strong opponent of wars. In August, 1914, he was cheered by a vast crowd in Trafalgar Square when he warned war would enrich the arms dealers and slaughter the poor. But, when Germany invaded Belgium, war was inevitable. Bravely, he continued to address anti-war meetings and was attacked in the streets.
A Christian socialist, he despairingly cried: "I understand what Christ suffered in Gethsemane as well as any man living." He died aged 59, on September 26, 1915.
Also on September 26, at Loos in Belgium, about 10,000 British troops in 10 columns walked towards the enemy line. German machine gun nests remained undisturbed in bunkers behind barbed wire. As soon as the British were a close target, the guns slaughtered them. It was this kind of needless massacre which broke Hardie's heart.
He was not the only critic in Glasgow. James Maxton was a conscientious objector who was tried for sedition with James MacDougall in 1916. They went to the primitive Calton Jail in Edinburgh where initially they slept on boards, sewed mail bags and had inadequate food. MacDougall suffered a mental breakdown. Maxton's health was undermined but he became a Glasgow hero and an MP.
John Maclean, a pacifist and Marxist, was tried for sedition leading to one year in jail. In 1918 he got five years (reduced after the war). Willie Gallacher (later a Communist MP) and John Muir strongly opposed the Munitions of War Act which forbade engineers leaving their jobs. They too were imprisoned.
The famous Glasgow Rent Strike against private landlords hiking rents in wartime was led by Mary Barbour, later Glasgow's first woman councillor. She, along with Helen Crawfurd, Agnes Dolan and others, formed the Women's Peace Crusade, with one rally on Glasgow Green drawing 12 to 14,000.
During the war, more than 20,000 men refused to enter the military. More than 6000 were imprisoned. The press dismissed them as cowards. On the contrary, they displayed enormous courage. They were badly treated in prisons.
In 1916, 34 men were taken to Boulogne to await trial and execution. Waiting entailed being trussed crucifixion style and left in the cold over night. The news leaked out and the government was lobbied. Frederick Meyer, a well-known Baptist minister, rushed out. He was a keen supporter of the war and his grandson was killed at the front. Yet he also believed people should have the option not to fight. He saw every prisoner and addressed the top officers. The men were sentenced to death then, after a long pause, their sentences were commuted to 10 years hard labour. Many died in jail but they stuck to their principles.
A group linked to the Jimmy Reid Foundation is not opposed to the tributes to those who died as soldiers. Yet it also wants Glasgow City Council to erect a small plaque to those who stood for peace. Two meetings with the council have proved disheartening: no way that a plaque could go in George Square: if allowed, the group would have to pay for it themselves.
Fortunately, Councillor Matt Kerr (Labour) has been helpful and a cross-party motion will be put to the council on April 3. We hope those who campaigned for peace will also be officially remembered.
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