British Union of Fascists Meetings (Reel 11 Box 8A)

 Two Bolton British Union of Fascists meetings were recorded in 1937 and 1938, both open to anyone interested. Bolton seems not to have been a hot bed of fascism although there were said to be two BUF ‘offices’, one was on Folds Road, the home of a Mrs Brooks and her son and daughter. She was interned during the war in Holloway Prison and later the Isle of Man. There was enough activity for an Anti-Fascist Committee to have been set up which met at 69 Davenport Street close to the MO Headquarters at 85. Harry Gordon, local MO volunteer, was involved in that.

Oswald Mosley When these two BUF meetings took place in Bolton the sway of the British Union of Fascists (known as Blackshirts after the black rollneck sweaters they wore), led by Oswald Mosley (pictured left), seemed to be in decline. In October 1936 a Blackshirt march through Jewish and Irish East London had been thwarted, indeed attacked in the Battle of Cable Street. That violent episode ended the BUF practice of marching through Jewish areas, as the government stamped on it with the 1936 Public Order Act which banned the wearing of political uniforms and quasi-paramilitary groups. And in late 1937 the Spanish Civil war was underway and Mussolini and Hitler had sent troops to support Franco’s rebel Nationalists, while Stalin was supporting the Spanish Republican forces. In April 1937 The Nazi Condor Legion bombed the town of Guernica, a place with no strategic importance and few military personnel. The death toll of civilians shocked the world. Aerial bombardment was the coming threat which gave everyone the shivers. Then in May 1937 4000 Basque (Northern Spain) children arrived in Britain, evacuated from the advance of Nationalist forces in Spain. Fifty four of those children were being cared for at Watermillock, now the Toby Carvery on Crompton Way. By that time too, the seven men from Bolton who volunteered to fight for the republicans in Spain had gone. One of those volunteers was Philip Harker, who became a Mass Observation volunteer on his return. Harker had worked on the Bolton Peace women fascistsWeek in September 1936 with others who later became involved with Mass Observation including Jack Fagan, Albert Smith and Harold Shaw. So not only were feelings running high at this time, but the horrors of European conflict and the potential of a second world war were palpable.
 The first BUF meeting recorded by MO was on 17 November 1937. The observer was Zita Baker (a former lover of Tom Harrisson’s and soon to be married to future Labour Cabinet Member Richard Crossman). There is no statement about where it took place.
                                                                                                                                                                                               British Women Fascists

 Twenty-six people attended the meeting, which included 6 women. The majority were Fascists but Jack Fagan (Labour Party member and MO observer) and Annie Barlow (MO observer) were also present. Two other Labour members were present, Hadfield and Maughan. No one else was named, presumably because the MO Observer did not know their names.

 The speaker was Miss Bell, who wore a brown suit and brown felt hat with a yellow scarf. She also sported a Fascist Badge. The talk she gave was mostly criticising democracy, suggesting it had had its day, considering the mess the country was in, how useless the Conservatives were and how divided Labour. Comparisons were made with the economic progress of Germany and Italy and the vigour of their society.

 Jack Fagan asked a question you criticise democracy, but what would you do? There is limited response recorded but a leaflet circulated at the meeting provided a clear guide to BUF economic policy. The promises by the BUF to this Lancashire audience directly addressed local concerns about the fragility of the overseas market for cotton goods. The pressure on Lancashire produced cotton at the time included the Indian Government slapping import tariffs on textile imports (to stimulate the small Indian cotton industry), the startling cheapness of Japanese cotton compared to Lancashire produced material and the low wages offered to Indian textile workers. So the BUF promised to:

  • Exclude Japanese cotton goods from India.

  • Exclude foreign cotton imports to Crown Colonies.

  • Remove Indian tariffs against Lancashire goods.

  • Oblige Indian mill owners to raise the standards of their workers.

All this, it was argued, would create 60,000 to 85,000 additional textile jobs in Lancashire. This Imperial Preference relied on complete control of the Empire, when India was moving irrevocably towards independence.

The meeting concluded with Miss Bell saying: we will now end our meeting in the usual manner: stands stiffly to attention. Raises Hand in Hitler Salute says Loudly ‘Britain First: God Save the King’. 22 others quickly rise to their feet and give the salute.

The second meeting took place on 23 February 1938 in the ‘Assembly Rooms’, Nith Street. Nith Street - no longer there - was in Halliwell. The Observer was APW, Anthony West (aged 24 at the time the soon to be novelist was the ‘love child’ of Rebecca West and H. G. Wells).

The meeting started at 8pm and it was cold cloudy night. Twenty-four people were present, 12 men and 12 women the majority aged between 25 and 40.

The speaker, about 38 was a Mr Moran. He gave a speech in which he labelled the Tories selfish whose election machine was not a patch on Mosley’s. He claimed there was no unity in Labour and that the working class were intelligent and could see through Labour’s disarray. He said Jews control 90% of gold in the world and referred to Jews as a lecherous growth from the nation’s body.

Two of the questions asked were recorded: Why did Mussolini attack Abyssinia? (the invasion by a modern state of a country defended by cavalry with matchlock guns and not much more). Mr Moran said that the Abyssinians were attacking and enslaving Italians. Another asked about the tariff proposals (referred to above). The answer meandered around a bit but the speaker said socialism will fail and that Mussolini was a genius.

The meeting closed at 9.50

Dave Burnham for Live from Worktown