A pale faced man, looking as if he had a major problem on his mind, which indeed he had, stands precariously on a chair in the parade room at Hatton Garden. From his shoulders dangles the mayoralty chain, and for the wearer the position looks a trifle incongruous to one who presides from the rostrum in the council chambers so often, in robes, chain and gavel wielding an authority of almost frightening power.
Clustered closely around him stand a bunch of young policemen, looking raw and a bit bewildered by what is taking place. His worship the Lord Mayor, for that's who in fact he is, and to boot of a big city, Liverpool, is the man standing on that chair. This has all the appearance of a get-together, and small wonder his audience seem a bit intrigued and a little mystified by the "Presence!"
As his speech proceeds his listeners become more than dimly aware of its importance, he is appealing to their loyalty and sense of duty, for now the city has no police force, or much less than it had, and clearing his throat, he makes known they've gone on strike, the first time this incredible thing has happened since the formation of a police force in Liverpool.
To enter into its rights, wrongs and problems is no part of my narrative at this stage, but of its seriousness and dangers there could be no two options. Well, as I was saying, there was his Worship, Lieut.-Col. John Ritchie, asking the circle of uniformed recruits round him to refrain from joining those who now found it necessary to take this grievous step.
Earlier that morning, after getting off a tramcar at the bottom of London Road I fell in with John Harrison, a recruit like myself -- later 152"E" -- and as we were on our way down William Brown Street to report for duty at Hatton Garden, a man in civilian clothes representing himself as Sergeant something or other from Seel Street, stopped us, and told us we must return home as all the police were on strike. His offer to enrol us as members of the Police Union on the spot sounded a bit naive to us, knowing nothing of unions, strikes or anything like that.
Anyway, feeling momentarily confused, we decided the best thing to do was to get to Hatton Garden and see what it was all about. John and I walked into the parade room to find all our recruit squad in small groups discussing the news about a strike. I was surprised, for the previous evening I'd done a spell of duty, 6 to 9pm in Scotland Road with a regular Constable, but there was no indication then that a strike was in the offing, and certainly there was no mention from him of anything like that.
During the day there were some comings and goings of civilians, police strikers they turned out to be, and while one went around asking us to join their union, some arguments arose. Another with him made what amounted to an offensive remark, but with no apology being offered, he was rushed across the parade room by several of the chaps and hustled down the steps into the street.
As the day wore on, it became more certain we were to be kept on reserve, and after one or two ominous reports of disturbances in the city, news began to trickle in more frequently of serious incidents. One squad numbering about eighty odd, was split up into two sections, one half to be on call and go wherever needed, the other half to be in readiness as they returned. But like all such schemes, elasticity was often resorted to, and frequently a chance to mix it with the mobs outside often made the forty into sixty, or even more, but it seemed to work well on the whole, with bosses indulgently overlooking swollen squads as they fell in for the stint outside.
I took part in the Crane-Hughes 'trouble' in Scotland Road. It made me realise how thin can be the dividing line in so called civilisation, witnessing this orgy.
An exciting night was Sunday in London Road, where a large crowd of men and women, young and not so young, bent on pillage, smashed in Latarch's jewellers shop, Owen Owen's, Hyde Bros., and a number of others and ransacked them. Every few minutes there would be sounds of crashing glass accompanied by howls and screams of women and girls. As the shops were pillaged the loot was hurled into the waiting arms of lookers-on, some of which after critical examination was retained or cast off according to suitability or otherwise.
One man armed with an iron bar went from shop to shop smashing the frontage in, but not bothering further, apparently to satisfy a long suppressed urge to get the destructive 'bug' out of his system. An Australian soldier whose courage outran his discretion held up his hand to the mob telling them to stop the insensible behaviour. He was promptly felled by a blow on the head with a slab of window sash, wielded by a hooligan of the worst type.
News of this reaching us, we charged up William Brown Street, with batons drawn, into London Road. Yelling like lunatics, a trick we learned in France and other battle fronts, we waded into the mob, gave them the regular one-two, in which heads were cracked and collisions inevitable. Broken glass splintered beneath our feet. I tripped over something to find myself in the company of a naked woman, and thinking "What the hell's this?" I grinned as the grotesque situation began to make sense. It was nothing other than a female dress dummy stripped of its fol-der-rols, and pitched into the street from the adjoining costumiers.
I felt a real 'Charlie' as the mad mix-up of rioters and our chaps went scurrying by a still entangled comrade, unable to free himself from the clutches of that wretched dummy. Each time I tried to rise I was as quickly floored, but eventually I did, to find the mob had made themselves scarce down the side street. London Road was a shambles with abandoned plunder everywhere. We made numerous arrests.
In all this the military was marvellous in quelling riots and the like. We who had left that part of the service some short months before certainly appreciated their invaluable help. Often they charged the mob with fixed bayonets, a method most salutary. Without them the fate of this city wouldn't bare thinking of. The situation was so serious that the Stipendiary Magistrate read the Riot Act in Scotland Road near the now vanished Rotunda Theatre. There were some 2,500 troops, 4 tanks and a number of warships in the Mersey! Some Hussars were brought from York, and loaned police horses, these being more used to the stone sets than their own.
It must have been a feat of endurance for Chief Inspector Holbrook reading from the charge sheets, a list of over 350 men, women and boys arrested for their part in a weekend of lawlessness and convulsions. A weekend of shame and sorrow, and now on an August Bank Holiday, having sown the wind, they were about to reap the whirlwind, including maybe more than a few of those who formed part of that menacing crowd facing that same magistrate as he read the Riot Act not many hours before.
Some odd things happened too. A colleague and I were hurried in a patrol wagon with a couple of army dixies of 'Scouse' to a marooned and hungry detective staff at Rose Hill. We were greeted with much cheery banter, with they were really grateful too for 'services rendered'! During our enforced stay at Hatton Garden, some fine concerts were provided, and on one occasion the full orchestra from Lyon's Cafe came along and played for us. It must be a long time, if ever, since the old parade room last gave itself up and went all arty arty!
There were touches of humour also. A woman, arrested with four men at the door of a boot and shoe shop in Scotland Road, said to Detective Sergeant Jack Kelly: "I didn't steal any boots, I hadn't time to find a pair to fit me". She was remanded. To a man, charged with stealing jewellery from a London Road shop, who asked for bail on the grounds he had a bayonet wound in his back, the Stipendiary enquired, "You mean you're a wounded ex-soldier?" Prisoner, "No I was wounded in London Road".
A young man respectably dressed at 1-00am carrying parcels under his arm: "Been out shopping early this morning?" queried the constable with a droll sense of humour. Young man, with equal lack of it, answered, "Yes". He was arrested. Detective Sergeant Bill Walker of 'D' Division overtook a man in Fox Street, wheeling a handcart full of loot, on the top of which was a grandfather clock. When asked where he'd got the stuff, he gave Bill a knowing wink. He was about to turn left when he was ordered to make it a right turn to Rose Hill Bridewell. And queer it was, and impudent too, to see a gang of good-for-nothings playing crown and anchor just a few yards from Dale Street Police offices. The unholy pleasure they got out of that can be imagined!
From the Monday, after that grim weekend of mob madness, things began to quieten down, and I remember Mr. Everett, our Assistant Head Constable, saying to us a day or two later, that the time had now come when we must again accept our responsibilities for the policing of the city. So it was, after many days the blue uniform was seen again patrolling normally in Liverpool's streets.
How clearly I recall a fair sized squad of us, still with our "H" numbers on the uniform marching up and down London Road, six abreast, on our first official venture into the streets. The friendly gestures and pats on the back from the public was enormously satisfying, showing clearly where their sentiments lay, and the relief at seeing that authority was about to get in the saddle once again.
We recruits got a bit of a write up in the press, being dubbed "The Flying Column", even to "The Men who saved the City". We ourselves hardly accepted these generous compliments, yet when practical and usually unsentimental men of the press say these things, they cannot be altogether outrageously untrue.
"At the time I was a recruit and the first hint of anything unusual was while awaiting dismissal after a three hour spell of evening street duty from Essex Street 'C' Division. I was placed with a regular serving constable. while I myself carried an "H" number. Whilst glancing at the H.C.'s (Head Constable) order book, referring to the forthcoming bank holiday arrangements for traffic duty at the Landing Stage, a uniform man, then nearing the end of his service, took the book away from me and, slamming the pages together, said, "Nobody will be doing that duty". The remark struck me as a bit curious, but its significance passed over me and I thought no more about it then.
The following morning, Friday, 1sy August, I alighted from a tramcar and while passing the Steble Fountain in William Brown Street, having noticed the absence of point duty men near my home and in London Road, I was stopped by two men in mufti, who said they were policemen, and that they and all the others were on strike. Knowing nothing of this, and as they persisted in saying I must go home, I brushed them aside and on reaching Hatton Garden I was beckoned over by Chief Inspector Argue, who after hearing of the encounter, sent me to the parade room.
During the afternoon the usual parades were set, but instead of going to their posts these regular informed men let it be known they were going to Transport House, Islington, for instructions. Very few returned. We recruits, not only began to realise that something really serious was brewing. Rumours of trouble in the streets began to filter in, and at about 8-00pm a dozen or so of us were rushed in a patrol van through the dock estate to Sandon Dock.
Alighting under the Overhead Railway, we could hear the mob outside shouting excitedly, while hacking with crowbars and hatchets in an effort to break the gate down. Through an aperture already made the Inspector in charge of our party, warned them of the consequences, but not knowing of our presence inside, they attacked the already nearly open gate with renewed ferocity. At a sign from the Inspector we drew our staffs and tore into the mob and laid it about those who stood their ground. While the rest scattered in all directions, and it was only a call on the whistle which caused us to break it off. A number of sore, sorry and surprised prisoners were taken away.
From there we were quickly transported to the adjacent Bramley Moore Dock where there was fear of raids on ships then being loaded with foodstuffs and other necessities from the U.S.A. for a defeated Germany. Evidently the salutary lesson the marauders had just received had had its effect and only light manning was need for coverage.
Late that evening, six of us with the huge and bewhiskered Inspector Paddy Marshall of 'D' Division in charge, made a hurried journey by patrol van to Sturla's stores in Great Homer Street. This once substantial place of the Lewis's type was an almost complete wreck. Not a sign of life, the scene made us blink! No windows remained, with internal fittings reduced to rubble and the entire stock looted.
A colleague and I were left for coverage, pending the arrival of some responsible member of the shop's staff. About 2-00am a shaking and trembling manager came, took one look at the place and burst into tears. When Sergeant Gordon, who brought him to the scene, told him there was nothing more we could do and that we were leaving, he was in deep distress, and still weeping copiously.
Reaching Rose Hill revealed a scene of "orderly chaos". One could hardly get in the station for prisoners, men and women being booked, with all pillaged property that would have, by its variety, put Petticoat Lane to shame, lying about in heaps. Without delay, in company with detectives, we went round various addresses in the neighbourhood where the occupants denied all knowledge of the stolen property found therein, yet seemed to know who had been arrested. The problem was so complex it was thought best to take the loot away and leave it at that.
What a sight was the spectacle of us recruits carrying it in bundles wrapped in sheets and table cloths over our shoulders to Rose Hill Bridewell like glorified rag-gatherers. This would surely have been heaven sent material for any of Liverpool's pantomimes. Famished and practically exhausted we were given some water biscuits and mugs of coffee, and a friendly pat on the back for our labours from Superintendent Foulkes, and instructed to return in pairs at two minute intervals to Hatton Garden.
We reached the parade room about 7-30am, a bunch of weary and unkempt rookies, joined by others looking as if they had been 'out on the tiles'. I thought the best thing now was to seek some quiet corner, curl up comfortably and die instead, there, to our pleasant surprise, was a laid-on breakfast, so with that and a good wash and brush up the woes and miseries of the night were forgotten. Some rest was obtained by sleeping rough around the room and in the meantime our relatives brought much needed towels, shaving kit etc. and naturally were relieved to talk to us and have their anxieties allayed.
The next day, Saturday, passed off with some minor scares and alarms, but towards evening more solid disturbances were reported. One was from Scotland Road, where the music shop of Cranes had its windows smashed in and the provision shop of Hughes' next door, looted. A grand piano had been dragged out on to the footway, and to make this 'Finnegans Wake complete, the place was strewn with beer bottles, yanked up from a broken-into bottling stores in Tariff Street, Vauxhall Road.
Sounds of the piano being thumped were audible as we neared the orgy. Some of the marauders were too drunk to get away, so they and a number of others, mostly women with aprons full of edible loot from Hughes, and still inside the premises, were taken into custody. The quasi-innocent looks on the women's faces as the stuff slid from their 'pinnies' bordered on the slapstick. Altogether, it looked as if a good time was being had by all, and a pity perhaps to spoil it; but we did and willingly.
The parade room was out pied-a-terre for the next eight or nine days, with sleeping accommodation in Lincoln Lodge, just behind the present Woolworths store in Church Street, which contained bunks in tiers, and formerly used by U.S.A. personnel awaiting return to America. We marched back to Hatton Garden each morning at 6-00am, a motley crew to be sure, but we felt our usefulness and cared little for the 'spit and polish' ideas just then.
We, and I'm pretty certain, all responsible citizens, were glad and relieved when everything quietened down again, and in due course we were drafted to our allotted divisions, a bit puffed at discarding the "H" numbers for the more desirable letters of the alphabet, and my earnest wish was then, as it is now, that nothing so serious occurs again to a Force such as ours, of which justifiably we are proud and were lucky enough to be given a chance to serve".
The police strike of 1919 was the result of a number of extremists demanding recognition of the Police Union, then in operation for some time. In July police in England and Wales were granted increases in pay from 55s.0d to 70s.0d. for constables, but the Home Office, suspicious it might become linked up with the Labour Movement, ordered that it must cease and be replaced by a Police Federation within the Service, with all ranks having nominees, when grievances could be discussed for submission to the Police Authorities.
The Union's representatives under pressure, chiefly from a minority holding forceful and impetuous opinions, refused to accept the Home Office terms. The London Police struck, a wire was sent to Liverpool where a considerable number, with disastrous consequences to their cause (and depriving, even for that short time of their services), followed suit. It is an axiom that with the absence of police no civilised community can survive. The threat had to be resisted.
An aftermath, bringing a picture of blighted hopes, unhappiness and upsets in family life, even leading to broken homes, was when one saw, as I did, a large pile of discarded uniforms, helmets, note books and the rest, left in heaps just inside the Peover Street entrance to Rose Hill parade room, by those unfortunate men who once wore them. Amongst the pile was some old type bulls-eye lanterns; I carried one of these round on night duty during the early part of my service in 'D' Division. I also retrieved an old and shiny note book cover from the same collections which I kept for my note books, and retained it till the end of my service - a real old faithful. I often wondered who carried it round old 'Spike' in pre-strike times.
When occasionally I now see the enlarged photograph of these young men of the 'Column', with your scribe somewhere among them, together with all the officers, including the Head Constable, Mr. Caldwell, and his Assistant, Mr. Everett, which for a long time had a place of honour in the Chief Constable's room at Dale Street, and is now at the Training School, Mather Avenue. I'm saddened to find so many have 'crossed the divide' inevitable in the span of more years than we care to think of.
I still get a whiff of those exciting days when our little band went on to mix it with the mobs, especially when I stand for a few moments in front of the picture, but it's hard to decipher the names on the metal plates almost obliterated by the bloom of time.
The strike was a bit of police history, sad, badly advised and dangerous to a degree not bargained for by those who caused it, for it was made clear there's nothing so baneful and sinister as a lawless mob, with none to hold them in check. I was convinced from the start that it was a tragic mistake which I hope will never happen again. Its lessons are only too obvious.....