Monday, April 12, 2010

Fighting Fascists in Peckham, 1937

Last week's account of fascist-friendly Conservative MPs in 1930s SE London should not be taken as indicating popular support for fascism in the area. In fact the very same issue of the Mercury that carried the Lewisham MP Assheton Powell's glowing account of his visit to the Nazi rally at Nuremburg also reported on a noisy anti-fascist demonstration in Peckham:

Fascists and Communists Clash at Peckham (Mercury, September 24 1937)

'Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists and National Socialists, was given a warm reception when he arrive with 300 of his followers at the Triangle, Rye Lane, Peckham on Wednesday evening. He had come to address an open air meeting and to introduce his prospective parliamentary candidate for Peckham, Miss Olive Hawkes.

Fascists assembled at the Triangle, which is a public speaking place. There was competition for the pitch from other political organisations when it was known that the BUF intended to march there from Kennington Oval, and the Fascists decided to get in first. Sir Oswald Mosley, Miss Hawkes and the marchers arrived with a large loud speaker van and sharp at half past eight the leader climbed up a ladder to the top of the van, to which were fixed two microphones. He was wearing a grey suit with a black shirt. Before he spoke a sergeant and twelve policemen pushed through the crowd to the front.

Immediately Sir Oswald started to speak there was pandemonium. Whatever he was saying was utterly drowned in shouts, boos, cat-calls and songs and it was not fro over five minutes that this 'audience' of about tow thousand could hear a word that he was saying... for every hand raised in the Fascist salute there were two or three upraised clenched fists of Communists and Socialists.

... The Fascist leader spoke for about half an hour, during which time his opponents, in clusters of a dozen or more sang the 'Internationale' , the 'Red Flag', 'It's a sing to tell a lie', and occasionally shouted 'We've got to get rid of the rats' through improvised megaphones manufactured from evening papers. 'Tell me the old old story' was the song which greeted Sir Oswald's next audible announcement.

... Anti-fascist demonstrations were increased when Sir Oswald Mosley introduced his candidate. Miss Olive Hawkes. She was greeted with the singing of 'She was a dear little dicky-bird' and 'Daisy'. Miss Hawkes introduced herself as a South Londoner and a Briton 'born and bred'. She ended her remarks by giving the Fascist salute and prepared to climb down the ladder again. Just then , however, a colleague whispered something in her ear and she spoke into the microphone again. She announced that her party claimed the Englishman's privilege and would sing the National Anthem. The National Anthem and the Internationale were sung simultaneously.

Mounted and foot police, who had been stationed in the crowd throughout the meeting, became active when the Fascist speakers prepared to leave. The audience was told to 'keep on the move' and those who declined to do so were assisted to comply with the request. Despite the noise and the large anti-Fascist representation there was no serious disorder and no arrests were made. The general impression one gained was that most of the audience had come to South London's 'Tower Hill' to see a bit of fun. If they expected a baton charge and other exciting episodes, they were sadly disappointed.

When Sir Oswald Mosley's first South London march and demonstration had ended anti-Fascists, including Social Credit 'greenshirts' carried on a meeting in a street further down Rye Lane'.

Olive Hawks (not Hawkes - the paper spelt her name wrong) was a leading woman member of the British Union of Fascists. She became the party's Women's Organiser in Lewisham in 1934 and its national Chief Woman's Organiser by 1940. In 1937 she was announced as the BUF's prospective parliamentary candidate for Camberwell (Peckham) and "in line with the BUF's Jew-baiting, in June 1938 she was applauded by the fascist press for her role in preventing Lewis Silkin, 'Jewish MP', from opening the new Odeon Cinema in Peckahm High Street by writing letters of protest both to Silkin and the Press". Lewis Silkin was the Labour MP for the area. Hawks and her boyfriend Frederick Burdett (appointed District Leader for the Peckham Branch of the BUF in 1937) were both interned as Nazi sympathisers in 1940 (Source: 'Making Reputations: Power, Persuasion and the Individual in Modern British Politics' by Richard Toye and Julie Gottlieb, 2005).

No comments: