Boris Ford and the Army Bureau of Current Affairs


Cover of Bureau of Current Affairs

Guest blogger Colin Waugh, Editor, Post-16 Educator writes about his recent research in the TUC Library.

I’m involved in an oral history-type project where, since 2013, we have interviewed 50 people who taught Liberal and General Studies in FE colleges between 1960 and about 1990. The conclusions we can draw from analysing these interviews will depend in part on what we can establish about how this element came to be attached to vocational courses for day- and block-releases students in the first place.

A key document here is a report, Liberal Education in a Technical Age (1955). This was produced by a National Institute for Adult Education (NIAE) working party. The paid secretary to this working party – and hence the likely architect of the report’s recommendations – was Boris Ford.

I needed to identify relevant aspects of Ford’s experience. In particular what, if any, involvement did he have with the Army Bureau of Current Affairs (ABCA) during World War 2, and precisely what role did he play in its civilian successor, the Bureau of Current Affairs (BCA), which existed from 1946-1952?

In 2009 I had been told by Chris Coates, at that time curator of the TUC Library Collections at London Metropolitan University, that these contained ABCA-related material, and when she reminded me of this more recently, I applied to look in the Collections for information about Ford, eventually coming to the library, which by this time had moved to Goulston Street, on 22 August this year.

Both before this visit and during it I received outstanding advice and support from Jeff Howarth and Lucy Bradley, and as a result we were able to locate two key documents. The first of these, written in 1947 by the radical general Sir Ronald Adam, shows the links between ABCA and the BCA, and the second, a pamphlet written by Ford in 1952, in which he gave a retrospective account of the BCA, both shows the role he played in that (initially as Editor in Chief, then as Director) and establishes the connection that those founding it intended to build between the BCA and further education.


The Russian Revolution and the early TUC and labour delegations


In the second of our series based on Dr Ben Phillips’s curation of our new exhibition, he looks at the early TUC and labour delegations to Russia .

Fred Bramley and the 1924 delegation visit

Above panel 7 from our new exhibition The Russian Revolution and its Impact on the Left in Britain, 1917 to 1926.

Several British labour delegations visited Russia and the Soviet Union during the period in question – one in 1917, another in 1920, a third in 1925 and finally the Women’s Delegation of 1925. Their composition and objectives varied considerably, reflecting the labour politics of their time – for instance, the 1917 delegation met with the Provisional Government and urged support for the continuation of the First World War, whereas the 1920 delegation, against the backdrop of Hands Off Russia, was staunchly anti-interventionist. Overall, the 1924 delegation is the best documented – something we owe to the personal papers of Fred Bramley, then the TUC’s General Secretary and a key participant in the delegation. All these photos you see here are from Bramley’s papers, which are held by the TUC Library. They provide us with an extraordinarily vivid – if undoubtedly partial and highly sanitised – insight into life in the early Soviet Union as seen through the eyes of foreign visitors.

The Bramley papers are, of course, personal artefacts. In my opinion, some of the most interesting and touching documents featured in this exhibition are those attesting to the interpersonal friendships and relationships interwoven through the broader solidarities and alliances on display. For various reasons, I particularly like these three below.

letter from the director of the Marx-Engels Institute in Moscow

The above letter is from the director of the Marx-Engels Institute in Moscow to the TUC, written in 1924, requesting help locating the minutes of the First International in the archives of the Bishopsgate Institute.

declaration of fraternal greetings

The letter above is a declaration of fraternal greetings to the 1924 TUC delegation from trade unionists in Soviet Central Asia, in which they promise to bestow unspecified ‘robes of honour’ on the British visitors.

The one below is probably my favourite. The woman in the photograph is Anzhelika Balabanova, then a Bolshevik and secretary of the Comintern. The photo was addressed to Margaret Bondfield, founder of the Women’s Labour League and subsequently a cabinet minister under Ramsay MacDonald. The two had first met in Switzerland in 1915 at a conference organised by the Women’s International of Socialist & Labour Organisations. When Bondfield took part in the TUC’s 1920 delegation visit to Petrograd and Moscow, they met again. The caption reads:

‘To dear comrade Margaret Bondfield. Bern 1915 – Moscow 1920. Remember how sad things looked then, and how bright and hopeful they are now in our free proletarian Russia, cradle of universal socialism.’

photograph is Anzhelika Balabanova

This optimism didn’t last. Despite having supported the Bolshevik government in 1920, Bondfield later became an anti-communist, while Balabanova emigrated to Italy only two years after this, having fallen out of favour with the Soviet authorities.


League against Imperialism and anti-colonialism

The League against Imperialism

Middle row: left to right, James Maxton (2nd left) and Shapurji Saklatvala (3rd), Reginald Bridgeman (6th).

Academic and author Priyamvada Gopal @PriyamvadaGopal has written a very interesting article in The Irish Times about resistance to Britain’s empire

This set me off searching for the League against Imperialism in the TUC Library and I was very excited to find numerous press releases, some publications and a photo from the 1920s and ’30s.

See our Pinterest page

The League against Imperialism was an international anti-imperialist organization in the period between the First and Second World Wars.

Anti-Imperialist Review

It was established in Brussels in 1927, in presence of 175 delegates from around the world. It was significant because it brought together representatives and organizations from the communist world and anti-colonial organizations and activists from the colonized world. 107 out of 175 delegates came from 37 countries under colonial rule.


The Russian Revolution, internationalism and the ‘Hands off Russia’ campaign


Dr Ben Phillips, curator of our new exhibition, starts a short series of posts based on our new Russian Revolution exhibition and his research in the TUC Library.

Title panel

As its title implies, our exhibition examines the ways in which the Russian Revolution shaped the politics of the British left during the decade following 1917. Our chosen chronology covers the period from the revolutionary events of that year to the aftermath of the 1926 General Strike, and the anti-communist turn in the British trade union movement that followed shortly thereafter. We treat the subject both chronologically and thematically, moving between the major labour history events of the period and, along the way, considering some important issues in contemporary socialist politics – for instance, internationalism, solidarity, gender, class-consciousness, and the extent to which the Russian Revolution challenged contemporary understandings of these issues.

In essence, we aimed to do two things with this exhibition.
Firstly, we wanted to explore the revolution as the global event that it was, and still is. We wanted to explore not only how the matter of the revolution – its language, imagery and so forth – was trans-nationalised in the early twentieth century, but what it meant to people in Britain at the time, how they engaged with it, appropriated it and contested its meanings.

Secondly, we wanted to take a fresh look at one of the big historical debates about the British labour movement – whether, as is often claimed, it has traditionally been ‘more Methodist than Marxist’. As is well known, the subject of external socialist influences on the labour movement, and the extent to which such influences are out of kilter with the movement’s origins in the alleged cultural conservatism of the nineteenth-century working class, remains highly contested today. And so our whole exploration of the limits of working-class internationalism has a certain contemporary relevance. That isn’t the only point of contemporary relevance, of course. Things like the Zinoviev letter and the ARCOS raid of 1927 remind us that the spectre of Russia subverting western democracy, in ways both real and imagined, has a much longer history than some today might realise.

Anyway, with those two objectives in mind, I’m going to talk a little about some of the most interesting documents and artefacts I came across when working on this project and, briefly, why I think this sort of transnational history is an important part of studying the revolution. Two of the most illuminating, not to say voluminous, bodies of material we were able to draw on were the TUC Library’s collections related to the anti-interventionist Hands Off Russia campaign, which ran from 1919 to 1924, and those related to the various TUC delegation visits to Soviet Russia between 1917 and 1925. It’s these that I’ll be focusing on in this talk.

Hands off Russia

Hands Off Russia was a campaign founded by British socialists in 1919 to oppose British involvement in the then-ongoing Russian Civil War – Allied forces having intervened in support of the White armies the previous year. The campaign continued until 1924, when it was superseded by the Anglo-Russian Parliamentary Committee after Britain’s diplomatic recognition of the Soviet Union that year. Hands Off Russia drew support from both the Labour Party and Independent Labour Party, and later from the Communist Party of Great Britain, which was founded in 1920. It generated a vast quantity of literature in the way of handbills, pamphlets, newspapers, proclamations and manifestos, much of which can be found in the TUC Library.

Russia-Polish war

I think one of the really fascinating things about Hands Off Russia is what it tells us about the evolution of working-class internationalism in Britain. During the nineteenth century, hostility towards the Tsarist autocracy – perhaps expressed most vociferously during the Crimean War and after the failed Polish insurrections of 1830 and 1863 – was commonplace among the Chartists and other radicals. And yet, a little over half a century on from those events, in the summer of 1920, one finds workers threatening a general strike in opposition to proposed British military involvement in the Russo-Polish War. Note the pamphlet (above) here published by Labour’s Council of Action that year – ‘the workers of this country have nothing to gain by the contemplated attack on Russia…’.And it isn’t just that the determinants of British foreign policy were seen differently by this point. Russia itself was perceived differently by the British left. It was no longer seen as the repressive empire of the Tsars, but rather as a willing alliance of liberated nations. For instance, this Labour Party leaflet refers to the old imperial borderlands being ‘set free by the Bolshevik revolution’. The Russian specialists here will of course recognise this as the familiar Soviet mantra of druzhba narodov – the friendship of peoples, the formula typically used by Marxist-Leninist writers in later decades to distinguish the Soviet Union from Tsarist imperialism. It’s striking to see this reflected in British discourse on Soviet Russia quite so early on.

Soviet Russian Pictorial

What’s also really interesting about Hands Off Russia is the diversity of support attracted by the campaign, and the various forms which that support took. Several months after the campaign’s foundation early in 1919, Sylvia Pankhurst said that expressions of support for Soviet Russia were commonplace in virtually all socialist and trade union meetings in Britain. By 1923, British trade unionists were apparently investing in a ‘Workers’ Loan’ to Soviet Russia (above) – although unfortunately I’m not sure how many did this. The Workers’ Loan evidently had something to do with the Comintern – the advert for it here appeared in Soviet Russia Pictorial, an English-language monthly of the early 1920s that was edited from Moscow. However, such overseas support for Hands Off Russia wasn’t limited to that orchestrated by the Soviet authorities. One of the most unexpected documents ( I found in my research was this open letter to British working men written by Vladimir Chertkov, Leo Tolstoy’s former secretary and a key figure in the short-lived Tolstoyan colony at Purleigh in Essex. In his letter, Chertkov invokes the Tolstoyan principle of non-violence in calling upon the British to oppose further conflict with Russia.

Letter from Tolstoy


New Exhibition -The Russian Revolution and its Impact on the Left in Britain, 1917-1926.


The Russian Revolution and its Impact on the Left in Britain, 1917-1926

To celebrate the centenary of the Russian Revolution the TUC Library has produced an exciting new exhibition entitled The Russian Revolution and its Impact on the Left in Britain, 1917-1926.

In the years following 1917, the aftershocks of the Russian Revolution fundamentally reshaped the politics of the British left. Amidst the turmoil that extended from the end of the First World War in 1918 to the General Strike in 1926, events in Russia seemed, in the eyes of many, to offer new possibilities for political, social and economic change.

Drawing on the TUC Library’s extensive collections, this new exhibition documents the attempts of British socialists and trade unionists to interpret, emulate and come to terms with the revolution, revealing the extent to which Russia’s socialist experiment challenged accepted notions of internationalism, solidarity and class consciousness
not just at home but overseas.

This exhibition has been produced with funding from the Amiel Melburn Trust, and has been curated by Dr Ben Phillips, and designed by Becky Shand.

The exhibition is currently open to the public at the Marx Memorial Library, 37a Clerkenwell Green, London, EC1R 0DU, until the end of July 2017 and then at various venues.

To borrow this exhibition please contact me, Jeff Howarth


Walter Citrine: A union pioneer of industrial cooperation by Dr James Moher

Walter Citrine – TUC General Secretary 1926-46

Walter Citrine – TUC General Secretary 1926-46

Our guest blogger this week is Dr James Moher  (former CWU & T&GWU official)  who has written this article based on a chapter from his book  Alternatives to State-Socialism in Britain: Other Worlds of Labour in the Twentieth Century, (editors P. Ackers & A.J. Reid), Palgrave-MacMillan

Liverpool born and bred, his father was a Mersey pilot/rigger and his mother a Scottish nurse. He left school at twelve to work in a dusty mill, but then found an electrical apprenticeship. He worked as an electrician all around Merseyside and south Lancashire, where he imbibed his socialist (Independent Labour Party) philosophy in the 1900s.  Self-taught, like so many of the early union leaders, he became well versed in the classic socialist texts as well as in electrical theory. He was active in the ILP and the young Labour Party (he stood for Parliament for the Tory stronghold of Wallesey in 1918), but he soon abandoned party politics for a leading union role. In 1911, he joined the Electrical Trade Union and by 1914, his evident talent as a union representative pushed him to the front as the first elected district secretary of the ETU for Merseyside. His ‘beat’ ranged from the huge Birkenhead docks to Port Sunlight (Lever Brothers) and the electrical contracting trade all over Mersey and into south Lancashire (he serviced coal mines in the then flourishing Wigan coalfield area). During the war the ETU national membership jumped from about 3,000 to 60,000. He crafted his first version of the ABC  on the conduct of meetings as notes for ETU branch officers  and it soon became part of the union’s national rulebook.

Quite left-wing at that time, (ILP with traces of quasi-syndicalism), Citrine soon rose to become ETU Assistant General Secretary at their Manchester HQ, where his administrative and negotiating skills made him stand out in the wider trade union movement. His reform of the ETU’s branch finances were regarded as crucial to its survival in those days. His service as Secretary and President of the regional Federation of Engineering and Shipbuilding Trades until 1923, also helped.  He was appointed AGS of the TUC in 1924 and on the sudden death of Fred Bramley, became the Acting General Secretary in the feverish atmosphere of the 1926 General Strike. In this capacity, he officered the General Council leadership in all the negotiations with the Miners’ Union and the government and was elected to the substantive post without opposition, The defeat of the ‘Great Strike’ and its aftermath shaped his general-ship of the TUC from that time. That generation of union leaders, especially, but by no means exclusively, Ernest Bevin of the T&GWU and General Council from 1925, would take the TUC away from its quasi-syndicalist stance of the previous decades.

But it was Citrine, with the team of able officers he recruited and led – Walter Milne-Bailey, Vincent Tewson and George Woodcock, (the latter two would later succeed him) – who helped make it a centre of excellence for the trade union movement of those desperate days. It was respected by all   of its two hundred or so affiliated unions and taken seriously by governments of all colours.

During the Great Depression (1928-34), the TUC initiated a new style of engagement with the major employers of the day (the Mond-Turner conferences), which created a better climate for union recruitment and collective bargaining on the up-swing of trade from the mid 1930s. Though the TUC leadership struck out on an independent path under Citrine’s guidance, ‘the contentious alliance’ was a real partnership with the Labour Party and the 1929-31 government.  That is until they fell out bitterly with the MacDonald leadership over its handling of the 1931 financial crisis and the ensuing ‘National’ government.  In the aftermath of the Parliamentary Labour Party slaughter of the 1931 elections, (down to forty-six MPs), Citrine, as Secretary of the Joint (TUC/Labour NEC) National Council , contributed significantly to Labour’s electoral recovery and policy revamp. That NJC developed the radical programme of welfare, NHS and nationalisation policies with the Lansbury & Attlee leaderships, which the majority Labour government of 1945-51 implemented.  

"ABC of Chairmanship" by Walter Citrine

“ABC of Chairmanship” by Walter Citrine

Citrine has a reputation for being a right-wing anti-communist, which is grossly unfair. He had been a strong supporter of both Russian Revolutions (what he called, Lenin’s vision of an ‘electric Republic’). He was one of the first to visit in 1925, at the specific request of the All-Russian union leader and Politburo member, Mikhail Tomsky. He had supported closer links between Soviet unions and the IFTU, until the Comintern launched a tirade of abuse at the TUC General Council over their calling off of the General Strike in 1927.  Though critical of what he saw, he went again in 1935 and led a delegation there in 1941 to strengthen the British-Soviet alliance, as Hitler’s armies converged on Moscow. He was there again in 1945 with a TUC delegation and in 1956 led a delegation of the nationalised Electricity Council, of which he was then chair.

But it was Citrine who had also led the TUC fightback against the scurrilous attacks on the General Council by the Comintern and its local agents, the Communist Party of Great Britain and its front the Minority Movement after the defeat of the General Strike.  He produced a pamphlet in 1927 exposing the communist attempt to take over the leadership of the British trade unions.  That earned him the undying hatred of the CPGB/Comintern and their Daily Worker  – he and Bevin won major libel actions against them.  This hostility carried into the Left of the Labour Party (Bevan, Cripps and the Socialist League), as their politics failed to capture the leadership of the Labour Party.  Perhaps Citrine (and especially Bevin) were to some degree intolerant of legitimate dissent, viewing all criticism as the expression of the sinister communist conspiracy.  But it is accepted today, even by some historians of the CPGB, that there was a serious attempt in the late 1920s (about 150 British activists trained in the Lenin school to foment revolution in Britain). It is less well recognised that in the aftermath of the Parliamentary Party collapse in 1931, it was the TUC and NJC which gave the key leads on the abandonment of disarmament, and the fight against appeasement as well as the major policy programme revamp which laid the foundation for the post-war Labour government.  Citrine, as Secretary of the NJC was at the centre of this work. It was his global perspective as President of the International Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU), based in Berlin during the rise of Nazism, which enabled him to warn and promote the anti-fascist campaigns of the late 1930s.

During World War 2, Sir Walter, who declined Ministerial office, was made a Privy Councillor by Churchill. They had developed a closer relationship, sharing platforms on anti-fascist rallies in the late 1930s. During the Blitz, they had frequent sessions alone at Downing Street, keeping their spirits up reciting patriotic poetry. However, Citrine appreciated that it was his role at the TUC which gave him this enormous status and influence with the government at that time. At every level, from shop floor production committees upwards, union reps and officials were drawn into the war effort in an unprecedented way.  As a Privy Councillor, Citrine had immediate access to Ministers across government, and sat on various national bodies with Ministers, along with other union colleagues.  It was, of course, Bevin, as Minister of Labour and Social Insurance, who captured the public imagination and the limelight, as the proletarian figurehead of the coalition.  By the end of the war, as Attlee’s closest ally, it was Bevin who became the most senior Minister and Foreign Secretary in the 1945 government.

What is less well known was the key role Citrine played as plenipotentiary for Churchill abroad. As IFTU President, Citrine was invited to attend the annual convention of the American Federation of Labour at San Francisco in 1940, to help the AFL leadership (and President Roosevelt) to counter the strong isolationism prevalent in the USA, especially in the unions. Again, when the Soviet Union was invaded by Germany in 1941, it was Citrine, realising the significance of the Soviets’ entry to the war, who took a TUC delegation to Moscow, (just as the Germans was closing on it!), to discuss how the Allies could assist and bolster their resistance. There is a major story to be ferreted out about these initiatives, which continued with Citrine’s foreign trips throughout the war.

With that ‘clout’, Citrine was one of the few who could ‘stand up to Ernie’ as Minister of Labour, with his enormous power in directing labour (he wasn’t known as ‘Napoleon’ Bevin at the TUC for nothing!). His decisions (or those of his civil servants) were often controversial for both unions and employers and it sometimes fell to Citrine as TUC General Secretary, to raise awkward issues.  They had never been personally close, though their complementarity since the General Strike was key to the TUC’s success in establishing such a strong position with employers and governments.  Now, though it was Citrine who influenced Bevin’s elevation to the Cabinet in 1940, that complementarity broke down. Long after they had both left the scene, he describes some of their rows in the second volume of his excellent memoir, Two Careers (1967).  In 1941, they had a real bust up over Bevin’s insistence on deploying skilled workers contrary to   their unions’ wishes. Citrine was asked to intercede but Bevin and his civil servants were not moved. When some mild criticism appeared in the pages of the Daily Herald (the TUC/Odhams’ mass circulation daily on whose Board Citrine sat), Ernie blew his top. In a public speech which was reported widely, he attacked the editor and by implication Citrine, as Quislings.  This caused great offence, though Citrine did not hit back. Things were so bad that Attlee wrote to both urging calm in the interests of the war effort. It passed over, but things would never be the same between them. 

Although he left school at twelve, Citrine, like so many union officials of that era, was a self-taught union leader. He became a prolific writer and developed an attractive style, producing many books as well as a host of journal articles on every conceivable labour movement topic since about 1914.  

When the war was over, Citrine retired from the TUC and IFTU, and took up membership of the newly-nationalised Coal Board. He performed a health & safety and educational role for a year in 1946, but it may have seemed like a major come-down after his prominence during the war.  He was ennobled, becoming Baron Citrine of Wembley (where he had lived since 1925). A year later, Attlee offered him the Chair of the Electricity Authority, which for a former electrician, was a dream post.  He held that position for a decade, retiring finally from a further five year part-time stint in 1960. After that he attended the Lords more and contributed frequently. He and his inseparable partner, Doris (she accompanied him on most of his foreign trips) had two sons, Norman and Ronald. Norman, a solicitor, became legal adviser to the TUC in 1946 and wrote an influential book on Trade Union law.   Doris died in 1973 and Walter moved to Devon where he lived another decade, being ninety-five when he died in 1983.

It could be argued that it was Walter Citrine who put the TUC ‘on the map’. Yet there is no biography to bring together the many-faceted dimensions of his life and times in a lively way to bring it alive for today’s generations of union activists and the public. It is a record we should be proud of and would go some way to restore our image.   


Kieran McGovern and the Mallow Shootings of 1921 – Part 2

Title page of Mallow Shootings

An Account of the Mallow Shootings by Barbara Hammond

The shooting had featured in many acrimonious debates in the House of Commons. In one of these, Labour’s “Jimmy” Thomas M.P., General Secretary of the National Union Of Railwaymen, stated in a speech to the House, on 15 February 1921, that

“We are not going to have our members murdered in cold blood without a proper inquiry and will insist that when our men are on duty during the curfew hours they shall not be dragged off and shot like dogs, without charge or trial”.

He then added, ominously, that

“Disturbing questions demanded answers; and those answers, of themselves, may prove to be disturbing and unsettling of Government policy”.

“Jimmy” was clearly on to something! He specifically referred to the preceding shooting dead of Alice and the wounding of her husband, Captain W.H. King, RIC.

Subsequently, on 14 June 1921, “Jimmy” Thomas’s Labour M.P. colleague and ally, John Joseph (“Jack”) Jones, was moved to greet Sir Hamar Greenwood (Chief Secretary for Ireland) as he entered the Common’s chamber with: “Three cheers for the Chief Assassin”. This caused a spontaeous uproar of protests from Government benches which only encouraged Jones (as he was ordered out of the House by the Speaker) to shout

“You are nothing but a damned gang of assassins, the whole damn lot of you”.

What had could have prompted such an un-parliamentary, oath-laden, outburst?

The shootings at Mallow had forced the Government to set up a Military Court of Inquiry into the affair. Reports (mostly censored in Ireland) of the proceedings were carried in every corner of the Empire and across the world. The Inquiry was presided over by Brigadier General H.R. Cumming, DSO. It heard evidence over a number of days during which it became obvious that something very untoward had taken place at the station on the night in question. RIC County Inspector William King and his wife, Alice, (nee King – not related) had been ambushed as they walked past the station wall. A volley of shots rang out and Alice fell, mortally wounded (she died the following morning). When the shots were heard, large numbers of reinforcements arrived from the town (RIC, Black and Tans, and military, along with members of the dreaded Auxiliaries). Mayhem ensued. Two public bars, one on each platform, were pillaged until, as one newspaper prudently reported “they were innocent of beverage”. Indiscriminate gunfire ensued as Crown Forces wreaked revenge. A number of railwaymen were shot dead while others were seriously wounded. All sorts of cock and bull stories were peddled to the Inquiry team – the general trust being that the ambush on Captain King and his wife had been perpetrated by members of a local IRA Flying Column.

From careful reading of the records (however truncated from censorship) it became apparent to me that not all was as it might appear. Indeed, it was also clear that the President of the Inquiry (Brgd. Gen. Cumming) was not at all impressed with Crown witnesses nor their obviously coached and evasive answers. Cumming, stunned at what was being slowly dragged from one Auxiliary witness in particular, judiciously adjourned the Inquiry ¬ostensibly to visit the site of the shootings. However, within days he too was shot dead during an IRA ambush at Clonbanin, Co. Cork, (in what, to me, appeared to be very unusually accurate circumstances). The Official Report on the Mallow Court of Inquiry (Cmd. 1220; HMSO, 1921: Price 1d), signed–off somewhat hastily by a substitute member of the Inquiry team (in lieu of Brgd. Gen. Cumming, then deceased) is a carefully constructed piece of “official-speak” which, if read one way, points unwaveringly at IRA involvement. However, if read challengingly from all perspectives, and contextualizingly, the Report is, to say the least, ambivalent.

Convinced that the Official Report was, in keeping with what many believed at the time, a “white wash”, I began to carefully sift through all available material. I discovered a little known account, published in 1921 by British war correspondent and journalist, J. L. Hammond, which in turn convinced me that he and his wife had been in Mallow at the time of the shooting and one, or both, had in fact, attended the Inquiry. In his article, Hammond, obliquely though searchingly, parsed the Findings of the Official Report; he was careful to preserve his ‘correspondent/journalist’ status as the proceedings had been subject to strictly enforced censorship regulations. Notwithstanding his caution, he too narrowly escaped being shot dead soon afterwards by Auxiliaries in Tralee, Co. Kerry.

However, pondering Hammond’s circumstances, I realised that his wife, Barbara L., was a formidable women in her own right. She, in collaboration with her husband, had been the co-author of The Labourer trilogy (Village, Town and Skilled). Sure enough, further searching elicited the fact that she had indeed attended the Inquiry and had published a pamphlet, having been specifically commissioned by “Jimmy” Thomas to do so. Both Thomas and “Jack” Jones were suspicious that a cover-up had taken place at the Inquiry in Mallow but both were politically spancelled from speaking outside the privilege of the House – as described above.

It was known that such a pamphlet by Barbara Hammond did exist (it had been referenced, spaingly, by a small number of writers) but what of its whereabouts? Months, indeed years, of searching and probing failed to produce a single trace of an extant copy. The more intensive the search the more it appeared to me that there had been something mentioned by Hammond in her document that had been unsettling of the accepted narrative. L(Lucy) Barbara Hammond, member of The Fabian Society, had made no secret that she not only attended every session of the Inquiry but that she had, indeed, written a detailed twentythree-page report on the procedings for “Jimmy” Thomas.

How come no copy of her report seemed to have survived? Seeking an answer to that question stymied my research for years. My pursuit of an answer – an answer that would, most assuredly, eventually come to pass – was reinforced by my discovery (to be dealt with in my forthcoming publication) that even an entire section of a debate in the House of Lords, prompted by the events that had taken place in Mallow and scathingly delivered by none other than the Archbishop of Canterbury, were not publicly available at the time. Indeed, it was not until 2015, following a Sherlock Holmes-like pursuit (by yours truly) that the glaring “omission” of the entire debate from the digitised Hansard record was finally brought to light. If such a record could, somehow, be “overlooked”, and eventually rumbled, then surely so could Barbara Hammiond’s pamphlet.

The total absence of a copy, anywhere, of the Hammond document led me to conclude that, due to ruthless censorship, all copies had either been purposely withdrawn and/or destroyed soon after publication. I was wholly satisfied that no copy had ever reached the Irish branch of the N.U.R. But where was it?

The “missing bullet”, so to speak, was just that – gone missing without trace.

Until, that is, a casual mention to a colleague in early 2017, about the mysterious vanishing of Barbara Hammond’s report drew an astonishingly innocent response – he had a recollection of having seen a copy of just such a report while undertaking research at the TUC Library based at London Metropolitan University but had not placed any significance on it as it was not relevant to his interest at the time.

A request was sent to the TUC Library which drew the response that, YES, the University did indeed possess such a document. It was to be the 1921 version of what I considered to be an incunabula. Eureka.

(Joint Author of “The Village Labourer”)
Prepared specially for the N.U.R. at the
request of Rt. Hon. J.H. Thomas M.P.
(Price Sixpence)*
Sure enough, the pamphlet proved to be a contemporaneous account of the circumstances that took place on the night in question. It provides some names of police officers and, while analyzing the Official Inquiry Report in detail, states that there were deep suspicions extant in Mallow at the time to the effect that a member (or members) of the Crown Forces was the real culprit who shot Alice King dead. That contemporary conclusion confirms my own firmly held conviction that Captain King had placed an Auxiliary Officer under a disciplinary charge and that the Auxiliary (with an accomplice) had lain in ambush to eliminate Captain King and have the finger of guilt pointed at the IRA. Tragically, in the dark of that drizzly night, with wild shooting at an indistinct target, Alice King was shot dead and her husband wounded.

The report is the final piece of evidence in a complex story, I am now able to conclude my research on the murder of Alice King in January 1921. Someone – perhaps Barbara Hammond or Jimmy Thomas (or, more likely, Jack Jones)– had seen to it that a copy of her report should be preserved so that it would ultimately show up and eventually “beat the insidious system”, albeit sometime in the distant future.

A firm hunch, honed during my years of middle ground endeavours in the region where the foul deed had been perpetrated, that “the truth will always out” has proven its worth – thanks to the TUC LIbrary at London Metropolitan University.

Now, my tentatively named “A SHOT THAT SHOOK AN EMPIRE” is in the final stages of completion, in preparation for submission for publication.

Kieran McGovern,


April 2017.


Getting Going with Oral Labour History Seminar 3 June


Britain at Work (B@W) 1945-95 in association with British Universities’ Industrial Relations (BUIRA) IR History Group and Oral History Society (OHS)

Saturday 3 June 2017 11am-4.45pm

Once again, the Britain at Work (B@W) group is organising an Oral Labour History Day. This year’s theme is about how to get going and continue with oral labour history, with examples from different projects and inspiring presentations from those engaged. The day begins with an opening address To Start You Talking by Alan Dein, oral historian and radio documentary presenter, who will reflect on his personal archive of inspirational storytellers – interviews that often began by just stumbling upon a story out of the blue. Then follow round table introductions on projects in which symposium participants are involved. After lunch, there will be presentations concerning inspiring projects by the trade unions, BECTU and CWU, and by Glasgow University on the 1984/5 Miners’ Strike. The day will end with a Robert Wilkinson from the Walthamstow History Workshop who is an expert at obtaining funding and running projects. All those engaged in or with an interest in oral labour history, and particularly trade unionists, are welcome to participate.

B@W is an initiative to capture the memories of people at work between 1945 and 1995, some of which are to found at the TUC Library Collections held at London Metropolitan University (

University of Westminster, 35 Marylebone Road, London NW1 5LS
(opposite Madame Tussauds and nearly opposite Baker Street tube)
Room C279 (lunch C287)

For further details or to reserve a place, please email Michael Gold ( or Linda Clarke (

10.30-11.00 Registration
11.00-11.15 Welcome and Introduction: Linda Clarke
11.15-12.00 Keynote: Alan Dein,To start you talking, broadcaster and oral historian (chaired by Linda Clarke)
12.00-13.00 Roundtable: Brief contributions from participants (if they wish), on who they are and their interest in oral labour history (chaired by Michael Gold)
13.00-14.00 Lunch: Room C287
14.00-15.00 Presentations (chaired by Ann Field)
· Mike Dick (BECTU, media and entertainment trade union)
· Norman Candy (CWU – Communication Workers Union)
· Diarmaid Kelliher and Johnnie Crossan (Glasgow University: 1984/5 Miners’ Strike, Kent)
15.00-15.30 Discussion (chaired by Ann Field)
15.30 Break
15.45-16.30 Robert Wilkinson (Walthamstow History Workshop) on Heritage Lottery Foundation – how to apply (chaired by Joanna Bornat), followed by discussion and questions.
16.30-16.45 Closing observations (chaired by Joanna Bornat, Oral History Society)


Kieran McGovern and the Mallow Shootings of 1921 – Part 1

Author Kieran McGovern

Kieran McGovern by the grave of Alice King (copyright the author)

Kieran McGovern, a retired conciliation officer and adjudicator, is our guest blogger this week. His research into the murder of railwaymen in 1921 led him to the TUC Library and a report entitled An Account of the Mallow Shootings (January 31st 1921) published by the National Union of Railwaymen (London). This is part 1.

Most of my work was spent in the Mid-West and South Regions of Ireland, an area of intense military conflict during the Irish War of Independence of 1919-1922. Many desperate deeds took place throughout the area during a time also known as “The Black and Tan War”. Not for nothing was it known as “The Rebel Region” – as the many roadside memorial and graveyard headstones throughout the counties amply testify.

In the course of my work, mention had been made in passing of an episode in which a number of railway workers had been shot dead and others wounded at Mallow Railway Station on 31 January 1921. Trade Unionism and comradeship ran deep throughout the region; “militancy” in industrial relations matters had not fallen too far from the tree of independence, so to speak.

During a previous research project I had encountered a Nora Lloyd,  living in London, and in our correspondence Nora mentioned that her aunt, Alice King, had been shot during the Irish War of Independence. Nora had written a novel, “The Young May Moon” (T. Nelson & Sons; 1935), which was loosely based on the event. Imagine my surprise to discover, after much research, and by pure happen-chance, that the shooting dead of Alice King had taken place at Mallow Station and that it was as a direct consequence of her shooting that the railwaymen, of whom I had heard about previously, had also been shot dead and wounded. Much further research, over a protracted period of time, gave rise to my discovering the unmarked grave of Alice King in Saint Gobnait’s Graveyard, Mallow. Eventually, on the day I visited the graveyard for the first time to find the spot where she lay buried, the caretaker was able to dust-off and search his large Dickensian-like record book and bring me to the precise spot. He told me, quietly and reverently as he pointed to the overgrown rectangle of earth, surrounded as it was by a low granite plinth, that he, and his caretaker-father before him, had often pondered who had been buried in that one single unmarked and unattended grave and why no one ever enquired about it. They knew, nearly personally, something about every other grave in “their” cemetery – but not this one. But now, with my arrival, the mystery of the grave was solved for them as it was for me. The man was genuinely near to tears as he listened to the tale.

With the passage of time Nora had unfortunately passed away and her daughter, Bridget (living in London), had joined me in our common search. Bridget, along with a number of other descendants and relatives across the globe all concluded that a marker stone would have to be erected on what, until then, was thought to be an unmarked grave. In the meantime, having visited Mallow a few times, I had tidied up the grave area and had discovered a crucifix-shaped stone that had fallen and lay virtually invisible and overgrown on the grave; it was a simple headstone that had been erected for Alice over eighty years before.

Acting on behalf of Bridget and in consultation with the diasporadic Patten/King descendants, I had a grave marker made locally and erected. Bridget and her extended group came to Ireland and we all joined in a ceremony at the graveside. It was a moving, yet memorable, occasion. This including local encouragement inspired me to write a book and so I set about the task with enthusiasm, building on material already collected.  On my visits to Mallow I had met many who knew of the event. I read all the relevant Witness Statements (these were written in the 1950’s, by participants, but embargoed until all were deceased) held in the Irish Bureau of Military Archives. I followed up on leads by studying archives at the Irish National Library Manuscript Department, at Kew in London and at many, many other repositories. All available contemporary newspaper reports (Ireland, U.K., USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, S. Africa, France, etc.) were searched in detail. 

Part 2 next week.


Visit from TSSA students to TUC Library Collections


TSSA student group visit

Thanks to TUC tutor Dave Smith for organising this visit from his TSSA student group (and thanks to Lesley Pollock for the photo). As well as organising a display of union related resources, we had a focus on historical transport unions.

You can see more examples on our Pinterest page.