Friday, 10 July 2015

The 1919 Liverpool Police Strike

As far as I am aware, there has only been one strike by Police in the twentieth century.  This occurred in that what was once labelled "Our wickedest city" - Liverpool.  Disgruntled officers throughout Merseyside downed truncheons, and the residents of "our wickedest city" took full advantage.  The officers that stayed on duty were completely and hopelessly out of their depth in trying to maintain order on the streets.  Troops had to be brought in to bolster the ranks.  The strike began on July 31st 1919.  What the grievances were about, were the low pay they received, the long hours they were expected to be on duty, and they wanted to be allowed to join a trade union.  The officers that went on strike, included 954 in Liverpool, 63 in Bootle, 114 in Birkenhead and one solitary officer in Wallasey.

    Within days, 900 soldiers from three regiments were transported to Liverpool, in readiness for the trouble that was about to erupt.  Troops were also sent to Birkenhead to ensure the safety of the docks.  The soldiers were issued with proper ammunition.   Everything erupted on August 2nd when a jeweller's shop window was smashed and looted.  This signalled the start of widespread looting, with Police and troops making dozens of arrests, and the area resembling a battlefield.  An armoured car arrived, escorted by numerous troops with bayonets at the ready.  Inside was a magistrate, who used a loudhailer to read the Riot Act.  It seems nobody took any notice.  Now vicious fighting between Police, troops and the rioters exploded.  The city CID went in four man teams, helping the soldiers to beat the rioters back or make arrests.  They swung heavy batons.

    The rioting and looting went on for days.  Then a detachment of Royal Marines assembled at the Pier Head, with the task of assisting Police in raids on houses where stolen and looted property were thought to be stashed.  The threat of complete anarchy so shocked the Government, that they sent another regiment of soldiers to assist the authorities.  They also sent a number of tanks, which were lined up outside St George`s Hall.  Then a death occurred.  A known hard man, Cuthbert Howlett, chased and continually gave abuse to the soldiers, who responded with warning shots.  This had no effect on Howlett came back for more.  This time, a shot was fired that struck Howlett in the thigh.  He was taken to hospital but he later died.

    The troubles continued for the next few days, with violent battles between locals and the Police and Army.  No quarter was given on both sides.  One soldier fired a warning shot but it`s ricochet hit one man in the neck.  Hospitals were full of people injured in the bloody battles.  The local jail, Walton, was packed solid.  Then the Government ordered the Navy to sail to Liverpool.  The Capital Battleship HMS Valiant and a two destroyer escort arrived in the Mersey and anchored.  Their purpose was to safeguard the docks.  This was the move that ended the strike.  The huge warship was not there merely for show.  The extent of damage was estimated at more than £200,000, but in the end, the striking cops did not win.  Everyone of them was dismissed immediately with loss of pension, and a union was never formed.  To understand the harsh working conditions of the Merseyside bobbies, and the unyielding and unwavering rules and regulations they had to adhere to, a good book to read is "On The Mersey Beat" by Mike Brogden.  Eight years earlier, Liverpool again stood on the brink of anarchy with the Transport Strike of 1911.  Gunboats and a Cruiser moored by the docks and troops ordered in Churchill.  Two people were shot dead.