Documents and Readings in the History of Europe Since 1918

Date: 1926

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World History


The Great Strike, 1926



. . . . .

The first sign that this morning is not as other mornings came about nine o’clock. Telephone bell rang. Voice of a friend, an American business man, offering to call with his car and take me to the office.

"You’re very kind, but why?"

"If I don’t you’ll have to walk."

"But I always walk."

"Gee!—Well, this strike isn’t going to worry you Britishers much if that’s the way you take it."

Walking to-day, I must admit, was less agreeable than it usually is. The quiet road towards Regent’s Park and the Park itself I had pretty much to myself, as I generally do. But as soon as I got out of the Park near Portland Road Station, I found the streets filled—and frequently blocked—by more continuous streams of traffic than I had ever seen in any city before.

I think there was a vague idea that when the omnibuses were taken off, the roads would be strangely clear. The taking off of the omnibuses was the signal for every sort and condition of motor car to come out. Traffic was far more tangled, far more often held up, and far slower than usual. Many who drove could have got to their places of business more quickly if they had walked.

Thousands of bicycles added to the confusion. All who could bring out and ride machines—no matter how old, how rusty—were threading their way through the cars. Carts and lorries filled with lucky clerks and typists who had asked for lifts, rumbled along among big, expensive, shining sports cars and limousines. Taxi-cabs are still plying, and there is little difficulty in finding one free.

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. . . not less marvellous than the completeness of the stoppage, the instant obedience to orders shown by those who were told to leave their work, is the absence of disturbances, the determination of the strikers to give no pretext whatever for the employment of the armed force which the Cabinet has so plentifully prepared.

Even the sentries outside Buckingham Palace have been put into field service kit. They no longer glow in scarlet; khaki is their only wear.

This causes comment, not very complimentary to the King, who has no more to do with it than you or I. He is roughly criticised, too, because of the Royal Arms appearing on the British Gazette; it is regarded as tits paper by millions who don’t know the ways of the Stationery Office. Many complained as well of HIS proclamation about the State of Emergency, which was signed by him as a matter of form. The impression that he is taking sides against the mass of working people is curiously widespread.

"Tomfool," by the way, has written some very delightful verses on the office-workers walking to the City. In the broadcasting of news this was spoken of as "The Great Trek." Here is what her quick brains made of it. (I suppose you know it is Eleanor Farjeon.)

"It’s the great, great Trek Through the thronged city streets, It’s the trek to the shops And the tall office-seats; The roads are thick with people Cheek by jowl, neck and neck, As the Walkers through the city Make the great, great Trek.

"It’s the great, great Trek On the road that is unseen To the goal of the future— And the obstacles between

Will seek to daunt the hearts And hold the march in check Of the Workers who are following The great, great Trek.

"Oh, the way is hard to go, And the end is far to see, And the progress may be slow, And the body weary be, Yet something in men’s spirits (What it is who shall reck?) Keeps them dogged as they plod On the great, great Trek.

"There’s a hope men must reach for, And a wrong men must break, In the teeth of all hardships For their child’s child’s sake. When the new hope is planted On the old wrong’s wreck, Their child’s child shall thank them For the Great, Great Trek."

I suppose there must be some to whom trekking is hard, but I can’t say I have seen any evidence of it myself.

A girl in a shop told Mrs. S. that she gets home far more comfortably and quickly than she did in normal times. "I used to hang about a long time for an omnibus and then stand or sit all squeezed up. Now I can get a seat in a car whenever I want it, and it takes me right to my door."

A certain number of people, I am sure, take rides for fun. It’s a chance that has never come their way before. One boy I know strolled out one morning at Battersea, where he lives, was offered a lift to Kew, took it, then got another to Richmond, was next taken into the City— to Liverpool Street Station— and finally, by two or three stages, reached Battersea again in time for tea! He said he’d had a most enjoyable day.

It’s an ill wind that blows nobody good!

* * * * *

The streets have become dangerous. Motors are allowed to break the speed regulations, and numbers of drivers are driving without licenses— in Cabinet service! There are lots of smashes—not bad ones, bonnets stoved in and mud guards bent and steering gear twisted.

One can’t feel very safe in going to one’s office even. We journalists are not on strike because our union, unfortunately, is not affiliated to the T.U.C. But the office is surrounded by pickets of other unions who eye one suspiciously. One has to enter the building by a back door which is closely guarded. The atmosphere generally suggests that anything may happen.

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. . . . .

Here is another illustration of good feeling between strikers and police.

An official employed in anti-strike work had to go down to the East End of London in search of two policemen who were wanted for some purpose. He asked in a public-house where he could find them. The place was full of strikers; one of them said he knew, but before he would tell, the official must buy a British Worker, and he must read the leading article!

To the delight of the strikers, he good-humouredly produced his penny and read the article through. Then he was taken into a room behind the bar where the two policemen were taking a rest, the strikers having promised to keep order while they did so.

. . . . .

There has been a lot of excitement among the electricians. Some of them were anxious to cut off all current, not only power but light, so as to "hasten the victory." They don’t like being at work while so many have stopped. They feel it isn’t "the right thing."

The General Council has told them to carry on. It would be madness to plunge large parts of the country into darkness. Panic would be created, ruffianism would be let loose. No one will be allowed to come out with official sanction until the General Council gives instructions. Union authority is over-ridden. Some unions don’t quite take this in. The engineering trades will probably be called out on Wednesday; this will mean putting the second line into the fight.

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. . . . .

Interesting to study the type of woman who comes out again now in the uniform she used to wear in wartime. She is frumpy, hard-featured, hard-eyed. She cannot attract attention in ordinary times, so she jumps at the opportunity to push herself into prominence now.

The stiff line of the black helmet across the brow lends the face a look of resolution, but the mouth and chin are usually, so far as I have noticed, weakly shaped, denoting conceit rather than self-reliance.

I should be sorry to have to depend on any of these uniformed spinsters for help in an emergency.

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. . . . .

An American staying in London came into the office just now and told me one of the comical incidents which are occurring on the railways (as Well as some tragic ones), while amateurs are trying to take the places of skilled men.

He travelled from Warwick Avenue tube station to Baker Street. The first hitch was a stop in the tunnel, which put all the lights out. When the alarm caused by this had subsided, the train crawled along until Baker Street was reached.

There the American, who was standing on the platform of the car next the locomotive, heard an agonised voice calling to the conductor: "I say, Bill, I can’t start the darned thing. Give me the instructions."

The conductor handed him a clip of leaflets; in a few minutes a z-z-z-z-z sound from the locomotive began suddenly and as suddenly ended.

Then the voice again: "Bill, I’ve touched the wrong handle and the brake’s gone fur. Send for the chief engineer."

"We shan’t be long," the conductor told the passengers; but most of them got out and walked!

8 H. Fyfe, Behind the Scenes of the Great Strike, The Labour Publishing Company, Ltd., London, 1926, pp. 9–10, 40–42, 55–56, 60, 79. Reprinted by permission of Mr. Fyfe.


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Chicago: H. Fyfe, ed., "The Great Strike, 1926," Documents and Readings in the History of Europe Since 1918 in Documents and Readings in the History of Europe Since 1918, ed. Walter Consuelo Langsam and James Michael Egan (Chicage: Lippincott, 1951), 289–293. Original Sources, accessed December 10, 2023,

MLA: . "The Great Strike, 1926." Documents and Readings in the History of Europe Since 1918, edited by H. Fyfe, in Documents and Readings in the History of Europe Since 1918, edited by Walter Consuelo Langsam and James Michael Egan, Chicage, Lippincott, 1951, pp. 289–293. Original Sources. 10 Dec. 2023.

Harvard: (ed.), 'The Great Strike, 1926' in Documents and Readings in the History of Europe Since 1918. cited in 1951, Documents and Readings in the History of Europe Since 1918, ed. , Lippincott, Chicage, pp.289–293. Original Sources, retrieved 10 December 2023, from