Mosley’s Last Great Speech
in East London
by Robert Edwards
Bethnal Green, East London, had been a Blackshirt stronghold in the 1930s, thanks to the inspirational leadership of its District Leader, Mick Clarke. It was essentially working class as the shabbiness of the area indicated and the working class support for the Mosley cause remained very evident in the regular street meetings around the area.
The old Mosley graffiti on the walls was untouched well into the 1960s. This simplest form of propaganda often appeared as a backdrop to the platform speakers who had honed their oratorical skills on those old cobbled streets.
Cheshire Street market was the hub of Bethnal Green’s commercial life on a Sunday. It was an eclectic mix of old and new, from second-hand furniture to shiny new leather goods. It was also very much a multi-cultural area with nearby Brick Lane then becoming very Asian in appearance. The Brick Lane mosque had previously been a busy synagogue and, before that, a Protestant church for the Huguenot immigrants, new-comers from a different era.
Cheshire Street ran through the centre of the market with any one of the off shoots being used by platform speakers, mainly the supporters of Oswald Mosley. Kerbela Street was the favourite.
Mosley had spoken there before and many of the Movement’s regular speakers were guaranteed to be there every Sunday on the same platform with loud hailer and a Movement flag. The speeches would often last about an hour and then the speakers with their supporters would go off to wet their whistles in the Blade Bone public house in Bethnal Green Road where Bert, the landlord, welcomed one and all. The Blade Bone was ‘the Mosley pub’.
It was later used as the venue for a get-together of Mosley and his supporters as part of a BBC Panorama programme on Mosley’s life, pulling in a record audience of nine million television viewers in 1968.
A Mosley meeting was advertised for Sunday, September 12th, 1965, in Cheshire Street, Bethnal Green and Mosley himself was to speak there.
Trafalgar Square had been banned to Mosley since 1962, that last wave of Red violence, orchestrated on a massive scale, the purpose of which was to deny Mosley a public platform in Britain. The government had simply caved into Red violence for its own purposes.
Street corner oratory had a long tradition in England as a means of propaganda that did not require a lot of governmental red tape, as with the case of Trafalgar Square, and could be set up with relative ease.
From the days of Ridley Road just after the Second World War when Jeffrey Hamm’s British League of Ex-Servicemen and Women were battling the Reds for speaking pitches in Dalston, East London, public speaking with PA systems on top of a van was the norm. Those were the days before round the clock television and other domestic diversions. Entire streets would fill with people to listen to the message of Mosley’s men and, if lucky, the Leader himself.
The opposition tried every trick in the book in order to prevent Mosley’s men from setting up their pitch, the rule being ‘first come, first served’, as the opposition attempted an early take-over of the pitch before the Union Movement people took possession.
In the late 1940s, Jeffrey Hamm’s supporters were often reduced to defending themselves against extreme physical violence as the battle of the pitches took place on a regular basis. Hamm, himself, suffered attack from bricks thrown at him and was hospitalised on at least one occasion.
On the Sunday of September 12th 1965, two Union Movement members had set up the pitch at 4.30 in the morning and had maintained a steady pretence at delivering public speaking, in anticipation of the opposition getting wind.
The Yellow Star Movement had been formed the day that Colin Jordan’s National Socialist Movement held their ‘Free Britain From Jewish Control’ rally in Trafalgar Square on July 1st 1962. Three weeks later, Mosley’s Union Movement began a meeting in the Square to be greeted by well-organised violence that went on for over twelve hours in and around the area, largely initiated by a violent off-shoot of the YSM called the 62 Group.
After that, the purpose of the Yellow Star Movement was to deny what they deemed to be ‘fascist speakers’ any opportunity to set up a meeting in any street in London. Harry Green was one of its nominal leaders (the other being the Rev William Sargent, vicar of Holy Trinity Church in Dalston) and he had set up a rival pitch in nearby Hereford Street off Cheshire Street in the vain hope of queering Mosley’s pitch on that day in September of 1965.
Mosley had advertised his meeting as being in Cheshire Street, thereby making the choice of side street completely open.
Just after ten o’clock that morning, UM Organising Secretary, Keith Gibson, turned up in his Austin Mini van in order to set up the Tannoy address system and to begin the warm up speeches in Wood Close. While Harry Green and his YSM thought they had thwarted Mosley in another side street, the accumulators of the Tannoy speakers shorted treacherously on Keith soon after he had begun his speech. You can see the muted Tannoy speakers on top of Keith’s Austin Mini van in the picture below right.
When Mosley arrived on that sunny morning, booked for 11.30 am, he had to manage with a portable loud hailer instead. Keith had to concede defeat over the Tannoy electrics but this was ’Mosley weather’ and the people of Bethnal Green were not to be disappointed.
In the October 1965 issue of the National European, the UM monthly magazine, the meeting was reported thus:
“On this occasion he spoke in Wood Close, a neighbouring turning to Kerbela Street, in the heart of the working class stronghold of Bethnal Green. Traditional weather this time, too - Mosley weather, they call it in East London. The sun had brought out an even larger crowd than usual for these great meetings. They listened in rapt attention, frequent applause being the only interruption, and a prolonged ovation at the end of the meeting showed what East London thought of Mosley. As he stepped from the platform he was surrounded by a crowd of old and new friends, following him along the street”.
In his speech he attacked the then Labour government for deliberately creating unemployment as a means of tackling Britain’s balance of payment problems, creating a pool of cheap labour that would be aggravated by more coloured immigration, thereby undercutting white workers in order to keep wages down.
He explained his position in 1939 when he opposed war with Germany and he opposed any British involvement in Vietnam because, as with 1939, it was not in British interests.
He claimed that opposition to war with Germany in 1939 made him no more a friend of Hitler than opposing any British involvement in Vietnam made him an admirer of Chairman Mao of China. The criterion in all these matters was to consider British interests first.
But there was to be a sad undertone to the day’s events on that sunny morning in Bethnal Green. It was to be the last time he would speak to the people of East London at an open air meeting. The following year he stood as a Parliamentary candidate in nearby Shoreditch and Finsbury but he used a Land Rover for his mobile electioneering, stopping briefly at points to send out the Mosley message. The campaign also featured one indoor meeting in a local hall.
But the days of a mass open air meeting in which Mosley excelled were over, to the disappointment of many of the faithful. He was soon to declare himself a man without party, as he had been just after the Second World War. Union Movement was to be run by a directorate with Mosley’s secretary, Jeffrey Hamm, in charge.
After the publication of his autobiography, My Life, he broke through the barrier of silence imposed upon him by those who controlled access to television and radio. The public were allowed to see the real Oswald Mosley in a Panorama programme lasting fifty minutes, followed by appearances in several other programmes, including The David Frost Show. With David Frost was a studio audience composed of several of Mosley’s political opponents, including old ‘anti-fascists’ like Solly Kaye. Throughout the provocation, Mosley had the upper hand ... as you would expect from a masterly manipulator of hecklers.
They tried to howl him down in the television studios but he turned the tables on them and showed them up for the anti-democratic mob they really are. Mosley, the man they could not silence, was to embark on a new path, using a new medium for expressing the ideas that could save Britain. During this period he debated in Dublin with the Irish Prime Minister, Mr Lynch, and shortly before his death in 1980 he was due to take part in yet another television programme.
The last time I saw him was at a buffet supper at the Eccleston Hotel in Victoria, London, on Saturday, June 21st 1980. It was part of the launch of Lady Mosley’s book on the Duchess of Windsor.
Lady Mosley began with words similar to, “I am not very good at public speaking”, with Mosley responding seated in a chair nearby, “Don’t believe a word of it”, with that sparkle in his eye that told you there was still fight in the old dog yet.
Unfortunately, he died six months later in Paris and the news of it shocked me to the core.
Keith Gibson first introduced me to Mosley in the 1960s in the offices of 302 while I was still in the Army. That sparkle in the eye and a keen interest in the person he was speaking to was the same then.
The Mosley many will remember is the man with enormous reserves of physical courage, climbing up to stand before a microphone with a vast audience before him. His intelligence could be detected in the masterly way he explained his ideas, mainly economic but always inspiring and leaving most people much the wiser long after the event.
To Mosley, we owe a debt for giving us his message, that continues in this publication to this day.
©2008 European Socialist Action No 14
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oswaldmosley.net - 2008