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On This Day



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In On This Day

By Nicola Gauld

On This Day, 11 February 1918

On 11, Feb 2018 | No Comments | In On This Day | By Nicola Gauld

Birmingham Daily Post

Monday 11 February 1918



Birmingham women yesterday afternoon, at a meeting at the Town Hall, testified in unmistakable manner their determination to do all they can to carry on the war to a successful issue. The meeting—presided over Miss Annie Kenney—was organised by the Women’s Party.

Miss Christabel Pankhurst moved the following resolution: “That this mass meeting of women supports the Government man-power proposals, which provide that eligible men hitherto exempt from military service shall take their place in the fighting ranks, and so make it possible to release men who have been seriously wounded. The women here assembled indignantly condemn the selfish and unpatriotic efforts of the minority who are seeking to force an inconclusive and shameful peace by means of strikes and industrial unrest, and pledge themselves to assist in carrying on the war till final victory, thereby securing peace with honour and national freedom for Great Britain and her Allies.” She said the women would use the vote for the crushing of the enemy, and to bring about victory for the Allied cause. If the Germans were not beaten it would be useless for the women to have won the franchise, because they would have no country in which exercise the vote. It was not true that Britain wanted peace. The only people who wanted peace were the shirkers who had gone into the munition factories in order to save their skins, and who now saw a chance of being routed out. It would be better to be dead than to be under German rule, and she despised and denounced those materialists, who called themselves pacifists, whose appeal was really based on selfishness, cowardice, and sheer materialism. Rather than that the Allies should be defeated she would be prepared to go into the firing line to do what she could against the enemy. Women had not long been engaged in industry, but she had been there long enough to see the shirkers—the young Bolsheviks, who were playing the German game by talking of striking when they were told they were wanted for the army. Such men were too proud fight, but they were not too proud to make money by making munitions. The women had put a spoke in their wheel and they would see that the men at the front were kept supplied with munitions. The majority of the men engaged in the factories were sound in favour of the war, but the younger the man the more he cried for peace.


At this stage some pacifists created considerable disturbance but Miss Pankhurst appealed to the audience “Not to lake any notice of deluded women who were only playing the game of the Bolsheviks”.  “We want peace,” shouted woman. “We do,” said Miss Pankhurst. “We all want peace with victory, which is the only way to have peace with honour. We will have no peace until the German fiends and beasts are crushed. The barbarities they perpetrated in Belgium and Serbia they would repeat here if they could. It is no use trusting the Germans, because it is no good casting pearls before swine.’’

Proceeding, Miss Pankhurst asserted that it was bad enough to be a pacifist, but it was worse to be a pacifist and work in a munition factory at the same time. The pacifists were not as peaceful as they would have people believe. It was only the Germans with whom they would not fight.

Many interruptions occurred at this point, and Miss Pankhurst announced that one woman in the audience had said she was a German. This announcement caused a great uproar, and it took much time before the women near the supposed German were subdued from forcibly removing her from the hall. The interrupter was only allowed to remain on promising to cease interrupting.

Miss Pankhurst concluded her address by criticising the attitude of the engineers towards the Government’s man-power proposals, and asserted that many unskilled men in the A.S.E. were being unjustly protected. The attitude of women munition workers towards the revolutionary movement of the engineers had taken the gloss off it.

“I don t think!” cried a pacifist member of audience. “I know you don’t,” retorted Miss Pankhurst. “If you did you would not make such foolish remarks and be ready to keep strong able-bodied eligible men in the factories while men who have been wounded are sent back to the firing line.”

Miss Pankhurst also protested against queues of people having to wait about for food, and said that such a state of things was a disgrace to men’s organising capacity. If men could not do better they had better appoint a woman as Food Controller. Compulsory rationing should have been introduced before the year 1914 ended.

Mrs. Walter Simpson (Birmingham), who said she was proud her husband was doing his bit, seconded the resolution, and asserted that she knew hundreds of young fellows who could be spared from the un-skilled work they were doing. She worked in a munition factory and knew that some of the so-called skilled men had become skilled in the same way as conscientious objectors had developed consciences. The resolution was carried by a large majority, there being only fourteen dissentients.

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