Sunday, 9 July 2017

Snapshots of the Great War nu 4 .............. the Gala in Alexandra Park that never happened and thoughts on the “massacres” yet to come

It was going to be the third of a series of Galas “to be held under the auspices of the Educational Committee” of the Manchester & Salford Co-op and was planned for August 15 1914 in Alexandra Park.

M&S Co-operative Herald, July 1914
There had been two earlier events one at Yates’ Field in Fallowfield and the other in Broadheath with “RACES, MAYPOLE DANCES, SPOON AND BOOT CLEANING COMPETITIONS”  as  well as a “FANCY DRESS COMPEITION” with tickets for refreshments at 3d for adults and 2d for children.

The earlier two had been scheduled of July 11 and July 25, but the Alex Park gala was planned for August 15 just eleven days after Britain became involved in the Great War.

The secretary of the Educational Committee wrote that “at their first meeting, held 10th August, [it was] "most regretfully decided to postpone the gala.

All arrangements had been completed, but it was felt not to be a time for festivities when the nation, without the slightest warning was involved in a Continental War.

Had we not lived through the few days which have just elapsed it would have been discredited that so much could have transpired in so short a time.  August 1914 has become a landmark in history.  

We knew that on the Continent of Europe things were not quite comfortable owing to the assassination of the heir to the Austrian throne, but that by the fourth day Britain would be involved in war was unthinkable.  
M&S Co-operative Herald, September 1914

We went on our holidays and gave ourselves to to the enjoyment, for was it not the last bank holiday before the winter?”

The letter is revealing in so many ways not least because the Co-op movement was founded on the principles of co-operation which extended across national borders and yet here was the secretary reflecting on how unthinkable it was for Britain to be involved in a general war but matching much of the nation in believing that

Britain has had this unholy war thrust upon her, and since it must be, the nation, a whole and undivided nation, has risen as one man to bear the burden, whether to face the enemy on the field of battle, or to minister to the wants of those left behind.”

Of course not all in the Labour Movement shared that view.   Kier Hardie argued against the war and continued to do so till his death in 1915.  Nor was he alone.

Unknown unit, date unknown
But the mood of the country was more with the secretary of the Educational Committee who concluded that “Let us all hope and pray that never again shall it be possible for such an atrocity as war to be embarked upon by any nation, and to that end let every aid and encouragement be extended to our rulers when the end has arrived and saner councils can be held.

No country should ever again have such a preponderance of power to plunge nations into war.  

Horrible as the massacres are to contemplate, if war is ever to be abolished good will have come out of evil.  God save the Allies.”

This is not the often paraded pro war sentiment of the early months of the conflict but a more measured and sober approach as befitting an organisation based on co-operation.

Pictures; of the Manchester and Salford Co-operative Hearld, July & September 1914, courtesy of the National Co-op archive, and unkown unit from the collection of David Harrop

The National Co-op Archive,
 Located in central Manchester, the National Co-operative Archive is home to a wide array of records relating to the history of the worldwide co-operative movement. The collections include rare books, periodicals, manuscripts, films, photographs and oral histories, and provide researchers with an unrivalled resource for the development of the co-operative movement, from the initial ideas of the eighteenth century to the present day.

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