Irish Republican Operations in Manchester 1920-1922

During the Irish War of Independence, Irish Republicans mounted a number of armed operations in British cities, including Manchester, which were intended to cause economic damage and put pressure on the British government to cede independence to Ireland

The Campaign in Manchester 1920-22

In the autumn of 1920 the IRA launched a series of attacks on British cities, including Manchester, London, Liverpool and Glasgow, which were carried out by local Republican units. Peter Hart has estimated the strength of the IRA in Britain as about 1,000 volunteers, of which several hundred took part directly in operations. Almost all IRA volunteers were permanent residents, whether born in Britain or Ireland.

On 24th November 1920 the government announced in the House of Commons that they had captured secret Sinn Fein documents, amongst which were detailed plans to destroy the Stuart Street power station in Bradford, Manchester that proved electricity to many parts of the city including mines and factories. The government alleged that the plans contained maps of the station and details of the shifts worked there and that three raiding parties were to have been used in the attack, comprising 65 men in total. In a newspaper interview Mr SL Pearce, Manchester Corporation’s chief electrical engineer, stated that the information on the workings of the station appeared to have been gathered in October when four men and two women had visited it on a Sunday morning by prior arrangement.

On 2nd January 1921 Police Constable Henry Bowden was patrolling some warehouses on Ordsall Lane when he came across ten men in the vicinity of a large grain warehouse, owned by the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Company. They supplied him with their names and addresses but he still insisted that they accompany him to the police station. When they reached Oldfield Road one of the men suddenly produced a revolver and fired at the policeman. Fortunately for him the bullet passed through his wrist and entered his shoulder. The men ran off.

A fire was later discovered at Baxendale in Miller Street, Shudehill. Police later arrested four men were in connection with the shooting: Patrick Flynn (22), Jeremiah Roddy (20), Daniel O’Connell (25) and Charles Forsythe (32). Forsythe was the landlord of a boarding house at 3 Poole Street , Salford, where the other men were lodgers. They and another man Patrick Waldron were later charged under the Defence of the Realm Act. On 22nd February Flynn was sentenced to ten years penal servitude for attempted murder.

On 13th February the IRA carried out a series of co-ordinated incendiary attacks on factories and warehouses in Manchester, Rochdale, Oldham and Stockport. In Manchester the targets included the wholesale druggists Potter & Clarke, Luna Street, Openshaw; the resin distillers Smith and Forrest, Holt Town; the Union Acid Company, Mitchell Street, Newton Heath and the Premier Waterproof & Rubber Company, Dantzic Street. During the attack on Smith & Forrest the watchman John Duffy was held up by three men armed with revolvers whilst they made preparations to fire the premises. When he made a sudden movement one of them fired at him but missed. One of the other men commented “That was a lucky escape, mate”. Finally Duffy made a run for it and again his luck held for the bullets the men fired after him missed their target.

Six days later the IRA mounted further incendiary attacks against ten farms in the Manchester area. The first outbreak took place shortly before 8pm and the rest followed shortly afterwards. The fires were set by soaking straw and hay with paraffin and setting it alight. The targets were Dairy House Farm, Dunham Massey; Dawson’s Farm, Dunham Massey; Baguley Hall Farm, Baguley; Barlow Hall Farm, Chorlton-cum-Hardy; Hardy Farm, Chorlton-cum-Hardy; Park Road Farm, Stretford; Lostock Farm, Urmston; Grange Farm, Bramhall; Cutter’s Hill Farm, Outwood, Radcliffe; and Hale Mill Farm, Culcheth near Leigh.

There was an eleventh target, namely Ivy Bank Farm, Sale. When the owner Mr. Jackson came out to investigate a disturbance shots were fired at him by a man in the yard. Fortunately for the farmer they went wide. Police later found a Webley revolver and can of paraffin in Dane Road. The cost of damage for the night’s work was estimated at £30,000. The geographical spread and the number of targets in the campaign of arson points to the existence of a well-organised and well-armed network of IRA members in the Manchester area. There was more attacks on 21st February at Poach Bank Farm, Bury and on 22nd February at Mill Hill Farm, Woodley, where a dutch barn was destroyed by fire

On 22nd March a PC Carr disturbed three men in a doorway whilst patrolling outside Manchester United’s football ground. He challenged them and in reply they fired at him but did not hit him. The officer was armed but had no time to fire back. A wallet was later found with a certificate from the Manchester Royal Infirmary in the name of Patrick Fennell and a picture of Terence MacSwiney. Fennell, who lived at 21 Bedford Street, Chorlton-on-Medlock, was arrested the following day and appeared in court in early April, charged with the attempted murder of the police officer. His landlady was later fined for failing to register her lodger under the Aliens Restriction Act.

On 18th July Fennell was tried before Justice Rigby Swift. At first he was found guilty of being at the football ground but acquitted by the jury of the actual shooting. Then the judge made an extraordinary intervention. “That is not a verdict”, he told the jury,” If the jury find that Fennell was present with other people taking part in something where shooting might take place he is guilty.” The admonished jury then duly returned a verdict of guilty on the second charge. Sentencing Fennell to seven years penal servitude the judge said that in doing so he was assuming that Fennell’s was not the hand that fired the shot.

The most spectacular series of IRA operations in Manchester took place on 2nd April. The day began with a co-ordinated attacks by the IRA in the heart of the city and ended with the shooting dead of a young Irishman by the police in controversial circumstances. The morning’s attacks all took place between 6.00am and 7.00am. It seems likely that the IRA deliberately chose to strike early on a Saturday morning, knowing that there would be fewer passers-by or policemen and that the chosen targets would have only cleaners in them. At Bridgewater House on Whitworth Street four men armed with revolvers held up the cleaner and nightwatchman. Somehow the cleaner managed to slip out of the building and summoned assistance from a police constable named Boucher. When he challenged the men one of them fired at him, wounding the officer. The men then ran off and the policeman tried to give chase before collapsing in the street and being taken to the Infirmary by tram. Police later recovered a revolver and a can of petrol. At 38 George Street the raiding party held up the cleaner at gunpoint and started a fire while at 33 Portland Street three men held up the cleaner and set fire to the building, using some of the cotton goods lying about. The cleaner, who was trapped inside, raised the alarm and firemen arrived, who quickly put out the blaze.

Two men held up the cleaners at gunpoint in the Lyons State Cafe, Piccadilly, whilst a third member of the party tried to start a fire with paraffin. “We are doing now what you are doing in Ireland” said one of men and as they left they fired a shot above the heads of the staff. There were also attacks on three city centre hotels. At Victoria Hotel on Deansgate two men had spent the night there as visitors. After they left staff discovered a fire in their room which had been started using paraffin. There was a similar attempt at the Albion Hotel on Piccadilly, where a man giving his name as H Wilson from Bristol had spent a night. In the morning a chambermaid discovered him spreading petrol on a second floor staircase and setting fire to it. He managed to escape in the confusion, leaving a bag behind. At Blackfriars Hotel two men who had spent the night there under the names of Kay and Matthews left early in the morning, saying that they would be back for breakfast. Later staff found that their room was on fire. One witness described the attackers as “well-dressed young men, between 20 and 30 years of age, of gentlemanly appearance”. A number spoke with Irish accents.

Later that same evening a large number of armed police raised the Irish Club on Erskine Street, Hulme. As they entered the club there was shooting between police and two Irishmen. Constable Bailey and Detective Bolas later claimed that as they entered the building Sean Morgan had confronted them with a revolver in each hand and that therefore Bolas had shot him dead and also wounded Sean Wickham, after the latter had allegedly wounded Bailey. The police arrested a large number of men at the Irish Club and also picked up others over the weekend, including Paddy O’Donoghue. The death of Sean Morgan was registered on 14th April after an inquest, the cause of death being officially given as “Bullet wound to the head. Due to being shot by a police officer whilst the said John Morgan (sic) was resisting the said police officer in the legal exercise of his duty. Justifiable homicide”. A memorial to Sean Morgan was unveiled in Moston cemetery on the ninth anniversary of his death in 1930.
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Despite the arrests of a number of senior figures, including Paddy O’Donoghue, the IRA campaign in Manchester continued. There were three attacks on 19th June on railway signalboxes in Manchester, similar to attacks that had been occurring in London. A signal box near Woodlands road station and a box near Fallowfield station were set alight. The attack on a signalbox near Marple station was more serious. Just after midnight Signalman Edward Axon was working alone when shots were fired at the box which wounded him in the groin and shoulder. Fortunately he was able to summon help and was taken to hospital.

A Treaty between the Republican Government and Britain was signed on 6 December 1921 and IRA operations halted. After a lengthy and sometimes bitter debate Dail Eireann approved the Treaty on 7th January 1922 with 64 votes in favour and 57 against. Sinn Fein had already effectively split into two camps with De Valera opposing the Treaty and Collins and Griffith supporting it. Most of the leadership of the IRA supported the Treaty, but many rank and file members and field commanders opposed, viewing it as a betrayal of everything they had fought for. De Valera resigned as President of Dail Eireann and was replaced by Arthur Griffith. Civil war broke out in June and lasted 12 months, leading to the defeat of the anti-Treaty forces.

The Civil War had some effect in Britain. On 4th June 1922 there were raids on a number of collieries in the St Helens area – including Bold, Sutton Manor, Clockface, Collins Green and Billinge – during which young men dressed in dark suits, armed with revolvers and seemingly well acquainted with the layout of the collieries stole explosives and detonators. There were similar raids in other parts of the country. In October there was an explosion in the Central Detective Office in a Stockport police station when a detonator that was being examined after a raid went off accidentally, slightly injuring a number of civilians and police, including the Chief Constable. John Mulryan of Wilton Street, Reddish was subsequently charged with being in possession of a quantity of arms and ammunition.

By the end of 1922 Irish Republican operations in Britain had come to an end.

Article by Michael Herbert

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Betty Tebbs: “I’ve always been a revolutionary!”

Betty Tebbs joined her first trade union at 14, lost her first husband in WWII and spent her entire life working for rights for women and workers, global peace and justice and nuclear disarmament

Born in 1918, Betty Tebbs started her first job in a paper mill in Radcliffe at the age of 14. Realising that the boys working on the same machine as her were being paid 3 shillings a week more just because they were boys, she complained to a colleague and was told “you want to go upstairs and see this woman who organises the union.”

“So I joined – I still have my badge!” said Betty in 2007.

So I was always active, when I was young, but I didn’t see the political connections,” Betty continued. “But by the time I got into the big East Lancs Paper Mill in Bury, I did. So a while after I got accepted, I started organising. I was there 17 years and at one time we had a time and motion study. They were trying to make us work harder for less, and I brought the women out on strike. There were nearly 300 of us women, but the men who worked on the process side wouldn’t come, so we were on pickets a lot.

They sacked the man who collected the union dues, at a minute’s notice, and that’s why I brought the women out, but after a fortnight it was coming up to Christmas, and he said he weren’t going to see all the women out like that at Christmas, and he wouldn’t go back. I tried to persuade him that it wasn’t right, but he wouldn’t. So the union organiser went to management to tell them, and they said that we all had to apply individually for out jobs and we had this big meeting and I said that we all had to go back as we came out, or not at all, so we hung out for another 4 days, and then they accepted and we all went back. I became Mother of the Chapel then. And I can tell you, we became the best paid paper mill women in Britain. My sister-in-law told me that. She never gave me credit for a lot, because she was Labour Party but very right-wing, but she told me that.”

Betty’s first husband, Ernie, was killed in WWII, by which time they had a young daughter.

“I’d heard on the radio that free train tickets were being sent to the families of men wounded on the front, so when the envelope arrived with the telegram I thought he’d been injured, not killed, and that they were our tickets,” Betty recalls.

But Betty still supported the war against Nazi Germany. Of a newspaper interview which suggested she had been a pacifist, she declared proudly:

“They said I’m a pacifist! I’ve never been a pacifist! I’ve always been a revolutionary! And you know what upset me – was that they assumed that because my husband was killed in the war that I was against the war! I worked on munitions!”

Ernie himself had been in a reserved occupation, but nine months into the war had volunteered, believing that “I shall have to go because fascism has to be fought.”

“So Ernest went and in 1943 he was transferred from the artillery into the King’s Own Scottish Borderers which was like a crack regiment, and after training he was put down on the South Coast and he was on the Second Front. And he got through the second front and fought for 6 weeks till he got the other side of Caen, which was a big battle, I believe, and he was killed the other side of Caen,” Betty describes.

But what did rankle was that within days of hearing that Ernie had been killed in action, Betty got another letter telling her that the money she would receive from the government was to be cut from 28 shillings for herself and 12/6 for their daughter to 18 and 11.

“And when you were still reeling from that, you hadn’t recovered from it, you get another letter saying I was now a single woman and that I would be getting a reduction in the money the government was giving me,” she remembers.

“I was so angry, and his sister was the union organiser and after the war she put up for the local authority in Radcliffe, and she got in but we weren’t accustomed to having Labour in the ward we were in. and I canvassed for her and she got in, and then I became interested in politics.”

But exhausted by working for a living and bringing up a young child, Betty’s mother send her to stay with an aunt in Devon, where Betty met a young soldier called Len:

“One day I’m sat on the beach and there’s a young soldier sat on one side, and Pat [Betty’s daughter] was good at speaking for her age and he got talking to her, and then me. And then he was there pretty often, and I though it was coincidence but apparently not. But I’d never been out with anyone else than my first husband, and I weren’t thinking about anything.

“But he started talking to me politically, and how if we had socialism we could have peace, and if we didn’t have socialism we wouldn’t have peace, and if we didn’t have peace we couldn’t have socialism! He’d been to the William Morris school, he was from Walthamstow, where the teachers were all socialist, so he had a head start you see. And he’d volunteered when he was 18, he was 3 years younger than me. And he was there each afternoon – he had a really good job during the war, he was on a motorbike in the Signals, going from one battery to the other to keep the communications open.

“I went home and he kept writing to me, he’d got my address, and then he asked if he could visit and in those days you didn’t have someone in your house like that, so my sister said he could go to her. And then he wanted to get married and I wasn’t ready for being married, and then he said if I weren’t going to consider it there’s no point in me coming when he was on leave, so I said alright, I would. He was posted to Syria and Lebanon, so he was away about 15 months and when he came back we were married straight away.”

Betty and Len started out as Labour Party members, but after it accepted Marshall Plan aid from the USA they left and joined the Communist Party. Both were active, organising in their workplaces and, in Betty’s case, working hard on the peace agenda and women’s rights within the trade union movement. Betty also recalls “cycling round North Manchester at night after work painting ‘Ban the Bomb’ on railway bridges.”

In the 1950s, with a son as well as daughter Pat, Betty and Len left Manchester for Warrington, where Len had been offered a job in a technical college. They had also left the Communists and rejoined the Labour Party, mainly due to local differences and before the Soviet invasion of Hungary and Khruschev’s revelations about Stalin’s purges.

On moving, Betty asked the union which factories in Warrington needed organising and was directed to a paper bag plant where, she says, conditions were ‘appalling.’ The mainly women workers ate at their machines, which was illegal, and the toilets were ‘dreadful.’ Pay was low, there was no protection from chemical glues and management retained the union cards of workers who were members. But Betty stayed there for three years, becoming Mother of the Chapel to the union there.

In the late 1960s, Betty also ended up on the teatime TV news after a scandalous speech she made, declaring that “I’m sick of being a kept women” despite being married – her argument being that pay inequalities meant that however hard she worked, a woman would always be dependent on her husband’s income for their standard of living.

But after anti-communism in her trade union meant that Betty’s shot at election to its Executive was sabotaged, she left the job and and got work driving bread trucks for the Co-operative. Reluctantly she started collecting union dues here as well and, finding to her surprise that few Co-op workers were union members, encouraged people to join.

Then, Betty recalls, “I went and got a nice job going round the Polycell factory selling dinner tickets, and I was getting them nicely organised when it closed down.”

At the age of 57, in the mid 1970s, Betty spotted an advert in the Morning Star for a trade union organisers’ course at Middlesex Polytechnic. Encouraged by Len, who said that everyone should have the chance at some further education, she applied. Despite her terror at the interview, she was accepted straight away, recalling that “I think I went through some red lights! So I went there for 12 months, and it were smashing.”

Being in London at this time, Betty joined in with the pickets at the Grunwick dispute, a strike by mainly women workers of South Asian origin at a photo processing plant with appallingly oppressive conditions. The mainstream trade union movement failed to support the workers, and demonstrations at the site were met with police brutality.

On finishing her course, almost at legal retirement age, Betty stopped paid work, but remained an active organiser. Bringing together a coalition of middle-class feminists and working class women in Warrington, she helped found the town’s first battered women’s refuge, despite being told by the head of the Council’s Housing Committee that “We don’t have battered women in Warrington.”

“What made him think Warrington were different from anywhere else?” recalled Betty. “So we tried to raise some money and we weren’t so good at it, and a Women’s Aid group was set up and they were like middle-class women and they did a good job, so we joined them and I became chair of that, and they were good at raising money – I mean they even got Warrington Rugby Club to do a sponsorship – I bet half of them beat their bloody wives up!”

During the 1980s Betty also became chair of the National Assembly of Women, regularly visiting East Germany for international women’s conferences.

“I met some wonderful women – they came from all over the world,” she remembers. “Valentina Tereshkova was the chair, the fist woman in space – she’s lovely. It were very nice having friendships like that. I remember when I was in the factory in Radcliffe and they said this woman had gone up in space. And then one day I was in this conference and it was the break time and she came up to me and said Betty, tell me what they’re doing at Greenham. And I told her and the bell went for the next session and she said Betty, you’ve not drunk your coffee, I’ll get you another one and I though ‘struth, I never thought she’d be getting me a coffee!” She also met with Warsaw Pact and NATO negotiators on the subject of nuclear disarmament, recalling that senior Warsaw Pact officials met them with courtesy and interest, while junior NATO representatives made them wait and were rude and dismissive. As Betty recalls:

“I said to them, why will you not sign a No First Strike agreement? And one them said, oh America will never be the first to use nuclear weapons. I was astounded, and I said, well you bloody well have, haven’t you? Do you not remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki? We’ve just had a poll in Britain and 64% of the people don’t want American bases. He said, ‘well Britain’s never satisfied – we didn’t come into the first WW soon enough, we didn’t come into the second WW soon enough,and then when we’re there and ready you don’t want us.’ So I said, ‘you never came into the Second WW for us – you came into because Pearl Harbour was attacked.’ I’ve never understood whether they were stupid or just ignorant.

“So we got nowhere with them, and so we ended up at Greenham – thousands of women. It were wonderful. I camped at Greenham, but not like my friends who were there for weeks on end.”

In the wake of the USA’s use of British bases to bomb Libya after a bomb brought down a Pan Am jet over Lockerbie, killing 243 passengers and 16 crew, Betty also led a delegation of 150 British peace activists to Libya.

Just as he retired and they bought a new home near one of their children in Rawtenstall, Len tragically died of a heart condition at the age of just 61. So Betty returned to a flat in North Manchester.

Despite her age, Betty has remained active, particularly on nuclear disarmament issues. In October 2007, at the age of 89, she was arrested for blocking an access road at the Faslane nuclear submarine base in Scotland by locking herself to fellow protestors using thumb cuffs.

“It makes me feel awful,” says Betty. “When they were bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and we saw pictures of little children with their skin hanging off them, and I’ve talked to people who were there, people who saw people just burning and who were there one minute and a shadow the next – you can’t think why human beings would do things like that to each other. So for me, it’s a fight for the future, for my children, grandchildren, great-grandchild.”

The state of the world today is still one of Betty Tebb’s big concerns at 91. “Well, now I sometimes wonder what it was all for, the way things are now. In the Middle East, especially – the backing that Europe and the USA have given Israel is the cause of so much trouble, but it’s worked, hasn’t it? It’s like with the union work – if the management can get workers fighting each other they’ve won, haven’t they? And that’s what they’ve done in Palestine. And climate change. The environment is a class issue too – it’s the poor that are affected when heating prices go up or factories are dangerous. When we were near Runcorn in the 1960s Len used to look at the power stations and comment on the waste of heat – he said ‘we could grow tomatoes on that.’ We had a compost heap and solar panels then, to take the chill off the water and use less gas to heat it up properly.”

But despite a world which is far from perfect, Betty Tebbs still has a positive outlook on the decades of work she’s put into the causes she’s believed in:

“It’s not all grind – what you get back from it are life long friendships and understanding, and I feel privileged – that I met Len and he told me how things worked together and how things worked out. He once said to me, ‘I’d not have married you if I didn’t think that you’d be good behind the barricades’! I think I’ve had a good life – and it keeps you going! I’ve often said I don’t know what I’d do if peace broke out! But it’d be lovely, wouldn’t it?”

Links
Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
Faslane 365
National Assembly of Women
‘Enemy Within,’ Francis Beckett’s very readable history of the British Communist Party
Introduction to the Grunwick Dispute

Article by Sarah Irving