The Peace Movement in Leicester 1914-18HE LEICESTER PEACE MOVEMENT 1914-18The Leicester Peace Movement 1914-18


Sunday August 2nd 1914



Two meetings took place that day: one in the morning and another in the evening. Leicester's Market Place was the traditional stomping ground of the Independent Labour Party. The text of the speeches has been put together from the accounts in the Leicester Pioneer and the Leicester Daily Mercury. George Banton the leader of the I.L.P. on the Town Council, presided at both meetings and it is his speech which was most fully reported. Most of the other speeches were not reported fully.

This meeting was re-staged by Leicester Trades Council on the same spot on August 2nd 2014.

Ned Newitt

City Mayor, Peter Soulsby, reading George Banton's speech on August 2nd 2014

City Mayor, Peter Soulsby, reading George Banton's speech on August 2nd 2014

Alderman George Banton

(morning meeting)

"The present juncture is the most critical in the life of this country. This meeting is being held in order that the citizens of Leicester could give expression to their opinions as to whether or not they were in favour of war. The countries of Europe are getting ready to fly at each other's throats. Austria has never distinguished itself in good government, or literature or art or on the bloody battlefield. Yet it is this country that is provoking a war. Whatever might be Austria's reason for war, I ask you: is the Archduke's body worth more than the body of a common soldier?  No, yet there will be thousands and thousands of lives lost and seas of human blood spilled as a result of that murder. Would a war give rest to the Archduke's soul? No! Would it condone the crime?

But that is not all. It is not a matter of simply Austria or Serbia. There are parties in Europe who are greedy in increase their empires. Russia, ever to be distrusted, has always been an oppressor of the people and it would be hypocritical of her to come forward and say that she is protecting the rights of the people of Serbia. It was in no chivalrous spirit that Russia was coming forward. Russia has an alliance with France and Great Britain. Austria, Germany and Italy also have an understanding.

 We are here as common people, as the rank and file, it is said of us that:

Theirs not to reason why
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs but to do and die.

We are here to protest against Britain taking part in the war. As common people we will join with the Social Democrats of Germany and the Socialists of France and cry out against war.

Britain is being asked to help Russia. We are being asked to help a country who has crushed her own people and means to stamp out those things which make for the liberty of the people. We are being called upon to take the part of the bloody tyrant, the  Czar, against German democracy. Why should we waste lives for the sake of such men? (Hear, hear)

 And who are we going to fight against? Against Germany,- that advancing and progressive civilisation! Why should England assist, even by lifting her little finger, in helping Russia to crush Germany. Germany has long been a source a source of inspiration to Englishmen. She has many things to teach us in education, science and art - the things which give fullness to life. We therefore call upon the working people of Leicester to protest against Britain being drawn into a war in which she has no interest. Besides passing a resolution against the war, I would like this meeting to pass another resolution calling upon the Mayor of Leicester to convene a town's meeting. (Hear, hear). In this matter the worker's interests are also the employers' interests and I have no doubt that all party feelings can be sunk in the general protest against the war." (Loud applause)

Paul Henderson reads Herbert Hallam's speech on August 2nd 2014

Paul Henderson reading Herbert Hallam's speech on August 2nd 2014

Councillor Herbert Hallam

"I come to this meeting mourning the death of (the French socialist) Jean Jaures, one of the noblest leaders of the people who has been killed by an assassin's bullet. He was imbued with the ideal of peace and the intention of linking up the nations of the world into one common brotherhood.

 We are passing through  a crisis in the history of the country, of Europe, of the World of civilisation itself. At such a time we must not be controlled by the spirit that controlled some of them during the South African war. We must stand firm in demanding peace. It is not the Russian people who are causing the war; it is a clique of diplomatists. War is not going to make either the workers or capitalists make a penny better off- it would make it worse for everyone. Should England range herself on the side of Russian diplomatists? No! The time is now ripe for a rearrangement of the balance of power in Europe. The advancing democracies of England, Germany, France and Italy should unite in helping to check the reactionary forces of Europe. Italy has said that she will remain neutral, but England should take up a much stronger position than that and use her powerful influence to in the direction of peace. For this reason, I am moving the following resolution:

 That this demonstration, representing the organised workers and citizens of Leicester, views with serious alarm the prospects of a European war, into which every European Power will be dragged owing to secret alliances and understandings which in their origin were never sanctioned by the nations, nor are even now communicated to them.

We stand by the efforts of the International Working Class Movement to unite the workers of the nations concerning in their efforts to prevent their Governments from entering upon war, as expressed by the International Socialist Bureau.

We protest against any step being taken by the Government of this country to support Russia, either directly, or in consequence of an understanding with France, as being not only offensive to the political traditions of the country but disastrous to Europe and declare that as we have no interest, direct or indirect, in the threatened quarrels which may result from the action of Austria in Serbia.

The Government of Great Britain should rigidly decline to engage in war, but should confine itself to efforts to bring about peace as speedily as possible."


Councillor Frederick Riley

"I would like to second the resolution. 30 years ago, Professor Huxley said that if there was always to be war and desolation, sin and suffering and if all the evil in human nature would always go on unchecked, then it would be better if some kindly comet should come and annihilate the planet. I wonder why it is that the big religious bodies are not up and doing at this critical time. (Hear, hear) It is quite appalling that that the churches were quiet apart from offering up prayers for peace. God helps those who help themselves. (Hear, hear) I am convinced that even now, if all the religious bodies made a strenuous effort to prevent England taking part in the war, they would succeed and I know that they would receive the support of the labour leaders of this country. "(Applause)

Therese McCrory reading Edna Penny's speech on Aug 2nd 2014

Therese McCrory reading Edna Penny's speech on Aug 2nd 2014

Mrs Edna Penny (I.L.P. Sheffield)

"It is not the ability of the 'great' which is going to solve our social and international problems. It is the growing solidarity of people round the world. ...I believe that the man who is instrumental in getting 18 municipal houses built in which 18 families can live comfortably at half the rent charged by landlords does more good than all the prayers that were ever offered. War means poverty and chaos. It also means that today, thousands of meetings like this have been given over to protesting about the war instead of discussing working class affairs.  We have an alarming growth in consumption which is a disease of malnutrition, a factor in which was the prevalence of the adulteration of food.

 When I contemplate the coming war, I rejoice that I only have two children (and they are girls?)  Some say that women ought to have bigger families. My reply to them is this: when a woman was something higher than a dog, she would have more respect for the children she did bring into this world. Man thought women can work miracles. How many man have increased the incomes of their wives when additional babies have come? Very few.... In fact they seemed to think that when a woman has two or three children, there was less need to look after her, because she was less likely to leave or be sought by anyone else." (Laughter)


Councillor Alf Hill (Boot and Shoe Union)

"I rise to support the motion. I am very proud that on the occasion of the South African war, the forces of Labour protested against it. I trust that at this time we will not be the only body  to sound the chords of peace. I want the workers to know that you have nothing to gain by the war, but everything to lose. The whole world should be one great brotherhood and the nations of the world should refuse to lift a hand against their brother man. Workers should refuse to take a step that would lead to death and destruction, unless they felt that step they were taking should assist the class to which they belonged. It is when the workers of the world realise that spirit of brotherhood then war will be impossible. "(Applause)

David Cross reading John Murby's speech on August 2nd 2014

David Cross reading John Murby's speech on August 2nd 2014

Councillor John Murby

(evening meeting)

"As the children of God, we stand for the friendly relations of the whole world. Before I speak about the coming war, I wish to mourn that great man and wonderful orator, Jean Jaures who was the apostle of peace. Because he might have won the people over to sanity, the bloody assassin came along. The capitalist press has suggested that the assassin is mad. You must take that and everything else you see in the capitalist press, with a grain of salt.

 Like Lowell, I regard war as murder and I ask all right thinking humanitarians to do likewise. And it is for this reason I move the resolution which was passed at this morning's meeting. I believe that if we adopt it, we will be doing our part to stop this great calamity.

 We have come to see the Russians as barbarians and to love the Germans as pioneers of science and liberty. It was because of I love those things that are good and beautiful, that I am asking the men of Leicester and the strangers who had come to our glorious town to pass the resolution this evening."


Mr William Green

I second the motion. In the Adult School movement, there is a body of men who have been striving for international  peace. This day, their 20 years of work has been thrown back in their face. It has to be recognised that if the crisis continues, you will not have any choice about going to war - you will be fetched. This afternoon I was speaking to a German who has just received his marching orders.. If other countries want to go on with this confounded rotten business, let them. But let Britain refuse to take part. (Applause)


Mr W.G. Gibbs

"I am standing before you this evening out of a sense of duty. My son is with a German family and I have, in my house, a German girl. It is an interchange of children as a cheap form of education. I have just received a letter from the German family saying that their friendship would go on whatever happens. I was in Germany, ten weeks ago and was received on every hand most cordially. The Germans had assured him that all they wanted was peace. Today they stood on the precipice of war. It is for us to insist that the British Government should not take part in the war. I can view the prospect of war with Germany as anything but a great crime."


Councillor J.S. Salt

"Although the Prime Minister has assured us that England is/was not involved, the Times, apparently inspired, has said England must discharge her debt of honour. England is expected by the French press to assist France and Russia. This was not the outcome of the Serbian assassination. It was the outcome of the intrigues and machinations covering 20 years. Who are the people who are sealing the destinies of the European peoples? They are not workers, but the people who pull the money strings. The lesson was that the terms of the treaties should be laid on the table of the House of Commons, politicians should be watched and foreign ministers controlled."


Councillor Nathaniel Perkins

"It is the people, not kings, who suffer as a result of war. It was the working class who have to do the fighting and pay the bills as well."

Hamish Whiteley reads Amos Sherriff's speech on August 2nd 2014

Hamish Whiteley reading Amos Sherriff's speech on August 2nd 2014

Councillor Amos Sherriff

"I think the calmness of Leicester shows that the preaching of the Independent Labour Party has had some effect. If the war happens, we can expect that tens of thousands of strong men will be torn from their homes and families never to return. Just suppose that the big guns were fixed up on Big John and firing on Leicester, tearing up our buildings. You might say it was not here, but it is somewhere and it means as much to the natives of those places. War belongs to the devil and everyone who supports it must claim the devil as a parent.

Whatever is done on the Continent, England must keep clear of the bloody work. England has not got over the Boer war - there is a memorial to the dead in every town and hundred millions of debt has yet to be paid. Yet there are vagabonds about who were stirring up another war. Where were the political leaders that day? They were away and only the common people who met at street corners were left to urge Britain to keep the peace. Reason and commonsense will have to be exercised when death and destruction have done their work. Why not use it now?" (Cheers)


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  Ned Newitt Last revised: August 11, 2014.