In 1940 Mrs. Gladys Walsh (nee Libiter) became the last Womens District Leader for the Limehouse branch of British Union. This transcription comes from a recording made by the FOM Sound Archive on 6 July 1988.
“When I was a young girl, I once went to a meeting of the Communist Party. I didn’t like what I heard there at all. I couldn’t agree with how they wanted to set one section of the British people against the other. But I never really gave much thought to politics until around 1936 when we began hearing about Mosley and the Blackshirts.
“In May of that year my mother and I went shopping in Old Road market and there was a huge crowd at a meeting, so we stopped and listened for about half an hour. When we got home my mother said ‘Glad, run back and see who they were’ because she was really interested. When I returned I said ‘You’ll never believe this Mum. They were the Blackshirts.’ She said ‘I don’t care what colour shirts they wear but that chap spoke sense.’ Afterwards I found out the speaker was Mick Clarke of Bethnal Green.
‘The following week I bought a copy of ‘Action’ and after that I got a copy of the British Union book ‘100 Questions Answered’. I studied it and eventually applied for membership. I joined as a non-active member at first. Shortly after came the memorable October 4th, the Battle of Cable Street. So we went along to Aldgate and saw for ourselves the Communists with their clenched fists rolling marbles under the police horses’ hooves, and stuffing broken glass up their noses to bring the mounted police down, and we were really disgusted. I made up my mind from then on to be an active member.
‘The local branch for Limehouse was in Essian Street to begin with. Later we opened a bookshop in Salmons Lane and finally the womens branch moved to a hall in Condor Street. On Monday and Wednesday evenings we would go round the houses delivering literature and old copies of Action door-to-door. Then on Fridays we would always have a big meeting in Piggot Street. We had speakers like Duke Pile, Tommy Moran and Mick Clarke.
“Going to the branch was like going to a second home, there was so much companionship. To name your paper ‘Comrade’ is quite right because that’s exactly what we were. It was such a friendly atmosphere at the Limehouse branch, you could always walk in and someone would get you tea and biscuits because that helped to swell the funds a bit. Somebody bought an old gramophone and we’d sometimes have a dance. It really was a great time for friendships that really lasted, you never forgot them.
“Mosley brought into the East End something which had never been there before. For example, at the cinemas nobody used to stand for the National Anthem at the end of the film but after Mosley came everybody stood to attention.
“It was four months after joining that I heard the Leader speak. Everyone used to say to me ‘Just wait until you hear the Old Man speak’. The first time I heard him was in Newby Place in Poplar. I went with my mother because she had also become a member. Well, we were absolutely smitten, I’d never known anybody to speak like it. He could bring you to laughter, he could bring you to tears. He had no notes to read from and the meeting must have lasted for well over an hour. We came away even more convinced, to go and hear the Leader speak really was a treat. Another of my favourite speakers was Raven Thomson. He was always so down to earth and there was always a huge crowd when he was speaking. We never had a lot of opposition in Limehouse until we had big speakers down and then the opposition was bussed in from other parts.
“I remember Tubby Smith, the first person I had bought a copy of ‘Action’ from. He had a terrific sense of humour and would auction copies of ‘Action’ in the street to the highest bidder. It made a crowd collect, you see, and made the papers seem like something really valuable. A really terrific sense of humour he had.
“In the Council Elections in 1937 we went round canvassing and we did very well in that Election. It really put the wind up the opposition. I remember going in one of the armoured vans with seven other women Blackshirts to a meeting the other side of the Rotherhithe Tunnel. It only took us five minutes going but an hour and a half to get back because there was a Communist Van following us which we had to get rid of before we stopped.
“Of course, the main street was Duckett Street, practically everybody in the street was a Blackshirt, and that’s the truth. We did have a really big membership. We even had our own intellectual group that included Arthur Mason, the District Leader, and Tommy Waters, a very brilliant chap who edited the ‘East London Blackshirt’.
‘The Earls Court Peace Rally was a marvellous occasion. There were so many people there that I really thought that it could stop War and the Leader spoke so wonderfully about it.
“I remember when war broke out and we were down at the branch, one lad with the same name I’ve got now called Micky Walsh said ‘We’ll march through Berlin by Christmas’. And I said ‘No, Micky. The last war was four years and this will be longer still.’ He joined up direct and was killed in the middle of the war, about 1942 I think.
“When the war came we still carried on the meetings and selling papers and delivering leaflets. Then Mick Clarke asked me if I would become Womens District Leader. One thing I never did understand is that I was given the Distinction Award badge. I never knew why because I wasn’t the only active one there. I lost it when our house was blasted. Although I’m glad that I never went inside there were times in the War when I wished I’d been among my own people. But I wouldn’t have wanted to inflict it on my parents, even though my mother, Mrs. Libiter, was a very outspoken woman. She lived to be 101 and must have been the oldest surviving Blackshirt when she died in 1973. We were one of the first to be bombed out and we had to move which was a blessing in disguise. Because when the police came to my house to take me in they couldn’t find me.
“After the War I went to the Second 18B Detainees Reunion in December 1945 and that was a day I’ll never forget because I saw the Leader again. We had an invite to the Royal Hotel, Russell Square in Holborn, it just had the circle in the middle but not the flash. Nobody actually knew that the Leader was going to be there.
When I arrived Duke Pile said that one of his kiddies was going to present a bouquet and he smiled and said ‘Can you guess who to?’. Sure enough OM and Lady Mosley came in. It was supposed to be a dance but I can tell you there weren’t many people dancing. He gave a wonderful speech. Actually I had a programme that I asked Mosley and others to sign. I gave it to a very nice young man who was doing some research for a book about Mosley and the East End. He would have made a smashing member in the old days, he was really keen about it.
“At that reunion Mosley was still upright, perhaps you could see touches of strain but he spoke to us just the same as ever he did before. I also went to the meeting at the Farringdon Hall in 1947 when the Leader said that from now on it’s got to be a United Europe. I accepted it because the Leader said so. He always had such insight and nobody ever proved him wrong in anything. It was Mussolini who said that you can break one stick but if you get a bundle together they can’t be easily broken.
“I went to Jeffrey Hamm’s meetings for the British League of Ex-servicemen in Ridley Road. We got quite a good reception, but quite a crowd of hecklers too. But they were well worth while because they really did establish the Movement back again. Jeffrey Hamm was a great man too, he was knocked around a bit by people who broke into his flat. It did take some guts to come out and start up.
“My days in the Mosley Movement I really do count as the happiest days of my life. After he died I wrote a poem about him:
‘When we heard that the Leader had died
Part of us died too.
What a Leader this land might have had
If the many had followed the few.
He could have had an easy life,
Instead he chose to fight
For the good of dear old England,
The People to unite.
But time was running out for us:
The War came to intervene.
If that had never happened
Who knows what might have been?
Maybe some time others,
To us as yet unknown,
Will finish off the struggle
We started long ago.
And they will reap the harvest
From the seeds that we have sown.
So as we give a last salute
and say a sad farewell
We’d like to thank you Mosley
For all you did and might have done.
In the hearts of those you’ve left behind
Forever you will dwell.’
“He really was one of the greatest leaders of all time. Above all things he was a gentleman. He came down to everyone’s level, he was never above you: when he spoke to you he was always on a level with you. The rough and ready people of the East End of London absolutely held him in the highest esteem. I always did feel that belonging to British Union made me want to be a bit better than I had been before. He gave me an understanding of a purpose in life. He truly was a wonderful man.
“I would do every bit of it all over again, I don’t regret one bit of it. I’m just proud I was allowed to be one of them. My own end’s not far off now and I shall die a Blackshirt.”
GLADYS WALSH REMEMBERED
Mrs Walsh died on December 31st 1990: two-and-a-half years after giving this interview. She was one of the finest types of women in East London who gave themselves completely to British Union’s struggle for Peace and People. Her example will never be forgotten by her surviving comrades.