The Author Gordon Stridiron campaigning for the BNP Hebburn Council election May 2012
(Gordon Stridiron left of picture, Natasha Mally, and BNP candidate Martin Vaughan
Blackshirts in Geordieland
ISBN 13 978 1 908476 64 7
Black House Publishing Ltd
Fascism’s Local History Offensive
An unlikely candidate for infamy, Gordon Stridiron is small, extremely quietly spoken, polite, non abusive, non drinking non swearing non smoking and well liked among the old folks of his Wardley (Colliery) community. One would not credit his infamy as a long standing local hob stomp fuehrer of the far right since early teenage. I had lived in the same Waggonway Street pit row as he, and we both moved onto Labour’s new post war Ellen Wilkinson Estate, his family and mine worked at the same pit, and I worked with his Dad down the mine. But whereas I had graduated to the Young Communist League and Anarchism, Gordon became a committed supporter of the British Fascist movement, swastika’s, jack boots and raised arm salutes. I have one of his early leaflets baring all the NSM Nazi insignia and addressed ‘ToThe People of Gateshead’ I no idea what it says though as it’s a double foolscap leaflet in German throughout. Later Gordon moves on to become a founder member of the National Front when they were no hold’s barred Fascists and Hitler worshipper’s. He later moves to the BNP.
When I returned to Tyneside in 2005 I was quite surprised to find Gordon with a prominent role in the local History Societies, particularly Gateshead, and Felling. He is a great local historian and has written an extensive history on the people of Wardley Colliery now in two volumes housed in the local libraries. These are straight forward, ‘non political’ histories of the locals, the only political references being to the local communist and far left leaders of the Lodge and their supporters. Of late he is a regular attendee at the commemoration to Tommy Hepburn the early founder of the Northumberland and Durham Miners Union and early Chartist leader, so too at the Durham Miners Gala and local mining linked and community gala’s etc. A man now heavily associated with the local St Mary’s Church at Heworth and a regular face at all local history and community events, I had assumed he had long ago hung up his political guns and turned to God and history. He chats to me about mutual points of mining and regional history without any political reference. The publication of his first book on Tyneside politics and the Blackshirts shows this impression of mine to be far from the case, indeed suggests to me that this is the new front to sanities Fascism and allow it to take a place as just another political iron in the fire of working class history, then and by extension now. He mentions (pg 134) The miners Tommy Hepburn memorial commemoration. :-
“Every year many colourful miners banners surround Hepburn’s grave where part of the service is performed and the miners hymn Gresford is played. The Hymn was composed by a local man Robert Saint whose home in Victoria Road East, Hebburn is marked by a blue historic plaque. Gresford was the scene of a terrible explosion on September 22nd 1934 when 266 miners lost their lives, including BUFmembers Stephen Penny and William H.Higgins. Unit Leader Stephen Penny had recently been present at the BUF rally in Hyde Park that was attended by over 100,000 people and was employed at Greenford Colliery near Wrexham about five miles from his home at 10 Stansty View, New Rhosrobin. On 21st September, Penny had already completed his shift and spent some spare time selling copies of “Blackshirt” at the entrance to the pit. Keen to ensure he had sufficient funds for the Oswald Mosley meeting at Belle Vue Manchester, he volunteered to do a second grueling shift. At 2.08 am on the morning of the 22nd a violent explosion ripped through the Dennis section of the mine taking the lives of 266 miners among them Stephen Penny aged 24 and fellow Blackshirt William Higgins aged 26….A ‘British Union Gresford Disaster Appeal’ was set up and contributed to the £566.546 raised for the widows and children of the miners killed in this great tragedy.”(my emphasis)
The history in so far as it deals with the fascist movement on Tyneside, is quite illuminating in terms of its extent, I had no idea how apparently popular it was across the region and in particular within the working class. Gordon makes particular mention to its mining support. Where this just a book of that sort no one could have much objection to it, facts are after all facts. But this is more than that, being a clear restatement of fascist politics and perspectives without critical comment.
The basic narrative is that the Fascists were dynamic young visionaries with a novel new plan (‘new’ is very much in vogue in the propaganda) to sweep aside all the old reactionaries. They were ruthlessly repressed and attacked by ‘the reds’. What was true of the British Union of Fascists here was also true of Franco Spain, and fascist Italy and Germany. It is obvious to the author that the threat to the world came from Communism, and that fascism was the only block to it. This was the theme of many rallies. “About 30 Blackshirts too up a stand in Gill Bridge Avenue at Sunderland on Thursday evening October 26th and at first hand, it seemed as though they might get a fair hearing from the crowd that soon gathered around them, but then the communists arrived and there was so much noisy interruption that the police ordered the meeting closed. The Blackshirts obeyed, as they always did, and marched back to the Central Station. The local paper wrote “ Although one may think there is absolutely no need for Fascism in this country, there is no denying that these young men are endowed with a good deal of personal courage. It was pitiful to see a mob of street corner loafers yapping at their heels and shrinking back like frightened puppies whenever a Fascist turned round defiantly.”
“On Oct 21st (1930) General Blakeney addressed the Newcastle Conservative Club and told them Fascism was a real force against communism and stood for great ideals of and two great principles ;- “Nationality and absolute loyalty.” He said that the struggle was “going to be between those who love their country and those who do not.”
Happily quoting Churchill visiting Rome in 1927 “it is quite absurd to suggest that the Italian government does not rest upon a popular basis or that this is not upheld by the active and practical assent of the great masses “If I had been Italian, I am sure I would have been with you from start to finish in your triumphant struggle against the bestial appetites of Leninism”.
Incidentally the author attempts to create a widespread anti communist consensus by not only chronicling the many fascist v Communist clashes but also recording every other organizations’ disputes with ‘communism’ even the communist disputes with Stalin and party etc Listing Labour and Trade Union efforts to oust and ban communists. The idea to be created is that everyone had seen the reds as the main enemy not the fascists. “During the November election, the Seaham Division was seething in disgust at the organised terrorism of “Reds” which had broken up three of Mr. Ramsey McDonalds meetings in two days”
The message to workers was that strikes were useless and we always lost them, under a fascist state all workers grievances would be addressed and workers organizations would be part of the corporate state They weren’t anti union because all workers would have to belong to them (they would not of course be free and independent unions) “The constant repetition of strikes and lock-outs…would bring about such a grave chaotic industrial position, resulting in misery and starvation to the workers that the workers themselves will demand some protection from such calamity. The B.U.F believes we can organise the necessary machinery to prevent such disaster”
“Following the Whitburn and Boldon stoppages, you correctly state that there is a wage loss to the men and trade loss to the companies. You also ask whether the men were well advised by their leaders. Let me point out as one who has had experience in these matters that the trade union leaders are never out for the good of their members in such disputes as these. ..under Fascist control no owner could lock-out his men and no worker would strike …Can any trade union leader tell of a strike that has brought any lasting good to the industry which has had to suffer it ?”
British Union of Fascist member Patrick Moir speaking in North Shields pledged “The Fascist aim was to make lock-outs and strikes illegal and modernize Trade Unions into a more central organization…”
“Fascism is a creed of the Twentieth Century which inspires us to face the problems of our day by bringing to bear on them the full effects of modern science released by the state. We envisage an ordered state in which all sectional and factional interests are subordinated in the interests of the whole nation.
The machinery of government will be rationalized and modernized to cope with the development that has taken place and are still taking place in the industrial field. The ever growing problem of poverty and unemployment can and must be solved, and the Corporate State of Fascism provides the most viable machinery for such economic planning. The old parties still cling to their outworn labels and are kept busy worshiping their idols and singing their praises, that events are more and more rapidly bringing down a great and noble race such as ours. …Facism means the re-birth of Britain.”
The Fascists make no secret that democracy plays no part in their scheme, Parliamentary Democracy is useful for the one off vote which gets them elected then government is reorganized and democracy per sae put to bed. Sir Oswald the hero of this book tells us “Dictatorship under Fascism was not dictatorship in the old and vicious sense of the word which meant government against the will of the people, but it is dictatorship in a modern sense which meant government armed and equipped by the people with the people to do things that the people want to be done. And that is, after all what this country has sought in vain for ever since the war. The first act of a fascist majority in Parliament would be to confer on a Fascist Government absolute power to order action. Our principle is that when you have voted for and elected a government you should tell them to get on with their job and give them the chance to get on with it.” “We never attack any man on account of his race or religion, but it is a fundamental principle of Fascism that no section no minority within the state shall organise against the state. An immense amount of Jewish money has been used in Britain to work up war fever with Germany. We say that Fascism will not loose British lives in a Jewish quarrel.”When a letter writer in the Shields Gazette points out that however a dictator gets there, once there he has no opposition and no recall. BUF Staff Officer Henry Gibbs replies that unemployed poverty stricken people don’t care about that so long as they get decent jobs and high wages. “British Fascism is using constitutional methods to place its proposals before the people in the same way that Herr Hitler formed the Third Reich through obtaining a majority support from the German voter.”
Director of BUF Policy Alexandra Raven explains that “Fascism would mean the dictatorship of the will of the whole people…Power Action meant selecting a leader and giving him power to carry through their will. It will mean the end of the multi-party political system. It will be smashed up and a new system of government set up on an occupational franchise.”
William Joyce (soon to be Lord Haw Haw) spoke at Hetton-Le-Hole Miners Welfare (Jan 9th 1934) “However much you may hate Hitler and Mussolini, those men command the over-whelming and enthusiastic support from the majority of their countrymen…..Although Hitler is one of the most powerful figures in Germany he comes from the working class and there you have the best possible proof that Fascism has no connection with social favouritism. Mussolini is the son of a blacksmith...I admit that Sir Oswald is an aristocrat, but we only have one. The trouble with Socialism is that it has 30 or 40 aristocratic leaders.” Joyce goes to Germany July 1939 and takes out German citizenship and becomes a Nazi propagandist broadcasting nightly to Britain. The author tells us that these broadcasts were helpful and in the case of a Jarrow family whose son was missing serving with the Howards in Norway. Haw Haw broadcasts that he is alive and a POW the mother comments “...whatever people say about Lord Haw Haw he did a good deed last night.”
The book makes no apology for restating the positions of the Blackshirts in support of Italy and Germany’s foreign policies. On Italy’s war on Abyssinia it quotes from a contemporary fascist leader Angus Macnab (BUF Press Director) “...between 1928 and 1935 Abyssinia was guilty of 25 assaults on Italian diplomatic representatives and consuls in armed attacks on the life and property of Italians in Abyssinia and no less than 51 raids of armed bands into Eritrea and Italian Somaliland…the only reply we have heard is that the Negas (Emperor Haile Selassie) is incapable of controlling his own slave raiding chiefs.” Macnab went on to say that sanctions against Italy cost the jobs of 36,000 miners and that Italy had been transformed from a friend of a thousand years standing into a bitter opponent nor had it checked the Italian campaign in Ethiopia that had set free a million slaves.
“Mr. Lowther was also a supporter of Republican (Red) Spain that closed churches and killed priests. South Shields man John Grimes wrote “Like all Communistic drivel, the letter from A.Lowther is as clear as mud. Following the Red formula it sets out to attack but soon becomes a painful repetition of ‘Communism has done this, Communism has done that’ .We do not need unimportant creatures like A.Lowther to recite the achievements of Satan’s protégé, Catholic Spain is doing that. Let him understand (if understanding anything but Communism he can) that in the considered judgment of Christianity and rational Trade Unionism, Communism is the curse of civilization, a political rat and as such its extermination should be encouraged.” In reply to a Sunderland Echo editorial condemning the Fascists as extreme right wingers the BUF responds. “ The Right is the party of big capital and international vested interests and while Fascism opposes and is pledged to exterminate the Bolshevism of the extreme Left it is equally pledged to subordinate the Right, that is the interests of international finance-capital rightly to the welfare of the nation.” Not for the last time the ‘E’ word is used with regard to Communism and Communists when quoting contemporary writers of the period, the author chooses not to comment on the fact that the first Nazi concentration camps in Germany were established for Communists, Socialists and Trade Unionists. That the first persons to be exterminated were the Communists then when it came the turn for the Jews it was the Communist and Socialist and anti- Zionist Jews who went first. But then the author choose not to make any retrospection on the Fascist governments of Italy and Germany during World War Two or to comment on any of the crimes laid against them.
The book reeks with high praise for Hitler’s Germany and not a word of doubt or criticism or reflection is expended on its actual lethal practice. The Rev Duncan Vicar of the Colliery town of Dawdon was a clear convert to Fascism among other such Vicars given mention in the book. On March 27th 1936 he tells the Northern Echo of his visits to Germany and many talks to the people of all classes and descriptions “Frankly the progress made by Germany since Hitler gained power has amazed me. In three years a stricken and dejected country has given rise to a new power and hopefulness…The young despair no longer. The future is bright with promise. Unemployment is decreasing, industry is developing unity of purpose has been achieved, and all classes have been welded in service and sacrifice for the Fatherland. I believe Hitler is sincere in his offer to make the peace and keep the peace. He knows the tragedy of war and the ruin it brings to victor and vanquished alike…Frequently I have been told by Germans ‘Herr Hitler is honest, he means what he says. He wants peace not war. His chief mistake is in thinking that others are as honest as himself.”
While the author makes no mention of world war two, it is clear in the books trajectory that he sees the struggle of Fascism as a struggle against communism “While the communists and their fellow travelers in the West campaigned under the façade of ‘world peace and disarmament’ patriotic fascists were in the front line of defence against left-wing thugs and violence” It is clear to me from the book the author sees Germany and Italy’s fight in WW2 as a continuation of that same fight, a fight against communism and Marxism and the rest of our “fellow travelers.”
Reading this book is the hardest thing I have ever read and left me feeling physically sick on occasion. This isn’t merely history. Not even far right history but a political restatement of Fascism undiminished and unmodified since pre-war years. It is being presented gradually into a history genre in general and local history forums in particular. As yet we have not had attempts to sell the book on stalls at Local history, community or Labour Movement commemorations, but we have had the first of the adverts for books in the series very selectively given out. Local History societies need to be on their guard, the sale of fascist literature under cover of history is not something any of them will want to endorse or allow.
So how do we approach a man like Gordon Stridiron? The man is 68 years old, frail, and physically inoffensive. I would certainly not agree with any physical attack on him. While he has not recently been any part of any demonstration or counter demonstration against the left the unions or the progressive movement I know of and is not engaged in physical attacks upon anyone no-one can have any justification for attacking him. However on the basis of his own politics as represented publically in this book he is an unreformed Fascist and we know from many photo’s a card carrying activist of the British National Party. On this level his politics and his support for the politics of the far right can and should be confronted on any opportunity which presents itself at community events, labour commemorations and history forums. A political elephant in the room is surely one for legitimate comment and question.