Clarion History 26

16 September 2019

Blatchford and Thompson in wartime France

Of all the prominent figures in British socialism in the period before 1914 Blatchford was by far the most unequivocally in favour of British participation in the war.  On 28 August he had predicted that ‘the time is not far distant when the papers begin to print heavy casualty lists and the meaning of war will come nearer to us.’  The German plan was ‘to make war  “ with the utmost violence. “ ‘  and Britain must do the same.  The war must be ‘fought to a finish.’ He rejected any ‘foolish clemency to Germany’.’ There should not be ‘any kindly willingness to stop the war while Germany is still unconquered.’

He refused the  urging of  old comrades and associates to continue to play a part in the socialist movement.

I have not changed my religion.  I am still a Communist Socialist, as I was when I wrote ‘Merrie England,’ but one must face the facts, and it is a fact that I have done for the Movement all I could or can do. I cannot go back to it, even if I wanted to. It is too late. I am too old.

(By ‘Communist Socialist’  Blatchford would have meant it in the sense it was used in Marx and Engels Communist Manifesto of 1848.  In 1914 the adoption by the Bolsheviks of the label ‘Communist’ still lay several years in the future)

By the beginning of October 1914, in spite of being ‘too old’, both he and Thompson were reporting from France. Blatchford was keen to bring the reality of war home to his readers – ‘we islanders   do not know what war means.’  He went on – echoing his colleague’s comment the previous week, ‘Paris is not an island. There is nothing between Paris and the infuriated Germans but a French army and Sir John French’s contemptible little force.’ In his  ‘Notes from Paris’ in the same issue, Thompson was more upbeat, reporting that according to ‘ a relative with the British cavalry,  German soldiers were so worn by privations and broken in morale they are only too glad to be made prisoners.’

Many on the Left, both at the time and subsequently, were critical of Blatchford’s whole-hearted support for the war effort.  Yet he cannot be accused of  in anyway playing down, let alone attempting to glorify, the horrors of the war.  In his ‘Paris in War Time’ front page article on 9 October he gave an account of several horrifying incidents.

He expressed considerable pride in the British troops he encountered. Yet this did not mean that he was uncritical of the British officer class. On 16 October his article on the Clarion’s front page had the title   ‘British Snobs and Indian Princes.  Things I have seen in France.’   What Blatchford described as ‘snobbery’  and others as ‘caddish’ we  would certainly call racist.

After an army captain he met in France told him that he knew Blatchford disliked his, the captain’s, class but insisted ‘we are not all blackguards’ he was at a loss to know why he was presumed to be so hostile. He had, Blatchford insisted, ’always liked and respected British officers.’  But their one great fault was snobbery; ’They are splendid chaps, but snobs.’  He then gave an example of this.  Arriving at a hotel five hours south of Paris Blatchford was told ‘with some pride’ by the hotel staff that they had an Indian prince staying there who had ‘come to fight for the Empire.’

That evening at dinner he and a friend were able to observe from a nearby table.  The prince came in with a British general who managed not to speak to him or even look at him throughout the meal. The following evening he saw a group of British officers ignore him in the smoke-room.  Blatchford’s, unidentified, ‘young friend’ thought ‘he had never seen anything so caddish and brutal in his life.’  And Blatchford agreed ‘He had come all the way from India at his own expense to fight our battles, and he was subjected to the most horrible snub by the officers of the army of the King to whom he was so strangely loyal.’   Blatchford’s army captain was not present. ’He had gone to the front.  Had he been there he would have joined in the infliction of that bitter insult on a brave man.’

This piece resulted in praise from the oldest of the socialist weeklies in Britain, Justice.  ‘Whatever some of us may have thought of  certain aspects of our friend Robert Blatchford on the European war, we can all agree that he has done  excellent service in calling attention to the manner in which English officers behave to Indian princes.’   The paper’s ‘Critical Chronicle’ was equally supportive. ‘Robert Blatchford has done much good service for many years, but we doubt if he ever did a better bit of work for his own country and humanity at large that by his exposure in last week’s ‘Clarion’ of the incredibly caddish behaviour of “English officers and gentlemen.’’’  The paper thought the prince’s action in coming to fight was ‘very foolish of him,’ but the officers’ rudeness was inexcusable. ‘How silly from the “Imperial” point of view, as well as how blackguardly.’

Reporting further on his ‘Trip to France,’ on 30 October.Thompson attempted to describe something of what he had seen near the front.

The cottages of ploughboys and shepherds are inhabited by troops, the farmhouses by colonels and generals. The fields are monstrous gipsy encampments, with artillery instead of hawkers’ vans. Costly motor cars without wheels are scattered along the roadside, with here and there a dead horse. The highways and the country lanes are thronged with a never-ending movement of military transports and soldiers –not soldiers like the dapper Tommies of the Horse Guards’ Parade or the shining cuirassiers of Longchamps but disorderly swarms of slouching, slovenly scarecrows, dirty as hounds returned from otter-hunting in muddy burrows, and dragging their feet like weary tramps.

‘Incidentally,’ Thompson added, ‘I myself enjoyed the adventure of being arrested by French officers as a German spy.’ Justice the following week (5 November) also reported the incident adding, ‘Fortunately there were no casualties.’



Next time.  The final episode.   A Shocking Edition.  The Clarion on Christmas Day 1914


The Next Ride: Sunday 8 September 2019

6 September 2019

Chichester Circular

From Chichester station we cycle through the outskirts of the town to join a bridleway taking us between lakes and heading for North Mundham. Following the road through the village we move seamlessly onto bridleways leading to Pagham Harbour. We then have a choice. Either explore the new pedestrian/cycle paths in the Nature Reserve/s and return north via the Saltern Way, or, alternatively, make our way via mostly quiet roads towards the Saltern Way going south-west and catch the West Itchenor ferry taking us eventually to Bosham. Here we would have an optional stop for tea. From there on road and pavement cycle path back to Chichester via another well-surfaced pedestrian/cycle way. The ferry costs £3.50 with a bicycle and is cash only.

Bring a picnic if the weather is suitable, if not we will divert, probably to the Anchor north of Sidlesham.

This outline is a little vague as we are still to complete our final recce.

The terrain is largely off-road, the roads are mostly quiet with brief forays along busy roads to join these up.

A gentle flat ride. Approximately 20-25 miles depending on the final choice of route.

Trains: Brighton 10 am arriving in Chichester at 10.58 when we will begin the ride.

Return: Chichester 0.22 and 0.52

Sikka and Tessa

Clarion Ride Report: Sunday 01 September 2019

3 September 2019

Haywards Heath to Lewes

Jim (leader), Corinne, Sally, Angela D

Report by Angela Devas 03 September 2019

Clarion ride 1.9.19 - Jim, Angela and Corinne at Haywards Heath station

Ever so slightly bleary eyed we assembled at the station in the very early hours of the morning, barely able to make one another out in the almost pre-dawn gloom, but my vision was not so badly obscured as to not observe rather enviously the coffee clutched in our leader’s hands.

We decanted at Haywards Heath the back way to make as precipitate a departure as possible from that dormitorial suburb – apologies to those mistaken apologists for that god-awful town. The plaintive cry of ‘When is the coffee stop?’ soon emerged from Jim’s followers. ‘At the elephant!’ he cried – I believe Jim recently attended a rewilding talk by the excellent Dr Chris Sandom, University of Sussex, where Dr Sandom discussed elephants twice as big as African ones roaming the Sussex landscape in the Palaeolithic era. Jim, mindful of every eventuality, had provided all his followers with whistles to prepare themselves in case of their sudden reintroduction, although I can assure all concerned Clarionistas that the whistles were not needed for that purpose on this occasion. We arrived at a café cum shopping centre at a crossroads – and found to our delight a pleasant café, apparently, according to Jim, called The Elephant, though no such sign was visible, where we sat on a terrace overlooking a charming garden. Delight soon turned to distress as we discovered a party of 50 had arrived just before us and we might have to wait a while. Clarionistas can be stoic so we discussed not only the extinction of the Sussex elephant but of the country as a whole; we were, of course, feeling a touch guilty about enjoying the view and not joining in one of the demonstrations happening in Brighton.

Clarion ride 1.9.19 - Fashions at the coffee stop

Not only elephants and coffee but fabulous fashions too!

Very soon after our coffee stop we were at our lunch stop The Peacock but undeterred we ordered; as our plates arrived we looked at one another helplessly as there seemed no one present who was able or willing to say grace, I mean of course the Instagram ceremony, the modern version of grace, where all food is photographed before consumption, so rather sheepishly we tucked in without a smart phone blessing. I can only offer my deepest regrets that no Clarionista will be able to partake virtually of our excellent meal. I do remember fish pie, vegetarian risotto and wild boar sausages. Our whistles, apparently, are also a good deterrent to the latter, the boar that is, before their sausage state.

Continuing our excellent adventure we were rather detained by what Sally claimed was essential practice in sharp shooting from the hip with a gun in each hand. Now I know some of you will be a little astonished that not all Clarionistas are signed up members of the Anti Blood Sports League, but it appears that Sally is the founding member of the Pot Shot Action Against Undesirable Tories, and knowing that next week I am going right into the heavily militarised Thorney Island she was determined I should learn to protect myself. Accordingly, some time was spent riding my bicycle as fast as possible with my hands initially in my pockets and then releasing them suddenly and twirling imaginary pistols.* Perhaps fortunately no live ammunition was present as I am notoriously astigmatic and might well have incapacitated our leader or another hapless Clarionista.

Clarion ride 1.9.19 - Ketche's Lane

Sally ascending a slight undulation on Ketche’s Lane

After lunch we wobbled on – this is an exact word as for various reasons we were all a little unsteady on our wheels. Corinne because she kept peering at her heart rate on the mini surveillance gizmo she attaches to herself and every time it hit 308 she leapt anxiously out of her saddle because she thought she was having a heart attack; Sally because she insisted on leaning backwards going uphill because she heard the cawing of a raven – in fact it was probably me shrieking ‘Horsham slab’ at passing rooftops or East Mascalls manor house and Jim because he attempted to ride his bike into any passing shed thinking it might be his longed for pumphouse

Clarion ride 1.9.19 - old pump house at Fletching

… but somehow or another we pottered along the lovely Norlington Lane**, having ridden up the avenue of lime trees to Bentley wild fowl museum to discover that the whole reserve was closed and now given over to industry – perhaps a nice little metaphor for the way this country is going?

Clarion ride 1.9.19 - The Avenue (returning without tea)

The avenue

At the Depot café by the cinema in Lewes we collapsed, looking like wasted extras from a late-night horror movie, onto outdoor sofas and we would probably still be there had Corinne not sensibly rounded us up to catch a train back to Brighton.

Many thanks to Jim for organising and leading this ride.

Clarion ride 1.9.19 - Relaxing at the Depot

* I witnessed this daredevil spectacle – but was unable to record it for posterity, as this would have involved taking my camera out, switching it on and taking a picture, all the while whizzing downhill “no-hands” at great speed, which would almost certainly have resulted in me falling off and not being able to shepherd my little flock to the safety of the Depot – Jim.

** Seasoned Clarionettes may recall that on 5 September 2010, Norlington Lane was the venue for the Norlington Speed Trials, in which Jenny Millington and Jim Grozier competed for the Golden Helmet award. As Roger reported at the time, “The aim was to register the highest maximum speed over a measured distance in Norlington Lane; the distance specified was ‘hardly any’ and the winner was our undisputed leader with a miraculous maximum of 23.3 mph. Jenny came a disappointing second with a miserable 23.2.” 

The Next Ride 1st September 2019 Haywards Heath to Lewes

23 August 2019

This is at least the third time I have scheduled this ride, but it has never got as far as actually being done, for various reasons. Hopefully we will have more luck this time.

The ride explores some rarely visited territory to the east of Haywards Heath and features some of my favourite lanes. There will be several mandatory stops to admire interesting animals and other attractions, with some optional railway history at the end. We will proceed in a group, as usual, at the speed of the slowest.

There will be a morning coffee stop, lunch at a pub in Shortbridge, and hopefully tea as well later on.


Length: 27 miles.

Duration: 7 hours (7½ with tea stop)

Terrain: Short section of bridleway and some dedicated cycle route; the rest on quiet roads. I can’t remember any hills (but then I did do the recce 18 months ago!)

Start at Haywards Heath Station, Boltro Road exit, at 9:20 am.

Getting there: Take the 08:57 Victoria train from Brighton to Haywards Heath. At Haywards Heath, go towards the south end of the platform (opposite direction to the direction of travel) and go up in the lift to the bridge, then take the lift down from the bridge to the Boltro Road exit (not the car park).

Getting home: Trains leave Lewes station for Brighton at 07, 24 and 46 minutes past the hour.

This is a linear ride. Motorists can use the direct Lewes to Haywards Heath train (hourly at 21 minutes past) at the start or end of the ride.


Last Ride Sunday the 18th August 2019 Hayling Island

23 August 2019

By sheer luck and by minutes to spare, Jim, Sally and I managed to get to Brighton station before a major downpour which, unfortunately, Angela D, Sikka and Nick did not avoid and consequently arrived somewhat wet and bedraggled.  Still, the downpour did not dampen spirits as we boarded the train to Havant, checking the Met Office weather report once on the train which reassuringly stated that the sun would be out in Havant.

Arriving at Havant Station, the sun was indeed out and we began our ride. From there it is a short ride to the beginning of the causeway that links the south of Havant to Hayling Island and, cycling along the causeway in the sunshine, Angela D, Sikka and Nick began to warm up from their drenching. From the causeway you have amazing views across the Langstone Harbour towards Portsmouth and the unmistakeable landmark of the spinnaker tower.

August 18, 2019: Hayling Island cycle ride

August 18, 2019: Hayling Island cycle ride

Once on Hayling Island you cycle along an old railway line with further wonderful seascape vistas. There were many stops for photo opportunities, including one of a lone egret paddling on the shoreline, hoping to catch its lunch. We continued along this path for a few miles in the lovely sunshine, though it was quite windy, winding through the residential part of Hayling Island, until we reached the southern point and the beach where we were to have lunch and some people wanted to swim.

August 18, 2019: Hayling Island cycle ride

Unfortunately, there were quite a few windsurfers in the water, making swimming possibly quite hazardous and, with the wind now quite strong, the sea did look a bit choppy and so the swimmers decided against going in. So, we had our lunch sitting on some benches on the seafront and had a look at the very tall, stone WW2 memorial to a group called, ‘Combined Operations Pilotage Parties’ who went on secret reconnaissance missions on proposed enemy held invasion beaches and whose information evidently saved the lives of thousands of service men and women.

August 18, 2019: Pie & Vinyl, Southsea

After lunch we set of to the south-western tip of the island to catch the ferry across to Portsmouth. Angela D, having done a recce with Sally of the route, took us past a rather amazing Victorian crescent which would not have been out of place in either Bath or Brighton, but which did seem rather out of place on the island. Evidently, built in 1825 it was to form part of a vision of Hayling Island as ‘Utopia by the sea’ but that vision never came to fruition. Norfolk Crescent stands alone as a reminder of the rather grand future that had been planned for the island.

We then boarded the little ferry, most of us not having to produce ID to prove we qualified for concessionary tickets, except for Nick who, of course, is a ‘spring chicken’ compared to many of us!!

Sikka and I agreed that we love the excitement and adventure of a ferry ride as it is just such a wonderful feeling being out on the open sea with the wind in your face and there certainly was plenty of wind.

Arriving in Portsmouth we began the final stint along the seafront to the station to get home.  By now the wind was really strong and we were riding directly into it. Sally and I found it too difficult and got off our bikes and walked with them. It was perfectly fair enough that the stronger riders went on, especially as Angela D had to get back to Brighton by a particular time.

So, after we got off the seafront into Portsmouth itself, it was Jim, Sally and I who arrived at Fratton Station in Portsmouth to get the train home.

Many, many thanks to Angela D and Sally for organising this very pretty and interesting ride and I do hope we will do it again when, hopefully, it won’t be quite so windy.

Cheers and love to everyone –

Angela C xx

Clarion Latest

23 August 2019

Dear All

I have had a number of replies to my message about the very sad death of Leon. And more people have made use of the googlegroup to make their tributes. Of the direct responses to my message, some people who didn’t know him have sent messages of condolence including Ian Clarke, our national secretary, Peter Roscoe of Bury Clarion, and Angela Devas.

Of those who did know him, Fred says ‘I remember the first time we met him, on a station (I don’t think it was Hassocks, further up the line) after a Clarion ride… he was interested in who we all were, the Clarion, and was an enthusiastic member from then on.. A great character who will be missed by everyone who knew him…’ Dave says ‘I met him a couple of times and had a laugh with him so my sympathy goes to his family, friends and to the club members’. Chloe : ‘I’m really sorry. I only met him on the bus once and I thought he was jolly and lovely.’ Anne , ‘He was a great asset to our club & we will miss him greatly.’ Joan, ‘We enjoyed riding and talking with him when we were first members.’ Angela Coulter ‘He did indeed love his cycling and he always had a cheerful way which is how I shall remember him.’ Sue and Chris, ‘Leon was such a lovely gentle person and we so enjoyed the rides we did with him He will indeed be missed by many .’

I very much concur with what everyone has said about Leon. My most recent memory of being with him was back in March when he gave Sue and me a lift home from our AGM. I understand that, to the end, Leon was as optimistic as ever and looking forward to getting back to joining Clarion rides. If you’d like to send condolences to his family, and haven’t already done so, Tessa tells me that the address is Joyce Moore, 14 Manor Ave, Hassocks, BN6 8NG.


Two September rides are already taken but since, as I suggested last time, it is unlikely that we would want to have rides three Sundays running I’ve left out 15 September. The next scheduled ride is on 29 September but we could have one on 22nd instead. I’ve updated rail routes. The Chichester direction has a ‘bus replacement’ on 29 (and so do both Hastings and Seaford routes on 22nd). Details of both 1 and 8 September rides below.

Anyone want to take on either 22 or 29 September? If you do please contact both me -and Roger – – who will sending out the next newsletter, after the 8 September ride,while I’m away on holiday



Clarion History 25

23 August 2019

My Clarion History series is coming to an end. I have read the paper up to the end of 1914, mainly but not entirely back in the 1970s, and after the episode in this edition I reckon I can do two more ones of reasonably general interest.

But Sussex University Library has only microfilm of the paper up to the end of 1914. So that’s where my history will end.

25 More on the outbreak of war in 1914

Of all the socialist papers of the time the Clarion was the most unequivocal in its support of the war. And there’s no doubt it disappointed many previously firm supporters and that it lost some readership as a result.

Blatchford’s own contribution to the first wartime edition of the paper had the title ‘The Drums of Armageddon.’ It had been written before war was declared. Blatchford predicted that by the time the paper appeared ‘every CLARION reader will know more than I know now.’ He had lived the whole of the previous week, he told readers, ‘in a kind of waking nightmare.’ In Sussex he had seen sentries posted on Newhaven Quay but ‘the few English women and men we met seemed so marvellously unconscious of the gathering storm.’   The regatta in Rye had seemed to generate greater interest.

Yet there was no escaping.

The drums of Armageddon are coming nearer, rolling louder. The men are marching steadily to slaughter and death. Do the German people want to fight the French? Do the French people want to fight the Germans? Do the Russian peasants want to fight? Do the British people want to fight? Have any of these peoples a quarrel with any other? No!

He continued in this vein for much of the editorial. Would it always be the case that ‘when our bloodthirsty, decadent half idiotic masters set the drums of Armageddon rolling we must march and slay?’

But it was clear that the Clarion was not going to follow the lead of Labour Leader in opposing British intervention in the war.

In the midst of this devilish tragedy as I can see clearly enough and so can many others, there are two powers against whom no charge of blood-guiltiness or violent threats can be brought, and those two countries are Britain and France. And they are both democracies. I have said before, and said it many times, that it behoves those two democracies to stand together and that while they stand together no power on earth can break them.

At the time Blatchford wrote war had broken out between Germany and France, the Germans had ‘threatened the French frontier’ but had not invaded. There had been no fighting. He continued:

Perhaps it is yet possible to prevent the tragedy? Perhaps if our Government stands firm and at the same time offers to Russia and to Germany the mediation of America, of Italy, of Britain, we may come through this awful trial without disaster or dishonour.

Alex Thompson’s article, ‘War!’ was written after the declaration of war. Like Blatchford, he recounted at some length how ‘The dread of this awful contingency has appalled and paralysed my faculties for a week.’ He recalled the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 and the suppression of the Paris Commune during ‘Bloody Week’ which he had experienced as a child in Paris. ‘Forty four years ago my youthful mind received impressions of scenes so deeply grievous and ghastly’ that he could not now ‘muster philosophic composure to face the prospect of the tale’s repetition.’ Yet, he concluded, ‘It had to be. This war could not be averted.’

It was not a war to defend Serbia; ‘Britain would not fire a pea-shooter or kill a cat in defence of Servia.’ (Serbia was generally known as Servia in Britain at this time.) The war was, Thompson said, as Blatchford had been warning for the last decade, ‘premeditated and prearranged.’

It is a war for the domination of Europe by the German War Lords, for the annexation of the Dutch, Danish and Belgium seaboard, and the eventual smash of the British colonial Empire.

We should ‘acquit ourselves as a united and resolute people.’ There was no quarrel ‘with our brothers in Germany’ but with ‘the aggressive, arrogant, brutal and domineering War Lords of Berlin.’ When they had been ‘humiliated and destroyed’ and the ‘great German Republic’ had replaced them ‘the three most enlightened democracies in Europe will be able to form an alliance that shall indeed make for peace and progress.’

In the meantime the government had acted quickly ‘to protect the bankers and financiers.’ They should act equally quickly in the interests of the people. ‘The whole of the country’s food supply should be nationalised immediately.’ two months.’

If anyone had the slightest doubt about the Clarion’s stance the front page of the following week’s issue (14 August) featured not only Blatchford on ‘The Strain of Armageddon’ but also the large advertisement carrying Kitchener’s now famous appeal ‘Your King and Country Needs You’ which ended with ‘God Save the King’

I mentioned Blatchford’s attacks on religious belief in God and my Neighbour in 1903 and in Not Guilty: A defence of the Bottom Dog two years later a few episodes ago. So here you had Blatchford seeming to call on a God he didn’t believe in to save a monarch he’d never shown any enthusiasm for.

It is not hard to imagine the shock this must have caused to many readers.


Next time. Blatchford and Thompson in wartime France