1919: Britain’s red summer

A century ago, Britain was convulsed by race riots, mutinies and violent strikes. Clifford Williamson tells the story of a summer when the government was haunted by the fear of Bolshevik revolution

A police officer uses his baton on a protester in Glasgow, 1919

Over the August bank holiday weekend of 1919 the super-dreadnought HMS Valiant and two escorts sailed from Gibraltar to the mouth of the river Mersey just outside Liverpool. This was not, however, a holiday treat for the locals to see the pride of the Royal Navy anchor in their city. Valiant was there in support of the army, which had been sent into Liverpool to put down three nights of serious rioting. The disorder had been triggered by a strike of the Merseyside police that, as the Daily Mail put it, had left the city in the hands of “the hooligan element”.

By the time that the unrest had died down, a thousand soldiers had been drafted into Liverpool and had made repeated bayonet charges to dispel the crowds. More than 600 people were arrested, over £100,000 (£7m in 2019) worth of damage done. Journalists likened the Scotland Road area, where most of the rioting took place, to the First World War battlefield of Ypres.

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