The names of heroines of the First World War that are remembered are few, Cavell, Higbee, Rankin, Sandes spring to mind. With prodding, I can come up with quite a few more, Inglis, Moreau-Evrard… prodding me while I’m drinking tea though could start the Third World War so it is not to be contemplated.There is another that I am going to mention. Her name is Mrs Reid.
When the “Battle of George Square” in Glasgow 31 January 1919 is discussed the names of William Gallacher, Kirkwood, Manny Shinwell, and Britain’s only true Communist revolutionary John Maclean, the others were “Parliamentarians” are mentioned, but rarely is Mrs Reid.
So who is Mrs Reid, and why should she be remembered? Apart from a friend of the men mentioned I know one thing about Mrs Reid. She had a flag.
In January 1919 lots of people in the UK had flags, mostly Union Flags and flags from the allied and associate nations who fought in the war. Mrs Reid’s flag was very different. It concerned the British Government and worried them. Mrs Reid had a “Red Flag”, a “Soviet” flag. Mrs Reid was going to commit a revolutionary act in the heart of the second city of Empire. She carried her flag to the demonstration in George Square on the 27th January 1919. By Friday 31st January 1919 the numbers in George Square had grown to over 60,000 and Mrs Reids Flag was flying high. It can be clearly seen in surviving photographs. The Government were now fearful of a communist uprising. The myth of “Red Clydesiders” was born. Tanks were dispatched to Glasgow. There is a photograph of them in The Grass Market. There does not seem to be any evidence of them actually being deployed on the streets. Some troops were deployed with Heavy Machine guns on rooftops. Anecdotal evidence suggests that soldiers or at least a soldier, on the ground may have opened fire. Descendents of men involved in the demonstration have said they were told by their fathers that they had heard shots. Any soldier near the demonstration with a rifle would likely have been quickly disarmed by the demonstrators as many of the demonstrators were seasoned battle veterans from the trenches. So I do not think this was likely. Myth, also has it that 10,000 English soldiers were also dispatched to the city. Again there does not seem to be any supporting evidence. There is also a lack of evidence to support the gates of Maryhill barracks being locked. On the 31st the demonstration turned into a riot. There was a police baton charge. The Riot Act was read and the crowd dispersed. All Willie Gallacher and the people of Glasgow wanted was a shorter working week and affordable rents. The Government thought they were starting a revolution.
For more information and an account “Revolt on the Clyde” by William Gallacher. published 1936.