Tom Mann’s Memoirs, 1923

Book three: Home again

XXI. The trial for incitement to mutiny

First published: 1923
Publisher: The Labour Publishing Company Limited, 38 Great Ormond Street, London WC I
Transcription, mark-up: Steve Painter


At the Salford Petty Sessions on March 28, I was brought up on remand and committed to the assizes, bail being allowed in £200 and two sureties of £100 each.

The assizes were held in Manchester, and my trial came on May 9. The following report is from the Weekly Citizen of May 11, 1912.

“Tom Mann”

Thus bellowed the stentorian voice of a Manchester assize court official on Thursday, in the officious way these functionaries have.

The sprightly, well-knit figure of the great agitator stepped forward. Tom was smiling just as if it was a mere part in a comedy he was playing, instead of being the chief figure in a drama — a drama which at best was converted into a farce by the very nature of the absurd charge.

Tom was ushered into the dock, a very uncommon prisoner placed in the spot wherein common and sordid felons often stand. In that one incident the dignity of the workers was lowered to the ground. It was an indirect insult to Britain’s millions of workers that one of their leaders should have to undergo this humiliation. Tom Mann, however, took the insult quite coolly.

Wigged and robed counsel were there for the “Crown”, to make the most damage they could against the prisoner.

Mann was his own barrister, and he was quite competent to defend himself. To assist him in any legal points which might arise was his solicitor, Mr Quilliam, of Liverpool, well-known and highly appreciated in socialist circles.

The judge, Mr Justice Bankes, in his gaudy robes, sat in solemn state upon the bench, and out and in popped idle barristers to get a peep at the “terrible man who told the soldiers not to shoot, don’tcherknow”.

In the body of the court were a few prominent trade-union leaders and friends of Tom Mann, but there were more outside who had been refused admission for some unknown reason by the officers.

Not guilty

The list of indictments was read first of all, and then Tom was asked if he was guilty or not.

“Not guilty,” came his prompt answer.

The question was put from the bench as to who appeared for the defence — the prosecuting counsel had already announced that they were for the “Crown” — and on Tom saying that he would defend himself, the judge looked in his direction a moment.

Mr Justice Bankes, noting something amiss, asked if the prisoner would like to have some facilities for taking notes. Tom assented, and a small table was placed in the dock.

Tom sat down beside it, opened a notebook, and began taking notes of the “allegations” the prosecution raised.

“May I have the witnesses out of the court?” he asked as soon as the proceedings had started.

“Certainly,” replied his Lordship, and the witnesses were ordered to retire.

Mr Langdon, KC, then addressed the jury. There had been an endeavour, he said, on the part of the prisoner to get the soldiers enrolled in the army to disobey the lawful orders which they might receive or to commit acts of disobedience to their officers in a way that would amount to mutiny and disobedience to the crown.

Soldiers’ duties

Next Mr Langdon defined the duties of the soldiers. There were certain important obligations on military subjects of the crown. The soldier really had a double duty.

He owed a duty both as a citizen and as a soldier, as much of one, perhaps, as the other. They differed little in character and extent, but in substance they even overlapped.

Clad though he is in uniform the soldier remains invested with the duties which everyone of us owes to the state of which he is a member.

Over and above his civil duties, which were no less than those of the civilians, the soldier by virtue of his military oath, had duties arising from his position as a soldier. Those duties were great and important, and subject to heavy punishment in case of disobedience.

"Where the military were called in to preserve peace the duties he was called upon to discharge were of the gravest importance and required the utmost discretion in their exercise.

The open letter

The endeavour to incite to mutiny and disobedience was contained, counsel added, in a couple of columns printed in the Syndicalist and was in language of great power, well chosen to the end in view, and addressed — the prosecution submitted with a deliberate intent — to soldiers in order to get them to violate their duty, and that at a time when the discharge of their duty was a matter of the gravest moment.

Mr Langdon read the whole of the Open Letter.

Terrible contingencies

Expressions in the letter were directed to the terrible contingencies which sometimes arose, and which had arisen in recent times, when industrial struggles trouble the country — struggles carried on generally with self-restraint, but sometimes accompanied with violence, riot, and pillage.

That document contemplated a time when the police were helpless, and the last resource of organised authority had to be brought into play to control the forces of disorder.

Subject to the orders of the magistrates, whose duty it is to maintain order and to protect property, these forces had to be employed, and if the riot and pillage and violence continued — if the appearance of the military forces alone was not sufficient — then, he regretted to say, those forces had to be employed, under the law, with effect, in order to achieve the ends of society in the maintenance of peace, and the protection of property.

The language, Mr Langdon continued, was well chosen to influence the minds of those to whom it was addressed, men who, as they were told, might be out of the colours some day and liable to be shot at themselves.

They could not get away from the inevitable conclusion that it was intended to seduce soldiers from their duty, and to incite them to mutiny when orders were given them which they ought to obey.


Counsel then dealt with the question of Tom Mann’s responsibility for the publication. Mr Langdon said the Syndicalist was published in January of this year by the Industrial Syndicalist Education League.

Of that league a Mr Bowman was secretary, and the prisoner Mann was chairman. It was printed at Walthamstow by two men named Buck.

The Judge: How can we admit this evidence?

Counsel contended that it was quite an admissible statement, and an argument ensued upon that point. Finally the Judge addressed Tom thus: “I presume that you would desire the whole of the occurrence at Salford to be in the knowledge of the jury?”

“Quite so,” promptly answered Tom.

Counsel then went on with his argument, and said that the editor of the paper and the secretary of the league had been arrested for the publication of the letter.

On February 15 a man was arrested at Aldershot for endeavouring to distribute copies of the letter to soldiers in camp, and on March 13 there was a meeting at Salford at which a speech was made by the prisoner, while on March 14 there was another meeting, and it was in respect to publication at that meeting that the indictment was drawn up, and to that publication he desired to call attention.

Alleged offence

Mr Langdon read extracts from the speech made by the prisoner on that occasion as follows:

“They (the government) have already prepared the hotel and barracks for the military, and they have appointed men in charge of this, right in this very district, in this town, and all around. What are they doing it for? To bring them here to shoot you down. That is what for. That is their intention. They are trying to close the mouths of any of us that dare to talk freely and interchange opinions with some degree of courage. Therefore it is that they have arrested the man that our chairman has referred to.

“There are two brothers who are printers of this little paper; they have printed it on behalf of the committee of which I was chairman. The secretary of that committee, a comrade of mine, Guy Bowman, was arrested after leaving my house last Friday evening on his way to his own at Walthamstow.

“The detectives went there, searched every room, and confiscated all they could get hold of in the way of copies of the paper and also new matter prepared for the next issue. They took him to the police station, charged him with treason, felony, or some other rot, landed him in Brixton Gaol and refused him bail, and he has been there this week. What has he done? He has made no remarks whatever; he is simply identified with the issue of this little paper.

“Now I will read you a paragraph or two. It contains an open letter to British socialists — no! I beg pardon, British soldiers:

Built of different stuff

After that Mann, said Crown counsel, read extracts from the Open Letter, and continued: “Now I will ask you is there anything wrong there? Is it not true? They are called upon to murder us. (A voice: ‘Yes.’) We know they were called upon to murder in Liverpool … and if these soldiers be ordered to fire and to murder, to fire and to kill — for that is how they have been told to fire — and then to tell us we dare not, and shall not, on pain of imprisonment, raise our voices, utter a sentiment, or dare to address them, and urge them not to do so, then if we obey, we are indeed cowards and mean things.

“But we are built of different stuff, and by all the gods and devils I will let them know that I am fearless in the matter. I do not know to what extent there are detectives or plain-clothes police in this hall, but at each meeting I have been at for a long time there have been men sent by the police for the express purpose of taking notes. It may be just as our comrade Bowman has been charged with treason, felony, and what not, for being identified with the paper he has issued; if he is punished for that, and it is an offence and so serious they will not allow him to come out on bail, I do not see how I shall escape as chairman of that committee. You must not be surprised if I, too, am arrested, and find myself in court, but because of that possibility I am not going to cease from denouncing these tactics.”

Counsel said that this meant that the prisoner fully understood what the letter was aimed at, that he realised that it was an endeavour to penetrate into the allegiance of the soldiers and seduce them from their duty and incite them to disobey the lawful orders of their officers.

Nearly in camera

A strange incident marked the commencement of the evidence. The first witness, Herbert Fitch, of Scotland Yard, was giving his story of what had happened at meetings prior to Salford, when the judge, interposing, said:

“Someone has sent me a telegram asking me whether I have given orders that the public should be excluded from the court. I have given no orders. I have made enquiries, and I have ascertained that the officers are not excluding any particular individuals at all. They have allowed as large a number of people to come in without distinction or selection as the court will comfortably hold, and that is the only exclusion that has been in any way carried out. I have ordered some more to be allowed to come in, and I think the court is now reasonably full.

Mann: I was personally wondering when we came into court why so few were in.

Judge: Do you wish to make some application to me?

Mann: I don’t.

His Lordship next raised the question as to whether evidence could be admitted with regard to what took place on January 14, the indictment being in respect to what occurred on March 14. He asked the prisoner if he had any objection.

Mann: I have no objection, my lord; none whatever.

Quite indifferent

Judge: Do you wish it introduced?

Mann: I do not wish it; but I am quite indifferent. I would prefer that you decided.

Judge (to Mr Langdon): Then you must satisfy me. After some legal argument his lordship decided to exclude all evidence as to what occurred on other dates than March 14.

He pointed out that the indictment might have been framed in a different way, and it might have alleged a continuous endeavour, but it had been limited to a particular endeavour on a particular date, and by particular means.

Mr Langdon: As your lordship pleases.

Detective-Sergeant William Markland of the Salford police spoke as to Mann speaking at Pendleton Town Hall on March 14, when between 600 and 700 people were present. Mann read out the three opening paragraphs of the Open Letter to Soldiers finishing up with the words, “Don’t do it.”

Prisoner added he was pleased to take responsibility for that, and said two brothers had been locked up for printing that paper, but they only printed it for a committee, of which he (Mann) was the chairman. He saw Sergeant Clarke buy a copy of the paper in the hall. On March 20 last, witness received accused into custody at New Scotland Yard. Mann made no reply to the charge read over on that occasion.

Other police witnesses corroborated.

Fearless of consequences

The clerk of the court then read the following statement taken from Tom Mann by the police: “I plead not guilty. At the same time, as regards the evidence given concerning some of the things I have said, particularly that of identifying myself with the chairmanship of the Industrial Syndicalist Education League, that is perfectly correct, and it was that league that was responsible for the paper called the Syndicalist being brought into existence, and as chairman I am quite prepared to share all necessary responsibility. Some of that which has been given as evidence against me is contrary to fact and at the assizes I shall give evidence to that effect.

“The statement that I used the words: ‘Don’t shoot your comrades; turn your rifles round and shoot the other people,’ is absolutely untrue. Neither have I personally been identified with the writing, the publishing or issuing of that Open Letter to Soldiers, beyond what I have already stated in my capacity as chairman. I did not know of the existence of the Open Letter until several days after the issue of the January number of the Syndicalist. I do not say that because I have any reluctance to go to prison or endure any other punishment imposed, but as friends and comrades of mine have already been convicted in connection therewith I fail to understand why further conviction should be called for.

“I am advised by my counsel that the matter immediately at issue is my personal culpability or otherwise in connection with the Open Letter to Soldiers. I am quite fearless of the consequences. It is true that I said at the meetings, as given in evidence, and I unhesitatingly repeat that I agree entirely with the spirit and object of that letter. I would like to make one remark concerning that extract quoted from the reporter’s notebook. I believe it to be absolutely correct, and I stand by it in every particular.”

Tom Mann’s speech

Riots deliberately caused

The police evidence being ended, the judge asked: Do you wish to give evidence on oath?

No, answered the prisoner, but I wish to make a statement from the dock. The Judge assented, and Tom Mann, speaking clearly and deliberately, said:

I wish to raise one point which will have a direct bearing upon the statement I wish to make, on a point of law, and that is that while soldiers are engaged on active service they are certainly covered by the military law, but while they are engaged assisting a civil authority they are then covered by the civil law, and differ in no respect from ordinary citizens, and any commands given to them which they are bound to obey must be lawful commands.

The word lawful is of vital importance here. I am indicted with having endeavoured to seduce soldiers as soldiers from their duty, from the obeying of lawful commands. I plead that I have not done any such thing.

I shall endeavour to show what the soldier’s position is as a soldier, and when he is engaged in assisting a civil authority, then he is a citizen and should be treated as such in all respects.

Even the authority quoted by the learned counsel for the prosecution makes that admission. I do not think learned counsel named it: I think it is Lord Justice Stephen, volume I, History of Criminal Law.

Liable for murder

It was because the citizen might be called upon to do certain things, so therefore might the soldier be called upon to do the same thing in his capacity as a citizen. If one might employ arms for the purpose of maintaining order, so might the soldier do the same.

If one could not do it the other could not. It was not sufficient for an officer to order soldiers to do a certain thing for them to do it; they must not do it if there was no justification for it.

If there was no justification for the soldier firing, no justification for officers ordering them to fire, and no justification for the magistrate asking the officers to give the order — each and all of these were liable to stand for trial for murder or manslaughter as the case might be.

He mentioned this to show it was permissible for a man to address soldiers in their capacity as citizens, to urge them to comply with, not to exceed, that which the law would approve of.

Soldiers when at work in their capacities as citizens were covered by the civil law, and amenable to it in all respects.

He had addressed nothing directly or indirectly to soldiers serving king and country in their capacity as soldiers, and it was quite another matter to address something to soldiers when they were called upon to aid the civil authority.

He then quoted the result of the Featherstone Riots Inquiry, and contended that the report of that inquiry supported his contention in full.

Not responsible

“This Open Letter that has been read so carefully, so effectively, Mann proceeded, I am not the author of.

“I did not write it, I didn’t cause it to be printed. I was not directly or indirectly connected with it being issued.

“I didn’t know that it existed until I saw it in the paper called the Syndicalist. The Syndicalist is issued under the supervision of a committee, the Industrial Syndicalist Education League, of which I am chairman.

“I am quite prepared to be saddled with all responsibility in connection therewith, irrespective of my not having been identified with the production of the letter.

It is known that the Open Letter addressed to British soldiers was in existence in leaflet form six months before it was printed in the Syndicalist. It was printed in several papers.”

No evasion

“I am not asking to be allowed to escape any punishment that ought to attach to me, if punishment ought to attach to anyone at all, for I deliberately declare I am the chairman of the committee that authorised it, but I did not know of its actual existence until I saw it in the Syndicalist.

“This letter is an appeal to soldiers when called upon to engage in industrial disputes on behalf of the civil authority and when they are bound by civil law. Surely then it is permissible for us to ask them not to murder.

“Such is my opinion, he determinedly declared, and if it is wrong — well, I am prepared to stand by it.

“I have only said what the authorities have already said, that even rioters are not enemies unless they are armed in a warlike manner.

“Therefore, when we ask them not to murder us, it means not to do some things that have been done in the past by the soldiers; for in the past soldiers have, in obedience to their officers, fired and killed, and have had to stand their trial.”

Riots deliberately caused

“I know — and this is what I put in for my defence — I know that riots or disturbances are deliberately caused by those occupying responsible positions. In making my statement I desire to illustrate it.

“I am justified in this statement by the events of last August in Liverpool. Then the men on strike were perfectly orderly, and my own efforts, as the chief constable has stated, were directed entirely towards the maintenance of the peace.

“The public, had, of course, to suffer a certain amount of inconvenience on account of the number of men who were out of work, but there was no need for calling out the military or the navy.”

Mann then gave an account of what happened in the struggle on St George’s Plateau on Sunday, August 13, 1911.

The matter had been raised in the House of Commons, when the attorney-general stated that Mann was not being prosecuted for his speeches.

The Judge: Yes, but I don’t think we will go into that. We must confine ourselves to the evidence which has been produced today.

Mann: Quite so, my lord. Your ruling all the time.

Prisoner added that if the military had been called upon to fire on the crowd at that gathering it would have been murder, and he thought he was justified in advising soldiers not to do that.

Prosecution’s motives

Mann added that he was compelled to come to the conclusion that these proceedings had been taken because of his connection with the syndicalist movement.

Others had written and spoken as he had, but they were not identified with the particular movement with which he had been identified.

He knew no other reason why action was being taken to prevent an ordinary person of his stamp from having the free exercise of speech.

He had urged people to organise and to use their power to escape from the poverty they were in, and he had criticised the action of the local authorities in preparing for the use of the military in times of trade disturbance.

“I am not asking your mercy in any respect, added the prisoner, but I am claiming the right, as a man, as a citizen, as a native of this country, and as a workman, to organise for the removal of the worst evils which afflict this country.

I did not publish the letter, he concluded, but I don’t differ from it. I don’t wish to have my liberty curtailed, but I shall not ask for mercy in any shape or form, and I stand for the principles of the Open Letter.

Six months awarded

The jury found Tom Mann guilty

Asked whether he had anything to say why judgment should not be passed, Mann replied firmly, “No, sir.”

In passing sentence, Mr Justice Bankes said: “So far I feel that I ought to follow the course that was taken with regard to the publisher of this newspaper.

“I do not know what the effect of this trial may be, but I hope it has brought home to your mind that the law is not what you suggested to the jury it was, and that at any rate in the future you will refrain from bringing yourself within the provisions of the statute which forbids this conduct, which seems to me to be unworthy of anybody who realises what he is doing because it is an inducement to people to do something which must bring grave punishment upon them.

“The suggestion that the law might be altered is, of course, a suggestion which is quite lawful to be made by those who think there ought to be any alteration, but to do what the jury have found that you have done is mischievous in my opinion in the highest degree.

“All I have to do is to pass a sentence which the publisher of this newspaper is already undergoing, and my sentence is that you be imprisoned without hard labour in the second division for six months.”

Mann, on receiving the sentence, asked if he might be allowed to see his wife and his solicitor, and this permission was accorded.

As Tom Mann was about to be taken to the prison of Strangeways he was for a moment able to pass a brief message to our special representative. It was: “There must be no apologies for me, and there must be no petition.”

This is the message he asks the paper to give his friends and supporters.

Tom went cheerfully into his six months humiliation and imprisonment.

Guy Bowman was imprisoned in Wormwood Scrubs, and I was at Strangeways, Manchester. It might have been difficult to find anyone willing to accept responsibility for the Syndicalist, had not Comrade Gaylord Wilshire, editor of Wilshire’s Magazine, stepped into the breach and kept the paper going till Guy Bowman was released. Also an Italian comrade, Odin Por, an ardent syndicalist, contributed articles and encouraged others to do the same. Many friends in and out of parliament at once commenced vigorous propaganda, holding protest meetings on a large scale and demanding our release. It was particularly interesting to me on getting released to find who had been specially active in organising the meetings, putting questions in parliament, and in a variety of ways taking action to bring pressure to bear on the government. My thanks were given in the best way I could give them on my release, but I desire here to express my gratitude and sincere appreciation for the good and effective work that obtained our release long before the sentences expired. I was out after seven weeks in gaol instead of six months, to which I was sentenced, and this undoubtedly was in consequence of the many meetings held and resolutions carried, and sending them to the right quarter, plus the determination manifested to take further action if necessary. Whatever the cause, the prison gates were opened, and we were able to take up the work again.