restricted access Chapter 4
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CHAPTER FOUR 'Mosley's Travelling Circus' ... not even the ears of the sheep on the mountains shall be defiled by the words of Mosley. Isabel Brown reported in the Western Mail, S May 1936. ... Eyles had gone on the chair and right behind him Moran ... he'd been a boxer in the Navy. Moran was standing there with Blackshirts ... (Eyles) started speaking and all of a sudden you could see blood coming on his face . " we found out later some woman had been firing an air-gun ... Fascisls in Wales GrifT Jones, a Merthyr International Brigader, interview 23 November 1972. There seemed to be little need for organisational opposition in the South Wales coalfield to Oswald Mosley's two political parties. What little support the New Party and its successor, the British Union of Fascists, obtained in Wales in the 1930s came with one notable exception from the coastal towns and not from the coalfield. The New Party was never really taken very seriously. R.C. Wallhead of the ILP called it 'a cross between a travelling circus and a boxing booth.'! It did, however, attract a few footloose orphans from other parties: two 1929 Liberal candidates, Sellick Davies and Jack Jones, along with the prominent Swansea barrister Rowe Harding and the Cardiff young Conservative William Lowell. But apart from these dissidents, there was no mass following. 2 Its activities were limited to the six months prior to the 1931 General Election and almost entirely to Cardiff, Swansea, Pontypridd and Merthyr where they hoped to mount Parliamentary candidates. Eventually, after Rowe Harding withdrew in Swansea East, so as 'not to cloud the issue', only two candidates contested. At Merthyr, where his campaign was 'Mosley's Travelling Circus' 87 punctuated by stones, bottles and 'The Red Flag', Conservatives and Liberals supported Sellick Davies who polled 10,834 in a straight fight with the ILP whose candidate R.C. Wallhead had a majority of nearly 10,000. William Lowell at Pontypridd could only muster a miserable 446 votes, over 21,000 votes behind Labour's D.L. Davies, in a four cornered fight.3 Although the British Union of Fascists was launched in the autumn of 1932, Aneurin Bevan's proposals for anti-fascist workers' militias in May 1933 were more a response to developments in Germany than to fears of Mosley's plans in Britain. Fascist activities did not begin in earnest in South Wales until after the violent Olympia Rally of June 1934. For the next two years, Mosley was to concentrate his South Wales activities in the very same areas as where the New Party had briefly operated. Finding a modicum of support in the coastal towns, he managed to establish active branches in Cardiff, Newport and Swansea and in the coalfield town of Merthyr where the New Party had had its freak vote. 1. O'Neill became the South Wales Propaganda Officer and L.J. Cummins its Administrative officer, whilst C. Pertwee had the title of District Officer in Swansea. In Merthyr (the most consistently depressed town in South Wales, which explains some of the British Union of Fascists' 'success' there) the branch revolved around two former Communists, Arthur Eyles and John Ryan. They had been active in the NUWM and had been imprisoned in 1930 for allegedly throwing leaflets over the barracks wall at Brecon.4 Both had been embittered by the Brecon episode and when Eyles did leave the Communist Party he immediately named the leading Merthyr Communist, J.S. Williams, who had avoided arrest, as the instigator of the affair. Eyles was a noted pugilist, had something of a colourful personality, and did initially obtain respectable votes in local elections because of his earlier Communist exploits. He had been on the 1931 Hunger March to Bristol and went on hunger strike in prison. The Merthyr branch had an inauspicious beginning at the Bute Club: the draping of the Union Jack over the speaker's table offended many of the club members because of their Irish origins.s Eyles did, however, command some support in the Penydarren ward for over four years until November 1938 when he collected 198 votes. 88 Miners Against Fascism The Anti-Fascist Movement The basic strategy of the anti-fascist movement was to prevent the British Union of Fascists hiring local halls or obtaining permission for the holding of open-air meetings: if this failed, to disrupt such meetings. The main impetus behind the campaigns was provided by the Communist Party...


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