Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/1033/28846

From The Socialist newspaper, 13 March 2019

History: Alice Wheeldon - an anti-war socialist persecuted by the state

Alice Wheeldon's blue plaque in Derby, photo Russ Hamer/CC

Alice Wheeldon's blue plaque in Derby, photo Russ Hamer/CC   (Click to enlarge)

Ian Hunter, Derby Socialist Party

One hundred years ago, Alice Wheeldon, from Derby in the east Midlands, died in the great influenza epidemic, aged 53. The events of Alice's life were not only important then, but are still relevant today. Alice's story ranks among the most shocking (and political) miscarriages of justice.

Alice Wheeldon had three daughters (Nellie, Hettie, and Winnie) and a son (William). Alice had a shop selling second-hand clothes in Derby and the family lived on the premises. The family was known as supportive towards young men opposed to conscription during World War One.

William was a conscientious objector and, in August 1916, he was sent to prison for a month for 'obstructing' the police who were moving five conscientious objectors from prison to the railway station. William later went on the run from the authorities.

Alice was a suffragist and socialist, active on the left of the local Independent Labour Party and in the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU).

World War One divided both socialists and suffragists. Being opposed to the war, Alice left the WSPU because of its support for conscription and, with two of her daughters and her son, she joined the No-Conscription Fellowship. Alice, Hettie and Winnie also joined the Women's Peace Army set up by Sylvia Pankhurst and Charlotte Despard advocating a negotiated peace.

The family unsurprisingly attracted the attention of the authorities.

In December 1916, a man calling himself Alexander Gordon came to the Wheeldon home, claiming to be a conscientious objector on the run. Alice arranged for shelter for him at a nearby friend's house.

Gordon returned with Herbert Booth claiming to be an army deserter. Both were undercover agents working for PMS2, a section of MI5, and a treasonable plot had been concocted. Gordon told Alice that the work camps for conscientious objectors were guarded by dogs, and the two also told Alice that there were ways of getting conscientious objectors out of the country. Alice's son William was by this time on the run.

A few days later some packages of poison posted to the Wheeldon house were 'intercepted' by the authorities. It was claimed that the poisons were to be used to kill guard dogs at the work camps.

On 30 January 1917 four members of the Wheeldon family were arrested (Alice, Hettie, Winnie, and Alice's son-in-law Alfred Mason). The charges were eventually escalated to conspiracy to murder the Liberal wartime prime minister David Lloyd George, and the Labour cabinet minster Arthur Henderson.

The initial hearing was held at the Derby Guildhall. This was attended by the attorney general F E Smith, the MP for Liverpool Walton formerly in charge of censorship and pro-war propaganda.

Smith ordered the trial to be held in London at the Old Bailey. There was much public interest as the trial began on 6 March 1917. As the trial began Smith, who was prosecuting, described the accused as "...a gang of desperate persons poisoned by revolutionary doctrines and possessed of complete and unreasonable contempt for their country."

A Sunday Pictorial headline ran, "Sensation in Derby conspiracy case - poison darts for Premier!". This was a reference to the claim by the prosecution that poisoned darts were to be fired at Lloyd George, while he was playing golf, in an attempt to assassinate him. The government was eager to disgrace the anti-war movement.

The prosecution evidence was flimsy and Smith refused to have Gordon called as a witness, or have his true name revealed, or give his whereabouts. Therefore Gordon could not be questioned or cross-examined by the defence counsel in court.

Three of the four accused were found guilty. Alice Wheeldon was given ten years penal servitude and sent to Aylesbury prison, where she went on hunger strike and was later moved on to Holloway prison. Alfred Mason (son-in-law) was given seven years and Winnie Mason received five years. The jury asked for leniency for the youngest two on account of their ages. Hettie was found not guilty.

Three days after the conviction, the Amalgamated Society of Engineers union published an open letter to the Home Secretary demanding that the police spies involved be put in the witness box to see if there might be fresh evidence. The request was refused.

So who was Alexander Gordon? His real name was William Rickard and he was employed by MI5 two years after his release from Broadmoor Prison Mental Hospital. He was a convicted blackmailer and had twice been declared 'criminally insane'.

Dr Nicholas Hiley of Kent University has researched the case and says that Rickard was an 'unbalanced fantasist' and 'spectacularly unreliable'. He was from a section of MI5 under threat of closure and so a plot was fabricated. MI5 records released 80 years later suggest evidence of entrapment and false statements.

All of these events must be seen against the background of World War One. By 1916-17 there had been a huge loss of life and the government introduced compulsory military conscription. The number of conscientious objectors increased during the war and there was a growth of anti-war feeling. MI5 focused on political opposition to the war with agents everywhere and surveillance of pacifists, Marxists, socialists, suffragists, feminists, agitators and trade unionists.

In addition the unfolding events of the revolution in Russia and fear of more widespread Bolshevik activity acted as a further spur to this surveillance activity.

At the end of December 1917 Alice Wheeldon was released from prison 'on licence' at the request of Lloyd George, who obviously had no wish to see Alice die a martyr. In very poor health she died just over a year later, a victim of the worldwide influenza epidemic.

At her funeral, Alice's son William covered the coffin with a red flag. William joined the Communist Party in 1920, emigrated to the Soviet Union in 1921 and became a Soviet citizen in 1926. On Christmas Day 1937 he was shot during Stalinist purges as a suspected supporter of Trotsky.

In 2013, following a local campaign and renewed interest in the case, Derby city council and Derby Civic Society erected a blue plaque as a memorial to Alice at the site of her home. It states: 'Alice Wheeldon, 1866-1919, Anti-war activist socialist and suffragist lived here behindher shop'.

It might also have said: 'Suffered injustice and persecution for her views at the hands of the British state'.

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.


In The Socialist 13 March 2019:


News

Anger after violent youth deaths - Communities need public services not cuts

Weak Tories must go. General election now!

Them & Us


Opinion

History: Alice Wheeldon - an anti-war socialist persecuted by the state

The Socialist Inbox


Socialist Party reports and campaigns

International Women's Day protests

For socialist change, not climate change!

Southampton: Socialist stand against cuts

No to racism - Fight for socialism

Memorial to working-class fighters who fought fascism


What we think

Only socialist planning can save the planet: Build a mass working-class struggle to achieve it!


Workplace news

Neither Tories or EU - only fighting trade unions and a Corbyn-led government can deliver workers' rights

PCS union elections: Huge support for Chris Baugh

Newark NSK strike: "Even Victorian workers got a day off each week. We're expected to have just one weekend off every three weeks"

Breaking news: Birmingham bin workers' strike suspended pending new deal

Workplace news in brief


Universal Credit

Tories out. Scrap Universal Credit. Fight for living wages and welfare!


International socialist news and analysis

Brazil: The Threats, attacks and contradictions of Bolsonaro's regime


Obituary

Obituary Joan Beale - Labour women's activist and Militant supporter


 

Home   |   The Socialist 13 March 2019   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate   |   Audio  |   PDF  |   ebook






Related links:

Anti-war:

triangleThe life and legacy of Martin Luther King

triangle15 years since the invasion of Iraq: what we said

triangleSocialist anti-war exhibition opens in Kingston

triangleVietnam War: 50 years since the Tet Offensive

War:

triangleMass united action against the war on Syrian Kurds

triangleCaerphilly Socialist Party: Will there be a Saudi-Iran war in the Middle East?

triangle70 years since the publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four: "But if there was hope, it lay in the proles"

triangleSri Lanka - Ten years after the brutal end of the war

State:

triangleTrade union conference to force secret police disclosure

triangleEnd repression in Chile - freedom for soldier David Veloso

triangleCatalonia: Draconian prison sentences of independence leaders provokes mass protests and strikes

Socialist:

triangleExeter and S. Devon Socialist Party: Fighting for Corbyn's socialist policies

triangleSouth East London Socialist Party: Rebellion around the world - Is it coming to Britain?

Derby:

triangleCall to Derby Labour members: Don't stand against Chris Williamson

Prison:

triangleTV: Crime and Punishment - this brutal watch is a damning indictment of cuts and capitalism

MI5:

triangleBlacklisting of Militant supporters by Thatcher government revealed

East Midlands:

triangleHealth workers strike against 2,000 loss of pay

Reviews and comments

Reviews and comments

13/11/19

Theatre

Theatre: On Bear Ridge - an examination of loss, set in a post-apocalyptic world

13/11/19

Social Media

Readers' opinion: Twitter's banning of political ads threatens workers' voice

6/11/19

Minimum wage

Minimum wage debate: what should we be demanding?

6/11/19

TV

TV: Crime and Punishment - this brutal watch is a damning indictment of cuts and capitalism

30/10/19

Letters

The Socialist inbox

30/10/19

TV

TV: The Accident - Will capitalism be exposed in upsetting, true-to-life drama?

30/10/19

Film

Film reviews: Sorry We Missed You by Ken Loach

30/10/19

Economy

Life in the gig economy

30/10/19

Councillors

Opinion: Labour Party is structured to block left councillors

24/10/19

Liverpool

Tony Mulhearn - a Eulogy

23/10/19

Letters

The Socialist Inbox

16/10/19

Trotskyism

Major new book out in November: In Defence of Trotskyism

16/10/19

David Cameron

The Cameron Tory legacy

16/10/19

Tony Mulhearn

Book: The Making of a Liverpool Militant by Tony Mulhearn

9/10/19

Review

Film review: Joker - Sympathising with a monster created by today's incendiary conditions

triangleMore Reviews and comments articles...


Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube

LATEST POSTS

CONTACT US

Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777

Email: info@socialistparty.org.uk

Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 0798 202 1969

East Mids: 0773 797 8057

London: 020 8988 8786

North East: 0784 114 4890

North West 07954 376 096

South East: 020 8988 8777

South West: 07759 796 478

Southern: 07833 681910

Wales: 07935 391 947

West Mids: 02476 555 620

Yorkshire: 0114 264 6551

ABOUT US

ARCHIVE

Alphabetical listing


November 2019

October 2019

September 2019

August 2019

July 2019

June 2019

May 2019

April 2019

March 2019

February 2019

January 2019

2018

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

2003

2002

2001

2000

1999