Anti Air Warfare Memorial, Bruce Kent, Ian Duncan Smith's speech, Katherine Connelly, Media Ignores Suffragettes and Suffragists, Mrs Pankhurst's WSPU, Red Cottage, Stone Bomb, Sylvia Pankhurst's Stone Bomb, World Disarmament Week
Last week (World Disarmament Week) I was invited to the unveiling of The Stone Bomb, a refurbished memorial against the use of air warfare, which Sylvia Pankhurst originally commissioned in 1935. Sylvia had initially gone to live in the East End in 1912 to galvanise working class support for Votes for Women, but on seeing the terrible living and working conditions of the poor, realised she also needed to be their champion. And when war broke out she stayed to help the poor. She saw at first hand the world’s first air-raid, a Zepplin attack on the East End in 1915, and saw the terrible loss of life, suffering and damage perpetrated from the air for the following three years. Sylvia’s part of the East End, got hit particularly badly as it makes up the bulge in the U-bend in the Thames where it flows around the Isle of Dogs, which told the Germans (in both wars) they had reached the London Docks and should now start dropping their bombs. Twenty years after that Zepplin raid, the Stone Bomb was Sylvia’s response to the appalling atrocities perpetrated from the air by the Italian fascists against Ethiopia. Atrocities that the rest of the world, Britain included, closes their eyes to. Not our finest hour. The Grade 2 listed, Eric Benfield designed memorial stands in Woodford Green, where Sylvia moved to from the East End in 1924, outside where her Red Cottage once stood (originally Rose Cottage but Sylvia changed it to Red of course!). Since Sylvia left Woodford to live in Ethiopia in 1956, the memorial had been rather neglected, and had had even become confusingly known as the Anti Abyssian war memorial (google it and you’ll see what I mean). What could be further from the truth! Sylvia never even referred to Ethiopia by its old name. So it was great to see it refurbished, with a nice plaque about Sylvia added.
There were several speakers to mark the occasion. Star of the show was the lead speaker, historian Katherine Connelly, who has recently written a biography of Sylvia. She spoke with such eloquence, intelligence and passion (my blood ran cold listening to her) about the story behind the Stone Bomb, that it could have been the young Miss Pankhurst herself speaking. The great peace campaigner Bruce Kent also spoke as impressively as ever and he had the honour of unveiling the memorial and plaque. Linda Perham, ex local mayor and ex MP for Ilford North, and the event’s organiser, the wonderful Susan Homewood of the Sylvia Pankhurst Trust, also spoke well.
Local MP, Ian Duncan-Smith also spoke. He arrived only just before he was due to speak so missed Katherine Connelly’s spine-tingling speech. In contrast his was delivered with the air of a man just doing his constituency duty, and with awkward smiles & handshakes duly exchanged and photographs taken, he was gone (had the chauffeur kept the engine running?). But to be fair he does support the arts in his constituency and it was good of him to come. After all, if Sylvia was around today she would be his nemesis.
A good size audience were in attendance but members of the press were conspicuous by their absence. The media always avoid all things Suffragette like the plague. Take their coverage of World War One. They’ve covered pretty much every aspect of the Great War over the past year, except one. Women finally winning the vote during the war. It would seem they have got it into their head that Suffragettes were terrorists and who wants to show terrorists as courageous freedom fighters in this day and age? But the media don’t even cover the non militant Suffragists, who in terms of numbers, made up the bulk of the fight for the vote for women. At the outbreak of war, Mrs Pankhurst’s Suffragette WSPU were down to just 2,000 members, but there were 20 other sizeable non militant women’s suffrage societies including the 100,000 strong NUWSS. The media appear not to realise this. They need a history lesson!