12th August 1965

Trades unionist Willie Gallacher dies

Born in Paisley on Christmas day 1881, Willie Gallacher was a founding member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, in which capacity he was elected to the House of Commons, representing the seat of West Fife.

But the Communist Party wasn’t his first political affiliation. Gallacher had been a member of both the Independent Labour Party and Social Democratic Federation, in the latter of which he met John MacLean.

Imprisoned for his views

He was highly critical of British involvement in the First World War and imprisoned for writing an article to that effect, and imprisoned again after the war when he was involved in a strike and violent demonstration against longer working hours once hostilities had come to an end.

In 1925, he was one of a group of men who stood trial on a charge of “conspiring to publish seditious libels and to incite people to breaches of the Mutiny Act of 1797”, wrote the Leeds Mercury on 16 October 1925. They were committed for trial several weeks later, and on 5 November 1925 the Sheffield Daily Telegraph reported the argument of the defence that “there was no appeal to violence and disorder [in the published material which had led to their arrest]. A great many writers and poets wrote of revolution, but they did not necessarily mean armed revolution. [However], the charge against the defendants, said counsel, was not one of inciting mutiny, but of inciting others to commit breaches of the Incitement to Mutiny Act. Appeals made by the defendants were not made to soldiers but to other persons to fraternise with soldiers in order that the soldiers should not shoot down workers [involved in trade disputes]. It was an offence in law to incite a soldier not to obey his lawful orders.”

Gallacher guilty

The trial was over by 26 November, when The Scotsman ran the headline “Guilty on all charges”: “Previous convictions were proved against Inkpin, Hannington, Pollit, Gallacher and Rust and these were each sentenced to twelve months in the second division… The judge, addressing the defendants, said:- The jury have found you twelve men guilty of a series of conspiracies to utter seditious libels and to incite people to induce soldiers and sailors to break their oath of allegiance. It is obvious from the evidence which was given before the jury that you are members of an illegal party carrying on illegal work in this country. It must stop.”

Willie Gallacher elected to Parliament

Despite the judge’s belief that Gallacher, among the others, was a member of an ‘illegal party’, he was nonetheless elected to the House of Commons, as the Communist Party representative for West Fife, in 1935. He held the seat until 1950. His victory, in 1935, was narrow, with 13,462 votes cast in his favour against 12,869 for William Adamson, of Labour, and 9,667 for Charles Milne of the Unionist Party, giving him a majority of just 593.

These were both formidable opponents: Charles Milne had been the incumbent, while Adamson had been Leader of the Labour Party between 1917 and 1921, Secretary of State for Scotland between 1929 and 1931, and the Member of Parliament for West Fife for 21 years. Gallacher increased his majority to over 2000 in the next election – in 1945 – but lost his seat in 1950. His defeat was crushing, with Willie Hamilton taking 23,576 votes, to Gallacher’s 9,301. The Communist Party continued to field candidates in the seat until it was dissolved in 1974, but Gallacher didn’t stand again.

Willie Gallacher’s death

When Gallacher died in Paisley on 12 August 1965, he was 83 years old. The following day, the Birmingham Daily Post briefly summed up his life, saying that he “was part of the lives and struggles of the Fife miners long before they sent him to Westminster. In his maiden speech he demanded a wage increase for Scottish miners. He was the only MP to speak against Chamberlain’s flight to Munich in 1938 [to meet Hitler]. At 81 he took part in the Aldermaston March [to demonstrate against nuclear weapons].”

On 28 August, the London Illustrated News printed a picture of his funeral. The caption explained that it “was one of the biggest funerals Scotland had ever seen… Communist representatives from 13 European countries marched in a procession of 5,000 behind the flag-draped coffin.”



Other events that occured in August

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