Glasgow | 02 Feb 1915

The Ottomans begin their final advance on the canal, and we’re looking at the British home front in more detail.

Suez Canal

Under cover of a convenient sandstorm, the Ottomans make their final advance on the canal. They’ve been moving only at night and expect to be catching the British Empire forces with their trousers down. The plan is to advance over a wide front between Lake Timsah and the Great Bitter Lake, cross the canal wherever possible, and then give the defenders the beans.

Unfortunately, they’ve been well-observed in the last few weeks by a mixture of occasional aircraft and friendly locals. As they advance in the evening, the wind drops and their movements are seen. Advance parties attempting to cross the canal in secret are mostly beaten off, and as the sun sets, there’s plentiful moonlight for the defenders to see by.

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Travel on the Lusitania!  What could possibly go wrong?
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I’ve been taking note recently of the growing number of stories in the Daily Telegraph that address the rapidly-rising cost of living. They’ve been primarily focused on the cost of food, but in munitions towns, rent is an equally pressing problem.

Even without subsequent events, Glasgow would make an excellent case study. Plans are being made to expand the arms manufacturing factories already based in the area. The shipyards on the River Clyde have been desperate for men to work on the large number of war orders being placed by the Royal Navy. Those who haven’t joined up are flooding into Glasgow to find work.

This is putting a considerable amount of strain on the city’s housing stock. Working-class areas of Glasgow had already been appallingly overcrowded and unsanitary. Over the past twenty years, it’s been no surprise that socialism and radical politics have been very appealing, and the Singer factory strike of 1911 went a long way to establishing a reputation for Glasgow and Clydeside outside the city, and outside Scotland.

One of the most interesting elements of the Singer strike was that it came from a mostly-male workforce downing tools in support of their women colleagues. Radical politics in Glasgow is by no means restricted to men, and it’s becoming a major centre for Scottish suffragism. This brings us to Mary Barbour, a Govan woman who in 1914 had been instrumental in founding the Glasgow Women’s Housing Association.

With housing at a premium since the war began, landlords have been shamelessly inflating their rents, in some cases from month to month. If the tenant can’t pay, in go the bailiffs. Evictions are swift and often brutal. Now Mary Barbour’s fighting back. In many cases, the brunt of the rent increases is falling directly on married women, often with families to support. Plenty of them also have husbands who are off fighting the war, and as the situation drags on, the GHWA will not be slow to exploit this as much as possible.

At the moment, their efforts are focused on the immediate problem; physically obstructing the process that the landlords are using to evict people. Support is easy to find among the tight-knit community, all of them in the same boat and willing to pull together. Soon, tenement houses all over the city have a 24-hour guard. Activist Helen Crawfurd details their tactics for getting rid of the landlord’s men.

One woman with a bell would sit in the close, or passage, watching while the other women in the tenement went on with their household duties. Whenever the Bailiff’s officer appeared on the scene to evict a tenant, the woman in the passage immediately rang the bell, and women came from all parts of the building. Some with flour, if baking. Wet clothes, if washing. Other missiles. Usually the Bailiff made off for his life, pursued by a mob of angry women.

I’m very interested in bringing out the wartime stories of women who were neither nurses nor prostitutes. More to follow, on Glasgow and on women in general.

Actions in Progress

Siege of Przemysl
Chilembwe Uprising
Attack on the Suez Canal

Further Reading

The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day.

(If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide.)

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