They shall not pass – the Battle of Cable Street, 1936

4 October 2013


Like a lot of people who come from old East End families, the fourth of October is pretty much engraved on my heart as the date of the Battle of Cable Street, when over a hundred thousand Londoners (as might be expected, accounts vary about the numbers that turned out but anywhere between a hundred thousand and half a million people were there) of both sexes, all ages and all manner of political and idealogical affiliation turned out together in the streets of the East End to put a stop to a planned march through Stepney, which had a very large Jewish population, by the ghastly fascist Oswald Mosley and seven thousand of his supporters.

Of course the march should have been banned by the authorities but this was 1936 and the true horror of fascism had yet to be realised so instead they let it go ahead and granted the marchers the protection of several thousand Met policemen with orders to prevent any disruption. What resulted was utter chaos as the police and rightly furious local people clashed in the streets where the anti-fascist groups, chanting ‘They shall not pass’, had erected makeshift barricades to prevent the Black Shirts from proceeding and causing upset to the local community.


Like a lot of people, I’m very proud to be able to say that my great grandfather, who was very involved in the socialist and union activity in the area and who loved the East End of London, where he was born and raised, with all of his heart, was in the thick of the action and that the Battle of Cable Street has passed into family lore ever since. I am massively proud of my great grandfather, a loyal, imaginative and highly intelligent man of high ideals who believed in taking direct action rather than sitting about bemoaning how dreadful things were. I like to think that he would be proud of me too but after a day spent thinking about him and the admirable bravery of his comrades at Cable Street, I’m now wondering if I shouldn’t be doing a lot more than just signing petitions and going on the occasional protest march.

Cable Street demonstration

Anyway, this one is for you, Stanley Lee and all the others who stopped them passing. Let’s never forget.


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