From Irish Freedom, January 1911.
A representative of Irish Freedom had a chat with Major MacBride a few evenings after the ‘battle’ of Stepney1 in the course of which he gave expression to some characteristic views relating to that latest brilliant achievement of the fighting forces of the British Empire.
‘It must seem an astounding performance,’ said the Major, ‘to those who have not witnessed, as I have, the cowardliness and ineptitude of the English in the face of danger. As a matter of fact, England’s army is a colossal fraud, which only imposes on people by spectacular parades of splendidly uniformed officers and men. They look all very well marching through the streets of a city, or assisting at a review, when they undoubtedly have an effect in dazzling the eyes of susceptible people, and tempting thoughtless young fellows into the treason of enlisting into the army of their country’s oppressors. That is the worst aspect of the business, and I am glad of the Stepney affair, because it once again proclaims to the world the grotesque incapacity of the armed forces of the Empire to tackle even so simple a proposition as the arrest of two individuals without covering themselves and their nation with ridicule.’
‘There were more English soldiers and police engaged,’ continued the Major, ‘than the Boers had in some of their battles, yet what a different account those gallant farmer-soldiers gave of themselves. I truly believe that if the two individuals in the house made a dash out the whole 1,500 soldiers and police, with the Cabinet Minister at their head, would have run for their lives. I notice, too, that the Scots’ Guards at Stepney had to be provided with newspaper placard boards to kneel on, to keep them from soiling their nice uniforms. What an absurdity! It is only equalled by the soldiers of the Empire being fed on chocolates to sustain them in their fight against the Boers. The whole business should put heart into the younger generation of Irishmen, who should be quick-witted enough to take a profitable lesson from the spectacle of two men armed only with revolvers keeping 1,500 soldiers and police, armed with quick-firing rifles and a gatling gun, at bay for twelve hours, and then not being captured in the end. To see the whole business was simply an example of Lynch law on a large scale, carried out under the instructions of a Cabinet Minister. These two men were not tried or convicted of any crime. They were merely suspected of being Anarchists. To the present moment the English authorities don’t seem to have the vaguest idea as to who they were. Yet they bring an enormous force of military and police to besiege them for hours, and then permit them to be roasted to death while, Mr. Winston Churchill (who ‘escaped’ from Pretoria) continued heroically to smoke his cigar, and the crowds of noble-souled English folks cheered themselves hoarse with joy.
‘The affair has its laughable side undoubtedly, but one should not allow its grotesqueness to blind our eyes to the aspect of wanton English cruelty, incapacity, and injustice displayed on that memorable occasion.’
‘What, then, is the lesson you would draw from the affair, Major?’, asked our representative.
‘As to that,’ he replied, ‘it is the lesson I learned on the battlefields of South Africa—that the English Army as an effective fighting force is of very little account; and that any Irishman who joins it is not alone a foolish individual, but a criminal traitor to his country, and a disgrace to the name of Irishman. One hundred thousand fully armed and trained men could conquer England inside six months after they were landed. To lovers of Irish freedom I would say—let your battle-cry be ‘No Recruits.’
1 Refers to the Siege of Sidney Street, on 3 January 1911, where a combined force of police and military engaged in a protracted six-hour gunfight with two Latvian anarchist revolutionaries suspected of being part of a criminal gang involved in the killings of three policemen several weeks prior. The building eventually caught fire and collapsed, killing a local fireman attempting to put out the fire. Two more bodies, presumably of the gunmen, were recovered from the rubble. Police identified the bodies as belonging to Fritz Svaars and William Sokoloff.