A major exhibition opening today details how soldiers and tanks were deployed against strikers in Glasgow’s George Square in 1919 as union officials argued for a shorter working week to help unemployed returning servicemen.
The violent Battle of George Square on 31 January 1919, also known as ‘Bloody Friday or ‘Black Friday’’ occurred just 82 days after the end of the Great War and saw a clash between 100,000 strikers and the police.
The British Government, fearful of the repercussions of the mass unrest in Glasgow following the Russian Revolution and Easter Rising, ordered the army to have tanks on standby and drafted in hundreds of soldiers to the city.
The free exhibition, ‘A Better World? - Scotland After the First World War’, at the National Library of Scotland (NLS) in Edinburgh, marks 100 years since the Armistice and reveals some of the rare or unique items in the library’s collection.
These include a photograph from the strike, the strike bulletin and a poem by the Glasgow Proletarian School.
Also on display is a letter from revolutionary socialist John Maclean to a friend where he writes about how he believed his food in Barlinnie prison in Glasgow had been laced with tranquillisers.
The exhibition spans political events and showcases election flyers and posters from a tumultuous era in politics when Scotland’s electorate swelled to more than 2 million, and parties were compelled to appeal to women voters for the first time.
Professor Sir Tom Devine, congratulating the NLS on its “innovative and poignant exhibition” said: “Many such events will take place to mark the centenary of peace in Europe in that year but ‘A Better World?’ is an exhibition with a difference.
“Carefully selected original items from the wonderful collections of the Library then demonstrate the realities of what happened in Scotland during the 1920s and 1930s.”
Alison Metcalfe, manuscripts curator, said: “It was a time of great political unrest with high unemployment and poor housing. The strikes really ramped it up for the government.”
Jan Usher, social sciences curator said: “Soldiers and police were kept on standby for days after the George Square riot.”
* ‘A Better World? Scotland After the First World War, free entry, National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh, 16 November 2018 - 27 April 2019.