- Members of the Comrades with their Peace Day float in 1919.
There was considerable enthusiasm at the Town Hall on Sunday, when a meeting was held to explain the objects of the new organisation for discharged soldiers and sailors, known as the Comrades of the Great War. The Mayor (Councillor Charles Dillingham) presided over a fair attendance consisting mostly of discharged men.
The Mayor at the outset emphasised the fact that he was out to help the discharged men and no special organisation, but he would have nothing to do with any which had a political aim. He had been convinced that the Comrades was a bona fide organisation.
Capt Towse VC (Chairman of the General Committee of the Comrades movement, who lost his sight in the South African War) had a very hearty reception. He said he had been in the Army all his life, and had to be in the work again in this way, although sightless. He had been working in France amongst the boys in hospital at his own expense.
The Comrades movement had been started by officers and men, and its first object was comradeship, with an enormous affiliation throughout the Empire, by means of which the comrades of the Army and Navy who had done their bit could stick together, and have due recompense. Any man with the badge would be made welcome in any part of the Empire.
The clubs or lodges would be looked after entirely by the men, as the whole movement would be. Grievances would be thrashed out and, if necessary, taken right to Parliament. A big object was to press the claims of the widows and orphans.
Then there were objects as the further treatment of the disabled, the settling of men on the land and the perpetuating of the memory of those who had fallen. They did not want costly memorials, but just a simple scroll in the clubs of those who had fought by the side of the men who had gone under.
The speaker next referred to the Federation [DS&S] and expressed their willingness to meet the representatives of that organisation at a round table conference. The Comrades were not begging for members, but had no fear of getting them. It was quite straight.
After what he (the speaker) had done for the country, was it likely that he was out to exploit the wounded man? He had been a soldier all his life, and loved the soldier - drunk or sober. The whole trouble today was that they did not understand each other.
Capt Towse explained that they had five politicians on the Comrades Committee, and here me W. J. Mabley interrupted by saying that the men should elect their own MPs without going to professional politicians. Capt Towse replied that the men could do so if they wished, but meanwhile they could not force their way into Parliament without they were members of the House. The present Committee were holding their office in trust for the men who would later elect their own representatives, and their only axe to grind was the real interest of the men.
Capt Donald Simpson (first President of the New Zealand Soldiers Association and founder of the Comrades movement) outlined very vividly his miraculous recovery at Gallipoli, and told how he had since devoted his life to the comrades who had fought. He explained how he had formed the movement in the Colonies, and denied that he was out for exploitation.
He said he saw in the local paper that they [the Comrades] were called blacklegs. Who were the accusers that they should judge? If the Comrades credited others with having the best intentions, who shouldn't the Comrades be credited the same?
He paid tribute to the splendid work that the discharged soldiers had been doing on their own and unaided, in the name of the Federation. They had done excellently without the sympathy of the public. He had met its members everywhere, and was prepared to come to Luton at any time to discuss the whole question with them in any way they wished. He was sure they would finally come to a conclusion, and he would bet that they would join issue in bringing about what they wanted.
"I am not up against any of you boys," declared the speaker. "I have made the best of friends with members of the Federation after I have got to know them."
They were all shouting about a pound a day and better conditions, but they would achieve nothing if they made a premature peace. He was there unpaid and unthanked and he had paid all his expenses for the last 18 months. He did not want their pay. He was well paid by God in having his health given to him again to go on with this work.
He agreed with 75 per cent of the claims of the masses in Great Britain, and he saw the chance of achieving their ideals from this war. Suspicion was the curse of the whole thing, but he could not blame the workers for mistrusting the upper classes, who had taken more care of the breeding of horses and cattle than they had ever done for the masses. They all wanted an opportunity for every man to live in decent conditions, get married and bring up a family. The whole temperament of Britain was changing, thank God.
Capt Simpson humorously described how the MPs of their Committee were being closely watched, and pledged his word that there was not the slightest chance of exploitation. They did not want only men with a grievance, but all of them to hold out a helping hand to each other. People were all more or less victims to apathy, and he hoped to achieve a recognition of strength in unity.
Mr J. W. Green, in proposing a vote of thanks to the speakers, said he was in full sympathy with the movement. Mr A. E. Talbot (local Secretary) seconded.
Mr W. J. Mabley rose to support the proposition, but referred to the word 'blackleg'. He was the man who made that statement, and he said a man was a blackleg who took part in meetings of one body and was at the same time creating another. It had actually happened in this district, and if he thought it was English and playing the game, he did not.
Mr Mabley next declared that their was a comradeship among the men in the trades union movement, and they were prepared to fight for democracy. He could never accuse any of the Comrades of the Great War executive of forwarding the cause of democracy in the past. The Federation was going on with the fight for the emancipation of the discharged men.
Another speaker asked why the Comrades organisation was formed after the Federation was in existence. He thought it was silly.
Capt Simpson replied that he was in the Federation, but they passed a resolution excluding officers except those who had risen from the ranks. He was expelled by this foolish act. The other association was afterwards formed.
The proposition was heartily carried, and Capt Simpson appealed to both bodies to come together.
A vote of thanks to the Mayor concluded the meeting.
[The Luton News: Thursday, December 17th, 1917]