First meeting of discharged servicemen

Franklin's Restaurant

A meeting of exceptional interest to discharged soldiers and sailors was held at Franklin's Restaurant [pictured in 1907 behind the cars] on Tuesday evening [September 11th, 1917], there being a large attendance of wearers of the silver badge, many also having the gold stripe indicating wounds. The meeting was called by Mr Herbert W. Booth, a discharged soldier now working in Luton, in the interests of other discharged comrades, to consider proposals emanating from London regarding the formation of a league of discharged men.

Mr Booth was voted to the chair and produced a letter written by an officer in London to a Hampshire paper, dealing with a new organisation called The Comrades of the Great War Fellowship. The writer of the letter, Col Faber, pointed out the "urgent necessity of creating a human link between the men and what must always be a State machine".

He was glad to see they had had the hearty co-operation of Lord Derby, who was writing to Lords Lieutenant, Chairmen of County Councils and Mayors, asking for their support.

Silver badgeThe letter continues: "There has been for some time past a huge effort made by syndicalists and others to raid the discharged soldier. A large number of organisations have already been started and, unless we take without delay active and energetic measures, these men who have fought so valiantly and suffered and bled for their country will be left to the mercy of syndicalist exploitation - a condition of affairs which must not be allowed to occur under any circumstances."

Mr Booth here observed tat discharged men would doubtless hear further on the matter, but it was better they should have an opportunity of discussing it quietly among themselves rather tan have it proposed at a public meeting with a lot of high-flown talk.

The writer of the letter went on to outline this new scheme and said it was intended to get leading men in the country to become foundation members, each giving a sum of money to help in launching the scheme, which apparently had its origin with Sir Arthur Norton Griffiths MP. It was intended that Lord Derby should address these leading men in London and announce that the country was determined that the men who had fought for the country should not suffer through neglect.

One of the men present mentioned that Mr Hogg MP had already started an organisation for discharged men, and pamphlets had been sent round. There was a big centre in Liverpool, where they had run a candidate for Parliament.

Mr Booth then read out the details, proposed in the letter, for the formation of the new organisation, one of the objects of which is perpetuate the spirit of comradeship, patriotism and devotion which has characterised the Forces, and foster and promote the same in the rising generation.

Mr Booth read two letters from discharged men not able to be present, asking for particulars.

Mr J. Mabley then spoke both as a discharged soldier and as a member of the Luton Labour Party. He explained that the Trades and Labour Council had intended taking in hand the arrangements regarding the local organisation of discharged men. They intended calling a meeting for next week, and they had gladly assisted him.

He would urge the men, before they joined any organisation, to consider the work of Mr Hogge MP for discharged men before these gentlemen in London did anything at all. When discharged men organised, they should organise on trades union lines, and should not assist any political party of any kind. They should have their own representatives on local and national bodies, and that was what Mr Hogge's organisation amounted to. There were thousands of discharge men in it.

He advised them to delay their decision until next Wednesday, and if they were willing the Labour Party would bear the expense of a meeting in the Town Hall [advert below]. They would circularise all the discharged men, for there were probably hundreds in the town.

It was only right that an organisation should be formed with the backing of the majority of the discharged men in the area, not only silver badge men but all those discharged, and men who in the majority of cases has been thrown on one side.

Town Hall meeting advertThere was an opening for at least two discharged men on the Disablements Sub-Committee in Luton, and they were waiting for an organisation to be formed to elected representatives. It was only right that those affected should be represented (applause). Throughout the country the labour Party had done its utmost for the benefit of discharged men, and he appealed to them to form only one organisation, and not have two in the district. They would have one working against the other. He urged that they should have no heed of Parliamentary promises. They had to organise and do it for themselves (applause).

Mr Booth said that he was entirely a non-Party man and he found himself largely in agreement with Mr Mabley on this question of an organisation for discharged men. The formation of a trades union came from within the workers' ranks, but here discharged man saw the start of a new organisation (the first referred to) from an outside source, or from politicians.

He was suspicious of any scheme which emanated from politicians. They promised much at election times, but did very little afterwards, and there was an instance of this in the postponement of better pay for men now serving, and in respect to pensions.

Discharged men would be a strong force in the country which politicians could not ignore, and this fact necessitated that they should be careful not to allow themselves to be shepherded into any union which might ultimately hold them in political bondage.

There was in the letter he had quoted a reference to syndicalists - a name given to me who look after their own interests. That statement was a distinct reflection on their ability as men to form their own opinions and to look after their own interests. At present there was no difficulty in getting work, but after te war there would be a flooding of the labour market, and many would feel the pinch, as was the case after the South African War, despite the promises of politicians.

There were instances already of men who had been discharged receiving bad treatment from employers. It was a good suggestion to wait till after the meeting of the Labour Party.

Mr Mabley explained that it would be a meeting of discharged men who were also members of the Labour Party.

Mr Whoswall, late Notts and Derbys, proposed that the meeting be adjourned until after the Labour meeting, and this was carried. A vote of thanks was accorded to Mr Booth, and a collection taken to defray expenses.

In the ensuing discussion, Mr Mabley promised to try and get Mr Hogge to address the meeting.

Mr Herbert W. Booth, who is an ex-sergeant of the Royal Engineers, writes as follows: "It is obvious that (as the outcome of the above meeting, and the further meeting which is being organised) a local branch of some organisation for furthering the interests of discharged men will be formed.

"As a provisional measure and, as several men have already asked for assistance in preparing necessary papers and documents etc, and advising them as to their position, a room has been secured at 15 Castle Street, where any who desire such assistance may obtain the same. The provisional office will be open for this purpose on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 6 to 7.45pm and on Saturdays from 1pm to 6pm.

"It is possible that arrangements may be made for opening the room as a recreation room, on a small scale, with facilities for a smoke and a chat.

NB: The office will open tomorrow (Friday, 14th).

[The Luton News: Thursday, September 13th, 1917]