Overlooked soldiers who helped quell riot

[The Luton Reporter: Tuesday, July 12th, 1919]

Both police and firemen have been paid a meed of official and public recognition which everyone agrees they richly deserve for their gallant and heroic conduct against overwhelming odds in connection with Luton's notorious peace rioting, but the soldiers have been entirely left out of it all, and many who noticed the salutary effect of the soldiers' intervention consider they have cause to feel aggrieved at what can only have been an unintentional oversight.

So far from being publicly given the credit which is their due for their part they voluntarily played, when afforded the opportunity of rendering assistance, in dispersing the crowd and thus enabling the fire brigade after hours of futile effort to divert their attention from the hostile mob to the burning Town Hall, some of the soldiers stationed in the town have had to put up with the odium of being branded in current gossip as being among the rioters who did the damage and actively resisted the forces of law and order.

That there may have been in the crowd men in khaki who individually took sides with the hooligan element and actively participated in one or other aspect of the rioting cannot be doubted frokm the stories of eye-witnesses, but it is due to the men of the Beech Hill Remount Depot, as a body, that such a stigma should be removed from them by the publication of a story we have gathered from absolutely reliable sources and had officially confirmed in many of its essential features.

It seems that just when things were beginning to assume a threatening aspect outside the Town Hall there arrived on the scene an officer in uniform, the son of a well-known townsman, who during the war rose from the ranks of the Artists' Rifles to become a lieutenant in the Royal Artillery. Taking in the situation at a glance, he straightway made for the Town Hall front and offered his services to the police defending the steps.

His presence was at first viewed with some suspicion by the men in blue, but noting he was an officer they accepted his bona fides, and he justified their confidence, not only by standing shoulder to shoulder with them in their battle against the mob, but also by recruiting to their aid two other men in khaki. These men, both from Biscot Camp, are claimed to have been the only two soldiers in the front of the crowd at that time, and both responded to the officer's call, and were sandwiched between police officers in the front line range up outside the Town Hall. When word was given for a charge they are stated to have played their part valiantly and well, although, like the officer, they had no truncheons and had to rely solely upon the resources provided by mother nature.

The story of the uneven struggle that was waged is common knowledge and can be skimmed over. When the Town Hall was well alight and the police were rendered practically powerless, the officer, having suffered the common lot of his comrades in the fight of sustaining injury, went along to the police station to secure protection of a truncheon, and this chance circumstance enabled him to be of further service. At this time the Chief Constable was still endeavouring to get outside assistance, and the difficulties experiences in this direction led to a suggestion that Biscot Camp should be tried.

The officer at once offered to act as a personal messenger, and this course being sanctioned, he sped off. Unfamiliarity with the local camps resulted in his arrival at Beech Hill Remount Depot instead of Biscot, but nevertheless the quest proved successful. The request for help had the practical sympathy of those in charge at the depot, the men were turned out and had the position explained to them and to a man they answered a call for volunteers.

They knew neither what they were in for or how long they would be required for duty, they were unarmed – not even a rifle was there among the lot – but the spirit of adventure was enough and merrily they swung off down Dunstable Road, lustily singing.

Going down Upper Goerge Street they opened out into formations of eights and attracted attention with a resonant chorus of “Are we downhearted?” and an even lustier “No”. The firemen at first suspected fresh trouble, and made ready to use the hose on them, but the presence of officers at the head assured them that the new arrivals were all right, and their progress was unhampered.

Quietly, and with perfect order they swung right across the front of the Town Hall and faced the crowd in a crescent formation, and immediately a change came over the whole scene. The number of the reinforcements was sufficient to command respect, and the crowd almost involuntarily began to press back, and the throwing of missiles ceased as suddenly as it had begun.

Within half an hour the mob ceased to be a source of difficulty, the crowd appreciably diminished, the fire brigade – as Chief Officer Andrew has said over and over again – were given their first chance, and there was not the slightest sign of any further trouble on through the night, the soldiers remaining at their post until the arrival of the armed Royal Engineers from Bedford.