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Guy Aldred

John Simkin

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Guy Alfred Aldred is one of my heroes. Several times in his life he made a stand for what at the time was an unpopular cause.

In January 1907, Aldred began work for The Daily Chronicle. He also ran his own small publishing company. In 1910 the courts banned The Indian Sociologist, an Indian nationalist newspaper edited by Shyamji Krishnavarma. Over the issue of free speech he printed the August edition of the journal and as a result he was sentenced to twelve months hard labour.

Aldred was a strong opponent of the First World War and publicized his views in his newspaper The Spur. Due to heavy losses at the Western Front the government decided in 1916 to introduce conscription (compulsory enrollment). The Military Service Act of January 1916 specified that single men between the ages of 18 and 41 were liable to be called-up for military service unless they were widowed with children or ministers of religion. Conscription started on 2nd March 1916.

On 14th April 1916, Aldred was arrested and charged with failing to report for Military Service. When he appeared in court he explained that he refused to fight because he was a conscientious objector. On 4th May he was fined £5 and handed him over to the military authorities. At his Court Martial on 17th May he was sentenced to six month military detention.

Aldred refused to comply with military orders and on 27th June he was sentenced to nine months hard labour. On the 4th July 1916, Aldred was moved to Winchester Prison and the following month he was transferred to the village of Dyce in the north of Scotland where a camp of tents had been erected. Over the next few months a total of sixty nine conscientious objectors died in these work camps.

Aldred escaped from the camp but was arrested in London on 1st November 1916 and sent to Wormwood Scrubs prison. On 28th March 1917, Aldred was released from prison and taken under escort to Exeter Military Camp. He was given another order but he refused and was confined to the guardroom. Two months later he was taken to Deepcot Military Camp and when he refused to parade he was once again remanded for Court Martial.

On 17th May 1917 Aldred was sentenced to 18 months hard labour and sent to Wandsworth Prison. Over the next few months there was considerable unrest and protest by the conscientious objectors. The ringleaders, which included Aldred, were sentenced to 42 days of solitary confinement with 3 days on bread and water and then 3 days off while locked in a bare unheated basement cell.

Aldred continued to refuse military orders and on 20th August 1918 he was transferred to Blackdown Barracks and was once again placed on remand for Court Martial. Throughout his terms of imprisonment Aldred managed to smuggle out several articles to Rose Witcop who published them in their paper The Spur.

The First World War ended on 11th November 1918 but he was not released on licence until 7th January 1919. He travelled to Glasgow where he addressed a large meeting in St Mungo Halls, York Street, where he spoke on "The Present Struggle for Liberty". On 10th March, 1918 Aldred was arrested while speaking on Clapham Common and was taken to Wandsworth Prison. He stated that he would not eat or work until he was released from his illegal and vindictive imprisonment. He was released after four days.

Aldred and his partner, Rose Witcop, joined the campaign for birth-control information that had began by Marie Stopes when she published a concise guide to contraception called Wise Parenthood. Her book upset the leaders of the Church of England who believed it was wrong to advocate the use of birth control. Roman Catholics were especially angry, as the Pope had made it clear that he condemned all forms of contraception. Despite this opposition, Stopes continued her campaign and in 1921 founded the Society for Constructive Birth Control. With financial help from her rich second husband, Humphrey Roe, Marie also opened the first of her birth-control clinics in Holloway on 17th March 1921.

Aldred and Witcop published several pamphlets on birth-control and in 1923 they were both arrested for distributing material written by Margaret Sanger. Although found guilty they were not sent to prison.

Sir Walter Strickland, a long-time supporter of Aldred, died on August 1938. He left Aldred £3,000 and with this money he bought some second-hand printing machinery and established The Strickland Press. Over the next 25 years Aldred published regular issues of the United Socialist Movement organ, The Word and various pamphlets on things he cared about. This included attacks on fascism, capitalism and communism.

Guy Aldred continued to promote social justice until his death on 16th October 1963. As one historian has pointed out: "Guy Alfred Aldred had worked ceaselessly at his propaganda, writing, publishing and public speaking, he took on injustices wherever he saw it. He had spoken at every May Day for 60 years except the years he spent in prison. He never once asked for a fee nor sought personal gain, throughout his 62 years of campaigning his principles never faltered."


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