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  • Writer's pictureJ.M.

The Battle of Cable Street, 83 years ago today!

Sunday 4th October 1936: The people of East London came together and prevented the fascists, Oswald Moseley's Blackshirts, marching through Cable Street in Stepney. Ever since I wrote the opening chapter, I knew that the 4th October was the date I wanted to publish The Wonder Girls...

'a very brave and determined girl gang. Go Baby, Ida, Fingers, Gin and Brian!' Sue Wallman, Twitter

In the early 1930s Oswald Mosley spoke to thousands of people at huge rallies. At one such rally in Olympia, in London in 1934, violence broke out between Mosley’s uniformed – black shirted – bodyguards and protestors. About the same time in Germany, Hitler ordered the murders of his political rivals during The Night of the Long Knives. With these events more people were speaking out against fascism.

Oswald Mosley was determined, however, and his British Union of Fascists, popularly known as the Blackshirts, started organising uniformed, military style marches through areas like Stepney in East London, where there were large Jewish communities. It was obvious to Mosley’s opponents that these marches were designed to start trouble.

But as in Spain, where people were resisting a similar fascist threat, the community around Cable Street came together. They adopted the Spanish slogan for resistance to an enemy, No Pasaran, meaning ‘they shall not pass’, and prevented the Blackshirt march.

But in this instance, on that sunny Sunday in October 1936, these Londoners did this by resisting the police more than the Blackshirts. The police were trying to clear the streets of protestors and their makeshift barricades, so the march could take place. But it eventually became clear to the police commissioner, that to prevent much violence and even loss of life, the march could not go ahead.

Mosley continued to organise marches, but after Cable Street, the government was concerned enough to pass the Public Order Act 1936 which came into effect on 1st January 1937 banning political uniforms and military style marches.

Baby, Ida, Fingers, Gin and Brian have a similar determination though theirs has a different focus, to find their friends, their sisters. They are resisting fascism (and the police!) in the process. To paraphrase Matilda sometimes you have to be naughty to resist what's much, much worse.

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