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Remembering the 1913 strike

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Audio file

Extract from a Radio New Zealand Spectrum programme, ‘Two Wellington Childhoods’, which was broadcast on 18 March 1972. In this segment George Davies and Marjorie Lees recall their experiences of the 1913 strike in Wellington.

Transcript

George Davies (GD): I remember the 1913 strike very well. My young brother was going to school then and I was just on the verge of going out of the primary school, and Mum warned us within an inch of our lives to keep away from the strike or anything to do with the strike and to be home, straight home from school. But of course, being kids we had to go along Arthur Street and have a look at what they were doing.

Marjorie Lees (ML): Of course my father was enrolled as a special constable and I believe there was some sort of riot in which the strikers attacked the special constables after they’d been issued with batons and they were marching down from the barracks, and there really was quite a nasty riot. And I think the special constables took refuge in Whitcombe and Tombs and all the windows were smashed and my father came back in a frightful state and said ‘this is the French Revolution all over again and you must be sent away’. So we were sent away to the country and I thought that was pretty poor. But the strike went on for a long time and so we were allowed to come back, and do you remember that all the country men came down with their horses and they patrolled the wharves, they rode backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards all along the wharves. And a tea place was set up for them in the Star Boating Club and I was allowed to go down and help my mother hand teas to them. And you know at about 11 or 12 you’re terribly susceptible and I fell violently in love with Tiny [Bernard] Freyberg, of all people, I thought he was the most handsome and glorious man I’d ever seen! He never took any notice of me, but my little sister had curly hair and was very pretty and he used to give her rides on his horse, and I was very miserable about that.

Interviewer: You were very jealous?

ML: Yes

Interviewer: Now your father’s attitude was that it was the French Revolution, but can you remember his political feeling about there being a strike?

ML: Well of course, the waterside workers were less than the dust, it was absolutely wicked of them to strike, they were damaging the country. They had no case at all as far as he was concerned.

And you see some of the country men also manned the ships and they went to stokers and seamen and things.

Interviewer: And can you recall your own reaction to this? Did you take father’s viewpoint as a matter of course – it didn’t occur to you to question it?

ML: No, I thought the strikers were evil too. And apparently the special constables rode about all through the town, especially up in the slums where most of the waterside workers lived and their wives disposed empty chamber pots over them and various things like that…. You heard about the wicked strikers and so on.

GD: Every so often the farmers would line up in Buckle Street, all abreast on their horses, and at a given signal they would tear along Arthur Street, like mad cavalry scattering all the strikers – the strikers were all gathered in Arthur Street. And then they’d reform at the top of Cuba Street and then tear back.

Now, during this process, which … could have been like Balaclava, the strikers,  they provided themselves with a plentiful array of road metal and they used to let fly at these fellas on the way up and down, and there were quite a few hurt. Well we went down to have a look and I saw some chap bumping at the road with a fence post. And I said, ‘what are you doing?’, ‘trying to get some rocks out to throw at these jokers.’ Well, I said, ‘I’ll give you a hand’. I’d taken sides straight away without knowing what it was all about. So I started bumping up these things and all of sudden he sung out ‘here they come’ and I leapt over somebody’s fence and then stood up to have a look, but unfortunately some fella from the other side who had let fly at a striker, he’d missed him but he didn’t miss me. I got the stone right on the top of the head and I had to have three stitches in it and a week off school, a hiding from Mum that I still remember. And I was told that when I got better I had to go down to the police station because a policeman wanted to see me. You know I was sick with fright, I couldn’t eat. I was so frightened. People were frightened of policemen in those days, little boys, if you mentioned policemen that would curl them up straight away.

Credit

Radio New Zealand. Any re-use of this audio is a breach of copyright. To request a copy of the recording, contact Radio New Zealand. Reference: 'Two Wellington Childhoods', Spectrum, SJ 1981.

Hear the full recording on the Radio New Zealand website.

Image: Strikers gathered on the corner of Taranaki and Arthur streets, Wellington (see full image and referene on Flckr)

How to cite this page

Remembering the 1913 strike, URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/media/sound/remembering-1913-strike, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated