Gemma's posts

Who do you think you are? Irish nurses encountering ethnicity and constructing identity in Britain- Louise Ryan

This article is written based on interviews with Irish nurses in Britain, who mostly migrated in the 1950s–1970s and demonstrates the ways in which Irish migrants were insiders in terms of being white and European but outsiders with regards to culture, identity and their position in society.

Ryan highlights how the Irish migrant had already by this period been characterised by stereotypes of bestiality and racial inferiority and regularly related with images of ‘Mick’ and ‘Paddy’, hard drinking and angry labourers. However, despite the prominent image of such male, working-class stereotypes, it is noted that women make up the majority of the Irish population in Britain, with a significant amount of them being in skilled jobs. In the article, Ryan therefore observes some of the ways in which a group of skilled migrant women encountered and actively altered their Irish ethnic identity in the 1950s-1970s in order to be successful in British society.

For the article, the author interviewed 26 Irish nurses and their responses were analysed and put into five categories; The ‘Irish community abroad’ and the Holloway Road, ‘Irish people don’t do that’: Constructing Irishness in a hospital environment, Bombs and the bloody Irish: Negotiating hostility, Religion and otherness and Englishness, whiteness and otherness.

In the first section the author describes how some nurses in London in the late 1950s attended the dance halls of the Holloway Road that were often described to them as being rough social spaces. Ryan highlights that these were not social areas where Irishness was expressed and constructed but these spaces became constructed as specific kinds of ethnic spaces and were viewed by some people as too rough and in some cases too Irish. It then goes on to describe how some Irish nurses would want to avoid these areas and Ryan notes that this could be associated with new migrants in London wanting to construct their self-definition of ethnicity by avoiding what they see as ‘ghettoised collective formations of Irishness’. For some of the migrants the expression of Irish identity could be seen as ‘excessive’, particularly for those who wanted to become part of a middle-class identity in the host society.

The article goes on to describe how for many of these women their relationship to Irish ethnic identity was reconciled through their gender and professional status. For instance, it is noted that Irish nurses had a ‘positive stereotype in strong contrast to almost all other Irish people’ in Britain particularly in the 1950s-1970s. However, although nurses were seen in this sense in a positive light and as hard-working professionals in a caring role, Ryan demonstrates how this positive image was centred around these women playing highly gendered roles and avoiding rough expressions of Irishness such as ‘down the Holloway Road’. Moreover, it is shown that even nurses in a hospital setting could not always avoid negative stereotyping and discrimination, as by examining many of the women’s narratives Ryan notes that there were blatant forms of stereotyping and prejudice. She suggests that the fact that most of the women did not perceive any of it as anti-Irish racism indicates that as Irish migrants in Britain, they had accepted that this type of behaviour from British people was normal. For instance, ‘The racialisation of the Irish is so ingrained in British culture as to be barely recognisable for what it is’ and in the British popular press the Irish were frequently characterised as being dirty with a ‘notorious apathy to soap and water’. As well as this, Irish migrants were characterised as poor, ignorant and backward, with Irish women lacking domestic skills. Ryan therefore highlights that in some hospitals Irish nurses had to construct their identities and prove their professionalism whilst dealing with negative gender, class and ethnic stereotypes.

The third point looks at how the Irish had historically been stereotyped as irrational, hot-tempered and violent and such stereotypes were re-used in the 1970s-80s to explain the IRA campaign and also to describe Irish people generally as being viewed as a suspicious community. Ryan highlights that in the context of IRA bombings, the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and anti-Irish hostility and stereotypes in the popular press, many Irish people may have practised a form of self-censorship in Britain. For instance, it is described how one of the nurses decided not to wear a shamrock on St Patricks Day as a way of almost concealing her identity and avoiding confrontation.

The fourth part looks at Religion and how many of the nurses were seen as an inconvenience due to requesting that they were granted permission to attend church. Many were refused authorisation and Ryan explains that this shows while features of ethnic identity may be internally defined, the extent to which they were allowed to make their own choices were restricted and were affected by external forces. For example, the hostile environment that many of the nurses encountered did not allow them to express aspects of their Irish identity.

Lastly, the need to recruit a significant amount of overseas care workers to the National Health Service illustrates the fact that many British women at the time saw nursing as a poorly paid and unattractive occupation. However, Ryan argues that it is also possible that some English nurses felt resentful of Irish nurses taking over particular hospitals and turning them into Irish working environments. To summarise, the author explains how Irish migrant nurses occupied an ambiguous position in Britain as white insiders but as cultural outsiders.

Ryan concludes by emphasising that while the Irish in Britain historically have been represented as stupid, backward, lazy, violent and drunken, Irish women were depicted as unreliable, unkempt, sloppy and undomesticated. Being workers in a skilled profession that required cleanliness, accuracy and attention to detail, Irish nurses had to deal with these stereotypes in a variety of ways in order to avoid confrontation and also be successful in their jobs. Taking everything into account, the author demonstrates how the twenty-six Irish nurses who were interviewed portrayed the uncertain positioning of Irish migrants in Britain as white, European insiders as well as foreigners, outsiders and migrant workers.

Gemma's posts

D. Dean, ‘Coping with Colonial Immigration, the Cold War and Colonial Policy: the Labour Government and black communities in Great Britain, 1945-51’ Immigrants & Minorities 6:3 (1987)

The article argues that the Labour government took little action to cope with large scale migration from the Empire and that there was a lack of sympathy and understanding for the isolated black residential communities which were almost totally regarded as havens for unemployed black men, unruly white women and mixed race children in the seaports that had been living in poor conditions with no recognition for nearly a century. These areas were remote and distinct from the rest of the nation due to race riots, poor social conditions and the depression. After the war with the creation of the Welfare State, a narrow-minded British society were keen to reserve these benefits for the deserving and it was believed that boundaries were to be put in place for who should receive them. Therefore, West Indians and West Africans were generally unwelcome as they were arriving in Britain.

Dean argues that on one hand, the post-war Labour government was working tirelessly to build a new partnership between London and the Colonial Empire which would secure Britain’s future position in the world. Evidence of racial incidents, discrimination and tension would lead to bad publicity in the Colonies and more black people arriving to compete for work and housing would undoubtedly create more tension.  On the other hand, the presence of black students and trainees for short periods of study was encouraged, with the aim that they would absorb British ideas and become willing to favour the Western powers in the struggle against Communism.

The author goes on to state that the British labour government in general chose to do nothing despite being faced with these challenges. For instance, it refused to introduce legislation to restrict immigration from the Colonies, whilst also declining to bring in means that would outlaw discriminatory practices or break down prejudice, largely on the grounds that such legislation would cause bad publicity and upset white sections of the population. There was also little attempt to see that the minorities had special needs upon arrival which required sympathetic treatment. It was hoped that immigration would decrease as war weariness receded, employment became more settled and those who were already settled in the country would be forgotten again.

The article begins by describing the situation of black people in Britain prior to the Atlee Government. It was acknowledged by the government that these communities had suffered even more than other sections of the population from the depression and it was admitted that their struggle was the result of forces stronger than economics: ‘During the years of the depression they suffered from unemployment, partly because of the economic depression, but more so on account of racial prejudice.’ These family units therefore became a social problem. In these areas it was mainly ex-sailors, almost entirely male. Marriage or co-habitation took place with white women, a relationship which was frequently denounced. White women were often condemned as deviant, rootless and promiscuous and post war studies as a result, gave considerable attention to the white partners and frequently these women were blamed for deteriorating race relations. Therefore, whenever government departments discussed tensions arising between black and white communities, the dangers of association between black men and white women were highlighted.

Post war Britain changed in terms of race relations after WW2. Dean highlights the point of view from Dr Layton Henry in terms of race relations, ‘that the outbreak of the Second World War caused a dramatic change in the whole situation’. It was a war in which racism and the theory of racial superiority was blamed for its outbreak, and British political warfare had highlighted this in the mass atrocities suffered. The war is said to have pushed diverse groups together and some claim that the war needs of Britain from the colonies had broken down some traditional patterns of behaviour.

There was a complicated response from the white British population that had been exposed to imperial propaganda when they were met with black colonial soldiers and workers who had been convinced that Britain was the source of compassion and goodwill.

Dean highlights that those who were actually responsible for the welfare amongst black colonials in Britain were not optimistic about race relations and they warned in 1946 that ‘it is important that it should be recognised that a colour bar exists in various forms in the country’. Therefore, it is demonstrated that clearly the war had not changed prejudice into enlightenment. The Labour government tried to bring about significant social changes. The image of a less deferential society and expectations of greater sympathy and understanding of those in the African, Asian and West Indian colonies and the black residents already living in the country were encouraged which was related in every way to the fragile position of racial relationships in the Colonies. Labour politicians considered themselves to have distinct advantages to deal with the new situation and at party conferences Labour voices could often be heard condemning aspects of imperial rule, and the majority population of Kenya and Central Africa received powerful support in the struggle against deep-rooted aristocratic white settlers or threatening capitalist enterprises. Therefore, Dean highlights that there was a noticeable shift in opinion regarding the Empire when Labour came to power.

The author then argues that in 1945 the Labour victory proclaimed the death of an older, anachronistic, arrogant empire. The Colonial Office looked to the way the labour government handled eastern European displaced persons as they were viewed as a way to help with the labour force that Britain badly needed at the time. The Colonial office therefore thought that this could also be applied to areas in the West Indies with major unemployment, particularly Jamaica where the number of unemployed was from 40,000 to 50,000. Ex-servicemen who were aware of the unemployment in their countries decided to settle in Britain rather than return to their islands. The Colonial Office desired a few organised official schemes which would enable it to cope with mass immigration. It was to discourage spontaneous, uncontrolled immigration in which people arrived in numbers with no accommodation, no prior knowledge of living conditions and prevent them being attracted to the existing black neighbourhoods. Second, schemes were to be directed towards groups with particular skills who might be able to relieve severe labour shortages and thereby not experience too much white resentment. Finally, it was necessary to discourage the notion in the West Indies that the British government was uninterested in the needs of the area and preferred white, displaced Europeans who often claimed to have fought against Britain to black West Indians who had stood at Britain’s side in war.

The Prime Minister refused to abandon the open-door policy and told his backbenchers that it was traditional that British subjects whether Dominion or Colonial origin (and of whatever race and colour) should be freely accessible to the UK. However, major concern was expressed in the Economic Policy Committee when news spread that there were to be over 400 Jamaicans arriving at Tilbury in June 1948 on the former troopship the SS Windrush. The Economic committee argued that it would create serious embarrassment and it was suggested that the Secretary of State for the colonies should do everything possible to prevent the occurrence of any further similar incidents. This mass immigration led to fears that the same could happen with other groups such as the quarter of a million Indians in South Africa who were experiencing poor living standards and racial tension and nothing was in place to prevent them from coming to Britain. This raised immediate concerns over approaching shifts of population in Britain and was a sign to Attlee that the open-door policy would have to be altered and he stated, ‘If our policy were to result in a great influx of undesirables we might, however unwillingly, have to consider modifying it’. Dean highlights that the term undesirable was never precisely defined and little recognition had been given to the Windrush immigrants who were skilled Jamaicans, had invested considerable amounts of money from their own savings to pay for their journey and that they were usually ex-servicemen with prior experience in Britain. It was therefore agreed in all government departments that a fast distribution in small groups would calm the situation and create less public attention surrounding the situation. It was also agreed that the new arrivals were not to be allowed to drift and settle into black neighbourhoods. They were to be dispersed and employed.

The arrival of more immigrants, particularly the SS Orbita in Liverpool created more anxiety over the volume of immigration in 1948. This encouraged the first major discussion through an interdepartmental enquiry, on the possible use of black labour in British industry. Participants were the Ministry of Labour, the Colonial Office and the Home Office. Dean highlights that The Home Office anxiety over immigration figures was concentrated on two issues. It was believed that the easing of restrictions in wartime, careless shipping security, particularly in the West African ports and the network connections in British seaports was encouraging a huge rise in stowaways, who were cast off in Liverpool, Cardiff or London and then found themselves in the black, unemployed communities. The Home Office were also concerned about the implications for law and order if a larger inflow of West Indians and Africans came to the country. It was thought that the colour element was the main factor which caused negative attitudes in the public. Along with this, there was the wide belief that large numbers arriving from the West Indies were arriving not to improve their opportunities or find jobs but to exploit the expanding Welfare State. Dean highlights that this was presumed whilst the harsh effects of racial discrimination or unemployment and poor living and social conditions were left without acknowledgment. The Welfare State which was viewed as the finest achievement by the Labour government and increasingly seen as in need of protection supported the notion that black newcomers were individuals stealing rights that did not belong to them and this was made known to the Prime minister by Labour MPs. Dean argues that this kind of pressure undoubtably influenced most government departments which were involved in the discussion of black immigration throughout this period.

In terms of employment, the Ministry of Labour came to the conclusion that a widespread employment of black labour in factories, farms and offices would quickly lead to tension. In particular if black and white workers had to work closely. The majority of apprehension about West Indian residents came from the Midlands and requests were made either for a very restricted admission policy or if possible total exclusion. This led to serious incidents like Causeway Green near Birmingham in 1949, where there were clashes between West Indians and other residents which led to officials mostly taking action against the black group.

The author continues to demonstrate that throughout this period the evidence of racial discrimination did cause politicians and civil servants to consider a form of response and deliberate a kind of legislation which would outlaw various discriminatory practices. There was the concern that colonial students in Britain were experiencing discrimination and racial prejudice. Therefore, enhancing anti-British feeling amongst them and making Communism more attractive. Although this could have been addressed by the government, the Conservative opposition attacked Labour for their meddling with personal behaviour and conduct and this served as a warning to Labour ministers that they should stay clear of legislation against discrimination. A number of government supporters such as Lord Farringdon and Rev. R Sorensen continued to push for legislation which would outlaw certain discriminatory practice towards black people in employment, accommodation and places of entertainment but they then faced the cautious approach from those who would be in charge of implementing such legislation.

John Lewis who was Bolton’s MP and a significant parliamentary expert on race relations at the time felt that the British public needed to have their knowledge of the Colonies and its people modernised. He therefore admitted ‘there is a need for the British public to be better educated on the purpose for which they came to this country. This links, of course with the question of less racial discrimination.’ Dean highlights that there was however a present reluctance to put forward specific educational proposals to deal with this lack of knowledge. He also emphasises that when the question of a black person possibly coming to some sort of power was put forward, the question of white sensitivities came into question and therefore discussions to assign a black person as governor came to nothing.

By the 1950s, race relations were said to be a world crisis with Britain at the heart of it and eyes were fixed firmly on the public reaction at home and abroad. Issues of discrimination, influx of immigrants or any other concern relating to white and black people were subjected to public relations exercises by government departments to avoid potential criticism from the general public.

With the influx of West Indian and West African labour and the increased number of black students undergoing extensive programmes of education in Britain, the hostility and racial prejudice they experienced was certainly an obstacle to the process of co-operation between black people and white brits. Dean highlights that at this time, the Labour government believed that it was inappropriate to create any policy that openly acknowledged restriction by the colour of a person’s skin. Instead they adhered to the hope that as war excitement diminished and employment patterns became steady, the West Indian influx, in particular, would die away. Dean concludes that the Colonial Office were very optimistic in believing that there would be no influx similar to that of those who arrived on the SS Windrush and that black communities would once again become hidden from history.


Gemma's posts

Aliens in Wartime: A Case Study of Tyneside 1939–45 by Craig Armstrong

This article focuses on regional areas of Britain rather than Britain as a whole, which is stated to have had a strengthened national identity as a result of the Second World War at the expense of racial and ethnic minority groups. With particular attention given to attitudes towards immigrants in Tyneside, Armstrong demonstrates that although this area had refused the British Fascists, racial prejudice was still widespread.

Within the article Armstrong provides detail surrounding refugees and their experiences in Tyneside as well as the reaction from residents and local authorities. An example he gives is at the start of the war when internment was up for discussion. With refugees flooding into Britain, the majority being Jewish, the conservative press such as The Daily Mail became concerned that many of them were enemy Nazi agents and in 1940 ran various articles which backed the internment of all aliens. Armstrong highlights how such campaigns by the press were favoured by the Tyneside community and had influenced large numbers of people in supporting internment and the restrictions placed on enemy aliens. When they were interned, this had a huge impact on companies. Armstrong gives the example of the Austrian engineer Heinrich Ernst Beck who had left Austria in 1936 to work for Angus George and Company in London and was relocated to Newcastle in 1938. At the start of the war, Beck was given permission to remain in Britain, however had significant restrictions imposed on him. He was eventually arrested and interned with his colleague, Ferdinand Hebelka in 1940. Both men were sent to a camp in South Devon prior to being sent to Canada aboard the Arandora Star where they were both killed.

Armstrong also demonstrates the hostility towards black ethnic minorities which is shown in a Colonial Office Report that found a great deal of prejudice towards coloured seamen in Tyneside where, “coloured men on land remained in a perpetual state of un-employment, as the white man considered them only fit to perform the most menial task in a segregated atmosphere of a cargo ship at sea”. Armstrong goes onto identify the work of the Colonial Office, Mr Bullied, Mr Minto and Mr Larbi who all assisted in the welfare of the black community and served to improve the attitudes of the white population of Tyneside.

The Irish were also a group looked on with suspicion as a result of the IRA campaign prior to the war. However, Armstrong notes that in Tyneside the Irish were an assimilated part of the local community and did little to cause any anxiety.

The article concludes that overall, there were significant tensions between the Tyneside local community and immigrant groups. Despite a willingness to show toleration of minority groups, there still remained a prejudice and negative attitudes. The liberal attitude remained to an extent; however this was tarnished in 1940 due to fear and doubts over the contribution of certain minority groups.     

Gemma's posts

Kamal A. Chunchie of the Coloured Men’s Institute: The man and the legend by Rozina Visram

This article by Rozina Visram provides an insight into the work of Pastor Kamal A. Chunchie and his work and support for the black and Asian community in East End London. With particular focus on the Coloured Men’s Institute (CMI), Visram outlines how Chunchie struggled for almost 30 years to improve the lives of these individuals through social welfare and Christian fellowship.

Kamal Chunchie was born in Kandy, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in 1886 and at an early age showed an interest in Christianity. In 1915 he came to Europe and enlisted in the Public Schools Battalion, 3rd Middlesex Regiment to serve on the Western front. After converting to Christianity, Chunchie came to Britain in 1918 where he married a Welsh woman who became a fellow supporter of his work for the black and Asian population of the East End.

Visram discusses the situation soldiers found themselves in Britain after being discharged. They were given no employment opportunities or financial support and were expected to survive on their own. This therefore led to many being stranded and jobless in a difficult 1920s economy and as a result, were faced with severe levels of poverty whilst also facing racial discrimination. Chunchie faced discrimination and racism after the war and Visram highlights how this moulded his philosophy and work which turned him into an outspoken champion on behalf of the black and Asian people of the East End of London.

He started off by visiting lodgings, slums and hospitals in search of black and Asian soldiers he could help. To these individuals, he gave material assistance. For instance, Visram highlights one African sailor who was discharged in Cardiff but robbed of all his possessions and Chunchie provided him with clothing, a bed and other necessities. Soon Chunchie came across the resident black and Asian population who were living in poverty. They lived in overcrowded housing and with the men being married to white women, the mixed-race children of this community also faced discrimination at school and further lack of support and opportunity when they left. The welfare of this community therefore became Chunchie’s priority whilst he denounced racism which impacted these people’s lives in Christian England.

In 1926, Chunchie established the Coloured Men’s Institute with the aim of meeting the needs of both the soldiers and the resident community and it would serve as a recreational and social centre for them as well as a place of worship. Visram argues that the extent to which these individuals received welfare shows the desperate condition their lives were in.

He travelled all over Britain addressing crowds and exposing the hypocrisy of Christian England where black and Asian peoples were discriminated against, whilst the missionary messages ‘back home’ in their own countries with the aim to convert the native populations in colonised countries to Christianity, painted a very different picture of life in Christian England.

Visram points out how Chunchie faced a significant amount of critic. One being that he was accused of being a ‘showman’ by Rev. F.W. Chudleigh. Further, his conversion to Christianity was questioned by Rev. W.J. Noble who accused him of playing ‘football’ with the Bible as a schoolboy. Visram argues that the first accusation was an example of professional jealousy and the latter, an exaggeration since Christians were respected as people of the book by Muslims and the Bible would not have been treated in such a way. Therefore, Visram identities that this represents Chunchie’s conversion to Christianity as being even more significant.

After further accusations regarding finances, such as being too generous and incapable of managing money, Chunchie parted from the organisation in 1932. He branched out on his own to continue his work to create a ‘better confidence and spirit of brotherhood’ between the black and white population. Between 1933 and his death in 1953, he worked hard to establish a new Coloured Men’s Institute. Through this, he set up a multiracial council and the organisation delt with stranded sailors who were given bed and breakfast. Families were also offered clothes, coal, boots and shoes throughout the year as the material conditions they lived in through a depression-hit Britain was reflected in the ill-health they suffered.

The racial hostility these families faced was widespread and Nancie Sharpe wrote a 40,000-word report on ‘The Negro Population in London and Cardiff’ in the mid-1930s. She concluded that ‘The whole economic situation of those families is an indictment of the society in which we live.’

Visram concludes that without the work of Chunchie and the CMI, the lives of the black and Asian community in the East End would have been bleaker. Further, she praises Chunchie’s humanity and generosity as he was passionate and worked so hard to improve the lives of these individuals and combat racism- whilst never losing his identity which is reflected in his reports where his Malay origin is always identified as well as his love for Sri Lanka.


Gemma's posts

W. Ugolini ‘The internal enemy other’: recovering the World War Two narratives of Italian Scottish Women’ (2004)

This paper by Wendy Ugolini aims to provide how significant the impact of the Second World War was on the construction of personal identity amongst Scottish Italian women. With reference to the anti-Italian movement, Ugolini shows its personal importance within the life stories given by Italian Scottish women. She argues that the traumatic events of the summer of 1940 provided Italians with the harsh reality of how fragile the foundations upon their acceptance in Scottish society were and how this served to drastically heighten a sense of ‘otherness’ and not belonging.

The author firstly makes a comparison between the aftermath of 9/11 with Muslims being attacked in Edinburgh and Italians facing similar attacks after Italy declared war on Britain six decades earlier in 1940. Police began to arrest Italian nationals between the ages of sixteen and seventy and with Defence Regulation 18B, this meant that a vast number of British people of Italian origin including women were also arrested. Italian women were forced to leave their homes in coastal towns which were designated ‘protected areas’ and relocate twenty miles inland. The paper aims to explore what happened to the women who were left behind to experience racist hostility on the Homefront after the ingrained memories of internment and the tragedy of the Arandora Star; a ship carrying Italian and German enemy ‘aliens’ to Canada and was torpedoed, killing over 400 internees.

Ugolini argues that there has been a tendency to romanticise the presence of Italians in Scotland to avoid stressing the more painful reality of how Italian families were treated. In order to research this, the author interviewed forty-six men and women of Italian origin, all second and third generation living in Edinburgh and other South East regions of Scotland and over half of the group were women. Ugolini emphasises that when her interviewees were asked about the outbreak of the war, they referred to the events of June 1940 rather than 1939, showing that a specific set of memories was held amongst Italians as a group.

The author demonstrates how the Anti-Italian riots were particularly widespread throughout Scotland due to the presence of religious bigotry in Scottish society. She highlights that in her interviews with the women there was a sense of trauma when discussing the riots. As one particular woman, Linda Hunt, told how such a traumatic event like the riots can ‘turn a person’s world into a much more insecure and unpredictable place than before the traumatising experience’. Ugolini continues to describe when the women were asked to relocate, they were given no support or guidance and were left alone to make their own arrangements for their businesses and children’s education. Eight of the women she interviewed had experienced relocation as a child and many had witnessed their fathers being taken away. One woman recalled the heart-breaking memory of the last time she ever saw her father. He was frying fish and chips in their shop and was suddenly taken away in his dirty clothes. Another woman remembered after being relocated, her and her family were evicted from their lodgings in Blair Atholl when the laird opposed finding ‘foreigners’ on his land.

In the places they could relocate to, Ugolini notes how the narratives she received highlight the growth of support networks for Italian women who clustered in areas such as Peebles and Pitlochry. They would find work with other Italian women and seek refuge with relatives, friends or business contacts. She demonstrates that there was a large element of sticking together. However, the enforced congregation of Italian women and their children in the same towns contributed to the growth of marginalisation and exclusion during wartime. Women as young a thirteen and fourteen were faced with the responsibility of looking after families and businesses and many respondents in Ugolini’s paper recall being exposed to xenophobic abuse such as being spat on, having stones thrown at them and being shunned in communal areas.

The author concludes that the narratives she received from women contained a recognition of their psychological fragility which was not present in the narratives from men. Women were more willing to share information on the emotional and psychological impact of being viewed as the ‘other’. Ugolini stresses in her conclusion that the abuse, intolerance and prejudice faced by Italian Scottish women during the Second World War had a long-lasting effect on the construction of personal identity and their view of themselves as being ‘outsiders’. A notable point which the author concluded was that events such as the attacking of Asian shops six decades later have the potential to bring back distressing memories amongst the older members of the Italian community in Scotland. This therefore stresses the argument that the hardships they experienced during the Second World War were so devastating that they still have a significant impact on the Italian community today.

Gemma's posts

‘The Tredegar riots of 1911: anti Jewish disturbances on south Wales’ by C. Holmes

‘The Tredegar Riots of 1911’ by Colin Holmes describes the racial and ethnic violence which occurred in south Wales in August 1911 when Welsh locals began to attack and loot Jewish businesses within the town. In this article Holmes uses evidence from the Home Office file containing telegrams that were passed between Tredegar and Abergavenny and the Home Office which outline the level of concern that the riots caused at the time. Additionally, within the article Holmes demonstrates how Britain has a national ego when it comes to discussing racial and ethnic violence, as it flatters itself into believing it is a tolerant country with decency. However, he argues that is an ‘enduring myth’ and his discussion of the Tredegar riots establishes this.

The Tredegar riots began on Saturday 19th August and ended suddenly the following weekend. Jewish shops were wrecked and looted within the town to such an extent that the military were asked to intervene and there was the intention of rioters to precede over the mountains to attack other Jews in different villages. With the population of only 160 Jews in Tredegar, Holmes highlights that this was ‘a clear indication that large numbers of a minority group are not needed to generate violent opposition’.

The view of the presiding magistrate at Tredegar was that at first, the violence was specifically directed against the Jewish community themselves. However, Holmes suggests that by the time of the riots, violence against the Jewish community had become more generalised and joined with other tensions. For instance, he describes how multiple strikes against the coal and railway sectors had raised social tensions and caused personal distress prior to the riots. Therefore, the Jews were made the scapegoats for the problems that the workers had experienced in Tredegar.

Moreover, Holmes discusses how there was already a pattern of violence present in Welsh society regarding race and ethnicity. He gives examples of the Irish and their economic, political and religious differences, the Chinese community with the Cardiff Maritime Review calling them ‘cheap’ and also after the Tredegar riots, in 1912 with the traveller communities in Llanelli and in 1919 there was violence against the black population.

Holmes therefore concludes that such violence did not only occur in Wales and such events have their parallels. He argues that it becomes clear that most ethnic and racial minorities in Britain at different times in a variety of places have found themselves targets of physical attacks and assaults. Overall, Holmes suggests that racial and ethnic violence will be a persistent presence within society.

Gemma's posts

‘The Lithuanians’ by Murdoch Rodgers (1985)

In this article Rodgers discusses the push and pull factors which made Lithuanians emigrate to Britain but mainly Scotland. He identifies the various experiences that this group had in relation to employment, politics and social life as well as the struggles they faced from dealing with opposition from locals, the press and the government. Through examining all of these factors, Rodgers successfully highlights how the Lithuanian community maintained their identity within the large community that was established until it was significantly deteriorated after the First World War.

Firstly, Rodgers discusses the push and pull factors which encouraged Lithuanians to go to Britain and contribute to the growth of the community. Predominately peasants, they were pushed to leave Lithuania due to the huge decline in their standard of living as a result of an increase in population, heavier taxation and a fall in grain prices. Such a change to their standard of living was so significant that Rodgers highlights how one in four Lithuanians made the decision to leave between 1868 and 1914. Additionally, he notes the important factor that around 15,000 Lithuanians were resident in Scotland before moving to further destinations like America and it was cheaper for them to travel through the ports of Leith and Glasgow rather than go direct. Scotland also provided financial opportunities through the expanding coal, steel and iron industries in Lanarkshire and Ayrshire. Through these employment opportunities, many were also offered housing which encouraged them to stay. Rodgers also points out how the growth of the Lithuanian community was sustained through the ‘emigrant letter’, which was their continued contact with family back in Lithuania after they had emigrated.

Whilst working and living in Britain the Lithuanian community faced considerable opposition from the locals, particularly in Lanarkshire and Ayrshire. Rodgers highlights that as early as 1887, the Ayrshire Miners Union led by Keir Hardie demanded their removal, as their presence was “menace to the health and morality of the place and is besides, being used to reduce the already too low wages earned by the workmen.” Similar was the situation in Lanarkshire which was the main settlement for Lithuanians. Here, the Lanarkshire County Miners Union protested again the underestimated presence of Lithuanians in the mines. Additionally, in one of the Lanarkshire newspapers in 1900 the Lithuanian community were made out to be unclean and barbarous with ingrained violence and anarchy. It is also important to note that they were referred to as ‘Poles’, suggesting that their nationality was ignored, and the main focus was on how negative their presence was. With regards to opposition, Rodgers points out that at the time the mining community already contained squalid living conditions, heavy drinking and reckless behaviour. Therefore, in terms of ‘health’ and ‘morality’ it was easier for them to direct such concerns at outsiders rather than addressing it themselves.

However, Rodgers goes onto discuss how unionisation became significant in improving relations between the Lithuanian labour force and the LCMU. After encouraging Lithuanian membership in the union through printing rules in the language and offering entitlement to include full benefits, the Lithuanian labour force began to take an active part in union affairs in the years leading up to 1914. Due to this, Rodgers points out that all previous allegations were dropped, and a new-found loyalty was established.

Rodgers also demonstrates the political activity of Lithuanians with the small but influential socialist element within the community. However, he states that it was mainly confined to a small group of class-conscious workers and the majority of immigrants were more concerned with making a living rather than politics but once it became apparent that joining a union could provide better living conditions, this is the action they took.

Despite the unionisation of workers, this created a divide in the community itself with the Lithuanian clergy opposing socialists which were viewed as ‘godless people’. The Lithuanian community was therefore divided into those who adhered to some form of socialist activity and those who were committed to the Catholic faith.

Rodgers concludes with the impact that the Anglo-Russian Military Convention of 1917 had on the Lithuanian community. All men between eighteen and forty were to join the British Army or face deportation. The clergy actively encouraged those to join the army in comparison to socialists who aimed to return home. After socialists left and fought for the Bolsheviks, they were denied entry back into Scotland and women and children were also forced back home due to lack of money and employment opportunities. Therefore, by March 1920, 600 women and children returned. Rodgers highlights how communities that had previously flourished before the war had now disappeared and were largely broken.