Border Reivers were never ones for national loyalty, king and country
had no meaning for them. What mattered most, more than anything else in
fact, was loyalty to ones name. Your surname was everything in the
Borders, it was your protection and it gave you a strong sense of
belonging, of knowing who and what you were. Your allegiance to your
surname was absolute and to be stripped of it as a punishment was just
about the worst thing that could happen.
‘Broken Men’ were alone in a dangerous land in uncertain times and that was not a good situation to be facing back then. Your only possible refuge, short of leaving the borders, were the Debatable Lands on the Scots/English border, north of Carlisle. That is where other desperate men and outlaws banded together for mutual protection.
When the crowns of Scotland and England were joined in 1603, the Borderlands changed dramatically, the old Reiving way of life ended abruptly, often at the end of a hangman’s rope. Our own family were forced to leave the Scottish side of the border at that time, after being dispossessed and having to keep ahead of the Kings instant and deadly policy of ‘Jeddart Justice'.
By the 1620’s the Border Reivers had almost faded into the shadows of the past, and the vice-like grip of family loyalty began to relax and was broken within a few generations. The people of the Borders had lost something precious and found it replaced by a loyalty to government and country, cunningly foisted upon them for the benefit of political tricksters and profiteering opportunists.
At the Battle if Pinkie on the 10th September 1547, in which the English under the Duke of Somerset and the Scots under the Earl of Arran fought a momentous engagement there were Borderers in both the English and Scots armies. In this battle where thousands lost their lives, at the height of the fighting, the borderers of both sides were seen to be talking to each other. There can be no greater illustration of just how little they cared for national loyalty, quite simply, it was not their fight and they were only there for any booty and plunder that might be obtained.
So much has changed today and national loyalty is what government expects. They make wars and the people are expected to fight them and be proud to die for their country. That mentality has held sway down the centuries since 1603, the people have died for their Kings, their Bonnie Princes, their Faith and their Countries and yet the only people to truly benefit for their sacrifices have been the nobles, the political elite and the stay-at-home war profiteers.
The men folk of Britain died to establish a global Empire of free trade and commerce. The wealthy got wealthier as the poor struggled and squabbled in the gutter for a tiny portion of a very large pie. Young children were toiling long hours in the dangerous ‘dark satanic mills’ of the north and down the mines, or being sent up chimneys well into the 19th century.
The soldiers and sailors of the Napoleonic Wars were left to fend for themselves after fighting for their country, and the wounded and maimed among them were forced to beg in the streets to survive. What a way to treat courageous returning warriors and defenders of the nation.
What exactly were these people giving loyalty to and what were they dying for? A country that abused them, used them, chewed them up and spat them out, and abandoned them when they had served their purpose? How had the government and the wealthy elite been able to play such a confidence trick on the common folk? How could the people have been so blind to the arrogance and derision with which they were looked upon? In a world today where our eyes are more open and our minds more questioning, it does seem almost unbelievable that fearless lions could be so willingly led by affected upper class donkeys.
The blinkers began to come off after the end of World War One, the Great War, the war to end all wars, or so it was said. Those who had so earnestly and enthusiastically joined the armed forces when war broke out in 1914, and who by some miracle survived, were not the same people who were demobbed in the months after the 11th November 1918. The returning soldiers wanted a better life and a better future but often all they got were reduced wages and longer hours or unemployment.
People questioned what the war had all been about, why so many families were left broken and torn apart by the awfulness of it. What many veterans of the trenches questioned was how the capitalists, the stay-at-homes and the politico’s could so easily forget the men who had fought and died, and who mourned not the legions of the dead, but their loss of production and profit as the war work dried up.
A wonderful and insightful book was recently published called, Sapper Martin – The Secret Great War Diary of Jack Martin, introduced and Edited by Richard Van Emden. It is as the title suggests, an authentic diary from the Great War of a soldier who fought and suffered in the trenches. He was called up into the army in 1916 and served with the Royal Engineers. He was finally demobbed at the beginning of 1919 and reached London on the 3rd February. In the very last entry of his diary he questions the treatment of the returning servicemen thus:
‘Where were the flags and the banners and the laurel wreaths and trumpets? Let it be recorded for all time that the men who fought and suffered and won had, in the end, to sneak back to their homes like convicts released from gaol’
What an indictment of a country that had sent hundreds of thousands of young men to fight and die in a vicious mechanised war on their behalf. The two great grandfathers on my maternal side were both wounded in that conflict but at least they survived, far too many of their comrades didn’t.
After the Great War the UK was a long way from being a country fit for heroes to live in. As far as the elite and the capitalists were concerned, the men who fought the war had been merely pawns on a great political chessboard and had served their purpose. Now the game was packed away until the next time they were required to fight a war that wasn’t theirs. Oh, how my perceptive Border Reiver ancestors would have been perplexed and looked askance at how the common people could have arrived at that state of affairs, for what was in it for them, what did they get out of it?
The years following the end of World War One saw instability in the nations governance caused by incompetent politicians and inadvisable fiscal policies. A seething discontent existed amongst the ordinary working people that was simmering away just below the surface. In many ways, things finally came to a head in 1925 when the mining industry suffered yet another economic crisis.
Due to the war, rich seams of coal had been depleted and that effected exports, the Americans, Poles and Germans took advantage of that fact. The international price of coal also fell as Germany exported coal free of charge to France and Italy as part of its war reparations. Doubtless a quantity of this was re-exported and sold for profit, what with the capitalists and speculators being the greedy creatures of habit that they are.
The Conservative Party politician, Winston Churchill also reintroduced the Gold Standard, which backed the UK currency with the precious metal. This had the effect of greatly strengthening the Pound that in turn made exports more difficult, especially exports of coal. Interest rates also rose and this proved to be a difficult combination for UK business to deal with. This was the government making it difficult for UK enterprises to do business in the post war world, and at the same time, making it much harder for the workers to make a decent living and feed their families.
True to form, the first reaction of the mine owners to retain pre-existing profit margins and their own comfy lifestyles was to cut the pay of miners and lengthen the working day. The miners, many of which were ex-servicemen who had given loyal service during the Great War, worked in horribly difficult conditions underground for their pay and felt as though they had been slapped in the face again and again. Their mood became one of anger and resentment. The mining union, The National Union of Mineworkers was having none of it and drew a line in the sand. Their slogan, ‘not a penny off the pay, not a minute on the day’ said it all.
Industrial action was in the air and was only deflected by the government agreeing to subsidise the mine owners for nine months, in order to maintain miners wages and to prevent any strikes from taking place. This was only ever going to be a temporary fix for a problem that ran very deep, back into the 19th century, and was caused by government policies in the first place.
A subsidised private mine owner, feeling the pinch of poverty
The nine months pay subsidy was cynically agreed to by the government in order to allow them to put in place plans for resisting the strike, which they knew would inevitably come. It could also reasonably be claimed that the government via its risible fiscal policies had in effect, engineered the conditions for industrial action in order to clamp down on the working class under the guise of preventing civil unrest.
Let us not forget that in 1842 during industrial action being waged by weavers who had seen their wages drop dramatically between 1810 and 1842, the government reacted by placing two thousand soldiers and six artillery pieces in Manchester alone. The government making war on its own people, the working class who generated the wealth of the nation, a wealth that was enjoyed by a tiny elite, whose louche lifestyles and exploitative practices were now to be protected by the military.
Before and after World War One, the government were still putting troops and tanks on the streets during industrial disputes, such as Liverpool in 1911 and later, in 1926, when navy personnel were sent to the docks to unload cargo, protected by troops in armoured cars with heavy machine guns. Would those soldiers have machine gunned striking dock workers I wonder? Who would have expected such totalitarian behaviour in the UK in the 20th century? What a way to treat those former soldiers who fought for this country through years of horrific trench warfare, and were only striking for a living wage and better working conditions.
The battle lines are drawn
In 1926, the mine owners announced that they would introduce new terms of employment for all miners. These included wage reductions of between 10% and 25%, which of course did not include the remuneration of the mine owners and their managers. The TUC then announced the beginning of a General Strike on the 3rd May 1926.
How could any working person bear a 25% wage reduction? Yet still such things happen and in 2009, just that kind of scenario has led to the strike by the ‘bin men’ of Leeds. Once again the expensive patent leather shoe of unreasonable employers is pushed and rubbed into the face of desperate workers, who only seek to earn a reasonable living and to feed their families.
The situation in 1926 was greatly inflamed by an editorial that was due to be published by the Daily Mail newspaper, entitled – For King and Country – that implied the strikers were nothing but revolutionaries, bent on destroying the government and subverting the rights and liberties of the British people. The printers at the Daily Mail refused to print the editorial. Little wonder, as it questioned the loyalty of workers who had suffered in the trenches for the country and fell not far short of accusing them of industrial sabotage and treason.
Surprisingly, the workers found a supporter from a most unlikely quarter, in the form of King George V himself. He commented in respect of the strikers that people should ‘try living on their wages before they judged them’. He took exception to the fact that workers standing up for their rights were accused of being revolutionaries.
On the 4th May 1926 both the TUC and the Government were genuinely shocked at the support for the strike, the country came to a standstill. Nearly two million workers came out as the well of workers anger and resentment finally spilled over. There was such an overwhelming show of support for the strike that even the Labour Party and the leadership of the TUC feared a revolution might ensue. The working people of the country were angry, and right they should be. They were sick and tired of being treated as no more than surfs, peasants and disposable units of labour.
Striking miners during the 1926 General Strike
The government were determined to break the strike by enacting legislation and using the military, middle class volunteers and blackleg workers. That combination eventually worked, as the government used the law as a weapon to impose a threat of bankruptcy upon the trade unions and bend them to their will. The miners held out the longest but in the end poverty and want forced them back to work. They were forced to accept the longer hours and lower pay that had been the original catalyst for the General Strike.
In 1927, the Conservative government enacted more new legislation aimed at making another General Strike almost impossible. Many workers wondered why they had ever bothered to strike in the first place, and once again felt betrayed by a nation they had fought and bled for. They also felt betrayed by the Labour Party, as do many working people in 2010. Some things never seem to change in politics it would seem.
The General Strike did go to show that it is all too easy for big business and their government stooges to question the loyalty of the population when their comfort zones are threatened, yet they are all too quick to appeal to it when they want bodies to fill uniforms for wars that they have declared on behalf of the people, but which all too often only serve the money grubbing interests of the elite and cabals of capitalists.
Cynical appeals to national loyalty
It is truly amazing that politicians and their big business puppet masters will invoke the loyalty of the people at times of strife, when they need their commercial and political interests protecting and preserving, yet once the conflict is over they will revert to exploiting and abusing those very same loyal people, a people who suddenly become disloyal revolutionaries and ‘militant reds’ if they stand up for their rights and entitlement to a better life. Such is the duplicitous and arrogant nature of capitalism.
We can now bring the story right up to date and clearly see that nothing fundamental has changed. Once again the trade unions have been cowed and neutered for the benefit of global capitalism. We are involved in wars that our leaders have lied through their teeth to drag us into, and still most people have no real idea what exactly the conflicts are actually all about, though many suspect the reasons are less than pristine and honourable.
Yet again brave men are dying in fly ridden foreign lands to advance the interests of politicians and multi-national commercial interests, and once again, those brave men who return maimed from the fighting are treated appallingly by the government. A government who cannot even supply the armed forces with the necessary arms, protection and equipment to fight their squalid and nasty little wars in the first place. What a way to treat the brave young men and women who are entrusted with the defence of the realm.
A brave new world
The people of the country have also been betrayed once again in other ways. The young have suffered the ravages of a diabolical education that in many instances makes them unemployable and welfare dependent. They are forced to compete for even the most menial job with an almost unending flood of cheap labour from Eastern Europe, that is driving down pay and conditions and forcing more and more people to either exist on the poverty pay of the minimum wage, or to give up and live a life on welfare benefits, devoid of any hope or ambition for a better existence.
At the same time the traditional family has been attacked and weakened to such an extent, that all other lifestyles are considered of equal status and just as beneficial for children, which study after study has proven to be a false doctrine. By breaking the supportive strength of traditional family ties and loyalty, they have made it easier to impose cultural changes. In a socially fractured, ill-educated and morally bankrupt society, it is easier to keep the population passive and open to any propaganda the government may wish to spout, particularly once people lose sight of their history and their cultural inheritance, or worse still, don’t actually care much about it.
If a child does not even know whom their father is? How can they ever really have any concept of their family history and take a pride in their familial roots? I wonder how many even know from whence comes their surname and what it means? It is in the government’s interest in terms of their great social experiment to keep people uninterested and ignorant, and to feel no need or reason to discover their deep-rooted origins in this country. However many questioning and educated people are beginning to feel a yearning for their past, a desire to meet their ancestors and thus has developed a huge interest in family trees and genealogy. All that runs directly opposite to what the government over many decades seems to desire.
Indeed, the young have been systematically stripped of their past and their cultural heritage as part of the great social engineering project conducted by various governments over the past sixty years, a project stealthily gathering insidious momentum as the decades pass. It is a cultural genocide almost as devastating as that caused by the infamous Lowland and Highland Clearances that took place in Scotland during the 18th and 19th centuries. Once people lose sight of who they are and where they came from, they are far more easily brainwashed and re-educated into accepting the new order of things, as dictated by the government of the day.
Even the much vaunted government policy of getting more and more young people into university by blatantly making exams easier, and forcing them to pay fees can be seen with a cynical but possibly realistic eye. Fees keep the students in thrall to a life of debt and chained to the greedy consumerist-capitalist system. At the same time, more graduates means more competition for jobs which inevitably leads to lower pay and poorer working conditions. It is a basic law of supply and demand and one does not need to have attended a top-notch university to understand that simple principle.
Into the new millennium
As we enter the beginning of the first decade of the 21st century, the lives of most of the people in this country seem to be getting worse not better. The government and the forces of global capitalism are acclimatising them to lower expectations from life by keeping them in fear for their employment, in the dark about the real issues of the day, and measuring the worth of their lives by material possessions and the never ending acquisition of such meaningless objects of desire.
The people are also kept in a soporific and apathetic state by a steady diet of cheap booze, fast food, illegal drugs, soap opera’s, game shows, reality TV and all manner of mindless entertainment. We should also not forget the temptations of on-line gambling and the national lottery, designed to keep peoples minds away from things that really matter to us as human beings, and to keep tax revenue rolling into the voracious government coffers.
The promise of a possible lottery win as a way to happiness is equivalent to the promises of paradise that were freely doled out to the peasantry, by the often wealthy clerics of the Middle Ages. Doff the cap, till the soil, keep your head down, do as you are bidden by your ‘betters’, and you too shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven my son.
A lament to national pride
Today, could our nation be seen as a country to be proud of, a country to respect and give ones absolute loyalty to? Personally speaking I don’t think it can be seen as that, not given its current state of social dysfunction. There just seems to be so much general disillusionment and sense of despair over the direction the nation has been taking since the beginning of the new millennium. Self-serving, duplicitous and less than honest government has a lot to do with those negative feelings people have, and more and more people are seeking a real sense of belonging elsewhere.
There is a book out right now, a work of fiction based in the Borders by the author David P Elliot. The book is called ‘Clan’ and in amongst the text of the forward the author has this to say:
'We live in a time when politicians seek to keep us in fear in an effort to make us docile and controllable. They tell us much about how they will protect us, how they will deliver us from evil, if we are just prepared to put our faith, trust, but mostly our liberty, in their hands.
I have no belief in politicians – perhaps it is the Border blood that makes me instinctively distrust those who seek power over others. I believe in Family and Friends. Ultimately, I believe in Clan'.
I agree entirely with the above paragraphs and the time has come now when we should look past all that self-serving drivel and those platitudes of the politicians and the elite, and take a long hard look at what has been created in our name. In a country that has stolen many of the rights and freedoms of its people, and perverted their aspirations and desires into grotesque supplications at the altar of greed and selfishness, there can be no unquestioning national loyalty from those who reject such money grubbing attempts at social dictation.
All that exists for those who reject the siren song of greedy global capitalism and mindless mass consumption is a loyalty to Family and Clan. A strong sense of our familial and cultural belonging allows us to reject all that seeks to bind us to the soul-destroying treadmill of consumerism, and the depressingly avaricious acquisition of money for its own sake.
©Copyright - James of Glencarr