Cambridge peace march of May 1939


Some photo stills from the Mediatheque facility in Cambridge Central Library

Cambridge Central Library has a wonderful if somewhat under-used facility called the Mediatheque – run by the British Film Institute. It’s a splendid resource to access films not otherwise publicly available. I’ve uploaded a handful of stills from the film to this photo album to give you some snapshots. It’s worth visiting the library to see the video for yourselves.

The Cambridge Daily News of Mon 08 May 1939 quotes Cllr Alfred Stubbs of Labour (who later became an MP after the Second World War) speaking out against conscription. The mood was very much that the crisis was a crisis of capitalism, with another future Labour MP Fred Longden stating that if the fascist dictatorships of the time fell, then the UK’s system of capitalism would also fall – thus in his view explaining why Chamberlain was pro-appeasement.


Above – Mr Longden in his own words in the Cambridge Daily News, via the British Newspaper Archive – again, a wonderful resource.

One of the themes of the protest was the call for an alliance between Britain, France and the USSR/Soviet Union. (Modern day Russia and surrounding states).

“How does it read in the context of today?”

One of the things that fascinates me about old newspaper articles and archives is that at the time, there were a whole host of things that people would not have been aware of. For example Stalin’s purges and the horrors of the Second World War. Note that in this year, the Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain turned up to work every morning in a morning suit. That would be unheard of today.

The article also gives a very strong sense of the disparities of wealth – remember this was before the Beveridge Report (essential reading here) and the founding of the post-1945 welfare state. With the First World War still in people’s minds, and in particular the ‘war profiteers’, the quotations from the speakers give the sense of the powerful and wealthy being responsible for the situation of the day but not paying the price that the ordinary citizen would end up paying. For me the reading of these articles give an insight into why the UK voted in Clement Attlee’s Labour Party into power in 1945.


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