The Battle of Stockton

How a town in North Eastern England fought back against Fascism

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By September 1933, the town of Stockton-upon-Tees near Middlesbrough was one of many in the UK suffering though the economic hardship triggered by the Great Depression. The post WW1 high had long since been replaced by tougher times which were to be heightened by the rise of Fascism across the English Channel. Despite attempts from fascist organisations, this town would become an example of how Britain was to reject almost entirely the most horrific of political statuses.

On September 10th, the British Union of Fascists (or the Black shirts as they were more commonly known) planned to hold a rally in the town of Stockton. It was decided by the BUF that the statement of intent should be made in a town such as Stockton to try to capitalise on the frustrations of the people hit hardest by the economic downturn. These people lived and worked in working class towns and Stockton ticked the box.

Adolf Hitler had risen to power in Germany by using the despair of the downtrodden masses to his own gain. The BUF wanted to do the same but underestimated the viewpoints of Stockton. The organisations leader, Captain Vincent Collier, led approximately 300 black shirts from Tyneside, Manchester and Lancashire who had arrived by coach to the south banks of the River Tees by Thornaby. The group then marched into Stockton with the aim of having Captain Collier carry out a rally. Unbeknownst to them, around 3,000 anti-fascist protestors lay in wait. Heckling and spitting rained down on the BUF before the group were eventually told to leave the High Street by the small number of police present in the town at the time. The retreat took them into Silver Street, allowing time for regrouping.

Extra police eventually arrived to break up the two sides which had grown increasingly violent throughout the day. The BUF were herded back onto their coaches and away from the protestors having failed to imprint their fascist ideologies on a group of people they felt would be ready for a right-wing answer to their questions.

The BUF hugely underestimated the strength and unity of Stockton and they never anticipated such a large, organised operation against them. they had seen the successful rise of their movement overseas and saw the opportunity to spread Nazism in the UK. Fortunately, the people of Stockton told the BUF what the country would say later in the decade: we do not want fascism. The organisation saw fascism as the nations answer to economic depression, they had seen Germany forced into adopting the ways of the Nazis and tried to promote the ideals in Britain. However, they were shown that their ways could not be enforced on British people. Only the full weight of Nazi Germany would have a chance of doing this, fortunately this situation would never come to pass.

The Battle of Stockton is not a well-known event, it is somewhat eclipsed by the Battle of Cable Street in London several years later. However, it is perhaps more significant as it highlighted the resistance of northern working-class towns. The BUF felt they could start a nationwide movement towards fascism amongst those most affected by the economic depression. However, the resistance of the anti-fascist protestors to the BUF attempts made sure that fascism was quashed in this part of England. six years later, much of the city would join with the rest of the UK to fight against Nazism in continental Europe.

Whatever the mindset of the BUF and Captain Collier, they would not be taken into consideration by Germany. Operation Sealion, the planned invasion of Britain, had Middlesbrough and Stockton in mind. The steelworks and shipyards were to be bombed out of action during bombing raids to numb the British war effort and pave the way for a successful invasion of Britain. The support of a few hundred British fascists would be of little concern to the Nazi high command.

Stockton-on-Tees is not the most recognisable name in Britain, but for a day in 1933 it was a town which was a microcosm of what was to come: total rejection of a Fascist way of life. The heart of Stockton would be torn out later in the century, yet in the 1930s Stockton was a symbol of how to oppose a form of politics which was inflicting suffering to millions across the world.

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