Charlie Baird Sr. : An Interview

6th June 1977

Antimilitarism, draft-resistanceGlasgow (Scotland) ALDRED, Guy Alfred (1886-1963)BAIRD, Charlie Sr.SHAW, EddieEdinburgh (Scotland, GB)RAESIDE, JimmyLEECH, Frank

Before the war I’d been sympathetic to the Communist Party, as early as

1 6 or 17 years of age. It wasn’t until the war, when Russia had signed

the pact with Hitler, that I started to have my doubts about the CP.

But even prior to that I’d drifted away from them. When the war

started, I took up the Conscientious Objector position, and finished

up, of course, in jail. It was in jail - I hadn’t been conscious that

there was such a movement as the libertarian movement, the anarchist

movement - I thought that the CP was the last thing in left-wing

movements.

I met two lads in prison (I also knew one prior to going in, who’d told

me to look out for these two lads); one was Jimmy Dick. He’d managed to

get some anarchist literature in. I went through that and discovered

that was what I’d been looking for. It was what I’d believed, even when

I was in the CP; I was dissatisfied with the centralised character of

the movement.

Then, of course, when we came out, there was an anarchist movement in

Glasgow at that particular time. We came out of jail and teamed up with

them. It was around 1942 when I came out of jail,and there were about 40

active members of the group. By 1944-45 it was probably around 70-80

members.

The peculiar thing about the Glasgow group was that there was no such

thing as recognised members of the group. The only way you could

recognise a regular member of the group was by his activities; there

were no things like membership cards or anything like that. The 70 or

80 would include the lads from Burnbank and Hamilton - miners, the

small groups out there with 3 or 4 members. They organised meetings

and we supplied them with speakers.

Edinburgh was the same. We’d contacts in Edinburgh who organised

meetings and we supplied them. There was an old diehard there, but you

couldn’t say there was a group. There were many sympathisers, right

enough, who were always there at the meetings. They were active insofar

as during the meetings they would go round with literature and a

collection. They were sympathetic and that was good enough for me.

There was an Italian lad who was the original contact; he had a cafe on

Leith Walk, but his father was very reactionary - pro-fascist - while

the lad was very revolutionary, very keen, but obviously under his

father’s influence. Nevertheless, you went through and saw him, and

organised the meetings at the Mound in Edinburgh.

We had the members in Glasgow, plenty of speakers: Jimmy Raeside, Eddie

Shaw, Jimmy Dick, Sammy Lawson, Frank Leech, Johnny Gartmore. But

Raeside and Shaw were the main speakers, they seemed to enjoy it. They

were good propagandists. Shaw was more the humorous type; he was a

satirist - he ridiculed the system in a humorous fashion which went

down big with the public. They got entertainment, and at the same time

they got the message. Raeside was a more serious type, very logical,

and enjoyed a debate - SPGB, Marxist Study Group. Raeside was the main

speaker; he’d an extensive knowledge of the movement. Even apart from

that he was an incredible speaker, very convincing. There were even

occasions when he was taken up on aspects of the struggle which he

wasn’t aware of. He could carry the audience with him.

Shaw and Raeside were highly developed social animals. Even in the

company of opposition they were very friendly - no chip on their

shoulder. They could walk into the company of Communists or Trotskyists,

who you’d find would be very careful, but Shaw and Raeside would walk

in, they wouldn’t have to be introduced. Shaw especially - he would

just wade into a company, any company at all.

Shaw was called up, but he’d made up his mind that he wasn’t going into

prison. So his case went to the High Court of Appeal in Edinburgh. Even

the "Evening Citizen" gave him a big front-page write-up "Glasgow

Anarchist Wins Case in High Court". He defended himself. Incidentally,

he was briefed by Guy Aldred - Guy prepared the case, but he handled it

himself. You can have the best case in the world, but you’ve got to

face the three highest judges in the land. The "Evening Citizen" said

he handled the case with force. That would be around 1944-45. I was

with him when he went to Edinburgh; it must have been about May or

June.

His case was very simple. He went through the usual process of being

called-up. They took you into custody when you were registered as a

conscript, the next you’d hear from them was when you had to go to

court. If you’re political you’ve no chance. Shaw went to the Sheriff

Court for sentence. You’re called into court twice, the first time

there was a CID man who was instructed to take you down to Dumbarton Rd

and the Army Doctor; you’ d refuse to go through the medical and they’d

bring you back to court a month after that. The CID man had been told

to take him down at 2pm, but he didn’t take him down until 4pm - and

this was Shaw’s case. When he got back to court, the judge sentenced

him to one year and Shaw said "I’m asking for a stated case". The judge

said "On what basis? You’ve no basis for a stated case". Shaw said "You

instructed the CID man to take me before the doctor at 2pm but I didn’t

get to the doctor until 4pm."

That was the case. It took them over an hour to settle it. Lord Thomson

presided and, what do you call him? they called him the Bloody Judge at

the time... Anyway there were the three of them. After Shaw had stated

his case "Are you going to allow CID men to flout the law; you’re going

to end up like Germany or Italy, where the people have no rights, you

know..." Lord Thomson said "Look Mr Shaw, you know you’ve no intention

of going to the army" and Shaw said "That’s right, but it’s the facts

of the case, not whether I’ll go to the army". A precedent had been

set, perhaps during the First World War, and it was Guy Aldred who’d

dug this one up. He’d told Shaw, if you have any trouble ask for access

to the court library and you’ll be able to get the chapter and page.

They were about to dismiss him when he did this and the three judges

hummed and hawed, and Lord Thomson said "All right then". The court

clerk went down and then handed it on to Thomson. Thomson just looked

at it with a look of disgust on his face and passed it on and said

nothing. So the appeal was upheld with expenses and the CID man was

called into the dock and given a dressing-down. When Shaw had

mentioned the basis of the case I’d said "Ach, no chance".

You’d people in the services who were anti-war and at the same time

were unattached. There was a common danger during the war which was the

common ground for people with political views like my own. We must

admit this - we’d huge meetings, particularly in Glasgow and Edinburgh,

but I think t his was due to the fact that there was always the danger

of someone being arrested, something violent happening, something

sensational. It was a very precarious position to take during the

war, especially in public when you’d troops, etc. You can imagine the

atmosphere. What did matter was that you recruited members at these

meetings, and, if not members, at least sympathisers who took papers

into the factories.

Judging by the attention that you got from the troops, apart from a few

hotheads, particularly the Americans and Canadians, the other lads used

to come and buy the paper and discuss it. We’d contacts with them too,

mainly the Air Force, I don’t know why the Air Force. There was no war

fever as such during the war, even among the troops and their families.

My own experience with the public was "Aye, that’s right, but what can

you do about it? The war’s there and Hitler’s there, and you have to

face up to him". The usual answer to that one was "You can’t beat

fascism by greater military force; fascism is inherent in the

capitalist system". It was the Empire, not the fact that Hitler was

killing the Jews or Poland - they sold Poland.

"War Commentary" was the paper at that time. It had tremendous sales in

Glasgow. And we’d all the Freedom Press literature - the pamphlets, the

books. We’d a bookshop in George St. (originally, I believe, with the

Marxist Study Group, but that was all over by the time I’d come out of

prison). Shaw and Leech had broken away, and later linked up with the

other groups in England and contacts in Scotland. The Anarchist

Federation of Britain was formed just after that.

The relations with Guy Aldred were very strained. I think one of the

main reasons was that Guy was a loner: he was a movement in himself.

There’s no question about the man’s integrity. He’d built up his

movement, made his international contacts. I suppose Guy was afraid

that someone could infiltrate and take over the movement by a process

of building up support and them getting a vote. His relationship to the

Anarchist Federation wasn’t very good. In spite of Guy’s help, Shaw

often attacked him, especially on the question of the ballot box. We

knew that Guy had no intention of going to parliament, but, in my

opinion it was stupid, you know, there was nothing to gain. He’d built

up such a reputation of integrity and consistency that I thought it was

awful foolish that he should sacrifice all this.

One of Guy’s old members was a man by the name of Frank Leech, a

peculiar character. He was bourgeois through-and-through. He’d a

good-going business, a general store. He was very friendly with the

Freedom Press and used to make contact with Freedom Press in a private

capacity. I was the Secretary of the AFB at that time and all

correspondence was supposed to go through me, but Leech would never

accept this. Personally, it didn’t matter to me - as long as the

movement was there and was working. You’d never get a group where that

wouldn’t happen, but it all depends on the extent to which it goes on.

We were a great source of income to Freedom Press, but they didn’t seem

to put any account on that at all. We thought they had a function, they

thought we had a function, and that was just to distribute the

literature and send the proceeds down. This didn’t go down at all with

most of the members.

When the split took place it wasn’t at a business meeting or a

conference. It’s difficult even now to understand how it happened the

way it did and why it happened. It was just suddenly that a section

didn’t turn up at a business meeting - that was Leech, Shaw, Raeside

and some followers. That would be around November 1944. The reason was

a general disillusionment with the way the group was being run. Leech

was the source of all this and Shaw supported him - he was somewhat

dependent on Leech. The big fellow had a lot of money and Shaw was

taking time of work to do meetings up and down the country. Raeside

had got married and bought a horse-drawn caravan and travelled up and

down the country. Shaw and Raeside decided to go abroad. Shaw had boys

of 13 and 15 and for the boys sake he was clearing out, of course

you’d have conscription in Canada anyway. And Raeside went to

Australia.

Anyway we carried on, me and the wife and some other lads, we carried

on for a year. This must have been shortly after the war. We held

meetings at the corner of Wellington St. It took a toll on me, the

outdoor speaking, it’s a hell of a strain physically. Mentally it

didn’t bother me, in fact latterly I began to enjoy it. Then one of the

other speakers, a lad called Bill Gollan, fell into bad health and died

in Knightswood Hospital of tuberculosis. When the war ended the common

danger ended too. And finally the wife and I were left... By this time

the breakaway group were about finished too. They held meetings in

Maxwell St. Leech died suddenly. He was a big heavy man, he’d heart

trouble, and Shaw and Raeside went to Canada and that was the end of

that.