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Module Three - Workshop Three

On The Parish. 1934 – 1937. The Writer as Historian and Dramatist.



 Christopher Hilliard: To Exercise Our Talents, P.105

In introducing this, the eleventh workshop of the George Garrett Archive course, Tony Wailey, in situating and contextualising George Garrett and his work, opened by reflecting back on the previous workshop where we discussed the great slump, the great depression and the 1929 crash. Because of the level of need displayed through mass unemployment, and as a results of the protests against both that and the poor levels of maintenance generally provided by the poor-law parish guardians, there was more state assistance available to the unemployed. But, the sheer length of the recession and the recession meant that a whole generation had grown up with mass unemployment as a permanent feature of their life. For many, Garrett included, ten years could pass with little more than a week or two of casual work to be had. As an interesting contrast to this back ground, Tony quoted from Eric Hobsbawm’s ‘Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century. 1914-1991’:

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Module Three - Workshop Two

On The Parish. 1926 – 1939. From Seaman to Writer to Advocate.


In a continuation of a landmark series of introductions, both discussing and contextualising George Garrett’s life and work, Tony Wailey this week began by exploring how extreme financial dogmatism permeated the period of the 1920’s and 1930’s. Nowhere is this seen better than the great crash of 1929, which draws the world into its vortex. Britain had returned to the Gold Standard of 1913 in the hope it would return the country to pre-war prosperity. Wall Street crashes under a surfeit of credit. In 1932 an incredible 50% of mortgages were broken. Out of the country’s debt of $6.5bn $1.9bn was on motor cars. In the US everything had been put on the consumer boom, white goods and cars – consumer durables.

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Module Three - Workshop One

On The Parish. The General Strike to another War 1926-1930


George arrives back in Liverpool at the end of the General Strike, to witness ‘Strikers and Policemen playing football together’, a metaphor for everything now being ‘boxed-off’ inpreparation for a return to normal conditions. What he returns to is a country with a deep residue of Imperialism running through it. The General Strike wasn’t wanted by the ruling class, nor by the union leadership, one of whom commented that he ‘feared the working class more than the capitalist class.’

The Government had returned the country to the gold standard of 1913, hoping to hark back to the pre-war days of prosperity. It had a catastrophic effect upon British industry. Business wanted wage cuts for it to be able to survive. The wage cuts in the mining industry led to a major strike of the miners. This led directly to the calling of the General Strike.


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Module Two - Workshop Four

Last years in the States. A Playwright Amongst Stokers. 1924-26.


It’s a question of identity. How did George travel from the image of his early days as a Stoker, or even from the  ‘Coney Island Boy’ of 1919, to the image taken when he enters the States, for the second time, in 1923, when he appears to have modelled himself upon the writers of the day, going by the name George Oswald James?
Who was George Oswald James? That’s an open question. The issues really is about where were the influences coming from that he was absorbing; and the answer to that, as we discussed before, lies in the plays of the new radical, Eugene O’Neill, with Far Horizon, Anna Christie and The Hairy Ape. It seems likely that George has already written, or begun writing, his short stories. The Irish tramp writer, Jim Phelan, who first met Garrett (or Joe Jarrett as he refers to him in ‘The Name’s Phelan’) in New Orleans, talks about how Garrett already referred to himself as a writer. It’s most likely, with stories already in his bag, that Garrett’s head was turned by the new drama pouring forth from New York, which would have chimed well with his ‘Wobbly’ sensibilities of mixing theatre and song with a radical message.
Garrett is in New York and needs to earn money. In the middle of the prohibition era (1920-33) he works in a brewery; While seemingly living under the radar he takes a job as a janitor in a Police Station. He lives on East 42nd Street, a bohemian time. The age of prohibition is also the age of the mobster. Like a real life Zelig, he’s even on hand to witness the aftermath of the murder of the legendary boxer ‘Battling Siki’.
During his time in New York there is a major world-wide strike of British shipping. The strike was provoked by a union-imposed wage cut. Seamen, realising they couldn’t walk off at home, who now had to apply for a 'PC5 system' which allowed the Shipping Federation and the union to decide who could work on the ships, began to walk off ships in ports across the world outside of the UK – New York, Montreal, New Zealand, Auckland, etc. A strike against Empire.

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Module Two - Workshop Three

George Oswald James. 1922 – 24.


With the 1922 Hunger March over, George realises his prospects in Liverpool are no better. Leader of the unemployed demonstrations, arrested as one of the leaders at the walker Art Gallery ‘riots’ in Liverpool; George knows his name will be first among equals on the blacklist. With a growing young family to provide he heads to Southampton, gets work on the Homeric, and sails once again for his beloved New York. But this is a different George Garrett than the one who sailed before. He’s not just sailing for money, he’s leaving Liverpool to find some space to write. He boards the Homeric as George Garrett and alights in New York as George Oswald James; just one of the many pseudonyms he used throughout his life.

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Module Two - Workshop Two

Babe Ruth to Coney Island. 1918 – 1920.


This week we looked at the issue of Ireland in relation to George Garrett, and in particular, the strike on the New York docks in August 1920, which centred on the Cunard ship, The Baltic, and Dr. Mannix, an Irish-born Australian Catholic bishop, who became the Archbishop for Melbourne, Australia. Dr. Mannix was known for his sympathy and support for the Irish struggle for liberation and independence, and was travelling from Australia, where he had been seen off by a rally of 200,000 at Circular Quay in Sydney, through San Francisco and New York, to visit England and Ireland, where mass meetings and processions were being prepared to greet him; Scotland Road in Liverpool was already decked with bunting in his honour. In New York sections of The Baltic’s crew, mainly Stewards, walked off in protest at him sailing. They were persuaded to return, but the engine and deck crew then walked off and refused to return if he wasn’t allowed to sail. 15,000 people poured down to Pier 60 and Mannix was finally brought aboard and the ship allowed to sail for Liverpool. However, a British frigate intercepted The Baltic just off the Cornish coast, and Mannix was removed from the ship and held under virtual house arrest in Penzance.

At the same time the Mayor of Cork, Alderman Terence McSwiney, who had been arrested and moved to Brixton Prison for his activities in the campaign for independence, was on hunger strike. In George Garrett’s papers there are two pages from an unidentified book, with a picture and an article about McSwiney, labelled ‘1920’ in pencil, in George Garrett’s handwriting.

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Module Two - Workshop One

From Beachcomber to East 42nd Street.


Garrett’s experience of America, and that of so many others who worked, on land or at sea, revealed the flip side of Fitzgerald’s ‘Jazz Age’. Not for them the endless parties and pointless conversations, but rather the daily struggle to work and keep on working. Although, in post-war New York, with mass immigration, boom-time economy and a flourishing of hope, people in all strata of society weren’t immune to a feeling of hope after much sacrifice. People were poor, but not by the standards of Europe, but they were rich with ideas. Garrett finds himself in the melting pot, jumping ship with the agreement of his wife, Grace, who waits for him to earn money to send back home. It’s a seeming contradiction – an economic boom, where America finds itself the dominant world economy, although it is yet to assume its dominant role, and bohemian nirvana, where radical ideas of all persuasions hang out together. There is a boom un the US home market, in consumer durables; radio, TV, etc., and the film industry is assuming its dominant role in world culture. Tony Wailey quotes  Jose Luis Borges, saying ‘if you want to talk about a place, imagine yourself in another’. It seems being in New York has this effect upon Garrett.

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Module One - Workshop Four

From The Walker Art Gallery to the First Hunger March.


Detective Sergeant John Barnes, in a written report of the unemployed demonstrations in Liverpool throughout September 1921, held in the lead up to the Police attack upon the demonstrations at The Walker Art Gallery, reports hearing George Garrett speaking at one of the meetings along the way. Garrett, he quotes, said he was,
‘Taking a stand for the working class of this country against the parasites living on the workers. “They are living over there” pointing to the North western Hotel “and they will have to come out of it. In 1914 you fought for your King and Country but why should you fight for a man simply because he wears and ermine collar and has a crown of jewels. It is the wealth of that which you produce and must get. When this is done you will share equally the good things of life and that time will witness the end of unemployment and distress in this country. I do not want to say any more but will close my remarks by saying, “To hell with 1914, up 1921”.’

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Module One - Workshop Three

Radicals Under Pressure – Vigilance and Marching On


The end of WW1 sees the world beginning to close down; the control of the individual states grows as they begin to police their citizens and decide, who are the ‘correct’ members, who are the interlopers, and most importantly, who are the carriers of dangerous ideas? In this our third session of the course, Tony explored the period leading up to 1920 when Britain, although one of the victors of the war, finds its Empire on the wane. Germany, defeated, will be made to pay, while Russia, in the midst of a civil war following the revolution of 1917, is also out of the economic picture. Quoting from The Common People by GDH Cole, Tony explained that by the end of 1918 300,000 soldiers were unemployed. At the time this was regarded as a catastrophe, but by 1920 this figure had grown to one and a half million and had ballooned to 2 million by the end of 1921. After the ‘war to end all wars’, things were getting worse rather than getting better.

In 1918 George Garrett, now married with his first son, Matty, and with the agreement of his wife Grace, who was prepared to eke out a living until he could send money home,  went straight to America, to New York. The conditions on the American ships were better, but he was attracted to the radical life there, and was soon active with The Wobblies.

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Module One - Workshop Two

From Stowaway to a Seaman at War.


Tony’s introduction to our second workshop, covered a lot of ground, and the amount of discussion following his introduction and in the workshops went further and deeper into this area of Garrett’s life. George is back from his travels in South America and into the War in 1914 that Tony argued sees the world beginning to close down; opportunities for unimpeded travel become limited and for the first time the Merchant Marine, and its representatives in the Seamen’s Union, formed in the white heat of battle in 1911, are pulled back from radicalism towards nationalism. The development of the dreaded U-boats, which Hobsbawm argues are the only weapon to have a major effect upon the First World War, wreak havoc on the Merchant Fleet, which prior to the U-boat received little in the way of escorts from the Royal navy. Garrett, although not under threat from a U-boat but from a destroyer, has direct experience of dangers of war on his first ship, The Potaro, which is scuttled by the German seamen after the crew of The Potaro are given just fifteen minutes to abandon the ship. The SS Potaro was a British Merchant Steamer of 4,419 tons. On the 10th January 1915 when 560 miles E by N ¼ N (true) from Pernambuco, off the coast of Brazil, she was captured by the German Auxiliary Cruiser SMS Kronprinz Wilhelm and scuttled. We believe that Garrett, who was taken aboard the Kronprinz Wilhelm and forced to sign a declaration against taking up arms again against the Germans, may have been transferred to an internment camp in Buenos Aires from which he later escaped. George would have felt as though he was on familiar ground, as only a few years before he had spent some time wandering and working across South America prior to sailing back to Liverpool to sign on for the war. The Kronzprinz captured many ships, and took, politely apparently, all the crew and passengers from each ship on board, and held them while searching for other ships to capture. Here is a link to an amazing account published in The New York Times in 1915 of the experience of the prisoners held on board the Kronprinz for six weeks. And look out at the end for a fascinating insight into why, in April 1918, George Garrett writes to The Royal Mail Steam Packet Company requesting confirmation that he was forced to sign the above mentioned declaration.

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