Forshaw John (Jack)
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John (Jack) Forshaw
Jack Forshaw was a largely unsung martyr of the 1926 General Strike, a man whose authorship of the leaflet `A Great Betrayal’ led to his untimely death in a cell, due to neglect by the authorities of a serious medical condition.
John Forshaw, always known as Jack, was born in 1880 and became active in the socialist movement at the turn of the century, joining the Clarion Cycling Club. He worked at Slotter and Sharper, becoming a shop steward for the Workers Union and member of the Social Democratic Federation (SDF), later the British Socialist Party (BSP). Forshaw represented South Salford BSP branch at the Unity Conventions that established the Communist Party in August 1920, along with two other representatives, Herbert Addy and A.A. “Alfred” Purcell. As a founding member of the Communist Party, Forshaw was the first Secretary of Salford Communist Party and active in the National Unemployed Workers Movement (NUWM) in the early 1920s.
Naturally, as a leading local Communist, he was at the forefront of events in Greater Manchester during the 1926 General Strike. Manchester District’s Communist Party produced a leaflet, entitled “A Great Betrayal”, which attacked the role of the trade union and Labour Party leadership (the text is reproduced below).
“A Great Betrayal
The General Council of the Trades Union Congress has not had unconditionally surrendered to the Government. Without any guarantees, the General Council has called off the General Strike - and abandoned the fight against wage reductions for the miners. This is a betrayal not only of the miners, but of the whole working class.
Already the Bosses have exploited the weakness of our leadership by demanding that all workers on the Railways will be locked out unless they sign a New Entrants clause.
Our first loyalty is not to frightened leaders - but to the whole working class The General Council surrendered at a moment when the solidarity of the workers was unparalleled .when the O.M.S. was breaking down, and when victory was in sight.
The Communist Party which until now has wholeheartedly supported the General Council feels it their duty in face of the miserable surrender of that body to call upon the whole of the working class to refuse to return to work until a guarantee has been obtained from the Government that for the miners there shall be no wage reductions, no longer hours, and no District Agreements.
We call upon all workers who have returned, to cease work, and to convene conferences of Strike Committees to decide upon action in support of the miners.
Communist Party of Great Britain, Manchester District Committee”
The authorities also took action against the Communist Party for issuing the leaflet, which had been duplicated on Thursday 13th May on the very machine that Jack Forshaw kept in his house at 4, Peacock Street in the Adelphi. Although many copies were distributed that day from early in the morning it was not until 11.15 on Friday morning that policemen, led by Detective Inspector Smith, armed with a search warrant, went to Peacock Street.
Jack Forshaw was not at home when they arrived. Prior to the strike, the Salford Communist Party branch funds (the branch had been raising money to pay for premises) were, of course, in an account in the name of the Party. Deciding that the funds were liable to be confiscated, Forshaw withdrew the money and placed it in his daughter's account. As the strike ended, he went to the bank and withdrew £100 intending now to replace it in the original account. Unfortunately, he called in to his house first, while the money was still in his pocket. There, he walked straight into the detectives and was promptly arrested. The police had found thirty five copies of the leaflet, the original typewritten master of the leaflet, a typewriter corresponding to the type used in the leaflet and the stencil of the leaflet still attached to the duplicator.
A number of Party members who had copies of the leaflet in their possession were also arrested. George Dodd, Boston Dunn, Harold Hicks, David John Davies, Hugh Graham and Hyman Lieberman (Hymie Lee) were all charged under the Emergency Power Regulations at Salford Police Court with having in their possession a document headed "A Great Betrayal", which was likely to “cause disaffection among the civil population”.
Jack Forshaw was defended in court by Mr. Davy who contended that the document would not cause disaffection and that the Search Warrant, not having been issued by a Magistrate, was not a legal instrument. In spite of his efforts, Mr. P W Atkin, the Stipendiary Magistrate, found Forshaw guilty. He was remanded in custody until the following Monday. Of the others, Hughie Graham was discharged, Dunn and Hicks were allowed Bail until the Monday and Dodd, Davies and Lieberman were remanded with Forshaw in custody.
Over the weekend, Jack Forshaw became seriously ill. He was a diabetic, then a very serious condition indeed. It had only begun to be widely treatable by insulin in Canada three years before and was highly expensive and still not widely available in Britain, which of course had an entirely private medical system. It is extremely unlikely that Forshaw was able to afford the drug. Consequently, he must have relied entirely upon diet to control his hypoglycemic levels and needed special food, a fact which was communicated to the authorities. Even so, he was put in a cold cell and refused the services of a doctor, although he was obviously already in poor health. Harold Hicks was in the same cell as Forshaw and wrote a statement in which he described what actually happened on Friday night, 14th May, in Salford Town Hall Cells.
"After we were examined in the Charge Room, we were removed to the cells, and John Forshaw told the Officer that he wanted to see a doctor as he was a diabetic case. No doctor was sent, although he reminded the warden. At night, he asked the warden for the loan of blankets and the warden said he would see about them. About eleven o'clock on Friday night, John Forshaw complained of the cold and again requested blankets. The warden made reply that he was not allowed to give blankets to us.
Later on we asked the warden to close two little windows set right at the top, but he said he was not allowed to do so, but he said he would put some more steam on.
I had to put my jacket on Forshaw to try and keep him warm, but he was shivering with cold all night. John Forshaw, whilst talking to me next morning told me that if he took bad in a few days, that night was responsible for it as he could hardly rest because of the intense draft of cold air in the cell".
When Forshaw returned to Court on Monday, he was fined exactly the £100 which had been found on him when he was arrested and he was also sentenced to one month's imprisonment. The other defendants were bound over in their own sureties. Workers' International Relief then went into action and obtained bail for Jack Forshaw and he was released pending an appeal against the sentence at the Quarter Sessions. However, he had contracted pneumonia whilst in prison and within a few days he was dead. Even back then such an outcome was understood to be an almost certain conclusion of untreated diabetes mellitus.
At the Quarter Sessions the Recorder, Mr. A.M. Langdon, was accompanied by the Mayor, Alderman Delves. Mr. P.M. Oliver contended that the death of the appellant was no bar to the hearing. This view was contested by Mr. E.M. Fleming who submitted that the appeal could not proceed. The Recorder agreed and then struck out the appeal saying that he had no jurisdiction to proceed.
At his funeral at Manchester crematorium six members of the local Communist Party carried the coffin draped with a red flag through the cemetery, followed by a large procession, while the organ played the Red Funeral march followed by the Red Flag. J (Charlie?) Rutter spoke for Salford Communist Party and Morris Ferguson for Manchester District Communist Party
As with many other events in working class history Jack Forshaw’s deeds and death at the hands of the establishment have largely gone un-recorded but, even as a footnote to working class history, we should not forget the injustice done to him in those heady days of May 1926.
Sources: Workers Weekly 18th June 1926; Salford Star; Ruth & Edmund Frow in `The Communist Party in Manchester 1920-1926’