A Sense Of Belonging – Episode 12

Not long afterwards, as he joined the throng of workers heading to the Low Mill, Euan was surprised to hear the sound of raised, angry voices coming from round the corner outside the gates.

He turned to his neighbour, Bob Smart, a cart-driver, also known as “Big Bob” because of his height and physical strength.

“Surely there cannae be trouble wi’ yon protesters again? Have they no’ be warned? The management are fed up wi’ their protest marches,” he said.

The Union demonstration at Albert Square the week before had attracted a large number of Dundonian millworkers, reportedly over fifty thousand, and the campaign for fairer wages and job security had subsequently gathered momentum. Maggie Cruickshank, Euan had noticed, had been busy rallying more of the spinners who worked in the Low Mill and he suspected she was the one organising the daily protest marches.

It was a rebellious tactic, Euan thought, and he wanted no part in it. There was already talk of the decline in demand for jute leading to shorter hours at the mill, and unemployment was rising fast everywhere. Businesses were going bankrupt and factories were closing their doors. Some men were lucky enough to find much-needed jobs on the whaling boats, but Euan couldn’t imagine being away from Colleen and the bairns for months at a time. Life at the mill wasn’t easy, but it was better than being parted from his family.

“Serves ’em right if the management lock ’em out,” Bob declared in an unsympathetic voice.

Then, as they turned the corner and saw the chaotic scene that was unfolding in front of the gates, Euan found himself saying, “Are they aff their heids?”

More than a hundred millgirls were marching up and down, blocking the entrance to the mill, shouting at the top of their voices, waving placards and political banners, calling for other workers to join what they called “the urgent movement for social justice”. On the other side of the gates, several dark-suited factory managers were watching closely, arms folded, with scornful faces.

“This’ll end badly,” Bob said as he and Euan came to a halt. “If it’s a riot they want to start, they’d better be prepared fer what’s coming.” He gave Euan a nudge. “Look.”

Euan turned to his left.

Further up the street, there was a line of police on horseback, batons in hand, assembling.

He immediately turned to his right. It was the same. A line of 20 or so mounted constabulary, all armed with long black batons.

“God help them,” he said quietly.

Then, unsurprisingly, a familiar voice boomed over the crowd. It was Maggie Cruickshank, of course, telling the women not to be frightened, that unity and courage was necessary in order to force the management to take their demands seriously, that it was socialism versus capitalism, a battle to get workers the rights that they deserved.

“The voice o’ the workers is being heard here today!” she shouted. “Join us! Join our fight!”

The protesters cheered enthusiastically.

Euan was horrified. Could they not see the danger in what they were doing?

He watched with interest as a police sergeant slipped inside the gates to speak to one of the managers. His eyes flicked to the clock tower. It was nearly six. The works whistle would sound any second. But the protesters seemed unlikely to be ready to disperse.

His gaze returned to the police sergeant who was now walking slowly to the far edge of the railings where he stopped and waited, an emotionless look on his face, as if he knew exactly what was about to happen.

“Right,” Euan said, turning to look Bob straight in the eye. “We’re either getting in through those gates in the next ten seconds, or we’re going tae get caught up in something serious. And I dinnae ken about you, but I’d like tae keep my job.”

“Aye, same here,” Bob said, nodding. “Let’s go.”

Together they pushed forward through the protesters who’d stopped marching now and linked arms as if to gird themselves for action.

It was mayhem and Euan quickly found himself separated from Bob. He jostled his way as near to the gates as he could, but the sea of bodies had merged into one rigid, angry mob.

“Fair pay fer workers! Fair pay fer workers!” they shouted. He turned to see if he could retrace his steps. It was like his feet couldn’t find any ground to move on and he was stuck. Unable to proceed in any direction, he faltered. Then, just as he’d feared, as soon as the works whistle sounded, the police began their baton charge, and the protest turned to panic. Women began stumbling, falling to the ground, injuring themselves, as horses and batons tore ruthlessly through the crowd.

In a blur of violence and terror, Euan felt someone pulling on his sleeve, dragging him clear of the bedlam. Then, breathless, hardly able to comprehend the scale of what he was witnessing, but safely round the corner in the relative safety of Stobswell Loan, he realised that it was Bob who had helped him.

They exchanged horrified looks. Shocked, still catching their breath, neither of them spoke.

Then, a voice called out from nearby and Euan recognised it immediately.

“Nell!” he said as she ran towards him. “My God, lassie, get awa’ fae here!”

“Oh, Paw!” she cried. “Come hame! Maw’s in trouble!”


“Aye,” Nell went on, tears rolling down her face. “The baby’s come too fast!”

“You run ahead,” Bob said. “I’ll follow with Nell.”

When Euan reached the top of the stairs, Olive Bain was waiting for him.

“I’m sorry, son,” she said solemnly. “I tried tae help her, but she collapsed at my feet. It disnae look guid. I’ve sent Jean to fetch Nora Macpherson. She’ll ken whit tae dae.”

He staggered inside to find his beloved Colleen lying motionless on their bed.

“Colleen,” he said in a terrified whisper.

“I’m no’ frightened,” she said weakly.

And in that moment, he sensed nothing would ever be the same for them.


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