The Belfast Riots.
The correspondent of a Home paper, in an article dealing with the recent police and labour troubles in Belfast, in which three persons were killed, remarks : A thin khaki line was drawn across one of the streets. In the shelter at the corners were other men of the Royal Sussex Regiment standing where the stones could not reach them. The police, too, were beyond the reach of immediate harm. But what shall I say of that khaki line? If ever men stood up before a mob to be pelted those men did. From my " window I could see the stones ricochetting at their feet. Sometimes a head was deftly turned aside as a stone wdiipped past it. Every now and then a lamp or a window was broken. After standing fifteen minutes of it, the men were ordered to rush the mob. With the rifles at the carry, they dadhed forward, accompanied by the magistrate and the district inspector. Fifty paces along the street they made a stand, but no discipline in the world could have brazened out those volleys of stone. In vain the men dodged. In vain they sprang this way and that way as the missiles fell around and about. At last they could stand it no longer.
In an ungovernable moment they made the mistake of returning the fire, and soon the space between the mob and the troops was dark with flying stones. Backed up by other reinforcements the mob grew bolder. From my window I could hear their hoarse cries coming nearer, aMd the nearpr they came the further retreab ed the soldiers. Time and again did the magistrate flourish his stick, lime and again did he roar out warnings of retaliation. The crowd met his warnings with jeers, and the troops retreated on the stree, just beneath my window, where they stood ®nc® more a line of tense white faces.
I could see the men’s nerves working with excitement ; they fumbled at the triggers of their rifles, and start-
e'd forward as if bursting- to get at their tormentors. Behind them paced their officers, cool, calm, hut terribly in earnest.
Suddenly the order rang out, "Fix bayonets.” The bayonets went home with a rasp, and as the men fixed them, the mob jeered and yelled a derisive challenge to come on. At this moment a dozen policemen made a dive down a side street and returned with a prisoner.- At the same time a wounded Tommy limped by leaning on the arms of his commander. The * khaki line made a note of the incident and ground its teeth, and still the stones came scattering along the pavement, angry, vengeful, messages of defiance from the wild ragged army beyond. The troops -were splendid. Behind the'line some of the men were returning stone for stone, but those pale. silent men across the street I shall never forget. Once an officer was struck. He limped away to a wall, against which he leaned, nursing his hurt in silence. Now it was a Tommy struck on the head, the breast, or the legs, but still the men held on. They knew that their turn was yet to come, and it came at last all in one frenzied moment.
Regardless of the stones the magistrate stepped forward and read the Riot Act. He might have shouted it to the winds for all the effect it had. A stone whizzed by and he stepped back. I saw him raise his stick and the sign was quickly answered with “Ball cartridge. Load, present, fire!” Those thousands of stones were at last answered. Tongues of red, angry flame spurted forth from the rifles, and for the first time in the history of these riots she troops had fired. Women who had taken shelter with me in the shop screamed, and the faces that had been peering out of other windows bobbed into oblivion. Cautiously peering out I saw the rifles go up once again, and again the rifles spoke. Another order and the troops dashed along the street. God help any man who had stayed to look at those glistening bayonets. The crowd gave one more yell and fled down the side streets, from which the soldiers presently emerged, and once more mounted guard at their old corner. Presently a rioter passed by in the grasp of three policemen. The breast of his shirt was open and the flesh seemed to be streaming with blood. Since my first message I have paid another visit to the scene of the rioting. Row that the heat and passion of the moment have passed away I cannot help being struck with the awful pity of it all.
Permanent link to this item
The Belfast Riots., Southern Cross, Volume 15, Issue 25, 12 October 1907
The Belfast Riots. Southern Cross, Volume 15, Issue 25, 12 October 1907
Using This Item
See our copyright guide for information on how you may use this title.