Some events around Peace Day 19 July 1919, as reported in the Melbourne press over one week
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It was never more true than it is to-day that the policeman’s lot is not a happy one. This applies with particular emphasis to those members of the Victorian force whose duty it is to preserve order in the streets of Melbourne.
The developments of the last few days have engendered a feeling of intense hostility to them on the part of a section of the community, including a section of returned soldiers, and the very appearance of a constable has now much the same effect as we are told that the red rag has to the bull.
The use of the baton on Saturday night, whether it was justifiable or not, has undoubtedly led to the creation of a most serious state of affairs, which, it is hoped, will be speedily brought to an end in the interests of the community as a whole. One or other, or perhaps both, of the contending parties may be in the wrong, and the sooner the points of difference are settled the better it will be for the general welfare. Already one poor fellow, who had served his country well as a member of the now world-famed A.I.F., has lost his life, and surely every effort will be made by both sides to terminate a situation which is fraught with further possibilities of that kind.
The hope was generally entertained that the events of Saturday Sunday and Monday were the outcome of the excitement of the Peace day celebrations... Unfortunately that did not prove to be the case. After a morning that was quite normal another serious conflict with the police, in which a large number of returned soldiers prominently figured, took place in Swanston-street in the afternoon. In a flash the whole thoroughfare, from Flinders-street to Collinsstreet, was filled with a surging mass of people, and the only two policemen in the vicinity had a most trying experience.
The Swanston-street Riot.
Further wild scenes of riot and disorder occurred yesterday afternoon in Swanston-street between Flinders-street and Collinsstreet when for nearly an hour a pitched battle raged between police on the one side and a number of excited returned soldiers and their sympathisers on the other.
The trouble started soon after the passing of the returned soldier who was killed as the result of a bullet wound received during Sunday night’s affray outside the Victoria Barracks. It had been announced that the funeral would pass through the city on the way to Coburg Cemetery during the afternoon. The returned soldiers as a body had displayed considerable interest in the event, and early afternoon crowds of the men were assembled in Swanston-street outside the rooms of the Returned Soldiers’ Association waiting to take their places in the funeral procession.
At the Base Hospital, St. Kilda-road, also, a large party was gathered at 3 p.m. when the coffin, draped with the Union Jack, was borne out and placed upon the gun carriage waiting in readiness. At the head of the line were some 70 returned men in uniform, led by three sailors, one bearing a large ensign. The gun carriage followed, crowned with wreaths, among them being a wreath from the Returned Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Imperial League, and following the carriage was a column of returned men in mufti, the mourners’ carriage being at the rear.
Shortly after 3 o’clock the cortege, watched by a reverent, bareheaded crowd, left the hospital, and in deep silence began the march towards the city, no word being spoken as the men of the different battalions swung along in step together, followed by the rumbling gun carriage.
In the meanwhile the crowd in Swanstonstreet had enormously increased. It was swelled by representatives
When the funeral cortege reached Princes-bridge the scene before it was an astonishing one. Swanston-street from Flinders-street to Collins-street was one black mass of waiting people. All traffic had been stopped, and onlookers were clustered like bees on the roofs of trams, at the windows, on the verandahs and along the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral.
The marching column moved slowly along through a narrow lane between the crowds, halting near the Returned Soldiers’ Association rooms for a moment, when a large number of returned men joined the procession. The march was then resumed through the city.
The silence was extraordinarily impressive. Despite the presence of the thousands who were massed on the pavements and in the roads, there was scarcely a sound to be heard save the measured tread of marching feet as the cortege passed along up Swanstonstreet and into Madeline-street en route for Coburg cemetery.
By this time the column had considerably increased, some 400 or 500 returned men in plain clothes following the gun carriage.
In Madeline-street near the Carlton Brewery a halt was called. The men fell into two ranks, while the mourners’ carriages passed to the front, and followed by the uniformed soldiers proceeded on their way.
The remainder of the procession then, after some hesitation, reformed ranks, and in a steady and orderly manner marched back into the city, now and again hailing “diggers” on the pavement, or indulging in good-humoured shouts of “Are we down-hearted? No.” “Shall we be pushed off the streets? No.”
Into the city and up to the Returned Soldiers’ Association rooms marched the men, halting with a cheer opposite the association rooms before “dismissing.” It was then, as the men streamed across the crowded street, that the trouble started. Suddenly a roar arose. “They’re after the police,” and an excited crowd surged into the centre of the street.
At the time the only members of the police on the spot were Constable Fennessey and Constable Allen, a returned man himself. The police story is that certain men made a dash for a van standing by the pavement, and that Constable Allen moved forward to intervene and to see what was happening.
The sight of a policeman in the centre of a mob apparently proved too much for the wilder spirits in the crowd, which had been largely reinforced by the lawless section of hoodlums from the outskirts of the city, ready for any mischief. A wild rush was made for the two policemen, and in a moment a fierce and dangerous free fight was raging in the centre of the street.
Attacked on all sides, now by hoodlums, now by angry soldiers, the police had to draw their batons, and to hit out vigorously about them. Here and there fights occurred among the crowd itself, while soldiers and others were endeavouring to restrain some of their wilder comrades...
For a time the police were very roughly handled. The roar of the dense crowd, which was swaying to and fro, rang above the clanging of the tram bells. A policeman’s helmet spun up into the air above the heads of the mob, and suddenly the appearance of half a dozen mounted troopers was the signal for hurling of sundry beer and soda water bottles from the pavements, while stones, which must have been brought for the occasion, ricocheted among the crowd.
The troopers aroused the particular hostility of the mob, including the soldiers, and as they laid about them with drawn batons, their horses plunging to and fro, determined attempts were made to pull them from the saddle, a number of women encouraging the attempt with shrill screams from the rear.
Time and again the troopers broke through the crowd, clearing a gap for a moment, only to be surrounded again when the baton was once more brought into play, blows being rained vigorously upon those who were clutching at bridle and saddle.
A particularly fierce rush at last resulted in the unhorsing of one trooper near the corner of Flinders-lane who was dragged from the saddle, and there was an ugly roar as he disappeared from view. He was compelled, it is stated, to draw his revolver to keep the crowd at bay while he extricated himself from the centre of the mob...
By this time practically all traffic had been blocked, while the crush on the pavements compelled many shopkeepers to close their doors, an example which was followed by hotelkeepers.
A brief lull in the fight at last occurred, when four of the mounted troopers galloped towards Flinders-street, wheeled, and came swinging back to Collins-street, scattering the crowd and reaching a more peaceable station for a while...
A minute or two later the mounted troopers, now reinforced by others who had been summoned soon after the riot started, began to plough their way once more through the crowds, endeavouring to break them up... they charged along the pavements under the verandahs and batons were again in use, although in the centre of the streets the mob scattered like leaves before the wind on the approach of the horses.
The crush by the shop windows was terrific, and many who were mere onlookers, drawn to the scene by curiosity... suffered the blows of batons or the pressure of the crowds as the horses passed by, clattering the stones. Women screamed, and men shouted warnings and threats. Then one or more bottles were flung... but did no damage, and in a few more minutes the riot was at an end.
Very large reinforcements of police from Russell-street had by now concentrated on the scene, one body marching unexpectedly upon the crowd down Flinders-lane, and in another quarter of an hour they had the crowd on the move, although the streets were still thronged.
Traffic was then once more freely resumed.
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