Liverpool students in riot

19 March 1968

Today, Guild Gazette reports on last week’s big Vietnam demonstration in London, and the involvement of students from Liverpool University:

40 students from Liverpool University went down to London last Sunday to join a crowd, estimated by one policeman at 25,000, to protest against the Vietnam war and in support of the NLF.

The fun started even before they reached London, when the coach in which they were travelling was searched by police on the look-out for petrol bombs and other weapons.  Nothing was found, however, and the coach was allowed to proceed.

The demonstration was preceded by a rally in Trafalgar Square, and a march along Charing Cross Road to Grosvenor Square.  On the march the police several times tried to separate the section in which the Liverpool contingent were marching from the rest.  But pressure of numbers could not be resisted, and the Liverpool banners surged on triumphant.

At the demonstration itself, members of the Liverpool group helped rescue several arrested demonstrators, but not without loss to themselves.  One student was kicked in the stomach by a police horse and was later taken to hospital.

Nearly all the universities in the country were represented, although some were depleted after having their coaches searched.  In some cases marbles, pepper and imitation blood were found.

This was the report in the Guardian yesterday, 18 March:

300 arrested after Vietnam protest

Britain’s biggest anti-Vietnam war demonstration ended in London yesterday with an estimated 300 arrests; 86 people were treated for injuries, and 50, including 25 policemen, one with a serious spine injury, were taken to hospital. Demonstrators engaged police – mounted and on foot – in a protracted battle throwing stones, firecrackers, and smoke bombs. Plastic blood added a touch of vicarious brutality.

It was only after considerable provocation that police tempers began to fray and truncheons started to be used. The demonstrators seemed determined to stay until they had provoked a violent response of some sort, and this intention became paramount once they entered Grosvenor Square.

Later Commander John Lawlor, in charge of the police covering the demonstration, said: “The organisers had no control over their supporters and as a result the agreed arrangements were not carried out. The demonstration degenerated into a disorderly rabble.”

After marching from Trafalgar Square with Vanessa Redgrave, among others, at their head, thousands of young people burst into the gardens in front of the American Embassy. After clashes lasting more than an hour, the demonstrators were forced back by policemen. Small groups of demonstrators made for the Dorchester and Hilton hotels but did not succeed in getting in.

Mr Peter Jackson, Labour MP for High Peak, said last night that he would put down a question in the House of Commons today about “unnecessary violence” by police; especially the use of mounted police. Earlier members of the Monday Club, including Mr Patrick Wall, MP, and Mr John Biggs-Davidson, MP, had handed in letters expressing support to the United States and South Vietnamese embassies.

Mr David Bruce, the American Ambassador, issued a statement in which he thanked the police. “We are most grateful for the magnificent way the police handled the attack on the embassy.”

More than 1,000 police were waiting for the demonstrators in Grosvenor Square. They gathered in front of the Embassy while diagonal lines stood shoulder to shoulder to cordon off the corners of the square closest to the building.

About 2,000 spectators had gathered at the corners of the square to wait for the demonstrators, among them a few hundred Conservatives and Monday Club supporters who shouted such slogans as “Bomb, bomb the Vietcong” and “Treason” when scattered knots of anarchists leading the procession marched past them.

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Author: Gerry

Retired college teacher living in Liverpool, UK.

One thought on “Liverpool students in riot”

  1. I do remember this event very well. It was indeed a riot; and far from pleasant, to be frank.

    The Liverpool contingent was perhaps a little larger than 40, once those not travelling on the coach were added. The coach itself was held at Hendon Way while we were searched. There were no incidents that I can recall; police behaviour gave no concern either.

    As we approached Grosvenor Square, off Oxford Street, the police ahead had formed a barrier in the square to cut off the streets entering it. Hence our part of the march was contained in the narrow confile of North Audley Street. We were near the front off this group, but immediately behind us we had the far larger, much better organised and rather fearsome contingent from Essex University (including, I know, Lord, then Dave, Treisman now head of the FA).

    Unable to move forward, but squashed hard by the pressure of those behind, we spent an uncomfortable few minutes. Ahead we could hear things kicking off. Then suddenly the pressure from the rear eased. We’d somehow edged forward several yards, but the Essex mob hadn’t followed.

    I turned to see what was going on, and blanched! Fifteen yards back, a solid phalanx of people, arms tightly linked, chanting loudly, were bouncing up and down as a unit in the street. It was pretty obvious what was going to happen next!

    On the gallop, they crashed full pelt into us, propelling this part of the march, like a cork from a bottle, down the street at great pace, through the police line, and into the Square.

    Job done? Not quite. As the police line splintered, they lashed out at anyone. Worse, the Square was surround by low fencing and a hedge. Since we were unsighted and had plenty to worry about at head level, several people went sprawling through hedge and fence as the surge of people pushed through. I fell on top of someone, my feet tangled in hedge; others trampled over me. I recall the smell of grass & mud; and my blood ran cold as, at ground level, I saw what was approaching – horses’ hooves.

    But before I had much time to dwell on this, various comradely arms – Lord Treisman has told me they were his 🙂 – lifted me up, and I found myself gazing at a full-scale riot. Horses were being attacked; police were thrashing at everything; and people near me were discussing what to do once we got inside the Embassy. Being stronger on the theory of revolutionary insurrection than its practice, I suggested we might ask for a nice cup of tea.

    In fact, the balance of opinion favoured caution: it was widely believed by those in my vicinity that behind the Embassy’s glass front doors stood a line of heavily-armed Marines ready to mow down anyone who ventured as far as the front step. That seemed to rule out a cup of tea.

    In the end, everything petered out, and the police regained their grip. Like the vast majority there, I committed no violent act, and wasn’t very impressed by those that did. A few clearly wanted to be heroes, all for one day. The rest of us wanted an end to the war in Vietnam.

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