Cable Street veteran Hetty Bowers dies at 108 still fighting for world peace

1936... the scene at Cable Street (inset: Hetty Bowers at 107)

1936... the scene at Cable Street (inset: Hetty Bowers at 107) - Credit: Archive

One of the last surviving activists who took part in the ‘Battle of Cable Street’ in 1936 which prevented Mosley’s Blackshirts marching through London’s East End has died at the age of 108.

1936... the scene at Cable Street (inset: Hetty Bowers at 107)

1936... the scene at Cable Street (inset: Hetty Bowers at 107) - Credit: Archive

Hetty Bowers acted as a runner for the trade unions and Labour party activists who orchestrated the anti-fascist mass demonstration which stopped the Blackshirts getting through Whitechapel or Shadwell in October that year.

She had been an active socialist most of her adult life, a suffragette who joined the Labour Party in 1922, who campaigned for workers’ rights during the 1926 General Strike when she was just 21.

The girl born in Dalston in 1905 to a working class family was still fighting the cause 106 years later at the Labour Party’s annual conference in Brighton two months ago.

One woman who knew her well was former Tower Hamlets councillor Belle Harris.

“I heard Hetty speak brilliantly at Brighton and she was fantastic,” Belle said. “Hetty was a walking history who could relate what we had won in the past and what we were losing today.

“She was the voice of every peace activist and anyone who spoke out against the war machine.

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“But she’ll be remembered in the East End for helping to stop Mosley’s fascists in 1936 trying to march through Whitechapel—I really admired her.”

The Blackshirts attempted a provocative racist march through the Jewish garment district when 200,000 protesters, mainly Jews and Irish Catholic dockers, barred their way at Whitechapel’s Gardiner’s Corner—tram drivers joined in and stopped their double-deckers in their tracks across the junction to prevent the Blackshirts getting through.

But Hetty and her fellow organisers got wind that Mosley was taking a detour through Cable Street instead, to get round the mass protest.

Labour party organisers diverted the crowds to Cable Street where they set up barricades.

The Blackshirts never got through—Mosley was turned back by the police for public safety.

Activists like Hetty Bowers had won and went on to fight another day.

Hetty’s days of fighting never stopped, well into her hundreds.

She was the major speaker in 2011 at Cable Street’s 75th anniversary rally with veteran Tower Hamlets ex-councillor Max Levitus.

Even at 107, she spoke at the Tavistock Square Peace Rally in August commemorating Heroshima Day, then at Labour’s Brighton conference addressing a fringe meeting on the return to poverty in Britain.

But Hetty lost her final battle against frail health after suffering a stroke last month and died in hospital in north London on Tuesday, having just turned 108.

The fighter for world peace was at last at peace herself.