Thursday, November 30, 2017

Lives of the Walsall Bombers

by Christopher Draper

[Part 2 of the Walsall bomb story]

Quail’s account of the “Walsall Anarchists” describes the 1892 conviction of Joe Deakin, Fred Charles, Jean Battola (sic) and Victor Cailes (sic) for bomb making but doesn’t reveal much of their lives. Nick Heath usefully outlined the careers of both Deakin and Charles with just a couple of minor errors and omissions but the other pair, Battolla and Cails, have been neglected and what of the one that got away?

Joe’s Conversion
Joseph Thomas Deakin founded Walsall Socialist Club as an affiliate organisation of the SDF, which initially reflected his own politics. Heath suggests two elements shifted Deakin over to anarchism, the departure of influential party loyalist Hadyn Sanders and the persuasiveness of Joe’s overseas contacts. Nick’s right on the first negative factor but the positive influence came from closer to home, in the form of local French exile, Edmond Joseph Guillemard. As the Birmingham Post recorded, “After Mr H Sanders left the town, Guillemard, a foreigner, assumed the local leadership and he seems to have converted the majority of this Walsall club to his views, including Deakin.” Subsequently Walsall was, “regarded by local Socialists as an Anarchist hotbed” with clubrooms “ornamented with Walter Crane’s large allegorical compositions; a photo of the heads of a number of men described as “the heroes of the Revolution of 1871 – vanquished today , victorious tomorrow; another in praise of Anarchie and placards announcing a French class one night a week.” By 1891 Deakin considered himself an anarchist although evidently an unreliable one who cracked under interrogation and coughed to the cops.

Fred Who?
Although it’s known Fred Charles’s original surname was “Slaughter” it’s been assumed he simply substituted his middle name. In fact, “Charles” formed no part of Fred’s birth name, which was “Frederick Christopher Slaughter. Born in Norwich in 1864, his dad was Christopher Slaughter, aged 69, and his mum, Lucy Emily (nee Bowman) 40 years younger. At the time of their 1861 marriage, Christopher was a widowed Norwich shopkeeper with Lucy, his niece, serving as live-in housekeeper.

Fred’s dad died when he was just three and his sister, Lucy Bowman Slaughter, only one but the family could still afford a servant and in his early twenties Fred had enough money to open a comradely café in Norwich. At that stage he called himself Frederick Charles Slaughter. Fred evidently proved more adept at dispensing politics than pots of tea and at the end of 1888 the business went belly-up. Perhaps this prompted him to make a clean break, drop his original surname and move away from Norwich. The April 1891 census found “27 year-old clerk, Fred Charles” in Hackney, sharing lodgings with the German-born libertarian, Gertrud Guillaume-Schack. In May he shifted to Sheffield in search of employment and despite the militant appeal of comrade Creaghe he was compelled by economic necessity to move on. It’s assumed Fred moved directly to Walsall but he first tried Birmingham. Still unemployed, he found the tame politics of Brum’s Stafford Street Socialist Club so stifling that in July he transferred to “Walsall’s hotbed of anarchy” and the rest, as they say, is (already adequately recorded) history.

Invisible Italian
Following imprisonment Deakin returned to Walsall and Charles settled at Whiteway anarchist colony but what of the other two? Quail claimed, “Cailes (sic) remained in the Soho area and Battola (sic) seems to have disappeared” but my research suggests otherwise.
After Battolla’s release in September 1899 he was given £10 from benefit funds but had to rapidly find employment. Whilst Charles prioritised rebuilding his health by feverishly cycling around the countryside, Battolla was beavering away in a Soho garret at his former, injuriously dusty trade of shoemaking. In November 1899 Reynolds News reported, “His health is very bad, the doctor recommends him plenty of fresh air but unfortunately he cannot take this prescription for he has no means of living save by his labour.”
Jean (actually Giovanni) Battolla was born in Portovenere, La Spezia, Italy on 18th December 1862 to Camille Battolla and Louise. His mum’s maiden name was “Dejani” and he sometimes adopted this as a sort of nom de guerre. He was already an anarchist evading the authorities when he married Josephine Eugenie Barthelemy in Marseilles on 8th December 1883. Persecuted for revolutionary words rather than violent action, Battolla nonetheless featured (above) on the French Secret Police’s blacklist and on 7th February 1891 was banned from the country. Taking refuge in London he frequented the Autonomie Club where he made the unfortunate acquaintance of Auguste Coulon. Battolla’s police mugshot reveals his stylish demeanour, “tall, dark and of good personal appearance”. Meeting proletarian Walsall comrades “he was splendidly attired in a silk top hat and Inverness cape” but he also had a heart. Writing to Edward Carpenter from Dartmoor in December 1897; “I must tell you a few words about our winged friends here: - pigeons come to take bread from our hands. Jackdaws, crows, starlings and blackbirds come within two or three feet to take the same food. They dance, sing and look on us very kindly, they befriend us in every way. Were it not for those gentle creatures there would be a good many more poor barmy men.”
After his release, in April 1900 Reynolds News confided, “Battolla and Cails are not faring too well at present. Battolla has succeeded in obtaining some work but his health is so bad that he is hardly in a condition to perform his task properly and really needs a few weeks rest in the country to set him right again.” Deakin and Charles soon returned to their former lives, but as exiles, Cails and Battolla both struggled yet conscientiously attended anarchist meetings to explain their prison experiences. Gradually Battolla’s energies were confined more towards solving his own economic problems than those of society and he sunk his benefit money in a lodging house partnership with a woman named Bennett. His estranged wife remained in France until September 1902 when there was a most curious and dramatic development.
Josephine Eugenie Battolla turned up at Giovanni’s Gower Street lodging house and was invited to stay for a while but after a few days he asked her to leave. When she refused she was assaulted by Mrs Bennett but instead of returning to France she moved to Goodge Street and initiated legal proceedings. First she managed to get Bennett bound over and then with a further legal action she successfully sued Giovanni for maintenance. These minor court actions were widely publicised across Britain with hundreds of newspapers carrying almost identical reports. It was almost as if someone had consciously orchestrated a smear campaign. A century later we discover that on 17th December 1902 following her action against Bennett the Metropolitan Police’s Special Branch paid Josephine Battolla £5. On 11th February 1903, after her subsequent maintenance action MPSB gave her a further £2 - what an extraordinary coincidence!
After fathering a son, Dante, with Kate Martini, a young English woman, in 1905 Battolla and his new family emigrated back to his Italian birthplace. A daughter arrived the following year but on 19th April 1910 the family of four sailed aboard the SS Oceania from Genoa, landing in New York on the 3rd May. Once again Battolla’s personal relationships ruptured and the family split. Dante remained in New York with Giovanni (now John but still shoemaking) until he left school but by 1920 he’d moved to join his sister and mum in Patterson, New Jersey where Kate worked as a silk weaver. After that I can find no trace of any of them.

“A Typical Anarchist”
Victor Cails was a more active, determined and sustained anarchist than Battolla and more obviously looked the part. On his arraignment in the magistrates’ court he was unfavourably compared to Charles, “the difference between the two men was very marked – Charles being neatly dressed and of easy manners and good bearing, a not unfavourable specimen of the class; but Cailes (sic) with stubbly beard, swarthy face, restless gleaming eyes, untidy dress and excitable demeanour, might have sat for an artist as a typical anarchist”.
Born on 16th February 1858 in Nantes, Brittany, as a teenager Victor joined the navy and subsequently served as a marine engineer or stoker with bouts of general labouring in between voyages. In Nantes around 1880 he became a militant anarchist. During the late 1880’s his voyaging led to “Devil’s Island” where he befriended and covertly carried letters for the imprisoned anarchist Clement Duval.
After leading the 1891 Nantes May Day demonstration, Victor was indicted for, “distribution of writings, exciting crimes of murder, looting and burning” but escaped and tried in absentia was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment. After a brief period serving as stoker on a Glasgow riverboat he moved down to London, making his way to the Autonomie Club, where he teamed up for six weeks with Luigi Parmeggiani in an ill-conceived cheesemaking and street selling enterprise. Unfortunately Cails was also befriended by Coulon who “helpfully” wrote requesting Walsall comrades to find him a job. They got him foundry work but Cails was hopeless so a Socialist Club member called Young put him up in his own house in Green Lane and tried to teach him his own trade of chainmaking. Once again Victor proved inept so another comrade, John Westley, employed him in his brush-making business.
In a letter published in the Sheffield Anarchist, in September 1891, Cails claimed, “Two thirds of the population live in a state of misery and poverty, while society does not trouble itself…unfortunates who having received nothing from society owe nothing to that society and owe nothing to its laws.”
Although Victor was earning less than 9s 6d a week he wrote to his partner, Marie Piberne in Nantes, urging her to come over and join him. In Walsall Marie managed to supplement their meagre income with a spot of dressmaking but the pair remained impoverished and so to help them out the members suggested they move into an unoccupied room at the Socialist Club and act as caretakers. They’d only been there three days when they were arrested. Subsequently released, Marie told reporters she wasn’t married to Victor but for three years the pair had lived happily together in Nantes before the police came after him. Sadly their relationship didn’t survive Cail’s imprisonment and Marie returned to France.
After eight years inside Cails was, significantly, the last of the four to be released, in December 1899, “on account of not having made all his good conduct marks”. Like the others he was also in a bad way and as a mariner he had the additional problem of obtaining his old testimonials before he could be taken on as a crewman. The police had confiscated his certificates on his arrest and refused to hand them back. Victor twice visited Scotland Yard where Inspector Melville insisted the Chief Constable of Walsall had them but he denied this and Cails continued to be given the run-around until finally the Walsall Town Clerk “managed to track down” two translations of his original certificates. Despite Melville’s denials it seemed the MPSB retained the original certificates.
 In September 1900 Reynold’s News recorded Cails’ continuing police harassment, “Now they are continually calling at my lodging to ask me if I have shifted from where I live and how am I managing to exist etc. They have also resumed the policy of “shadowing” me about, which had been discontinued since my last complaint in Reynolds. I believe they have no legal right to molest me in this manner while I comply with the terms of my licence. I think it the meanest impertinence to ask me to supply their absence of brains.”
Eventually Victor found work on building sites at Milwall Dock and the V & A Museum. He maintained a close friendship with Louise Michel and was visited by Creaghe who failed to persuade him to join him in Argentina. Cails’ correspondence with Louise reveals a sensitive side of his character with a real concern that she will look after his dog as, in July 1903 he was about to embark on a 15 month contract crewing aboard a large sailing ship, probably Noemi, about to depart Tyne Dock, South Shields for San Francisco. Briefly back in London in 1905 he gave witness at anarchist Parmeggiani’s libel action, before returning to sea as crewman on the French ship Dugual-Trouin which sailed for New Caledonia.
Eventually settling back in France, Victor was an anarchist to the end and almost his final act was production of the Italian bulletin, Polemiche Nostre in August 1925. In March 1926 the anarchist press reported the recent death in Paris of Victor Cails, “He had courageously put himself to work and had exhausted himself in it.”

The Fifth Man?
Walsall anarchist, Edmond Joseph Guillemard has been oddly overlooked. As I mentioned above, he was the man who turned the Walsall Socialist Club anarchist. When Deakin was arrested his old state-socialist buddy Hadyn Sanders told the Pall Mall Gazette, “He was loath to believe Deakin was in touch with the Anarchist party…he believed Deakin to be a Socialist who believed it possible to improve the condition of workers by Parliamentary methods.” Having persuaded Deakin to anarchy, in August 1891 Guillemard accompanied him to the Brussels Anarchist Congress. A couple of months later when the sketch of the bomb arrived in the post, as Reynolds’ News reported, “all of them talked the matter over and then a man named Guillemard made a pattern” yet curiously, there is no record that Edmond was even interviewed by police. Despite being well established in Walsall for more than a decade, with both himself and his wife having steady employment, enjoying comradeship at the Club and having two brothers and their families in the Birmingham area Guillemard suddenly shifted to Lincoln. The 1901 census records that he’d also altered his name to Edmond Joseph Acton (his wife’s maiden name) and changed his registered birthplace from France to Cardiff! I leave readers to speculate on the significance of all this but on future blogs I’ll explain how the Secret State had (and continues to have) its grubby fingers all over this “conspiracy”.     

                       (CD, December 2017)

CD is happy to supply further details about sources for this research. 
Enquiries via blog Comments or RaHN email: 

Part 3 to follow...

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