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Standard recalls a forgotten 1914 battle

THE first world war was not the only battle being fought a hundred years ago, writes Mike Pentelow

Rural workers were struggling on several fronts as chronicled in the latest Country Standard, which is being distributed free at the Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival. 

Farmworkers in Essex, who were paid 15 per cent less than the rest of the country, joined the union to get parity and were promptly sacked by the farmers. 

Solidarity strikes spread into Suffolk and Cambridgeshire and finally got the pay rise as the war started. Also sacked in 1914 for successfully standing against the landed gentry in parish elections in Burston, Norfolk, were local school teachers Annie and Tom Higdon. 

Their pupils went on strike and eventually they were able to start their own school through union donations. Although the farmworkers’ union was initially against the war it helped increase food production once it started, negotiating wage rises and a 13-fold increase in membership. 

The bravery of one farmworker in saving lives in the army during the war was recognised by the award of the Victora Cross. Christopher Cox of Kings Langley, Hertfordshire, was a stretcher bearer who was wounded twice while bringing the wounded back or, in fact, treating them on the field under heavy gunfire. 

Other articles in the Country Standard explain how government cuts are making floods worse and reducing affordable rural homes while increasing subsidies to grouse moor owners, the dangers to public health of fracking, how corporations are undermining crop diversity and campaigners are trying to protect commons and forests.

 

The Country Standard is distributed free at Tolpuddle festival.

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