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  • Writer's pictureShaun Lewis

Cats and mice, Black Friday and Jiu jitsu

The heroine of my book, Elizabeth Miller, is my favourite character. She is an active member of the Women’s Social and Political Union (the suffragettes) and its ‘Bodyguard’. I love this cartoon, too, and this is the tale behind it.

Today we tend to think of Black Friday as an annual sale. In November 1910 it referred to a protest by suffragettes in Parliament Square. Heavy-handed policing to break up the demonstration led to the death of two suffragettes and serious injuries amongst many others. As a result, the suffragettes determined to be better prepared in the future. The diminutive Edith Garrud, only 4’ 11” in height, was engaged to teach jiu jitsu to members of the WSPU.

In 1913 the British Government responded to the public outcry against the force feeding of suffragette prisoners on hunger strike by passing the Prisoners (Temporary Ill Health) Act. Instead of prisoners on hunger strike being force fed, they were released under licence when their health deteriorated beyond a certain point. After a specified period and once the prisoner’s health was restored, they were rearrested to serve out their term. The Act was derided by the suffragettes and called, ‘The Cat and Mouse Act’.

When the leader of the WSPU, Emmeline Pankhurst, was released under the Act, the WSPU determined that she would not be rearrested and asked Edith Garrud to form ‘The Bodyguard’. She trained a corps of about 30 women to act as decoys or to form a protective screen to prevent the police from arresting their leader. Many carried clubs under their clothing or bouquets of flowers concealing barbed wire. Eventually, in early 1914, Emmeline was rearrested after a fierce struggle at what became known as, ‘The Battle of Glasgow’.

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