The General Strike of May 1926 was the last national strike to happen in the UK. It disrupted both the nation and Jasper Maskelyne's performance schedule.
Brought about by a post-war drop in coal prices and in the production of British coal, the strike involved some 1.7 million workers. They opposed planned cuts to the pay of coal miners and worsening conditions. Fearing that an all-out general strike would mobilise revolutionary elements, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) only called out railwaymen, transport workers, printers, dockers, ironworkers and steelworkers. However, a strike by just these groups had the potential to paralyse the country.
Image: Workers protesting during the 1926 General Strike.
Fortunately, the government was prepared. It invoked emergency powers and called in the military and an army of volunteers (mostly from the middle-class), to keep essential services and supply chains working. It also created a temporary ‘militia’ of special constables, called the Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies (OMS). The OMS supported the police to maintain order.
Image: Special constables in the Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies
Wanting to do his bit for King and Country, Jasper set aside his St. George’s Hall duties for the period of the strike and signed up to be a special constable. He became a despatch rider operating from Walham Green (now Fulham Broadway) police station, four miles from St. George’s Hall. Equipped with an old motorbike, an official armlet, and a truncheon, he delivered letters to addresses all over London. He presumed these were messages coordinating the police’s response to the strike action.
In case of anarchy on the streets, Jasper carried a service revolver, for which he had no ammunition or licence, borrowed from his brother, Clive Maskelyne (a former British Army officer).
Image: Troops on guards at a bus station: each bus had a police escort during the strike.
After a few days of despatch riding, where he was on call 24/7, Jasper collided with another vehicle. This wrote-off his issued motorbike and injured his hip; an injury that would bug him periodically throughout the rest of his life. Without transportation for the remaining few days of the strike, he supervised the formation of a local branch of special constables.
Despite government preparations for an extended strike, the T.U.C. gave up in defeat after only nine days. For Special Constable Maskelyne, though, this experience of policing was to prove useful later in life.