THE heady days of Red Clydeside and the Battle of Glasgow’s George Square have passed into the city’s legend. The story goes that in late January 1919, striking workers in the city rioted in George Square, and fearful of a communist revolt, a frightened British Government sent in English troops and tanks in order to quell the city. However according to recent reports in the press, research has debunked the myth of the 1919 tank which was sent into Glasgow to intimidate the rebellious workers of the incipient Glasgow Soviet.

The debunking in question referred to a photograph of a First World War tank rumbling down a Glasgow street, a photograph which has frequently been used to illustrate articles about the events of Red Clydeside. Cue the usual crowing from the usual suspects on social media that yet another Scottish nationalist grievance has been proven to be baseless. Only it hasn’t.

What’s not clear from the headlines is that the only thing that has been debunked is the photograph itself. The photo actually depicts a tank rolling down a street in Glasgow in 1918, during the First World War, as part of a fundraiser for the war effort. This doesn’t mean that tanks were not sent into Glasgow during the heady and rebellious days in 1919 when there was talk of a Glasgow Soviet. According to press reports from the time, the British Government did indeed send in tanks. A headline from the Aberdeen Daily Journal in its issue of Tuesday, February 4, 1919 makes this clear: “Tanks reinforce troops in Glasgow”. Likewise the deployment of tanks in the city was reported by the Daily Herald in its edition the same day. It is a matter of historical record that the tanks were based in the Glasgow cattle market in the Gallowgate and trundled through the city after being unloaded from trains which arrived at Queen Street station.

The tanks and troops were sent in following a meeting of the UK Cabinet to discuss the unrest in the city. During the meeting the Scottish Secretary Robert Munro stated: “It is a misnomer to call the situation in Glasgow a strike – this is a Bolshevist uprising.” It is estimated that 10,000 soldiers were sent into the city, in the biggest troop deployment against a civilian population ever seen in the UK.

To be fair, the recent piece in The Herald about the incorrect labelling of the tank photograph did make it clear within the body of the article that tanks were indeed deployed as a threat against the city’s striking workers. The problem, however, is that most people don’t read further than the headline.

Another myth which the recent press reports were keen to debunk is that all the soldiers were English and that English soldiers were sent into the city because the authorities feared that Glaswegian soldiers based at the Maryhill barracks would be sympathetic with the workers. The authorities’ fears were not unfounded. Willie Gallagher, one of the strike leaders, is later quoted as regretting that the strikers hadn’t sought the support of the troops in Maryhill, saying: “The soldiers of Maryhill were confined to barracks and the barrack gates were kept tightly closed. If we had gone there we could easily have persuaded the soldiers to come out and Glasgow would have been in our hands.”

There seem to be no contemporary records of English troops being deployed in Glasgow. There are records of thousands of soldiers being sent into Glasgow from other parts of Scotland. The existence of English soldiers being sent to crush rebellious socialist Scots has been decried as yet another myth nurtured by modern Scottish nationalists in search of a grievance. However, no-one has claimed that all the soldiers sent into the city were English, only that some of them were. At least one person who was an eyewitness to the military presence in Glasgow at the time is convinced that English soldiers really were present.

My grandmother Barbara Mosson (nee McAdam), who died in 2010 a few weeks before her 100th birthday, was present during some of the events in George Square in that revolutionary winter of 1919. Her father and my great-grandfather, Tom McAdam, was heavily involved in the socialist politics of the day. My great-grandfather was one of the striking workers, and he took his daughter to George Square to see the soldiers and the cannon there, to be a witness to the fact that the British authorities would not hesitate to put down ordinary working-class Scots with troops, bullets, and tanks. She was eight years old and what she saw then stayed with her throughout her long life.

Many decades later she recounted her memories to me, saying that her father had told her to remember, to never forget that these soldiers and the explicit threat of violence that they represented were an illustration of what the British establishment really thought about ordinary working-class people. She told me my great-grandfather wanted us to remember that they were afraid of us and of the power of working-class people.

My grandmother remembered the howitzer which is recorded as having been sited in George Square. She also remarked that this was the first time she had ever heard English accents.

In 1919 there was no television, movies were silent, and radio was in its very early days. A young girl from a working-class household in Glasgow would not have had much of an opportunity to hear English accents. My grandmother told me that she found the English accents of the troops difficult to understand, and was shocked by the coarse language that the soldiers used.

I have no idea whether the coarse language expressed in English accents which so shocked my grandmother issued from the mouths of troops from an English regiment, or from English soldiers who were part of Scottish regiments, or from members of the officer class who would have tended to have upper-class English accents.

But to the end of her days my grandmother was convinced that English soldiers were sent in to George Square to indimidate and threaten the people of Glasgow. She was equally convinced that those agents of the British establishment held ordinary working-class Scots in contempt.

A hundred years on, and it’s clear that in that respect nothing much has changed. The British establishment still holds Scotland in contempt. That much at least is no myth.