Today we travel back to the radical landscape of 1968, and to one particularly noteworthy moment of protest: a march against the Vietnam War held in London on the 17th of March, which ended in front of the American Embassy at Grosvenor Square. Out of the estimated 30,000 protestors, some 3000 managed to break through the police cordon into the square, where they were confronted by officers on horseback. What resulted was a four-hour struggle, since dubbed “the battle of Grosvenor Square”, an eruption that some have argued changed protest in the UK forever.
Among the many memorable images from that day was one of a single protestor, a young woman with long blonde hair and white boots, approaching a mounted policeman in the midst of the mayhem and reaching for the horse’s reins. The man taking the photograph was the veteran photographer David Hurn. The woman grabbing the reins was Jay Ginn.
History Workshop’s Andrew Whitehead has been speaking to them both as part of his ongoing research into the British New Left. In today’s episode we hear their reminiscences. David Hurn speaks of covering the protest as a freelance photographer, the tactics and skills that this entailed. And, at more length, Jay Ginn’s recounts her life in activism: her experiences in the peace movement in the early 1960s, her time getting locked up in Holloway prison, and the marginalisation she experienced as a woman seeking a place within the New Left.
Jay Ginn was a war baby, born in November 1939. As a child, she spent all her spare time with ponies, training and working with them. Concerned by the threat of nuclear war, she joined the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and later the Committee of 100 and joined the Aldermaston marches in the early ’60s. Her first arrests were for non-violent protests in Whitehall and on military bases; she joined Solidarity, a libertarian Marxist group.
In 1967, she was part of a group which, after a military takeover in Athens, occupied the Greek Embassy – she was held in remand in Holloway jail for four days with five other women demonstrators. The following year, she joined a demonstration against the Vietnam war outside the US embassy in Grosvenor Square. She decided to restrain a police horse by holding its reins. That’s what’s depicted in the memorable photograph taken by David Hurn of Magnum.
When she had children, Jay had to curtail activities likely to involve arrest. She studied sociology and gained her PhD in 1994. She has enjoyed a successful career as a researcher on gender in later life and continues to support workers on strike and to take part in demonstrations for peace.
This episode follows on the heels of our interview with Nic Ralph on his experience as one of the Spies for Peace, and it is part of an occasional series we’ll be running on the history of the New Left.