“Shout, shout, up with your song!
Cry with the wind, for the dawn is breaking;
March, march, swing you along,
Wide blows our banner, and hope is waking.
Song with its story, dreams with their glory
Lo! they call, and glad is their word!
Loud and louder is swells,
Thunder or freedom, the voice of the Lord!”
The chants grew louder with each new line.
Mildred, the oldest, led the group as they marched through the busy streets of London. She stood before the rest, at the front of a large crowd. Their voices carried far along the cobbled roads.
The group, all women, walked and sang in time with each other, synchronized as an ensemble of drummers. The short heels on their worn boots clicked the ground together, a harmonious thunder that echoed and cracked around them.
Mildred used that sound to keep them all in time. It was quite simple, really. The lyrics were a part of them, written on their papers and wrapped around their hearts. So long as Mildred stayed at the very front, everyone else could follow. And that they did.
Once the song had begun, it couldn’t be stopped. Hypnotic-like, the words forced their way from throats into the sultry air around them. Shoulders bounces together, arms waving banners and flags while they sang.
The streets were rather busy for a Wednesday morning. Shoppers parted swiftly to evade the choir in their procession. Everyone knew by now; they were a dangerous group.
Rocks in hand as they reached the end of the first verse, aim taken.
Windows broken, with no interruptions.
It was a powerful song, after all. As long as they sung while doing their work, they couldn’t get caught.
Mildred smiled wider and shouted the next line. Her followers latched on, louder and louder, covering over the sound of glass breaking.
“Long, long – we in the past
Cowered in dread from the light of heaven
Strong, strong – stand we at last,
Fearless in faith and with sight new given.
Strength with its beauty, Life with its duty,
(Hear the voice, oh hear and obey!)
There, these – beckon us on!
Open your eyes to the blaze of day.”
After weeks of hearing the same words, the officers were sick of it.
The song, if you could even call it that, had spread all over the prison. No day could go by without its ear-splittingly, raucous tune being carried through the courtyard, between cells, even in the protests held outside.
No amount of shouting, beating, or solitude could prevent the cacophonous choir. Some of the officers were reduced to stuffing cotton balls into their ears, in desperate attempts to muffle the sound. It didn’t work.
The courtyard was in full swing again, as it usually was during dinner time. The lead singers always appeared to be the strikers. The women refusing food, to the point of serious malnutrition. Force-feeding them was still relatively new, and uncomfortable for all involved. It was made far more difficult when they wouldn’t stop their devilish chant. Doors locked; machines stopped working. Food was thrown all over, but until the song was finished, there was nothing that could be done. Its chaotic hypnotism had caused many issues over the weeks.
One man, whom has since been relieved of his duties as a prison officer, had come out with a most foolish theory about the song: it was an incantation, created by the topmost women in the rebellion, and taught to each and every person who joined up in their cause. He said it was causing illness to spread through the men’s ranks and cited the few instances of doctors being called for sudden onset illness that had taken several officers whilst working. Headaches, nausea, dizziness, rashes. Memory loss, unknown injuries. All sorts.
Of course, everyone found this utterly ridiculous. How on God’s green earth could a group of women, lower-class women to be exact, create and be a part of such black magic as he speaks?
“Comrades – ye who have dared
First in the battle to strive and sorrow!
Scorned, spurned – nought have ye cared
Raising your eyes to a wider morrow,
Ways that are weary, days that are dreary,
Toil and pain by faith ye have borne;
Hail, hail – victors ye stand,
Wearing the wreath that the brave have worn!”
The children begun to sing in the streets.
It became a part of their game. They played soldiers, using sticks and stones and whatever scraps they could find – they became guns, bombs, masks, medals. A child’s imagination is a truly wonderful thing.
The sticks became flag poles, stones would be thrown as is through a window. Rags were banners, cleverly painted as small replicas of the WSPU. The song resonated with them, became a part of their daily games.
Because to a child, everything is just a game.
The fathers were horrified. They called it the Devil’s work, enchanting their precious angels. Nothing they tried could prevent the song. No amount of punishment or threats could stop the song once it had started. Nothing could keep their child away from its melodious call. It was almost as if they were under a trance.
The mothers, of course, were so very proud. Hearing their young singing the song of fight and freedom, adding to the monumental power it already held. Some even took their girls along to rallies – children are the future, after all. No sane man would consider harming a youngster for joining a chorus.
“Life, strife – those two are one,
Naught can ye win but by faith and daring.
On, on – that ye have done
But for the work of today preparing.”
Emmeline was pleased.
Ethel Smyth’s song had carried all over the country, and its power was growing each and every day, each time it was sang.
For each women injured, arrested, and imprisoned by the men in power, another gets away scot-free. For every pain and problem they faced, it was twofold on the government. Each time their song was sung, time would hold those girls safe from harm, at least until it was over.
Some would say it was magic. Saving girls from a life of misery, spreading illness through the male population. It was known though all of England and was even spreading to the US. Washington DC had already faced its first choir, with more on the way.
Others say its karma. Men cannot face what they are doing to us, and it is eating them from the inside out. Police are too slow to catch everyone. The song was being passed to everyone it could reach, and now was completely out of the governments control.
“Firm in reliance, laugh a defiance,
(Laugh in hope, for sure is the end)
March, march – many as one,
Shoulder to shoulder and friend to friend.”
Emmeline knew, though.
She, Ethel, Mildred, and ten others. The First Ones, if you were. They created it.
In a small room at the back of the Pankhurst residence, an idea had been born. And from that idea, came a coven. A community of strong-willed, angry women founded the power to alter their lives. For better or worse, they had not yet concluded.
The magic they wield became a spell, which turned into a song through Ethel’s clever wordplay. Only their small group knew of its power, but that was enough. It was expanding, slowly but surely, across the entire country. Eventually, they hoped it would cover the globe.
They knew it would bring about change. That was all that had mattered before they released it to the world.
The song is called 'The March of the Women'. It was composed by Ethel Smyth and Cicely Hamilton in 1910 and became the official anthem of the Women’s Social and Political Union, or WSPU. It was the anthem of the women’s Suffrage movement, across the UK and other countries. It was sung at rallies, in prisons during hunger strikes, and by choirs of Suffragettes. It was once described as ‘at once a hymn and a call to battle’ in the WSPU’s newspaper, 'Votes for Women'.
About the Creator
Hi there! My name's Madi and I'm an aspiring author. I really enjoy reading modernised fairy tales, and retellings of classic stories, and I hope to write my own in the future. Fantasy stories are my go-to reads.
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Niche topic & fresh perspectives
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Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
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Original narrative & well developed characters