Volume 4 Number 4
Burglar Bill and the Birmingham Bombs
01 April 1991
In the 1960s and 70s Bill Taylor, otherwise known as 'Burglar Bill', was one of the principal trade union convenors of the huge Austin car plant in Birmingham, where 28,000 people worked. In 1974 the IRA bombed two pubs in the city centre.
In the 1960s and 70s Bill Taylor, otherwise known as 'Burglar Bill', was one of the principal trade union convenors of the huge Austin car plant in Birmingham, where 28,000 people worked. In 1974 the IRA bombed two pubs in the city centre. Twenty-one died and many were injured.
After the bombings, there was a lot of feeling in the city against the Irish. Birmingham is a cosmopolitan city: the locals say `you can always tell a Brummie by the shamrock that peeps out of his turban'. Several thousand Irish worked at the plant. Others there had lost relatives in the bomb blasts. It looked as if there would be a riot during the shift the next morning.
Taylor's family had suffered during the depression of the 1930s and he felt bitter against the ruling classes.
Then a great change occurred in his life. His brother, through Moral Re-Armament, had an experience of God, and became so different that Bill was intrigued and decided to make a new start. His bitterness left him, and instead of seeking every opportunity to cause disruption, he began to search for what was really right for his members and the factory.
He was found one day sitting quietly in a corner. `Are you ill?' asked some of his friends.
`No,' said Taylor, `I'm trying to listen to God.'
`Then we know you must be ill!' They fetched a stretcher and carried him through the factory with much mirth.
On the morning after the pub bombing it was his adversary, the Communist convenor, who rang him and said, `Bill, you're the only one who can do something. We must prevent bloodshed.'
Taylor decided that the best thing was to hold a silent vigil. He went to the management, and after lengthy discussions they permitted a stoppage. He then began walking silently through the factory. One by one all the men and women followed him out onto the field behind the factory where they held their mass meetings.
He told me afterwards how frightened he had been. What could he say to the thousands of angry people around him? Suddenly he knew. He stood up and said, `We must not blame a nation for the sins of a few.' And then he began the Lord's Prayer, without even knowing if he would remember the words. But everyone followed him.
There was a long silence, then quietly the men drifted back to work. Forgiveness had triumphed. The threat of violence had passed.