A remarkable gathering was that on Tuesday [January 7th, 1919] at the Winter Assembly Hall, Waller Street, when the Luton branch of the Independent Labour Party held a rally. The programme consisted of music and speeches, and both elements were of a very unusual character.
The feature of the evening was Edvard Soermus' violin exposition. He plays regularly at Labour meetings, and his propagandist methods have brought him into serious conflict with the Government. He is, however, a master of the violin, and his interpretation and execution of many of the masters proved superb. He was at home in widely varied compositions, notable ones being Mendelssohn's Concerto in E Minor and Paganini's Moses Fantasie. He had a great ovation, especially when he spoke, as reported below.
In responding to the applause, M. Soermus, who was in evening dress, made a striking speech in quiet, halting, broken English, which obviously had a great effect on the audience.
He spoke of the happiness of English people at Christmas, with peace and the message of Christ before them. But all the time, he said, the English had real Christians in their prisons. It was tragic that while the people were enjoying life, beautiful young life was perishing in the prisons.
He had seen one young, innocent man in prison at Newcastle. He was not a Socialist or a “terrible Bolshevik”. He was a very religious Quaker, obeying Christ's teaching not to kill.
The speaker declared that even in the old Russian prisons the prisoners were better treated, and he was unhappy all the time in thinking of the suffering of young men for the highest ideals.
“Hundreds of your men and boys are dying in Russia,” went on the speaker. “I, a Russian, know Murmansk. It is the most terrible place in the world, and everyone there will suffer. The German prisoners had to work there, and nearly all died, and now your boys are there dying, and are doing the most terrible thing you can imagine. They are compelled to kill people who have never done any wrong to them.
“The Russians have never killed your wives, men or children, and you are sending your boys there to kill us. I am a Bolshevik – when you are punishing Bolsheviks, I say why don't you punish me? You are sending your boys there to kill them, why don't you kill me? I would suffer for my ideal for my country. I will play Home, Sweet Home and you will think of your boys who are dying in Russia and are longing to come to their sweet homes.”
Following pro-revolution Bolshevik speakers, M. Soermus at the close played the Russian people's funeral march under the Czarist regime, and then The Red Flag. At his call cheers were given for the Socialist cause.
[Soermus was later held in Brixton jail and was one of three Russian Bolsheviks deported back to Russia on February 14, 1919.]
[Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph: January 11th, 1919]