In 1930s Glasgow, gangs dominated the streets. There were the Bowery Boys, the Redskins (so called because of their red, raw scarred faces), the San Toi (Protestant), the Shamrock and The Tim Malloys (both Catholic), the Bingo Boys, the Govan Team, the Baltic Fleet and there was even a fighting female gang of pickpocket prostitutes called the Nudies.
But one stood out. And it was their high public profile that would ultimately lead to their downfall.
THE BILLY BOYS
Billy Fullerton was the sole leader of what was originally called the Bridgeton Billy Boys. He founded them in 1924. He claimed they were started after he was beaten up by a Catholic gang after beating them at football. The traditional view of an honourable man defending his family and faith has recently been debunked by historian Dr Andrew Davies. Dr Davies believes Billy was a cowardly fascist who beat his wife – an act for which he was jailed in 1930.
No one disputes the fact, however, that his gang terrorised Glasgow’s east end throughout the 1930s.
The Billy BoysFashioned themselves as almost paramilitary. They wore a uniform of sorts, marched and paraded with their own bands, and ended each day with ‘God Save the King’.
They had a junior training section, the Derry Boys which prepared young lads for the senior ranks. Members paid a weekly levy.
This was used for, amongst other things, supporting members recently released from jail who were in need of food and clothing.
THE NORMAN CONKS
One of the main Catholic razor gangs to stand up against The Billy Boys operated out of Norman Street. The ‘Conk’ was a shortened from the word ‘conqueror’. Hence they were one of the few gangs to have a historical play upon words by essentially calling themselves ‘The Norman Conquerors’.
Their territory was marked by shamrocks painted on the walls. They are said to have attended Billy Fullerton’s wedding. But instead of chucking confetti, they hurled bottles.
The Norman Conks had links with the early IRA who used the city as their supply point. The IRA, however, relied on the gun to settle disputes and their main target was the police and army.
THE FIEND OF GORBALS
Some men were so brutal that even the razor gangs wouldn’t have them.
One was Patrick Carraher. Born in 1906 into a decent working class family, Carraher was described by Scottish crime writer, Reg McKay as going ‘off the rails as soon as he could walk.’
By 14, he was in borstal. The brutal prisoner regime of knifings, scaldings and lynchings was like coming home for him. Where others used prison to learn how better to make money from crime, Carraher learned only how to hurt. By 32, he’d ‘stabbed, slashed and gouged his way through life’ and unlike the gangs who primarily fought against each other, he fought anyone. Arrested for killing someone, he escaped the gallows on a technicality and then escaped being called up for the Second World War because of a bad chest. After an ‘orgy of violence’ he was again arrested and wasn’t released until after the war.
When Carraher killed a returning serviceman, the gallows finally caught up with him and on 6 April 1946 Patrick Carraher was hanged in Barlinnie Prison.