Sunday, 10 October 2010

More on 1911 and the Great Unrest in a Welsh Town

From LSHG Newsletter, No. 40, Autumn 2010
Following on from Tim Evans’ piece in the last Newsletter, we print an article by him, a version of which appeared in the Guardian in July this year.
Author’s note: Just to let you know there are inaccuracies in the Guardian's edited version of my
article. They cut one of my sentences to read "Llanelli in 1911 - hard hit by de-industrialisation" - obviously not true and not what I wrote in the original.

A rifle shot rings out. The men standing by the garden wall stand their ground. “It’s OK,” one shouts out.”It’s
only a blank!” There is laughter. “It’s all right – they’ve only got blank cartridges,” someone else yells.
Suddenly a live round smashes into the throat of a man sitting on the wall, knocking him backwards onto the
grass. Everybody runs. Another man cries out as a bullet strikes his hand and glances off, felling the man
behind him.
Three men are down, bleeding badly. The two most seriously hurt are carried into the house and laid out on
a table, where they die. On the railway line below the major in charge of the detachment of soldiers orders them to withdraw to the railway station.
These events took place nearly a hundred years ago in the town of Llanelli in South West Wales, at the time a world centre for tinplate production. On Thursday 17 August 1911 crowds of striking railwaymen and their supporters had taken control of the railway line entering the town.
The first ever national railway strike had begun and all five hundred Llanelli railway workers, union and non-union, had walked out. The picket, numbering several thousand, remained in place through the
night, with singing, tapdancing and a mock election to  keep spirits up.
At 7.45 the following morning a hundred and fifty seven soldiers of the North Lancashire regiment arrived at the station and made several unsuccessful attempts to clear the crossings. At midday Llanelli magistrates sent
a telegram to the then Liberal Home Secretary Winston Churchill: ”Troops unable to cope with mob. Desire augmentation of force by nightfall.” At 6pm a hundred soldiers of the Devonshire Regiment arrived, together
with a hundred and fifty of the Worcestershire Regiment, known as the ‘Vein-Openers”, and twenty five police from Cardiff. They finally succeeded in recapturing the crossing. From 9pm until morning trains
were able to pass through Llanelli, attracting only verbal abuse and stones.
From 9am onwards the next morning - Saturday August 19 - the number of pickets grew rapidly, made up not only of railwaymen but also tinplate workers, eager to show solidarity. Just after 2.30 pm, an engine on the way from Cardiff to Fishguard was chased down the track by protestors, boarded and immobilised about
250 yards from the station. After failing to persuade the crowd to stop throwing stones Major Brownlow Stuart ordered his men to open fire, killing John ‘Jac’ John, 21, a mill-worker at the Morewood Tinplate Works and Leonard Worsell (a 19- year old labourer.) After the killings there was an uprising.
The railway company's property and the shops of the magistrates who read the riot act were attacked and
looted, and workers fought hand-to-hand battles with troops who struggled, bayonets fixed, to clear the streets. Four more townspeople died when a truck containing detonators was torched and exploded. One
soldier refused to fire on the workers, was taken into military custody, escaped and went on the run. The funerals of the shot men were huge affairs, with thousands on the streets. Factories closed as their workers walked out to pay their respects.
Yet these remarkable events – part of the wave of industrial conflict from 1910 to 1914 that became
known as ‘The Great Unrest’ - have been air-brushed out of local and national history. Because of the rioting
and especially the looting local media and the local establishment tried to call this "Llanelli's shame", and
to expunge it from consciousness. There has never been a public apology for the killings. The graves of the men are untended and crumbling. Yet here were events in which people had the courage to stand up and fight for their rights. As we come to the centenary year, we call on the Home Office, especially in the light of the
Saville enquiry into Bloody Sunday, to make an official apology for the judicial murder of these two innocent men, victims of a great injustice.
Tim Evans

Web links: Stories on planned Llanelli 2011 commemoration: (with video)
Killing No Murder: South Wales and the Great Railway Strike of 1911 by Robert Griffiths is published by Manifesto Press in
association with the RMT union. ISBN 9781907464010 Paperback £12.95

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