All Blogposts contain only personal views and are published in an entirely personal capacity. However, I do not accept any legal responsibility for the content of any comment unless I have refused to delete the comment following a valid complaint. Any complaint must set out the grounds for the deletion of the comment. I also reserve the right to delete comments that - in my opinion, are offensive or make unsubstatiated accusations against persons or groups. Like the BBC, this Blog is not responsible for the content of external internet sites. (with thanks to Valleys Mam's blog where I nicked most of this from).


21 Aug 2011

Victory To The Workers

Len Worstell & John 'Jac' John 

With the rioting that took place over in England very recently and the subsequent (and in some instances misplaced) public revulsion it is very easy to forget that riots are the inevitable consequence of prevailing social conditions.   Over on Jac O' The North's blog is an article on this the 100th commemoration of the Llanelli Riots in August 1911.

What were they?  What were they about?

Well history records that it was a huge feeling of exploitation that caused it.   1910 & 1911 was a period of significant industrial unrest all over the UK ( in 1910 and early 1911 there had been severe unrest in Tonypandy and all over the Rhondda Valley and beyond ) and on 17 August 1911 the first ever national railway strike started in Llanelli.  Low wages,  appalling working conditions, a 70 hour working week, management being able to enforce overtime whenever they felt like it without warning and several years of below inflation pay rises had caused huge resentment in the workforce.  Talks had been on-going between management and the unions and following a total breakdown caused by management intransigence the Llanelli railway workers walked off the job.   Very quickly the dispute spread into other sectors and within hours the railway line through Llanelli was barricaded on both sides of the town. The south Wales rail network and in particular the main rail line from London were of huge strategic importance to the British Government as it was the main supply route between the major British Army depots - which were in southern England, and the British garrisons in trouble-ridden Ireland via the sea route of Fishguard to Rosslare. In addition the sub-lines of the network were 'feeder-routes' for coal, steel and iron ore - the fuel of the Empire.  Any attempt at shutting the network down was literally an attack on the authority of Westminster.

The following day (18 Aug) a train transiting from London to Fishguard containing passengers and goods en-route to Ireland was halted and disabled.   Magistrates - petitioned by the local Constabulary, sent a request for military reinforcements and the then Home Secretary - Winston Churchill - authorised their deployment.   By late on the 18th clashes had broken out between troops and strikers on and in the vicinity of the barricades.  These continued through the morning of the 19th and by early afternoon a train crewed by blacklegs (scum) was brought to a standstill by the people - including women and children - forming a human blockade and lying across the track.  Strikers then boarded and disabled the train blocking the line further.  A company of Lancashire Fusiliers moved forward and attempted to clear the rail line of protesters at bayonet point.  The people withdrew to the embankments and started stoning the troops.   A Magistrate was sent for and - for the very last time in Wales,  the Riot Act was formally read.  The crowd not only refused to disperse - they stoned the Magistrate for good measure.  The order to open fire was given.  Two men were killed on the spot.  Records are that one was a very popular local rugby player - John 'Jac' John,  the other - Len Worstell,  was a patient from a TB sanitorium at home for the weekend who was having a shave at the time and ventured outside to see what the commotion was.

Tragically, by the time the shootings happened management and the government had already given in to the unions with Churchill recorded as saying "They have beaten us" however news of the unions victory had failed to filter down to the strikers.    Inflammed by the shootings both the strikers and the local population at large became more agitated and rioting and looting broke out all over the local area including an attack on an explosives train which exploded killing 4 and injuring many more.

It took the whole night for the Army and local Constabulary to restore order and even then local school children subsequently went on strike and refused to attend lessons as protest at was was regarded by the local population as the murder of two men by the English Army (it was an English regiment).

At least one soldier deserted rather than open fire on the protesters -  Pte Harold Spiers* of the Worcestershire Regiment (now 2MERCIAN) and he is reputed to be the  the 'Dai Bach y Soldiwr' of the verse added to the folk song 'Sosban Fach'  shortly after the incident.

A BBC documetary of the incident can be viewed here (You may need to download BBC iPlayer)

Boycezone Perform Sosban Fach (rugby variant with All Blacks reference)

*Harold Spiers. - Harold Spiers, a Private in the Worcestershire Regiment, came from a family proud of the fact that all its men had been soldiers. He enlisted in July 1909 at the age of 20. In two years’ time he would be arrested and placed under military guard at Llanelli for refusing to shoot a man sitting on a garden wall.  In his statement to police, he said he had been in the firing party ordered to “defend the railway line against rioters”. He was ordered by his Commanding Officer: “You see that man on the wall. Shoot him.” He refused to obey the order, saying he would not shoot somebody “in cold blood”. Had the man thrown a brick or a bottle at him, it would have been different, he said. He had been arrested, and after the soldiers had retreated to the railway station he was held there in custody, but during the chaos of an explosion and fire had managed to escape. He then walked nearly 90 miles, eating apples, nuts and blackberries on the way, to New Radnor on the English border, where he was discovered by Sergeant Evans on Monday, August 21. He admitted that he was a deserter from the army, and recounted the remarkable events that had taken place the previous Saturday in Llanelli. He was handed over to the military authorities and taken to Cardiff Barracks, where he was accused of “desertion whilst in aid of the civil powers” and remanded for a district court martial.   The fledgling Labour Party took up a campaign for his release headed by the MP for Aberavon Ramsey McDonald - who went on to become the first Labour Prime Minister.   A poem was also written at the time and widely circulated amongst workers throughout the UK.

’Shoot straight, boys!’ the officer shouted
The ringleader, there is your man,
These strikers deserve to be routed,
’Twas well till their trouble began...
So shoot for old England, your mother,
Deserters the world will deride’
He answered ‘I shoot not my brother’
And stood with his gun at his side.


Robert said...

I went down this morning to the spot at the Station to pay my respects of a time long ago.

But a high ranking officer of the regiment( retired) stated the soldiers were right to shot to kill. They had to obey orders as they would today, I suspect he's right.

Ah well perhaps that's why the army does not like being involved with Politics, until they retire that is.

The Red Flag said...

The difference today being that the decision to fire in similar situations within the UK is devolved down to the individual soldier - nobody can order him/her to open fire - only not to. It is their individual decision - irrespective of rank, based on what they see within the boundaries of the Standing Orders they carry for the theatre they are in (in Northern Ireland the 'Yellow Card').

Sensible politicians and senior Police Officers rightfully resisted calls for the Army to be brought in. The Army in such situations is used to RESTORE law and order - not maintain it, AFTER it has irrevocably and irretrievably broken down AND the politicians have failed AND the Police have as well. It has far reaching consequences for politicians and police chiefs to admit they have failed and completely lost control of a situation. It is very easy to deploy troops but a nightmare trying to un-deploy them,

In the early 1970's the British Government - deeply offended by the 'No-Go' areas in Northern Ireland authorised Op MOTORMAN - the smashing of the barricades. The Cabinet asked the General could he do it. He replied yes and it would only take a couple of hours to smash down the barricades and enter the 'No-Go' areas but it would take them the politicians 20 years to get the troops out of them.

He was proved 100% correct.

kp said...

You fail to make mention of the great number of ordinary Welsh folk who were against the initial actions of the strikers and the even greater number who were against any further escalation of the situation.

To my mind, it is these folk who also represent the real, decent, hard working, people of Wales. And yet no-body dares to mention them anymore.

I wonder why.

The Red Flag said...

The reality fails to support your argument. It was because of this and similar incidents that the Valleys became and remain to this day a Labour stronghold. The fledgling Labour Party openly supported these actions and the people repaid that Labour support by voting for them ever since.

So stunned where the authorities by the level of support amongst the communities, local politicians and the local press for not only the strikers but also the soldier who refused to fire that when he finally came before a Courts Martial the charge of Desertion was dropped and the lesser charge of Absence Without Leave put in it's place. He received a derisory 14 days detention and remained a soldier. His defence was paid for by the Llanelli Trades Council who collected money in the streets to pay for it.

The only people who opposed the strikers were the bosses and some of the Union leadership - who quickly changed their minds when they saw how much support there was. Virtually every worker in the valleys was involved in the disputes - tin workers, steel workers, coal miners, railway workers. The union leaders were even panicing at one point because of the rise of 'syndicalists' who preached open revolt against the state and the support they were getting from both the workers and the people.

kp said...

Sorry, I wasn't talking about the local population.

Wales has always been much more than the Valleys.

The Red Flag said...

The bulk of the population lives in the Valleys and the South Wales strip and that's where the political power lies hence why Labour have been top dogs in Wales for 100 years. The only party that will ever break that grip is Plaid and that will take some decades yet. The rest of the parties are a bunch of irrelevant no-hopers.

Anonymous said...

"the people repaid that Labour support by voting for them ever since. "

Time the voters woke up to the fact that Blair-era and beyond, there was a massive problem with entryism in the Labour Party. And no I don't mean Militant (who even remembers them), I mean the likes of Lord "Two Resignations" Mandelson.

Anonymous said...

That's where Labour play a clever game. The Labour Parties of Wales and Scotland are far more left wing than the Labour party of England - the cenre-right beliefs of Blair's New Labour being unacceptable at street level to Labour voters in Wales and Scotland and conversely the left wing beliefs in those countries being unacceptable to the New Labour voting middle class.

The SNP have chipped away at them quite considerably and sooner or later Plaid Cymru will do the same to Welsh Labour. Just a matter of time before the voters of South Wales twig that ultimately the Labour Party of Wales is just a regional branch of London.

The Red Flag said...

I was just having a read of Robert (above) blog - Disabled, Left, Tired (you can find his blog in my sidebar - worth a read if you want to know how frustrating it is being severely disabled and dealing with all the relevant agencies.)

Anyway, he has a very good link to a Wales online article which shows the turmoil the whole country was going through in 1910/1911. This is the article:-


Robert said...

Plaid has to do a bit less about the Welsh Language because like it or not it's seen as the Welsh Speakers party, whether that right or wrong it how it's seen.

And now it's seen as being a Labour party after joining the coalition within Labour last government, it did nothing to push forward it's agenda until the election, that's because I think it hoped Labour would not win out right, and we have another coalition, it needs to be seen as more of a party and less or a partner