By Christina Deias
The riots faced by cities in England recently shocked people throughout Britain and, indeed, the World. For the people of west Wales though, the riots have been a time to remember the unrest caused by the Llanelli railway strike exactly 100 years ago.
The Llanelli railway strike on 17 August 1911 was the biggest in the history of the country.
At a time of instability throughout industrial Europe, the strike broke out due to railway workers’ grievances over wages and the failure to recognise the rights of trade unions.
Hundreds of railwaymen, industrial workers and supporting locals gathered at Llanelli station’s two level crossings to stop approaching trains from passing.
The event was a politically sensitive one, as the Great Western Railway though Carmarthenshire was the major route between England and the areas of Ireland also facing significant unrest.
Speaking in 1997, Dr Deian Hopkin from Llanelli, who studied the riot, said: “Everything moved on rail; goods, people and soldiers. It was a crucial part of the military strategy of Britain”.
The unease caused by the strikers led to assistance from the military being called upon to try to break the strike. Soldiers from the Worcester Regiment arrived on a train amongst the crowds and opened fire. Two unarmed men were shot dead.
The deaths of the two men, a popular local, John ‘Jac’ John and a visiting Londoner, Leonard Worsell, caused more disorder as large crowds began rioting and looting shops. Train carriages were set alight and the explosion of a freight wagon carrying explosives saw the deaths of a further four people.
One hundred years on and there have been a number of initiatives developed to mark one of the darker moments of Llanelli’s history.
The Llanelli Strike Committee was set up this year, and intends to organise a variety of events to remember the 1911 tragedy. Also, the first ever documentary about the incidents surrounding the Llanelli strike has been produced by the BBC, presented by Llanelli’s own Huw Edwards.
On the BBC Wales News website, Huw says :”The centenary provides a valuable opportunity to set the record straight, and for Llanelli to come to terms with an episode many have chosen to ignore.”
The events of August 1911 can no longer be called the forgotten riots.
- Christina is currently a student at Swansea University you can follow her on twitter @weeny09