The Story of the Llanelli Riots Murders of 1911

State-sanctioned murder is always a controversial topic and can guarantee to be an issue that will raise tempers and fray emotions. Whilst state-sanctioned murder in itself suggests an order passed down from the top as a directive, any murder committed by a member of that nation’s Armed forces in a non-battle scenario can also be constituted as state-sanctioned from the very existence of the uniform the perpetrator is attired in. The British Army is notionally held up without criticism within the British mainland, an organisation of hero’s that exists to impose safety on both native and foreign peoples from harmful protagonists. Yet similar to the “evil” regimes the British Government regularly claims to stand against, their own army has been the perpetrators of evil and heinous acts of its own.

It is frowned upon to call the British Army anything other than heroes in this country and understandably so. We might preach freedom and liberty in a similar way to the Americans, but this country is also victim to falling under the spell of political propaganda whilst sweeping its own despicable acts under the carpet. It would be folly to consider the entire Army evil, I know soldiers and they are just normal men making a living. What needs to be looked at however is the way orders are passed down and what is the intentions of those at the top of the politically charged hierarchy. Whilst some people tend to consider the entire existence of the British Army as a weapon of murder in itself for apparently systematically wiping out civilians through its actions throughout warzones around the world, it is the individual and seemingly spontaneous acts that concern me, especially when an act is brought to my attention mere miles from my home.

Possibly due to the independent status of the Republic of Ireland and also the advantage they have gained in the past politically by adopting an anti-British rhetoric, numerous incidents of British Army murder are now relatively well-known although they are either ignored in this country or suffer from many apologists who tend speak out in defence of the actions as necessary in combating Irish Republicanism or other causes. One such incident took place on 30th January 1972 in Derry, Northern Ireland whereby 26 unarmed Civil Rights protesters and innocent bystanders were shot by the British Army, 14 men dying from their injuries. The recent Saville Inquiry investigation has given some form of satisfaction to families of the those brutally shot dead whereupon the verdict announced that the killings were “unjustified and unjustifiable”, leading to Prime Minsiter David Cameron offering an apology on behalf of the United Kingdom for her Army’s actions. Although the most famous Bloody Sunday, another incident that occurred on 21st November 1920 also became known as Bloody Sunday. Taking place during the vicious and violent Irish War of Independence and on the back of the shootings of British intelligence agents involved in the war, the British Army and Security forces entered Croke Park where Dublin were playing Tipperary in a Gaelic football match proceeded to shoot into the crowd of innocent bystanders. 12 people were shot dead, including two boys of 10 and 11, and two more were trampled to death in the subsequent panic. An inquiry was held immediately and the opinion of the Major General in charge of the area was that “the firing on the crowd was carried out without orders, was indiscriminate and unjustifiable”. Naturally this ruling was suppressed and hidden by the British Government for 80 years to hide the atrocities that had been committed in their name. A more recent atrocity carried out by a serving British Army personnel was the convicted war criminal Corporal Donald Payne. Payne was only convicted of Inhumane treatment of prisoners after lack of evidence meant he could not be convicted of manslaughter. Payne was part of a group of soldiers under whose command a 26 year old Iraqi hotel employee died with 93 injuries about his person from an “interrogation”. The judge in charge of the court martial believed there had been undoubted covering up by the Army that restricted him from imposing a much tougher sentence to fit the crime committed. After the trial, a video was released allegedly showing Corporal Payne undertaking abuse and banned torture techniques on other Iraqi prisoners, as others have also been alleged to do.

Whilst these are infamous and thankfully rare events, one event that has escaped prominent media attention is in the midst of its 100 year anniversary. The Llanelli Railway Riots of 1911 was an effect that resulted in the callous murder of two innocent young men by the British Army, although the incident has been seemingly buried to such an extent that the majority of people within the town it occurred have never heard of the incident. Beginning on 17th August 1911 and in an act of national strike solidarity, 500 railway workers began a strike similar to many that were taking place across the country in the aim of securing better wages than the pitiful renumeration they were currently receiving. Regularly forced to work for 60-72 hours a week in return for pittance, the nation’s railway workers were up in arms and reading to take action. With Llanelli then considered the tin capital of the world and nicknamed “Tinopolis”, the ranks of the strikers were quickly swelled with up to 5,000 other workers throughout the town including the tinplate workers, gas workers and dockers. With two crossings either side of Llanelli train station, both were barricaded by workers ensuring nothing passed through the vital commercial link to West Wales and Ireland.

With the line blocked for the entire of Friday, Winston Churchill ordered troops to enter the area and to disperse the pickets. Continuous small battles were launched by the pickets to regain control of the crossings after they were inevitably regained by the might of the military. Saturday morning saw a train allowed to pass by the authorities who by now controlled the crossing but it was pursued by protesters who commandeered and stopped the Fishguard-bound vehicle. Most of the protesters and bystanders were positioned on high terraces either side of the railway track, most actually standing in their own back gardens. After the incident with the train, the authorities ordered magistrate Henry Wilkins to the track and whom proceeded to read the “Riot Act”, which included the lines “our Sovreign Lord the King chargeth and commandeth all persons, being assembled, immediately to disperse themselves and peaceably depart to their habitations or to their lawful businesses”. The act was designed and implemented as a warning for a group of 12 or more “unlawfully assembled” men to disperse or face tough punishment. With many unable to disperse due to already being at their place of residence, the 60 seconds were counted out meticulously on a small waistcoat watch before the disgraceful murderous shots were fired.

Two men were murdered. One was John ‘Jac’ John and another was Leonard Worsell. Jac John was a 21 year old whom played rugby for Oriental Stars and was considered something of a local sporting star. He was watching the event unfolding from his garden wall with some friends when a bullet hit a man in the throat. The next bullet fired hit Jac in his lung and was a fatal shot. The unfortunate irony is that Jac had a relatively well paid job as a tinplate worker and the strike didn’t affect him personally, he was merely present out of a well-intentioned act of solidarity for his struggle fellow man. This would cost him his life, a shocking outcome for a promising young man described as “one of the most popular young men in the town”. The second man unlawfully and brutally shot dead by the British Army, Worcester Regiment was the even younger Leonard Worsell. Perhaps even more tragically Londoner Leonard was not even present as a protester and had no qualms about showing solidarity for his fellow townsmen. A lodger at Number 6 High Street, Leonard was murdered whilst he was bare-chested without shoes or socks in the middle of Shaving. Merely popping outside his house during his morning ritual to see what the commotion was about, Leonard was hit in his heart with a bullet and dropped to the floor. The crowd fled amidst cries of “murderers”.

Although the deaths caused widescale rioting to erupt out of grief and anger, the funerals of both men attracted an unprecedented 30,000 people who lined the streets of the town, solidifying the area’s staunch socialist and Labour sentiments after the murder of its two Martyrs. What makes the entire matter even more tragic is that by the time the two men were needlessly and criminally murdered, the nationwide strike had been repealed with Churchill himself declaring “they have beaten us”. A few days later an army deserter from the Worcester Regiment was found 90 miles from the town and was identified as Harold Spiers. He claimed that as one of the soldiers at the crossing, he was instructed but refused to shoot on innocent and unarmed people, backing up the claim by the protesters that the perpetrators were indeed murderers. Many in the town itself remain unaware of the atrocity that took place in quiet Llanelli town a century ago, a conspiracy many consider to claim “it never happened” by the British government and the collaborating local Chapels who had much influence in those days, alleging “shame”. There is nothing shameful in being innocently murdered by the state and in a similar way to how the British Government apologised for the 1972 Bloody Sunday incident, the people of Wales, Llanelli and most importantly the families of those involved should be given a personal and heartfelt apology for an incident that should not be forgotten.

Categories: History | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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6 thoughts on “The Story of the Llanelli Riots Murders of 1911

  1. I have signed the petition on the back of reading this well put together piece. This incident is probably considered to be of little interest, if it is considered at all by the authorities in the Great Wen. It is good that they are reminded of it though – who knows, if enough sign the petition some grudging recognition/apology might ensue.

  2. Cheers pal. I do appreicate the writing.

  3. Gee wiillkers, that’s such a great post!

  4. Good stuff. Pity it’s so factually inaccurate, though.

  5. Martin Langford

    “Whilst these are infamous and thankfully rare events.” Not so rare, covered up more-like.

    This book shocked me but upon reflection, it seems nearer the truth. You cant create an Empire by just recommending a country lay down it’s arms. Most atrocities are not even recorded. It is heavy going but something tells me it is understating things.

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