Search This Blog

Saturday, August 13, 2011

There are Riots, and there are Riots

One hundred years ago next weekend, two innocent men were shot dead by soldiers during rioting in my home town of Llanelli. John John, aged 21, and Leonard Worsell (the latter a Londoner, on a break from his TB sanatorium), had been merely watching the tussle on the main railway line through the town between striking railway workers and their allies on the one hand, and on the other, soldiers of the Worcestershire Regiment commanded by Major Brownlow Stuart. While attempting to escort a train past the strikers, the soldiers were attacked with stones. Stuart evidently panicked, getting a local magistrate to read the Riot Act - the last time this was ever done in Great Britain - before ordering his troops to fire. These tragic events are being commemorated in Llanelli by a three-day long series of events, including a march to the cemetery where the two men are buried; I'll be attending the unveiling of a plaque by John Edwards, the outstanding local historian who has written the definitive history of the riots. The railway shootings remain very much a cause celebre for the left, some of whom look back on the period 1910-14 as something of a golden age of organised socialist militancy.

Obviously, the anniversary has been given even greater relevance by last week's chaotic scenes in English cities. But to call both events 'riots' reveals the problems caused by employing that all-embracing word. The Llanelli 'rioters' were, in most cases, skilled workmen forced into action by nearly intolerable working conditions (such as weeks of 72 hours plus). They were organised, with a strong sense of communal solidarity; many were well educated and genuinely motivated by socialist principles. Contrast that with the scenes in Tottenham, Croydon, Salford etc: forget deep-rooted social causes, this was simply opportunistic criminality by feral pondlife, nothing more, nothing less. But perhaps the example of Llanelli should also give pause to those who called for the army to be sent in, and who no doubt will do so again if and when the next set of similar disturbances take place. Soldiers have guns, and are trained to fire them; the law of averages dictates that some will be more trigger-happy than others; and unfortunately, there is always the risk of a Major Brownlow Stuart and some innocent bystanders being in the wrong place at the wrong time.


Today I'm launching a second, and much more regular, blog - Gentlemen and Tarpaulins, which will deal exclusively with my writing and with 17th century naval history. View From the Lair will stay 'live', and I'll post on it from time to time whenever I want to comment on other matters.

No comments:

Post a Comment