100 years ago today – Churchill and Tonypandy

On November 9 1910 troops were despatched to the Rhondda and Cynon Valleys in response to industrial unrest and rioting in support of striking miners. Read the succinct Wiki.
– and Rhondda Cynon Taf have a nice web-site.
Tonypandy girl Carolyn Hitt writes very well:

My own knowledge of the Rhondda’s most compelling historical event had also been passed down the generations. As the youngest child of my grandmother’s youngest child – her 12th – I had the oldest Nan of anyone I knew and thus a direct hotline into history.
She could remember Queen Victoria’s funeral, music hall and mutton-leg sleeves and couldn’t utter Winston Churchill’s name without an expression of complete distaste. He wasn’t the wartime leader to her, he was just the man who ‘Sent The Troops In’

Guilty as charged? (it still matters…)
Well – there’s a quite considered post-intervention letter to Lloyd George. Old Churchill was good with language :

….Unless some real quality is put into this business we shall get into very deep water indeed.

Hmmmm horse bolted springs to mind Winnie old mate…
Here’s a great video made by the youngsters of Tonypandy and Llwynypia – The Powerhouse.

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  • Seymour Major

    I enjoyed the video.

    It seems to me that Winston Churchill has not been treated fairly by locals looking back on history but there you go. There is a wider UK history of strikers passing on their bitterness against political leaders, into communal memory, after they lose.

    I hope the local people are successful with their restoration project.

  • Alan Maskey

    These bitter Brits probably include those descended from the Tolpuddle Martys and similar folk. And poppies must be worn to commemmorate the hired hands whose heavy hands broke up communities. Churchill was not a nice man; perhaps it was because his father was diseased, perhaps not.
    On another thrad, it was suggested PIRA’s main serial killers drank to excess to forget or blot out their crimes. Did Churchill drink for the same reason?

  • Time and again Churchill’s reputation was saved by operating within democratic constraints.

    The Treaty Ports issue was the most significant in global terms. This week marks the 70th anniversary of the pits of that one (the outburst of 5 Nov 1940: Presidential Election day). Had Churchill (inflamed by his own personal history, prejudices, egged on by the likes of US emissary David Gray) a free hand, the consequences would have been appalling. Fortunately, cooler heads among the armed services, his colleagues and the bureaucracy contained the worst of his excesses then and elsewhere.

    The same is true, writ smaller and relevant here, of the 1910 Miners’ Strike.

    I was looking this up about eighteen months back, in connection with the remarkable Macready dynasty.

    If there is any official who emerges with credit out of that miserable little Churchill-inspired business in South Wales, it might well be (then) Major-General Nevil Macready.

    Macready had long been doing the dirty work of Empire, starting at the age of 19 at the Battle of Tell al-Kabir, then successively in Egypt, the Dublin garrison (when he sensibly married Sophy Atkin from the County Cork), India, the siege of Ladysmith and sorting out cattle-rustlers in Zululand.

    By 1910 he was in London, at the War Office, as director of personal services [yeah: search me, too]. He was a “safe pair of hands” and had “liberal principles”: his friend and acolyte, Wyndham Childs, later wrote that they shared:

    views which nowadays I suppose would be called sane, though at that time they were thought ultra-democratic.

    Macready was, it seems, a supporter of the right-to-strike, inclined to women’s suffrage, and favoured Home Rule (a combination which probably made him unique in the higher echelons of the British military).

    That made Macready the shock absorber, when Churchill went rogue over South Wales.

    Here’s the key bit from his obit. in the DNB:

    In November 1910 Macready was sent to command troops in support of police dealing with possible disorders arising from a miners’ strike. Although some rioting occurred, especially in the Tonypandy valley, his insistence that the military forces remained subordinate to the police and, perhaps more importantly (though of questionable legality), that they served under the direct authority of the Home Office, rather than taking direction from sometimes alarmist local magistrates, ensured that the use of soldiers, both then and during the 1912 national coal strike, did not inflame the situation.

    Apart from posting a symbolic squadron of cavalry in South Wales(which was never called out), Macready made sure the military effectively did nothing. Result!

    [If others have beaten me to that, apologies. It’s because my server is having hiccups.]

  • Dewi

    Interesting Malcolm – Army were called out on November 9th 2010 to a few locations although there don’t seem to be any reports of shooting.

  • Thank you for the acknowledgement, Dewi. I guess this reply may have to be split into two parts.

    For starters, I have a problem or two here. The Tonypandy episode is so etched into my prejudices. They may perhaps have been partly formed by Howard Spring’s marvellous novel, Fame is the Spur (so loved by us true-believers that Amazon price the secondhand 2000 paperback at £40!). Yet the legend doesn’t fit the “facts” as I find them.

    So, a quick climb into the Redfellow Hovel garret to look out Roy Jenkins on Churchill. For ideological reasons, that’s about as “favourable” a biography we’d allow in the house. And here I am checking out pages 195ff (paperback edition).

    What it evidences is the inflammatory attitude (Jenkins’ term) of the employers, starting in May 1910 with F.H.Houlder of the eponymous Newport shipping company. Houlder intended to bring in some 55 blacklegs to break the local dockers:

    … in the Argentine they managed these things better: they would send artillery and machine guns, and give proper protection to their subjects.

    Oh, dear.

    Then there was the confused legal responsibilities: it was down to the local Mayor, as chief magistrate, to request external aid. Since the Mayor of Newport had a constabulary of just 150 at his behest, he soon exhausted other local assistance; and applied to the Home Office. Churchill (seemingly well-guided by his Permanent Secretary, Sir Edward Troup) put the Chester garrison on alert but isent a Board of Trade concilator to Newport, who sorted matters within six hours of arrival.

    Houlder reneged; and had to be cajoled into acceptance. Peace was restored and Churchill went off to holiday in Switzerland and Venice.

    So, in November we arrive at Tonypandy. I think Jenkins is quite good here, and bears quotation at length. Look for the next posting, then, for that.

  • Here’s the Jenkins bit on Tonypandy:

    … although the chief Constable of Glamorgan had, according to a report of Churchill’s to the King, no fewer than 1,400 constables at his disposal, a cornucopia compared with that of his poor cousin of Newport, he decided to apply direct to the GOC Southern Command for troop reinforcement. There are several points here. First, just as the miners were gradually (and certainly by 1926) coming to be regarded as the most battle-hardened troops of industrial labour, so by a sort of symbiotic relationship the Glamorgan County Constabulary came to assume some of the characteristics of the crack battalion of the countervailing forces. As I recall from my childhood they had, like members of the Prussian Guard, silver spikes on their helmets, a form of aggressive decoration eschewed by the lesser Monmouthshire force. However, to judge from their Chief Constable’s application, the Glamorgan nerve was not quite up to their insignia.

    The second point of interest is why the Glamorgan Chief Constable was able to to go direct to Southern Command while the Newport one had to go through both his mayor and the Home Office. The answer is partly that there was no mayor and corporation covering the Rhondda, merely a humble urban district council, and partly that the Chief Constables of counties were ‘gentlemen’ and those of boroughs were ‘players’ — professional policemen — and in pre-1914, even pre-1939, England gentlemen were accorded much greater authority.

    Fortunately the general put in charge of the operation — Nevil Macready — was a very sensible man, who was anxious to co-operate with the more cautious view of the Home Office. The infantry, advancing from Salisbury Plain, were first halted at Swindon, and the cavalry allowed no nearer the scene of potential battle than Cardiff. A little later Churchill agreed to the cavalry advancing to Pontrypridd, at the junction of the Aberdare and Rhondda valleys. However, as the rioting persisted over several days and nights, with damage to sixty-three shops and one man killed, but accidently in a scuffle rather than by punitive action, Churchill did eventually allow a detachment of Lancashire Fusiliers into the valley, where indeed they remained for nearly a year. They never engaged with the strikers. The battle, such as it was, was fought by the Glamorgan Constabulary, reinforced by some London policemen (the Metropolitan Police, under Churchill, saw quite a lot of non-metropolitan England and Wales) with rolled-up mackintoshes as their hardly lethal weapons. There were no serious casualties, apart from the one man who died either before the Metropolitan Police or the military reinforcements arrived.

    On any objective analysis it is difficult to fault Churchill in the Rhondda for any sin of aggression or vindictiveness towards labour. Indeed at the time he was more criticized from the opposite direction …

  • There are some gross typos in my transcription that Woy would fastidiously have resented. So apologies for mistyping “accidentally” and probably others.

    I have to say that account does not quite render what I have read elsewhere. It seems to minimize Macready’s rôle in particular: I see others would see the infantry halted at Swindon as Macready, not Churchill or Troup (though they may have been, and probably were in different combinations in cahoots.

    Perhaps in a couple of years’ time, when another anniversary comes round, I can also commend Macready’s level-head, as GOC Ireland/Northern Ireland, in keeping Craig & Co. on the leash at the time of the Treaty and Civil War. Particularly when compared to the (again the elegant Woy) somewhat serpentine Chief of the Imperial General Staff, and Sir Maurice Hankey, the increasingly well-established spider of the Whitehall web.

  • Dewi

    Entirely tangential on Jenkins (from, huh, border country in Abersychan) his Dad was jailed in the great strike. The legend is that Roy’s Mam never told him….I’ll do a bit of further digging in my own books tonight…(Lewis Jones – Cwmardy probably closer to the truth than anything Mr Jenkins said…)