Churchill name for military base opposed, 100 years on

Sleeping miners at the Glamorgan Colliery powerhouse during the Tonypandy dispute of 1910

Sleeping miners at the Glamorgan Colliery powerhouse during the 1910 dispute

A decision to name part of a military base in the Vale of Glamorgan after Winston Churchill has been criticised by a community council.

Llanmaes council say it is wrong to name the St Athan site in honour of the wartime prime minister because he sent troops to intervene in a south Wales miners' dispute in 1910.

The strike led to violent outbreaks known as the Tonypandy riots.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) plans to name St Athan's West Camp Churchill Lines.

The West Camp will be a separate base for the 1st Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, outside the area occupied by the huge Defence Technical College development planned for the rest of the site.

The MoD has proposed the name change to make sure the two areas keep a separate identity.

However, Jackie Griffin, clerk of the council, said: "Llanmaes Community Council was unable to support such an inappropriate name change to an establishment in Wales given the fact that Churchill, while home secretary, sent the Army to suppress an industrial dispute between the South Wales miners and the mine owners.

"Although this took place a century ago, there is still a strong feeling of animosity towards Winston Churchill.

"I am informed that despite this council's opposition, the name change will go ahead, although it will be carried out as a 'low key' exercise."

Miners preparing to go underground at the Bargoed Colliery in 1910 The Tonypandy dispute was sparked by a row over piece-work pay for coal

The 1910 dispute engulfed much of the Rhondda valleys, with violent skirmishes focusing on the town of Tonypandy and the then Glamorgan Colliery at Llwynypia.

The anger of the miners was turned against the owners of the Cambrian Combine network of pits, sparked by a dispute over pay at the company's Ely Pit at Penygraig.

An all-out strike at the Combine pits was called for 1 November.

Violence erupts

In anticipation, the coal owner laid plans to bring in labour from Cardiff, and called on the chief constable of Glamorgan for extra protection.

On 7 November, picketing at Llwynypia erupted into fighting with the police and hours later violence flared in Tonypandy's town square. The rioting led to a telegraph to Churchill pleading for military back-up.

Start Quote

I think that Churchill could be viewed as a very aggressive home secretary at that time”

End Quote Prof Peter Stead Cultural historian

"All the Cambrian collieries menaced last night. The Llwynypia Colliery savagely attacked by large crowds of strikers causing many casualties on both sides," wrote a worried captain barricaded into the Glamorgan Colliery.

However, Churchill personally intervened at that point to prevent troops being dispatched, instead sending 270 police reinforcements from the London Metropolitan force.

The violence continued to flare, leading to more police reinforcements, and eventually troops from the 18th Hussars were stationed at the Llywnypia pit.

While authentic records of casualties have never existed, especially from the side of the striking miners, it is known that about 80 police officers were injured, and up to 500 others caught up in the rioting, the picketing and reprisals that followed.

According to Rhondda Cynon Taff council's own heritage services, it is known that just one person was recorded to have died in the events, Samuel Rhys, who suffered head injuries.

In all, just 13 people were ever prosecuted for their involvement in the rioting at a trial in Pontypridd in December 1910.

It was reported at the time that up to 10,000 men paraded from the valleys for the court case, while the authorities fortified Pontypridd with 400 policemen, two troops of infantry and a squadron of the 18th Hussars.

The trials brought an end to the riot - but it was not until the following August 1911 that the strike that sparked the violence finally came to an end.

Winston Churchill with Prime Minster David Lloyd George in London in 1910 Then Home Secretary Winston Churchill with Prime Minster David Lloyd George in London in 1910

Cultural historian Professor Peter Stead said the events of 1910 marked a dark time for the industry in the south Wales valleys, and did little to endear Winston Churchill to the public.

"It was a quite a stressed situation. At that time the coal industry was the heart beat of the nation," explained Prof Stead.

"As home secretary, Churchill was absolutely anti the strikes. He was an aggressive home secretary.

"But in a sense, it was the local police who slightly more aggressive than him.

"When the troops were finally called in, they were very well behaved, and the situation calmed down."

However, the historian said the same could not be said for the railway strike that hit Llanelli in 1911, at a time of bitter unrest in Ireland.

"Here, the troops open fired and two men were shot dead on the banks of the railway.

"So, I think that Churchill could be viewed as a very aggressive home secretary at that time."

However, Prof Stead said if the whole contribution of Churchill's life to Britain was taken into consideration, especially his wartime leadership, then it was "fitting" to remember him by name in Wales.

"It is not at all inappropriate," he said.

"People should be aware of the moments of greatness - but also of the complexity of his life. He was a fairly aggressive home secretary at the time - I wouldn't want to put it more strongly than that."

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