Leonard Worsell (left) and John ‘Jac’ John: two of the Llanelli strike casualties. Photograph: Public domain.
A rifle shot rings out. The men by the garden wall stand their ground. “It’s OK,” one shouts out. “It’s only a blank!” There is laughter. “It’s all right – they’ve only got blank cartridges,” someone else yells.
Suddenly a live round smashes into the throat of a man sitting on the wall, knocking him backwards onto the grass. Everybody runs.
Three men are down, bleeding badly. Two of them are carried into a house and laid out on a table, where they die.
On the nearby railway line, the major in charge of the detachment of soldiers orders his men to withdraw.
These events did not take place in Iraq, Afghanistan or some other beleaguered war zone.
They happened nearly a 100 years ago in Llanelli, Wales. The tinplate-producing town was hit hard by deindustrialisation, and thus became the place where the first ever national railway strike happened.
For two days and nights, pitched battles raged between pickets and troops for the line’s control through the town.
In a bungled intervention, the major in charge ordered his men to fire on the strikers. As news of the deaths spread, soldiers tried to restore order with fixed bayonets.
Trucks of the railway company were attacked and set on fire. Detonators exploded, killing a further four townspeople.
Police guarding the railway wagons.
John “Jac” John was 21 when he was killed. A mill worker at the Morewood Tinplate Works, he was a promising rugby player for the Oriental Stars. He was, according to a local rugby reporter, “one of the most popular young men in the town”.
A photograph shows a youth with expressive features and dark hair, parted in the middle and rather stylish looking. Scores of relatively well-paid tinplate workers like himself had come out on the streets in solidarity with the poorer rail workers.