South Wales saw the most sustained striking and rioting in this period. During 1910-11 the whole region became a special military district overseen initially by Major-General Nevil Macready and then by Lieutenant-Colonel George Freeth. It saw the widest range of types of unrest with strikes and riots in the mining valleys, at the port of Cardiff and as a result of the national railway strike of August 1911. It also witnessed race riots against citizens of Jewish and Chinese origin, riots by black seamen and by middle class people against police brought into the region. Despite the myth, no-one was shot dead during the riots at Tonypandy, but two rioters (not strikers) were shot dead at Llanelly (now known more commonly as Llanelli) during the railway strike; two others were injured and other rioters died when they set light to a railway carriage containing detonators.
Action and Reaction in South Wales
The incident which is seen as marking the beginning of the period of ‘Great Labour Unrest’ was the riots in Tonypandy, Glamorgan in November 1910. Barbara Weinberger and Anthony Mor O’Brien do highlight the government’s intervention in the Newport dock strike in May 1910. However, as the government was unwilling to intervene to protect blackleg labour, this strike did not see the rioting that subsequent disputes were to witness.
Industrial action erupted in September 1910 across the South Wales mining districts over pay for working awkward seams; the strike became official on 1 November 1910. The rank-and-file miners were militant and were angered by the use of blackleg labour and their perception of the local police as a strike-breaking force. As Weinberger shows, that this was a fair view, particularly as the chief constable of Glamorgan, Captain Lionel Lindsay, openly aligned himself with coal owners’ interests and saw any resistance to their policies as rebellion. In addition, in contrast to other strike locations where the council offered a different focus of power to that of the leading employers, the mine owners had a monopoly of economic and political power in the valleys.
Following established policy, Lindsay imported 142 police from other forces to help face gangs trying to spread the strike. On 8 November, following police attempts to disperse a crowd, substantial rioting broke out in Tonypandy. One man was killed by police during the rioting. The rising tension had already provoked a local magistrate to requisition military force, as had happened during the 1893 and 1898 strikes in the area. O’Brien feels that Lindsay did not call on military forces in Brecon or Cardiff because they may have had local affiliations making them reluctant to oppose strikers. Furthermore, O’Brien believes Lindsay, acting on his own initiative rather than through a magistrate, would have angered the War Secretary, Lord Haldane. Though he adopted a very bullish approach, in fact, Lindsay followed the procedure that Haldane had approved when presenting to the 1908 select committee looking at these issues. Lindsay telegraphed army headquarters in Shrewsbury, Chester and Salisbury Plain, rather than approaching local units. It was up to Army Commands as to the nature of the troops sent.
Possibly, given the way that troops and police had effectively come under the direct control of mine owners in previous disputes in this area and used to carry out provocative action, Winston Churchill, the Home Secretary, intervened and instead sent 270 Metropolitan police, 70 of whom were mounted. As O’Brien notes, Haldane, concurred with the Home Office action, and, being in ill-health, was happy to let Churchill take charge. Though there were no subsequent riots, unrest continued and the police faced up to 7-9000 demonstrators over subsequent weeks. Sustained rioting did lead Churchill to subsequently despatch troops, but these were billeted away from turbulent areas. Fearing clashes between troops and strikers encouraged him to be cautious and to enlist help in finding a resolution.
Importantly, Tonypandy established the characteristics of the coming riots across Britain. An often overlooked precedent is the fact that the Rhondda Valley effectively became a military occupation zone under Major (brevet Lieutenant-Colonel from August 1911) George Freeth, initially under Major-General Sir Nevil Macready, but then in his own right. His troops remained in South Wales until August 1911 and Freeth was well positioned to tackle the subsequent unrest such as the Cardiff dock strike and riots associated with the national rail strike. This model of a designated strike area with an officer able to dispatch forces where necessary, was applied across the country during the rail strike. O’Brien sees Churchill as having become convinced by the experiences of South Wales, to use the Army instead of police all in riot situations. This is not borne out by subsequent events, especially in Hull. The continuing problem continued to be, the relative small number of police available and their expense when imported into a different area. In subsequent unrest, military units continued, as had been determined in 1908, to be the last resort, whatever local magistrates might demand.
It was the riots connected with the mining dispute in the Rhondda Valley of South Wales, which seemed to herald the period of great unrest. For almost a year a strike area, overseen by military forces was retained not only in the mining valleys. but also towns such as Cardiff and Newport. As events turned out, this was a sensible precaution as the region was convulsed by some of the worst rioting of this period. After the Tonypandy riots, the mining districts remained quiet but riots arose the following summer in Cardiff associated with the dock strike, at Llanelly during the railway strike and the apparent anti-Semitic riots at a number of towns following the railway strike.
In July 1911, with Askwith and Macready dealing with the situation in Salford, violence broke out during the Cardiff dock strike. The strike, which started on 14 June 1911, did not show any tendency towards violence until the afternoon of 18 July. Protests arose as non-union labour was being used to unload ships. At the docks, up to a thousand people began attacking warehouses and then the firemen sent to extinguish the blazes which were started. Local police, made up of the city constabulary, but also the separate dock and Cardiff railway company police, were able to clear rioters from around the docks. The local authorities followed procedure and enlisted what help they could with thirty police each coming from the Gloucestershire, Monmouthshire and Methyr Tydfil forces. Other neighbouring constabularies soon had their own problems with which to deal.
Large-scale meetings continued in the following days and 220 Metropolitan police were sent along with troops diverted from the mining districts. The police were being stretched thin, especially to cover areas such as the Barry Docks, away from the city. With Freeth commanding forces inland, he was able to dispatch two battalions of the Lancashire Fusiliers to Cardiff and Barry. However, as he did, rioting again flared up in the mining valleys and units of the Loyal North Lancashire and Somerset Light Infantry regiments were sent to black spots throughout the region.
In the days after 18 July, rioting turned from the dockside to targeting the city’s Chinese community and then, in the most serious riots on 22 July, at the Metropolitan police themselves, now stationed in Cardiff. A Chinese crew was escorted through the town by police on July 19 which provoked attacks on Chinese properties the following day. The strike continued but Askwith could not intervene as no side had asked him to do so. He stood ready to go to Cardiff whilst the situation deteriorated and the city’s strike committee blocked the movement of flour in the city, thus hitting the bread supply.
On 20 July, having attacked various Chinese in the streets, over a thousand rioters surrounded Chinese laundries in the city and stoned them until all the windows were broken. Despite the presence of 220 Metropolitan Police and a battalion of Lancashire Fusiliers in the city to supplement the city police, the rioters were just followed around without intervention as they attacked laundries and Chinese they encountered in the street.
In just a few hours of race riots over £83 worth [£5,000 at today’s values] of clothing was destroyed and insurance claims from Chinese properties attacked, both laundries and boarding houses, topped £710 [nowadays worth £40,000]. It is easy to see where such attitudes came from. Chinese sailors were the only ethnic group of sailors who did not go on strike. They tended to be isolated in their own community; easy to identify and locate for attack. Writing to the Home Secretary and the President of the Board of Trade, Ben Tillett, general secretary of the Dock, Wharf Riverside and General Workers Union, part of the National Transport Workers Federation demanded ‘Chinese and so called Free-labour must go’ and that there was a sound ‘reason for the public to turn the Liberals out of office seeing that they have brought the Chinaman to oust the British worker’. It would be difficult to argue that such attitudes held by a respected trade union leader did not stoke up the racial violence seen in Cardiff. Tillett's racism is ironic given that the Cardiff Chinese population was well established and Chinese sailors had not been brought in to break the strike, they had simply not struck in the first place. Given the union leader's attitude it would have been no surprise that the Chinese sailors were not unionised.
Tensions remained high even after the dock strike had finished with a riot among black British seamen who had been laid off. Having gone for seven to eight weeks without work around 400 surrounded the Board of Trade offices in the city on 16 August. They claimed that, as British subjects, they had more right to be chosen for employment than their Greek, Spanish or Italian counterparts who ships’ officers had begun to favour since the strike. Police broke the demonstration with baton charges, hospitalising seven protestors.
Rioting with a racial aspect was not confined to Cardiff. On Saturday 19 August 1911, the same night as rioting rocked Llanelly farther West in Carmarthenshire, towns across Monmouthshire, inland from Cardiff, were hit by rioting which, at least initially, targeted Jewish shops. The Jewish population of South Wales was small, only around 5,000 in 1914. In Tredegar, where the rioting started there were only 150 Jews in 1911, less than 1 percent of the town’s population. The Jews were primarily shopkeepers, though Joseph Cohen, who was blamed by police for provoking the riot through raising rents, was the owner of a mineral water factory as well as housing. Of the eighteen Jewish shops in the town, sixteen were wrecked and looted on the first night. Cohen claimed that police had ignored his warnings, but, in turn, he had refused military protection and had fled to London, where he was granted an interview at the Home Office and appears as a key source of information for the government. 
With over 200 rioters, the local police force of nine constables was overwhelmed. Tredegar fell within the broad reach of Lieutenant-Colonel Freeth’s area and so he sent 170 soldiers, a mix of troops from the Somerset Light Infantry and the Worcestershire regiments. As the days passed, rioting continued at Tredegar and spread to Ebbw Vale and to Rhymney which had only two policemen on duty at any one time. A squadron of the 4th Hussars and a further 180 more infantry of the Worcestershire Regiment were brought in. These saw action bayonet charging stone-throwing rioters. Rioters who were arrested had to be kept under military guard, as there were too few police. Despite the extent of the rioting and the involvement of around 500 soldiers, injuries were not severe. After nine months of dealing with sporadic unrest in South Wales, Freeth’s forces were pretty experienced at working in this anti-riot role.
Though members of the Jewish Boards of Deputies and of Guardians in London warned the government that there would be further attacks on Jewish property and some Jewish shops were damaged, as W.D. Rubinstein notes, after the first riot on 19 August, only four more Jewish shops were attacked, a fraction of the Gentile ones which were looted. In addition, eight of the towns where rioting took place on 22 August, such as Cwm, Victoria, and Waunllwyd, had no Jewish residents at all. As was pointed out at the time, no Jewish people were attacked nor was the synagogue in Tredegar. However, there was clearly a fear that anti-Semitic attacks would occur and it was reported that hundreds of Jewish, as well as other residents, left the area.
As Colin Holmes states, it is often noted when looking at unrest that people act when they feel the rules of the ‘moral economy’ have been breached. The riots which wracked South Wales seemed to have stemmed from the fear that the strikes were allowing shopkeepers to push up prices at a time when real wages were declining. Rubinstein notes the hostility to plutocrats in Wales at the time, as had been the case during the Boer War ten years earlier. The riot is a way of demonstrating to traders the parameters of what customers will permit. The rioting partly came from greed, as Victor Bosanquet, the chief constable noted, even ‘respectable’ people stole ‘all they could lay their hand on’. The rioting in Tredegar and the surrounding towns inflicted £16,000 worth of damage [£883,000 at today’s values]. Unusually for Britain of the time, for a brief moment rioting appeared to be acceptable behaviour and racial tensions which had bubbled away previously now broke through to the surface. However, as Rubinstein notes, the actions of a few hundred individuals have to be set against the continuing support the Welsh gave to Jews.
Though the racial elements of the rioting attracted attention, the Head Constable of Cardiff was more shocked at the hostility of the city’s middle classes to the Metropolitan police stationed there. Large numbers of spectators gathered wherever there were disturbances, this occurred at all the riots discussed in this article, but beyond that, imported police were liable to attack whenever they appeared in Cardiff. They were stoned from ‘respectable’ houses. The skating rink where they were billeted in Cardiff was surrounded by 3-4,000 rioters who forced the Metropolitan police officers out. Two closely avoided death when masonry was thrown at them from a roof.
Not only did the imported police have to contend with such attacks, there were a clutch of malicious complaints against them after they had been withdrawn from Cardiff. These included accusations of assaults on bystanders and that the Metropolitan policemen had been drunk. The Home Office investigated the complaints in detail but determined that they had no foundation in fact and felt that the police had been restrained in breaking up what were clearly serious riots. The reason for the hostility towards the police by those not directly involved in the strike can only be speculated upon. Like the Chinese, these offices were an easily identifiable target for the anger of the population of the city. The rioters came from across the social spectrum so the explanation cannot really be found in the ‘them’ and ‘us’ mentality prevalent at the time, bar in the sense of the local community being angered at any outsiders disturbing their freedom to riot, a right that many in the country at the time felt was a legitimate one. As in most places in Britain, by the end of the summer, this sentiment had run its course, never to revive.
It is clear from the violence in Cardiff, as elsewhere, that much of the unrest was only tangentially, or at least only initially related, to the strikes prevailing at the time. Less than a month after the Cardiff riots more violence was seen during and after the national railway strike which fitted this pattern. At Llanelly (known since 1963 as Llanelli) on 19 August 1911 two rioters, neither a railway man, were shot dead. Striking railway men had, in fact, tried to stop the mob, mainly of tinplate workers, from stoning the police and soldiers. None of the four looters, who died later that day in Llanelly, when a wagon containing detonators was set alight, were railway workers. Observation of similar behaviour came from Lieutenant-Colonel Lee based in the South Midland Strike Area who noted the destruction of the Portishead Junction signal box, outside Bristol in the South-West England, was carried out by ‘hooligans’ rather than striking railwaymen.
There seems no reason for the army officers to lie about the membership of the crowds. Studying the unrest between 1910-1913 it becomes clear that, though violence and vandalism were associated with the industrial unrest, and, in cases such as attacks on collieries and docks was carried out as part of the strike, much of the violence was unrelated and done by people not from the striking industry. This is reinforced by Geary who points out that the main target for strikers was preventing blackleg labour from getting to work and not in destroying property or machinery. However, it is clear that there was some additional social trend afoot which led to such a range of people being involved in rioting. The temperature was 124.1°F (51.1°C) in the sunshine in Cardiff on 17 August 1911. The heat, though, cannot simply explain why usually law-abiding people turned to violence, vandalism and arson.
Though farther West than Cardiff and Tonypandy, Llanelly also fell within the South Wales strike area. Dean Hopkin, in his study of the Llanelly incident, shows how the town was a peaceful one and only around half of the 535 local railway men were members of a union. However, pickets started at 1,000 people and rose to a peak of 5,000. Llanelly was an easy target. Unlike other major Welsh stations, it was not on a rise. There were level crossings both sides of the station which made picketing easy. In addition, the route from London to Fishguard, a main port for traffic to Ireland, which passed through Llanelly, was a busy, profitable one. The local police force had lent constables to both Tonypandy and Cardiff to deal with their unrest, leaving only eighteen police officers in the town.
Pickets at the level crossings easily held up trains. Despite the return of all Llanelly police to the town they were clearly outnumbered. Police, and later 120 Loyal North Lancashires, brought from recent duty at Barry Docks, were unable to keep the line open. Macready sent in an additional 250 troops. The picketing fell away and services resumed. It was on the Saturday evening with the public houses having been closed early, that the violence escalated. A train was halted, disabled and its driver beaten, before 80 soldiers of the Worcester regiment were sent in. This force was probably too small to deal with the hundreds of rioters who were above the line which ran through a cutting at this point. The soldiers were stoned by 150-200 rioters.
In line with the 1908 select committee’s views, after the commanding officer had spoken with some of the rioters, a bugle was sounded and the Riot Act read. After a minute’s pause, five shots were fired, killing two men who had been taunting the soldiers and injuring two others. One shot was accidentally discharged. Only five shots were intentionally fired with fifteen seconds delay between each. The two men who were fatally shot were hit in the chest, the second whilst claiming that the round were blank. The use of blanks had been forbidden in riot situations. The third victim was shot through the neck and the fourth in the hand, but both men survived. The fact that five shots fired individually inflicted such casualties indicates the potential accuracy and impact of rifles of the time. As evidence given to the 1908 select committee noted, people could be killed 180 yards from firing and injured up to 400 yards away. The Llanelly incident shows how even a comparatively small number of troops could have decimated the rioters if they had fired volleys into the crowd. This was especially the case as the King’s Regulations advised shooting at the front of a crowd rather than over the heads. This approach was seen as reducing the potential to injure bystanders, but increased the likely casualties among rioters.
One private among the Worcestershires at Llanelly deserted and fled across Wales until he was caught, hungry and exhausted 100 miles away. Rioting and looting continued throughout the night across town. Soldiers had to relieve the police station where the train driver had been taken, from siege by rioters. Warehouses as well as wagons were systematically looted. Ultimately damage totalling £3,742 [worth £205,000 today] was done. The rioters were persistent and were only broken in the early hours of the morning by repeated bayonet charges by Sussex Regiment troops.
Dean Hopkin notes that the looting was blamed on outsiders from neighbouring villages, though, in fact, they were from all the poor districts in and around Llanelly. The ‘railwaymen maintained a low profile in the activities of the picket’, so, as in Cardiff, one sees rioting by a ‘much wider cross-section of the community than was directly involved in the strike.’ Women had been involved in the rioting, as had been the case in Tonypandy and in Cardiff. The parochial anger at being assaulted by the authorities is another similarity to Cardiff. People involved in rioting rather than looting, after the shootings, felt their cause legitimate and continued to call for the indictment of all the magistrates and senior police. As in Tonypandy the previous year, in some cases, looting was focused on particular individuals. Shops and property belonging to magistrates received particular attention as the people blamed them for the incidents, especially bringing troops into the towns. Hopkin writes that the population of the town were ashamed of what had happened. Interestingly, what happened there may have cooled the temper of rioters elsewhere, for example, as noticed by the chief constable of Hull.
 Barbara Weinberger, Keeping the Peace? Policing Strikes in Britain 1906-1926, (Oxford, 1991), pp. 44-5, 209; Steve Peak, Troops in Strikes. Military Intervention in Industrial Disputes, (London, 1984), pp. 27-8. Weinberger, pp. 42-3; Anthony Mor O’ Brien, ‘Churchill and the Tonypandy Riots’, Welsh History Review, vol. 17 (1994), p. 74, David Smith, ‘Tonypandy 1910: Definitions of Community’, Past and Present, vol. 87 (1980), p. 159. Roger Geary, Policing Industrial Disputes, 1893 to 1985, (Cambridge, 1985), p. 118; O’Brien, p. 78; Smith, pp. 163-5, 168, 180. Who Was Who 1941-50, (London, 1967), p. 411. O’Brien, p. 92.
 National Archives, [henceforward NA], HO 45/10649/2120615, sub-file 134, Police reports to Head Constable, especially Superintendent George Durston’s, 29 July 1911; sub-file 107, Chief Constable [of Glamorgan, i.e. Captain Lionel Lindsay, rather than the head of the Cardiff Constabulary] to Under Secretary of State, Home Office, 29 July 1911. NA, HO 45/10649/210615 sub-file 90, undated [26 July 1911?], Memorandum to Mr. Churchill; sub-file 81, ‘Diary of Cardiff Strike’, Major Freeth, 23 July 1911. South Wales Daily News, 9 July 1911, ‘Cardiff Laundry Raids’ [report of court cases against rioters]; Colin Holmes, ‘The Tredegar Riots of 1911: Anti-Jewish Disturbances in South Wales’, Welsh History Review, vol. 11, no. 2, (1982-3), p. 224 also briefly mentions other racial violence in South Wales aside from anti-Semitic attacks; NA, HO 45/10649/210615, sub-file 77, ‘Minute’, undated [23 July 1911?], ‘Stations of Military in South Wales and Bristol Area’, undated [27 July 1911]; sub-file 137 Lew Yuk-lin, Chinese Legation to Sir Edward Grey [Foreign Secretary], 8 September 1911; sub-file 82, Ben Tillett to the Home Secretary and the President of the Board of Trade, ‘Manifesto. Transport Workers’ National Dispute’, 24 July 1911. The Times, 16 August 1911, ‘Negro Riot at Cardiff’. At this time, Monmouthshire was considered an English county though it is in what we could consider geographically to be Wales and laws, such as those on licensed premises were described as applying to ‘Wales and Monmouthshire’. Information provided by Association of British Counties. Geoffrey Alderman, ‘The Anti-Jewish Riots of August 1911 in South Wales’, Welsh History Review, vol. 6, no. 2, (1972-73), p. 191; Holmes, p. 215; NA, HO 144/1160/212987, ‘Diary of Events. South Wales Coal Strike. 21st August 1911’, Lt. Col. Freeth, 21 August 1911; sub-file 3a, ‘Statement of Mr. Joseph Cohen Regarding the Tredegar Riots’, A.S.W. NA 144/1160/212987, Freeth, ‘Diary. 21st August’; ‘Rioting at Tredegar’; A.S. Tallis (Presiding Magistrate) to W.S. Churchill, 21 August 1911; sub-file 3a, ‘Diary of Events, South Wales Strike Area 23rd August 1911’, 23 August 1911. NA, HO 144/1160/212987, Jewish Board of Deputies to Home Secretary August 22, 1911; Member of Jewish Board of Guardians to Home Office, 22 August 1911; Rubinstein, pp. 686-7, 692-3; The Times, 23 August 1911, ‘Renewed Riots in South Wales’. Holmes, p. 219; NA, HO 144/ 1160/212987/ sub-file 13, Victor Bosanquet to Home Secretary, October 25, 1911; Rubinstein pp. 667, 669, 673, 683. NA, HO 45/10649/210615, sub-file 87, Chief Constable of Glamorgan [based in Cardiff] to Under Secretary of State, Home Office, 23 July 1911; sub-file 86 Superintendent J. Olive to Metropolitan Police Commissioner [Sir E. Henry], 23 July 1911; sub-file 93, Complaint by Christopher W. Thompson, July 25, 1911; ‘Analysis of Complaint - Thompson’, 25 & 29 July 1911; sub-file 116, Analysis of Complaint’ [one for E. Cottle and one for J. Watt], 16 August 1911; Letter to James Parker, M.P., 30 August 1911. The Times, 30 August 1911, ‘The Llanelly Riots’; NA HO 45/10655/212470 sub-file 206, ‘Diary of Events, South Wales Strike Area. 19th & 20th August 1911’, unsigned [Lieut.-Col. Freeth], 20 August 1911. NA, HO 45/10655/212470, sub-file 243a, Lieutenant-Colonel Lee to Brigadier-General L.G. Drummond, 21 August 1911. Roger Geary, Policing Industrial Dispute, 1893 to 1985, (Cambridge, 1985), p.25. Dean R. Hopkin, ‘The Llanelli Riots’ in Welsh History Review, vol. 11, no. 4 (Dec. 1983), pp.491-2; NA, HO 45/10655/212470, sub-file 171, ‘Diary of Events. South Wales Strike Area’, August 18, 1911; Chief Constable of Carmarthenshire to Home Secretary, 19 August, 1911. Hopkin, pp. 493-4. Hopkin, pp. 496-501; PRO, HO 45/10658/212470, sub-file 451, ‘Llanelly Riots. Copy Depositions Taken at Inquest’, undated; sub-file 474, McKenna to Llwellyn Williams, M.P., 5 August 1913. ‘Report of the Select Committee on Employment of Military in Cases of Disturbances”, 16 July 1908, Parliamentary Paper 236, collected in Reports from Committees. Session 29 January - 21 December 1908. Vol. 7 (2), p. 19; Anthony Babington, Military Intervention in Britain from the Gordon Riots to the Gibraltar Incident, (London, 1990), pp. 125, 131, 135. Some in the crowd believed the soldiers were firing blanks, and others that they would not fire. This reinforces Major-General G.F. Browne’s concern of 1908 that it be clear that when a military unit arrived it was effectively saying ‘if we use our firearms it is to kill’ and Lord Haldane’s insistence that no blank rounds be issued.; The Times, August 25, 1911, ‘Soldier’s Refusal to Shoot a Rioter’; 30 August 1911, ‘The Llanelly Riots’ [which corrects the earlier article]. NA HO 45/10656/212470 sub-file 352, W.S.C. [Churchill] to Sir Edward Troup, 29 August 1911; NA HO 144/1022, ‘Extract from the King’s Regulations and Orders for the Army ...’, undated, especially paragraph 965. Hopkin, pp. 500, 502-4, 506-7, 510; Smith, p. 168; Babington, pp. 125, 131; NA HO 45/10658/212470 sub-file 294, ‘Hull’, Mr. Butterworth, 23 August 1911; NA, HO 45/10658/212470, sub-file 451, ‘Llanelly Riots. Copy Depositions Taken at Inquest’, undated; sub-file 474, McKenna to Llwellyn Williams, M.P., 5 August 1913; Select Committee, p. 19. Between 1869-1908 troops had fired 17 rounds at rioters killing 4 and wounding 11, the farthest being 400 yards away. In 1908 rounds were noted to be smaller, of higher velocity and more frangible if they hit masonry than had been the case in 1894.