Churchill, Tonypandy and “Poundland Lenin”

Churchill, Tonypandy and “Poundland Lenin”

Tony­pandy, Wales is in the news again with fuzzy pur­vey­ors of his­to­ry. On 13 Feb­ru­ary the Guardian head­lined, “Win­ston Churchill was a vil­lain, says John McDon­nell.” (Mr. Don­nell is Labour’s shad­ow Chan­cel­lor of the Exche­quer in the House of Commons.)

“Villain — Tonypandy”

Mr. McDonnell’s swipe at Churchill was brief. Asked if he saw Churchill as a hero or vil­lain, he replied: “Villain—Tonypandy.” The Guardian com­plet­ed the dri­ve-by assas­si­na­tion, not only by head­lin­ing the remark, but with an inac­cu­rate rehash of the Tony­pandy riots in 1910.

Sir Winston’s grand­son, Sir Nicholas Soames, focused on McDon­nell, call­ing him a “Pound­land Lenin.” Maybe, but what about the Guardian? Iron­i­cal­ly, at the time, the same news­pa­per had defend­ed Churchill for his moderation.

Reac­tion to McDonnell’s out­burst has been broad and uni­form. Could this be a sign that the truth-tellers are win­ning? (Lon­don Evening Stan­dard, 14 April)

There was one death at Tony­pandy, but that occurred dur­ing the riot­ing and before Churchill was involved. How­ev­er, troops did cause two to four deaths nine months lat­er, dur­ing anoth­er strike at Llanel­li. Quot­ing from my book, Win­ston Churchill, Myth and Real­i­ty, Chap­ter 8….

Rhondda Valley, 1910

For over a cen­tu­ry the sto­ry has been part of social­ist demonolo­gy. Churchill, as Home Sec­re­tary in 1910-11, “sent troops to attack strik­ing coalmin­ers” in the Rhond­da Val­ley, Wales. In an oth­er­wise gen­er­ous trib­ute fol­low­ing Churchill’s death in 1965, Labour Prime Min­is­ter Harold Wil­son found it nec­es­sary to remind Par­lia­ment of Sid­ney Street, Gal­lipoli, and “the sullen feet of march­ing men in Tonypandy.”

In con­cern over pos­si­ble riot­ing dur­ing the Rhond­da min­ers’ strike, Churchill met with Sec­re­tary of State for War Richard Hal­dane. They resolved to dis­patch police con­sta­bles, but no troops. Churchill declared the use of sol­diers inap­pro­pri­ate in a civ­il dis­or­der. He also promised the strik­ers an imme­di­ate Board of Trade inquiry into their griev­ances. He sent them this message:

[Your] best friends here are great­ly dis­tressed at the trou­ble which has bro­ken out and will do their best to help [you] get fair treat­ment…. But riot­ing must cease at once so that the enquiry shall not be prej­u­di­cial and to pre­vent the cred­it of the Rhond­da Val­ley being impaired. Con­fid­ing in the good sense of the Cam­bri­an work­men we are hold­ing back the sol­diers for the present and send­ing police instead.

Lo the Poor Horses!

The Tory press attacked. The Times said that Churchill 

hard­ly seems to under­stand that an acute cri­sis has arisen which needs deci­sive han­dling. The rose­wa­ter of con­cil­i­a­tion is all very well in its place. But its place is not in face of a wild mob drunk with the desire of destruc­tion. Men’s lives are in dan­ger, not to men­tion the poor horses….

The Lib­er­al press defend­ed Churchill, prais­ing his restraint. “The brave course was also the wise one,” wrote the Man­ches­ter Guardian: 

One can imag­ine what would have hap­pened if the sol­diers instead of the police­men had come on the riot­ers while they were pil­lag­ing. Bay­o­nets would have been used instead of trun­cheons… Instead of a score of cas­es for the hos­pi­tal, there might have been as many for the mortuary.

Tonypandy, 1910

The deci­sion to with­hold troops was short-lived. Riot­ing did not end, and spread to the town of Tony­pandy, where one man was fatal­ly injured and six­ty-three shops were van­dal­ized. The offi­cer com­mand­ing the South­ern Com­mand dis­patched 400 stand­by sol­diers. On 8 Novem­ber, Churchill ordered that “in no case should sol­diers come in direct con­tact with riot­ers unless and until action had been tak­en by the police.” If police were over­pow­ered, troops could be deployed. But even then, a num­ber of police should remain, “to empha­sise the fact that the armed forces act mere­ly as the sup­port of the civ­il power.”

“By pre­vent­ing blood­shed,” Paul Addi­son wrote, “Churchill also pre­vent­ed a deba­cle for Lib­er­al­ism.” Writ­ing to David Lloyd George the fol­low­ing spring, Churchill attempt­ed to fol­low-up his Novem­ber promise to address griev­ances. The gov­ern­ment, he said, should insti­tute stronger safe­ty reg­u­la­tions and inspec­tions. It should finance the expense with a sur­charge on mine­own­ers’ royalties.

His hopes were thwart­ed, Addi­son con­tin­ued: “The sol­diers did not kill any­body, but they remained in the Rhond­da until Octo­ber 1911 and as David Smith observes, their pres­ence ‘ensured that the min­ers’ demands would be utter­ly rejected.’”

Llanelli, 1911

Nine months lat­er at Llanel­li, dur­ing a nation­al rail­way strike, the only fatal­i­ties from the use of troops against strik­ers occurred. Iron­i­cal­ly, they hap­pened two days after the strike had end­ed. Riot­ers held up a train and knocked the engine dri­ver sense­less. Sol­diers attempt­ed to clear the track but loot­ing began, and they fired into the crowd, killing either two or four riot­ers (accounts vary).

In han­dling the rail strike, Ted Mor­gan wrote, what Churchill’s crit­ics could not see

was the num­ber of saved, and the num­ber of tragedies avert­ed. In their drunk­en fren­zy, the Llanel­li riot­ers had wrought more hav­oc and shed more blood and pro­duced more seri­ous injury than all the fifty thou­sand sol­diers all over the country.

Why use mil­i­tary force at all? Defend­ing him­self to William Royle, orga­niz­er of the Man­ches­ter Lib­er­al Par­ty, Churchill explained:

The progress of a demo­c­ra­t­ic coun­try is bound up with the main­te­nance of order. The work­ing class­es would be almost the only suf­fer­ers from an out­break of riot & a gen­er­al strike if it c[oul]d be effec­tive would fall upon them & their fam­i­lies with its fullest severity.

Churchill told Royle, as he had Lloyd George, that wages were far too low. The rise in the cost of liv­ing, he wrote, required high­er wages. “I believe the Gov­ern­ment is now strong enough to secure an improve­ment in social con­di­tions with­out fail­ing in its pri­ma­ry duties.”

Old Men Remember

Among those inter­viewed by the BBC fifty-five years lat­er for their mem­o­ries of Tony­pandy was W.H. (Will) Main­war­ing, one of the youngest mil­i­tants in the South Wales coal­fields. He was sub­se­quent­ly co-author of a famous pam­phlet, The Min­ers’ Next Step. Half a cen­tu­ry on, he still spoke with pride of cham­pi­oning the min­ers and of his record as a protestor.

Of Churchill’s deci­sion to send troops into the Rhond­da in 1910 Main­war­ing said on camera:

We nev­er thought that Win­ston Churchill had exceed­ed his nat­ur­al respon­si­bil­i­ty as Home Sec­re­tary. The mil­i­tary did not com­mit one sin­gle act that allows the slight­est resent­ment by the strik­ers. On the con­trary, we regard­ed the mil­i­tary as hav­ing come in the form of friends to mod­i­fy the oth­er­wise ruth­less atti­tude of the police forces.

Further Reading

“Churchill, Troops and Strik­ers, Part 1”
“Churchill, Troops and Strik­ers, Part 2”

4 thoughts on “Churchill, Tonypandy and “Poundland Lenin”

  1. Thanks Richard, for keep­ing the record straight. Nobody does it bet­ter. Churchill did change par­ties twice. This coun­try would ben­e­fit from a third par­ty. Noth­ing is always black and white. There is a lot more to it.

  2. Delet­ing that first link was the right deci­sion. No need to feed the troll as they say.

    Alas, you’re right. As long as the media is con­trolled by mouse clicks, click­bait arti­cles shall rule the roost. I try my best to send scep­tics and the eas­i­ly gullible to this site. 

    Great arti­cle. As usu­al you’ve pre­sent­ed a rig­or­ous­ly researched arti­cle, sources and all. 

    I wish I could say the same for the dol­lar store Bol­shie and the click dom­i­nat­ed media.

  3. Thanks for the links. I delet­ed the first one (why pub­li­cize igno­rance) but any­one who wants to read it need only Google “tha­roor Churchill Bloomberg”

    This sort of bil­ge­wa­ter will con­tin­ue to clog the web as long as we have 24/7 media and respectable pub­li­ca­tions which fail to do their home­work. But since his arti­cle only regur­gi­tates, the orig­i­nal response is still suf­fi­cient. See “Win­ston Churchill the Racist War Criminal.”

    See also Indi­an his­to­ri­an Zareer Masani, linked here.

  4. Tha­roor again has regur­gi­tat­ed the same bog stan­dard arti­cle almost word for word in Bloomberg today. Tha­roor doesn’t speak for all Indians.

    Churchill was quot­ed approv­ing­ly by a retired high court jus­tice of India Mr Marakadey Katju recent­ly, and in Indi­an supreme court judge­ments: Asso­ci­a­tion of Demo­c­ra­t­ic Reforms case [2002 (5) SCC 294]. And con­tin­ues to be by The Times of India.

    WSC’s sup­port for the untouch­ables is still fond­ly remem­bered in India. 

    It seems the old­er gen­er­a­tion of Indi­ans aren’t swayed by the calum­ny of the younger. Nor do the younger gen­er­a­tions them­selves uni­form­ly despise Churchill. Only a small loud minor­i­ty does.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

RML Books

Richard Langworth’s Most Popular Books & eBooks

Links on this page may earn commissions.