Wales

Pain left by 1911 Llanelli riots still felt by families

Huw Edwards
Image caption Huw Edwards says the events of August 1911 changed Llanelli's history

Every so often, an opportunity comes along to work on a project that strikes a personal chord.

This summer I have spent time in my home patch, Llanelli, investigating one of the most painful episodes in the town's history: the riots of 1911.

In a special documentary for BBC Wales called Fire in the West, I examine the events that led to loss of life and an explosion of violence in that long, stifling summer of 1911.

This has become one of the forgotten industrial conflicts of the past century. So as we mark its centenary, I am hoping to set the record straight and remind people of the terrible events which so scarred our town. The pain is still felt by some families today, as I discovered.

Image caption Crowds at Llanelli station in August 1911

It's the first documentary I've ever made about the place where I grew up, a town whose heritage and community spirit fill me with pride.

The background to the story is compelling: a tale of abject poverty among rail workers, combined with unrelenting abuse, lead to confrontation with the millitary, loss of life, and significant rioting and looting. It all takes place over one fateful weekend in August 1911.

That summer was the hottest on record. The explosive heat no doubt increased tensions and tested everyone's patience.

In a few days of tragic events and industrial turmoil, two unarmed men were killed by the military - locals claim they were murdered - and another four lost their lives accidentally. Dozens were injured, as trains, wagons, shops and goods were destroyed in the riots and their aftermath.

Inspired and outraged by these events - and by the pitiful poverty of rail workers - children at the town's Bigyn School mounted their own protest, and boycotted lessons. Their protest was copied by many other pupils throughout Britain.

The killings - and the riots - changed the course of the town's history. Its reputation and character were deeply affected. The centenary provides a valuable opportunity to set the record straight, and for Llanelli to come to terms with an episode many have chosen to ignore.

The innocent victims of the Llanelli riots must not be forgotten. Some of the affected families have chosen to observe a strict silence on what happened, even expressing a sense of shame.

One hundred years on, it is clear to me that there is no shame at all in being part of this story. The working class of Llanelli confronted the might of the state, and innocent people lost their lives. Let's remember those victims and honour their memory.

It's never too late.

Llanelli Riots - Fire In The West, presented by Huw Edwards, is shown on Tuesday 16 August on BBC One Wales at 22:35 BST.

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