In the aftermath of the dramatic events at Llanelli in 1911, the government and media made haste to cover things up. They used public disquiet about the rioting as a way of covering up the original act of violence – the shooting dead of two men and injuring of others – that provoked the riot in the first place. Sound familiar?
John John, known as ‘Jac’, was 21- years old and lived with his family in Railway Terrace. He was a mill-worker at the Morewood Tinplate Works. He was also a promising rugby player, a centre, previously captain of his local team – St Alban’s RFC – and now playing for the Oriental Stars. A commentator wrote: “Jack John…seizes his opportunity in a twinkle of an eye, and always does his ‘whack’. On the defence he is sound.” Great things were expected of him on the Stars’ tour of France in the autumn of 1911.
A photograph shows a youth with expressive features and dark hair, parted in the middle and rather stylish-looking. Another photo shows him a little older, with hair slicked back and brilliantined, wearing a polka-dot bow tie. Obviously a man who cared about his appearance, possibly a bit of a dandy. He was, according to a local rugby reporter “one of the most popular young men in the town.” He was killed by a bullet through the lung.
The fact that he was a tinplate worker is relevant. Although it was the railway workers who were on strike, other workers came out in solidarity. Llanelli tinplaters earned double an average railway worker’s wage. Yet men like John ‘Jac’ John, recognising that they were all in this together, did not hesitate to come out on the streets in support of their brothers. Messages of support from the tinplate workers were delivered to the crowd on the first night of the all-night picket. In confrontations with the police and army, it was the tinplaters who were said to be the most militant.
John John was shot as he stood in the garden of No 6 High Street, overlooking the railway line. The Worcester regiment had escorted a train through the station, but strikers and their supporters had succeeded in climbing on board and immobilising the engine. Some stone throwing took place (although, interestingly, none of the train’s windows were broken) and Major Stuart, in charge of the military, ordered the magistrate Henry Wilkins to read the Riot Act. When this had no effect, Stuart drew his watch and gave the crowd a minute to disperse. Then the soldiers opened fire, ending the lives of two men. Next week I look at Leonard Worsell the Londoner, the other man to die.