The level of support for the railway strikers from fellow-workers and from the local communities – indeed the fact that the revolt was very much a revolt of these communities –is demonstrated by the fact that neither of the killed men were railway workers. ‘Jac’ John was a tinplate worker, and tinplate workers had come out in force to show solidarity with the more poorly-paid railway workers.
But the other man – Leonard Worsell – was not even ‘guilty’ of the ‘crime’ of coming on the streets to show solidarity. He was shot, bare-chested, without shoes or socks on his feet, in his own back garden, in the midst of shaving! He was guilty of no crime apart from that of lodging in a working-class street. He was a 19- year old labourer, a Londoner from Penge, staying at Number 6 High Street. He appears to have been drawn to south Wales by the hope of work in the expanding tinplate industry. As strange as the idea of coming from London to boomtown Llanelli to find work may seem to us in 2010, it is important to remember that at this time, as far as tinplate was concerned, the town was an industrial powerhouse.
He was suffering from tuberculosis, an endemic disease of the urban poor, and was being treated at Alltymynydd Sanatorium, near Llanybydder. He was spending his week-end leave in Llanelli, and had interrupted his shaving in the kitchen and gone outside to see what all the fuss was about, as people who were trying to stop the train had come into his back garden . Another lodger at the same digs had warned him to “come away or else you’ll get shot.” After the first deliberate shot was fired, Leonard had apparently shouted,“It’s all right, they’ve only got blank cartridges.”
Major Stuart made much play at the inquest about a man who had bared his chest and dared the soldiers to fire, and ‘Jac’ John has usually been identified as that man. I wonder if it was not, instead, Leonard Worsell, shaving. Perhaps the bare-chested gesture was not one of defiance, as the major imagined, but simply the fact of a man interrupted in the midst of a wash. He was carried into No 6 and laid out, bleeding profusely, on a table in the middle room. He died from a bullet to the heart.
The photo shows him in a dark coat with crew-neck top, the hair hanging over his forehead in a quiff, square-jawed, wary-looking. After the shooting his family could not afford his funeral expenses. The War Office decided to donate four pounds, since they were “respectable people but in very straitened circumstances.”