The Volunteer’s Story

The nine days of the General Strike in May 1926 shook the foundations of British society as over 1.5 million workers across the country downed tools. For many in the trade union movement it was a simple act of solidarity with the miners who had seen their wages and terms and conditions progressively driven down in the years following the end of the First World War. It is estimated that, by 1926, miners’ pay had fallen by a third from the 1919 levels. Proposals to further reduce wages and extend the working day produced the famous response from the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain, ‘Not a penny off the wages and not a minute on the day’. The decision by the TUC, in May 1926, to call out the transport workers, printers and iron and steel workers in sympathy with the miners met with almost total support from the unions and their members across the country.

In other quarters the TUC’s decision was seen as a General Strike and a challenge to constitutional government. With the shock waves from the Bolshevik revolution in Russia still fresh in the memory, the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, called the Strike ‘a challenge to Parliament’ and ‘the road to anarchy and ruin’ [The British Gazette, 6 May 1926]. Well before the strike was announced, the Government had preparations in hand to maintain key services across the country to be run in each area by a centrally appointed Civil Commissioner. In South Wales, the Earl of Clarendon was installed on May 2 1926 in Dominions Building in Cardiff to work with the local authorities to maintain law and order, transport and food supplies. He also had at his disposal the local arm of the Volunteer Service Committee established to recruit local men and women to keep the docks and local transport services operating and, if needed, bolster the police force. In all, the local Volunteer Service Committees recruited over 12,000 volunteers in South Wales. Small numbers of men were used to provide a skeleton service on the railways and in the docks . The impact of the volunteers was perhaps most evident in urban areas and, in particular, in Cardiff, where they were used to run tram and bus services. Although the TUC urged its members to avoid confrontation, the Government was determined to maintain essential services and stationed troops in most cities and towns along with naval vessels in key ports.

Glamorgan Archives holds material that tells the story of the General Strike in south Wales from the perspective of the unions, local volunteers and those running the Volunteer Service Committees. Records, such as the school log books, also trace the impact on local communities.

Over the past fortnight we’ve explored the stories of a railwayman and trade union official from Aberdare, and an officer of the Volunteer Service Committee. Today we examine the Volunteer’s Story.

On 16 July 1926 men and women from across South Wales attended the City Hall in Cardiff at the invitation of the Lord Mayor, Alderman W B Francis, and the Chairman of the Tramways Committee, Alderman W R Williams. The event was a grand civic reception for ‘Volunteer Drivers and Conductors who loyally served the Citizens during the period 4-15th May 1926′.  During the course of the evening those who had served ‘during the period of the National Emergency’ – more commonly known as the General Strike of 1926 – were presented with souvenir albums followed by musical entertainment and dancing until two in the morning. It was a high profile reception to celebrate their contribution to the maintenance of supplies, transport and law and order during the strike of May 1926.

Glamorgan Archives holds copies of the invitations and souvenir books presented to two of those who attended the reception, Ronald Pritchard who served as a Conductor on the Cardiff trams [Pritchard Family Collection, D414/4/1-2] and Cyril Small who was a Driver [Papers relating to mayoralty of Sir W. R. Williams, Cardiff City, DX701/9]. The Archives also holds the certificate of thanks from the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, and the Home Secretary, W Joynson Hicks, presented in May 1926 to Leslie Chapman for his service as a special constable in Cardiff during the General Strike.

D816_1

We desire on behalf of His Majesty’s Government to thank you in common with all others who came forward so readily during the crisis and gave their services to the Country in the capacity of Special Constables  [Leslie Howard Chapman Papers, D816/1]

The General Strike was a unique period in British history that divided the nation. For ten days there was a strike by the transport, iron and steel and print unions that threatened to bring Cardiff and towns and cities across the country to a halt. Many had rallied to the Government’s call for volunteers to keep essential services running. However, in other quarters there had been substantive support for the strike with rallies in Cathays Park attended by tens of thousands.  The civic reception was, therefore, seen in a very different light by the miners who were still on strike in July, and the thousands from the print, transport and iron and steel industries who had lost their jobs following the collapse of the strike, or had been forced to return to work on reduced hours and wages.

The papers held at the Archives do not provide details of how Cyril Small, Ronald Pritchard and Leslie Chapman fared during the tumultuous days of the General Strike in May 1926. However, they were probably in the thick of the action in Cardiff given that the most bitter confrontations followed from the decision by the Lord Mayor to break the strike by the bus and tram workers through the use of volunteers.

In all, over 12,000 volunteers came forward in South Wales in May 1926, including just under 7000 in Cardiff. In most cases the strike held firm and, due to lack of skills and numbers, volunteers working with management were only able to provide, at best, a skeleton service on the railways and the docks. However, in some cases they did make a significant impact. For example, over 600 men served as Special Constables in Cardiff and enabled the police to deploy large numbers of officers in central Cardiff throughout the strike. Although the TUC continually urged its members to avoid confrontation, the presence of up to 200-300 police in central Cardiff was a significant deterrent to those who might have looked for an opportunity to disrupt the work of the volunteers . The police also mounted armed guards at key locations throughout the city, including the Roath Power Station, and, if needed, they could call on troops from the Cheshire Regiment stationed in the city and sailors from Royal Naval in the docks.

The key area of confrontation between volunteers and strikers was the running of the trams in Cardiff. Initially, the strike was total but, within days, the Lord Mayor of Cardiff called on tram workers to return to work or be sacked. He also put measures in place to recruit volunteers, referred to by the strikers as the Lord Mayor’s Own (LMO), to run the service. Within days a limited tram and omnibus service had been restored to parts of Cardiff. Although, by and large, the unions instructed their members to avoid confrontation, the use of volunteers to run the transport service incensed many of the strikers and their supporters and resulted in attacks on buses and trams in an attempt to being the service to a standstill. In response, trams operated by volunteers were protected by police guards. At the height of the strike, on Thursday the 6th and Friday the 7th of May, large crowds blocked the progress of buses and trams on Queen Street and St John’s Square. The service was only restored after hundreds of police, including mounted police, were deployed to clear a route for the trams resorting, in at least one instance, to a baton charge to break up the crowds.

The running of the tram service in Cardiff during the General Strike created deep and ongoing divisions within the tram workers. At the end of the strike many of the volunteers were offered and accepted fulltime employment with the Cardiff Municipal Tram Service. Returning strikers, however, were given no guarantees and most were only taken back on reduced hours and hence reduced pay. This was a pattern repeated across the trades and industries involved in the General Strike, with union members, in some instances, losing their jobs or frequently only being able to return to work on reduced terms and conditions.

It is almost certain that Ronald, Cyril and Leslie were involved in some way in the above clashes. For example, it is very likely that Leslie Chapman was one of the hundreds of special constables deployed on the streets of central Cardiff at the height of the strike and he may well have been involved in the clashes on the 6th and 7th of May in Queen Street and St John’s Square. Ronald Pritchard and Cyril Small would have been very aware of the risks that they were taking in manning the trams during the strike, with their trams guarded on every journey by special constables. Volunteers were also often provided with a police guard on leaving work at night as they made their way back to the centre of Cardiff.

The civic reception, therefore, must have been the subject of mixed emotions. For Ronald, Cyril and Leslie it was probably just reward for a job well done. It was followed five months later by a further celebration with the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, who had branded the General Strike an attempt to impose a ‘reign of force’, being made a freeman of the city. Yet for many the strike had been a legitimate expression of support for the plight of the miners who had seen their wages and terms and conditions progressively driven down since 1918. Direct action had failed but there were other routes to fight for better working conditions, including support for the Labour Party.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

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Essential services must be maintained. Are you prepared to serve? – Edward Loveluck’s Story

The nine days of the General Strike in May 1926 shook the foundations of British society as over 1.5 million workers across the country downed tools. For many in the trade union movement it was a simple act of solidarity with the miners who had seen their wages and terms and conditions progressively driven down in the years following the end of the First World War. It is estimated that, by 1926, miners’ pay had fallen by a third from the 1919 levels. Proposals to further reduce wages and extend the working day produced the famous response from the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain, ‘Not a penny off the wages and not a minute on the day’. The decision by the TUC, in May 1926, to call out the transport workers, printers and iron and steel workers in sympathy with the miners met with almost total support from the unions and their members across the country.

In other quarters the TUC’s decision was seen as a General Strike and a challenge to constitutional government. With the shock waves from the Bolshevik revolution in Russia still fresh in the memory, the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, called the Strike ‘a challenge to Parliament’ and ‘the road to anarchy and ruin’ [The British Gazette, 6 May 1926]. Well before the strike was announced, the Government had preparations in hand to maintain key services across the country to be run in each area by a centrally appointed Civil Commissioner. In South Wales, the Earl of Clarendon was installed on May 2 1926 in Dominions Building in Cardiff to work with the local authorities to maintain law and order, transport and food supplies. He also had at his disposal the local arm of the Volunteer Service Committee established to recruit local men and women to keep the docks and local transport services operating and, if needed, bolster the police force. In all, the local Volunteer Service Committees recruited over 12,000 volunteers in South Wales. Small numbers of men were used to provide a skeleton service on the railways and in the docks . The impact of the volunteers was perhaps most evident in urban areas and, in particular, in Cardiff, where they were used to run tram and bus services. Although the TUC urged its members to avoid confrontation, the Government was determined to maintain essential services and stationed troops in most cities and towns along with naval vessels in key ports.

Glamorgan Archives holds material that tells the story of the General Strike in south Wales from the perspective of the unions, local volunteers and those running the Volunteer Service Committees. Records, such as the school log books, also trace the impact on local communities.

Last week we examined and account of the Strike by Trevor Vaughan, a railway worker and trade union official in Aberdare in 1926 [DX196/2]. A very different perspective on the events of May 1926 is provided by the Edward Loveluck papers held at Glamorgan Archives [DLOV/148-149].  Despite widespread sympathy for the miners there was a very real fear in many quarters that the strike called by the TUC was the first step in the breakdown of law and order.  The Government moved quickly to counter the print workers’ strike and produce its own newspaper, The British Gazette, with the first edition published on Wednesday 5 May. From the outset, Stanley Baldwin’s Government took an uncompromising approach to the strike. Under the heading ‘No Flinching. The Constitution or a Soviet’, the British Gazette stated:

The strike is intended as a direct hold up of the nation to ransom. It is for the nation to stand firm in its determination not to flinch. ‘This moment’ as the Prime Minister pointed out in the House of Commons, ‘has been chosen to challenge the existing constitution of the country and to substitute the reign of force for that which now exists….’

Mr Churchill pointed that either the nation must be mistress in its own house, or suffer the existing Constitution to be fatally injured, and endure the erection of a Soviet of Trade Unions with the real effective control of our economic and political life. The Chancellor, however, foresees the nation’s triumph in the struggle. ‘No one’, he declared, ‘can doubt what the end will be, but from every point of view, including our duty in the interests of the working classes of this country, we are bound to face this present challenge unflinchingly, rigorously, rigidly, and resolutely to the end’  [The British Gazette, No 1, Wednesday 5 May 1926, DX24].

The Government had put in place detailed contingency plans for the maintenance of essential services in the event of a strike. The first edition of the British Gazette contained details of the Civil Commissioners appointed at a regional level across the country, with the Earl of Clarendon charged with south Wales. Based at Dominions House, Queen Street, Cardiff, his remit was to work with local authorities to maintain law and order and the provision of essential services, in particular transport and supplies of coal and food.

The Civil Commissioners also had at their disposal a local Volunteer Service Committee chaired by a Government nominee and set up specifically to recruit volunteers to keep essential services running. In some instances the basis of a volunteer force had already been put in place by a body known as the Organisation for Maintenance of Supplies. The OMS had originally been created in response to a campaign led by The Times in 1925 for the establishment of a voluntary body, with branches across the country, ready to recruit volunteers in the event of a general strike. Although not officially a Government agency, Volunteer Service Committees, often supported by the OMS, played a key role in helping the Civil Commissioners maintain key services.

Edward Loveluck was a local architect from Bridgend who worked for the Volunteer Service Committee in May 1926. His papers illustrate the extent to which the Government was both determined to break the strike and had taken steps to put detailed plans in place to counter the strike in the run up to May 1926. On 22 April, two weeks before the strike was called, Illtyd Thomas, Chairman of the Cardiff Area Volunteer Service Committee, wrote to Loveluck headed ‘Secret and Confidential’, asking him to act as Vice Chairman with responsibility for the Bridgend District. Thomas’ letter confirmed that planning for service provision in the event of a General Strike was in full swing.

As you have probably gathered from information which has appeared in the Public Press, preparations are being made for the maintenance of Public Supplies should an emergency arise.

I have been requested by the Government to provide a Volunteer Service Committee which will comprise a deputy appointed by me and nominated official Representatives, namely a Food Officer, Road Officer, Railway Officer, Postal Officer, Coal Emergency Officer and Finance Officer, representing the essential services.

Loveluck was asked to lead in the recruitment of men and women in the Bridgend district willing to undertake:

…national service to assist to produce, handle or transport necessary food, fuel, light and power or such other duties essential for the maintenance and well being of the community, but not for the purposes of acting as strike breakers.

The last line was to be the subject of much controversy for there was clearly a fine line between the use of volunteers to run services where union members were on strike and strike breaking. It was clear that the Volunteer Service Committees were seen as an integral part of the machinery being put in place at the local level to counter the strike. In a second letter, dated 3 May, Thomas provided Loveluck with a copy of a confidential Government Memorandum setting out how the Volunteer Service Committees would support the Civil Commissioners and their staff. It also contained details of codes that would be used during the strike to initiate, suspend and end action. The memorandum provided, as an appendix, a suggested format for a recruitment poster and a template for a Registration Card to record the details of volunteers. Although the posters were not to use the Royal Arms or the letters ‘OHMS’, it was clear that the committees were seen as a key agent in rallying public support for the Government in countering the strike.

Volunteers urgently required. Men, women and children must be fed. Essential services must be maintained. For these purposes volunteers are urgently needed. Are you prepared to serve?

The records produced by Loveluck for the Bridgend area show that, within days, he was able to recruit over 180 volunteers. It is often thought that the volunteers came primarily from middle class, white collar occupations that had little sympathy with the unions. To an extent the records bear this out with a number of solicitors, accountants and surveyors in the ranks of the volunteers. However, the volunteers also included large numbers of labourers, drivers, blacksmiths and gardeners. Given the origin of the strike it perhaps surprising that several gave their occupation as collier, collier’s labourer, tram driver and loco driver. The ages ranged from the 16 year old bus conductor to the 72 year old man from Southerndown willing to help with transporting food and coal. The records suggest that, while the strike was widely supported in mining areas, in the towns and cities the population was deeply divided. There was certainly no shortage of recruits, both men and women, ready to help with clerical work, deliver supplies by road and even to work on the docks and railways if required. After assessing the volunteers, Loveluck produced a summary of the skills that could be provided by the second week of the strike.

DLOV149_compressed

Special constables – 9

Railwaymen drivers – 2

Drivers – motor car 32, lorry 47, bus/tram 2

Motor cyclists – 11

Electricians/engineers – 13

Horse duties – 2

Dock workers – 1

Labourer – 23

Clerical – 29

Lady workers 13  [DLOV149].

Perhaps a surprising factor was the small number coming forward for work as special constables given that there was a significant campaign in the Cardiff area to increase police numbers. However, it is possible that the need for additional police was less pressing in areas such as Bridgend, Southerndown and Porthcawl. The volunteers also included 13 women, one of whom was Edward Loveluck’s wife. Most offered clerical or canteen work although some were prepared to help with transporting food and supplies. In his letter to Illtyd Thomas of 14 May, Loveluck confirmed that the measures put in place were working smoothly as the strike moved into its second week.

DLOV148 14May1926_compressed

I telephoned the qualifications of the Locomotive Drivers on my list to you this morning and I enclose herewith the enrolment cards of same.

The lorry drivers canteen here has been open each night and has done excellent service and it will continue until further orders.

I understand tonight that a settlement has been reached with the Railway men, so probably the week end will see an end of the emergency. All is quiet and orderly in the Town and District, there is no shortage of anything except coal and this is strictly rationed.

There is nothing calling for special mention  [Edward Loveluck to Illtyd Thomas, 14 May 1926, DLOV148].

By this time the strike was all but over with the TUC’s call for all but the mining unions to return to work. Four days later Thomas wrote to Loveluck confirming that his volunteers could stand down.

DLOV148 18May1926_compressed

Instructions have now been sent from the Chief Civil Commissioner that all Recruiting Offices should be closed and the services of staff ended but I should be glad if the individuals who so kindly helped should remain available in case it may be necessary to re-open offices at short notice. All records and accounts should be preserved including registration cards until further notice  [Illtyd Thomas to Edward Loveluck, 18 May 1926, DLOV148].

The papers end with a letter to Loveluck from the Earl of Clarendon, Civil Commissioner for south Wales, thanking him for his service, dated May 16 1926:

The national emergency is over and I am shortly returning to London but before I go I wish to thank you most warmly for the services you have rendered as Vice Chairman at Bridgend of the Cardiff Volunteer Service Committee. The work which you have done has been an important factor in the success with which essential services have been maintained in this Division, and I am most grateful to you for the help and assistance you have given me during the last fortnight.

There is still much debate as to precisely why the TUC called off the strike on 12 May. There is no doubt, however, that the work of the Volunteer Service Committees and men such as Edward Loveluck played a significant role in persuading the TUC that, at both local and national levels, the Government was a determined to resist the strike and there was no certainly that further strike action would be successful.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

The General Strike 1926: The Railwayman’s Story – Stand Firm, We Must Win

The nine days of the General Strike in May 1926 shook the foundations of British society as over 1.5 million workers across the country downed tools. For many in the trade union movement it was a simple act of solidarity with the miners who had seen their wages and terms and conditions progressively driven down in the years following the end of the First World War. It is estimated that, by 1926, miners’ pay had fallen by a third from the 1919 levels. Proposals to further reduce wages and extend the working day produced the famous response from the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain, ‘Not a penny off the wages and not a minute on the day’. The decision by the TUC, in May 1926, to call out the transport workers, printers and iron and steel workers in sympathy with the miners met with almost total support from the unions and their members across the country.

In other quarters the TUC’s decision was seen as a General Strike and a challenge to constitutional government. With the shock waves from the Bolshevik revolution in Russia still fresh in the memory, the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, called the Strike ‘a challenge to Parliament’ and ‘the road to anarchy and ruin’ [The British Gazette, 6 May 1926]. Well before the strike was announced, the Government had preparations in hand to maintain key services across the country to be run in each area by a centrally appointed Civil Commissioner. In South Wales, the Earl of Clarendon was installed on May 2 1926 in Dominions Building in Cardiff to work with the local authorities to maintain law and order, transport and food supplies. He also had at his disposal the local arm of the Volunteer Service Committee established to recruit local men and women to keep the docks and local transport services operating and, if needed, bolster the police force. In all, the local Volunteer Service Committees recruited over 12,000 volunteers in South Wales. Small numbers of men were used to provide a skeleton service on the railways and in the docks . The impact of the volunteers was perhaps most evident in urban areas and, in particular, in Cardiff, where they were used to run tram and bus services. Although the TUC urged its members to avoid confrontation, the Government was determined to maintain essential services and stationed troops in most cities and towns along with naval vessels in key ports.

Glamorgan Archives holds material that tells the story of the General Strike in South Wales from the perspective of the unions, local volunteers and those running the Volunteer Service Committees. Records such as school log books also trace the impact on local communities. The account below is one of a series that draws on this material. It was written by Trevor Vaughan, a railway worker and trade union official in Aberdare in 1926 [ref.: D/DX196/2].

The Railwayman’s Story

Trevor Vaughan was 26 years old at the time of the General Strike. He was the clerk to the Station Master at Aberdare High Level Station and an official in the Railway Clerks’ Association. He came from a family with a long tradition of trade union involvement.

There was a good Trade Union tradition in our family. My Father was on the GWR and for many years a signalman in the Aberdare Box and a member of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants (later the National Union of Railwaymen). My grandfather on my Mother’s side was a driver on the Taff Vale Railway. The first minute book of a branch of the ASRS in Aberdare includes his name as a Committee member. He died in 1894 at 52 years. Four of his sons – my Mother’s brothers – were Engine Drivers.

The RCA was unusual in being one of the few ‘black coated’ unions affiliated to the TUC in 1926. Trevor Vaughan represented the RCA on the Aberdare Trades and Labour Council and he was, therefore, co-opted onto the key union committees directing the strike in the Aberdare Valley. As with most union members in the South Wales valleys, he had no hesitation in responding to the call to strike in support of the miners.

In the Aberdare Valley when a call came for strike to support the Miners – irrespective of party or religion – there was a spontaneity in the response from the whole community. We were not only comrades in the Trade Union Movement but fellow members of the chapels and churches, clubs, sport and Friendly Societies. Most of my school friends and boys I played with in our street went underground. They usually wore their white duck trousers in the street the night before they went “under” – often with their fathers. It was an emotional appeal. I doubt whether half a dozen of my members who were out on strike had ever voted “Labour”. That nine days revealed to me that there was a Working Class and I was a member of it.

As one of the few officials who could type, Trevor produced many of the messages that passed between the local strike committees during the 9 days of the strike – ‘Aberdare Solid’, ‘Stand Firm’ and ‘We Must Win’. In addition, he had experience of public speaking as a lay preacher, a talent that he used to good effect during the strike. However, undertaking such a role was not without risk. At his first public meeting, in Aberdare, he shared the platform with Max Goldberg, a train fireman, a member of the NUR and a known communist.

As a local preacher I stressed the Christian Brotherhood of Man and the sanctity of human personality. Max the Communist made the point “Here is the power on one side – the workers on the other – in between the Army, only the control of the army will get power”.

Subsequently, Max and two others were arrested . Max Goldberg was sentenced to two months hard labour and on release from prison his application for reinstatement was refused by the Great Western Railway.

It also fell to Trevor Vaughan to persuade strike breakers to fall in line with the majority of union members who supported the strike.

We had a few non-union blacklegs in our railway salaried service and even among those members who came out on strike, hardly one or two voting labour. I used to chase these blacklegs when they went to and from the office. One morning, before I was out of bed, my mother brought me a telegram. It read “come at ten – Hirwaun Joint”. I got on the back of a motor bike and when I arrived I was told that one of our members was working. He was Harry Morgan, Chief Clerk in the Goods Office at Hirwaun Station. I was almost instructed to “get him out”. Of course, I knew him well personally and had worked with him in the Aberdare Booking Office. I agreed to go around to his house. As I moved off I found half a dozen members of the Joint Committee accompanying me. This caused me some concern and at the end of the street I persuaded them to wait there until I came back. “Tiny” Morgan, as we knew him (he was very fat) was at home nursing the baby in a shawl Welsh fashion. I knew his wife was solid labour and would be on my side (it was usually the other way about). Both of us “had a go” at him, Mrs Morgan urging him to “go with Trevor”. Finally he agreed to meet me in the strike committee in Aberdare the following day. The strike ended a couple of days after and I was not sure whether he came out or not.

There were often difficult decisions to be made when dealing with strike breakers.

One difficult personal problem I had to deal with concerned the Chief Clerk at Aberdare High Level station, a close colleague of mine. To come out on strike in his eyes was tantamount to a Marxist Revolution, but he actually came out in loyalty to me. His wife, she had been brought up in a village outside Abergavenny, was under great strain with her husband on strike. He told me one day that he was very worried as his wife was not sleeping and that she was pregnant. I told him I could not take the responsibility of the consequences to his expectant wife and agreed for him to report for work and I would explain the circumstances.

As the strike moved into its second week support across south Wales remained firm. Trevor and his colleagues were, therefore, amazed when they heard on the ninth day of the strike that the TUC had asked the non-mining unions to return to work. Their initial reaction was that the Government must have agreed to the terms demanded by the unions. In particular the TUC claimed to have secured acceptable terms for the reopening of discussions for the settlement of the mining dispute. However, it became apparent later in the day, and over the following week, that the TUC had failed to secure any concrete concessions from the Government or the mine owners. It may be that the threat of legal action against the unions influenced the decision. However, there was also the suspicion that, faced by the determination of the Government to maintain essential services, the TUC feared that the further escalation of the strike, planned for 12 May, would have achieved little other than to increase the potential for clashes with the authorities.

With nothing gained for the miners and no guarantees that striking union members would be taken back by their employers, the TUC decision was a hammer blow to the strikers.

In spite of all the confident fighting speeches and high morale among the rank and file, the whole thing collapsed on the Friday night. There was a packed meeting of railwaymen in the Memorial Hall and the Aberdare Leader reported “Local Railwaymen decided at the Memorial Hall, Aberdare on Friday evening to accept the recommendation of the Union Executives and to return to work that there should be no penalties or victimisation”. In fact, there were no guarantees and many of my colleagues did not go back for months. With no coal coming from the pits, the railway company in South Wales had no work for many clerks. One young Clerk had only been on the railway a month but came out on strike but never got his job back.

National solidarity was in tatters and it was left to individual unions, at the local level, to attempt to negotiate a return to work for their members.

A meeting of the three railway unions was called in the Memorial Hall and a deputation representing the three unions was chosen to visit the various departments at the Aberdare Station to meet local Officials and to indicate we were available for work. As we proceeded towards the station we began to realise that it was a “cap in hand” affair. To quote the words of Aneurin Bevan in another context, as we approached the Officials we felt “naked”. We called in the Station Master’s Office (the office where I normally worked) and visited the Engineering and Goods Departments. We received a respectful reception from each Officer. We then moved over to the Loco Sheds where several hundred staff were employed as trainmen, fitters etc. The spokesman at the Loco was Ben Brace (ASLF) a very prominent member of his union nationally – a JP and Town Councillor. As we passed the office window we could see Mr Burgess, the Loco Foreman and one of his Shift Foremen the only two at the Depot not on strike. When we got to the office door we knocked and tried the knob – it was locked. We had no choice but to make our way into the engine shed and approach the glass partition where men booked on duty.

Mr Burgess and Fred Hussey came to the inside window and as the glass shutter had not been opened for nine days it was stuck and Fred Hussey broke the glass in opening it. The tension was electric! Ben Brace’s face was livid. To be humiliated in the presence of the other departments where we had had a respectful reception. Ben said “I thought you would have the courtesy to receive us in your office.” Burgess replied “We can do our business here, Ben”. Ben had to say that he was speaking on behalf of the Unions and that we were available to resume duty. Burgess replied “we will let you know when we want you,” and there the interview ended. It was absolute humiliation for men who had given their life time to the Company and we could do nothing whatever about it but walk away.

Across the county many men lost their jobs or were forced to return to work on reduced hours as employers took the opportunity to reduce numbers and, in many cases, retain those employed to break the strike. Trevor Vaughan was one of the lucky ones and returned to work on the railway at Aberdare.

Mr James, the Station Master, (we were good friends) called me back to the offices on Saturday morning and assured me that he had not done any of my work. Back on duty I had to compile a list for the Divisional Superintendent of the names of the “loyal” staff and those on strike. In the first column was one name “Mr James.” For the second column I just copied out the pay bill – about 120 names including my own together with Clerks, Inspectors, Signalmen, Guards, Shunters, Ticket Collectors, Porters etc.

And so ended nine days in which I experienced the “Baptism of Fire”.

But it did not end there for Trevor Vaughan and many others.

Involvement in the General Strike in a town like Aberdare was an emotional experience and it would be difficult to assess the influence it had on my personality. It brought me into close contact and intimate relationship with outstanding Independent Labour Party stalwarts who had suffered severe victimisation throughout the lives. Men of high integrity and intellectual quality. Everything in life that matters seemed to be at stake during that nine days. During my 45 years on the railway it was the only occasion when I knew what it was to be “out of work.” Along with thousands of my fellow workers in my home town I was facing reality something akin to the comradeship of the trenches in Flanders during the First World War.

On the one hand the strike was broken and the following year, to make a point, the Government enacted legislation to outlaw sympathetic strikes. The miners lock out continued throughout the summer and autumn before they were forced to accept defeat and return to work, where it was still offered, on reduced terms and conditions. As Trevor Vaughan noted:

It is difficult to believe that such a demonstration of solidarity among the working class – supported by the whole community as far as Aberdare was concerned – should suffer utter collapse.

However, the events of May 1926 made a firm impression on many men and women across the country. Direct action had failed but there were other routes to challenge the status quo and fight for better working conditions. In 1932 Trevor Vaughan was nominated as a Labour Party candidate for Aberdare Urban District Council and won a seat at the second attempt the following year. He went on to have a long involvement with local government, serving as Mayor of Newport in 1963, and he was awarded the CBE in 1967. Looking back on the events of 1926 he concluded:

There is no doubt that my involvement in the General Strike 1926 had a profound influence on the direction I was to travel in the years to come and the causes to which I would give the major portion of my life and energies.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer