DensleyBlair

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That is adorable.
I suppose it wasn’t strictly all… but then anything is better than what usually happens when the British press spends a week fixating on non-white people.
 
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99KingHigh

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given these questions about Britain’s supposed toleration of dissident views

For the record, the first amendment is alive and well.
 
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DensleyBlair

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given these questions about Britain’s supposed toleration of dissident views

For the record, the first amendment is alive and well.
Your bourgeois conceptions of liberty do not fool us
– AB​

:p
 
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99KingHigh

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Do you remember the utter futility of Bevan’s declaration of peace and amnesty during the Crisis? The absolute futility of this action was so conspicuous. I think peace might rescue them and the West.
 
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DensleyBlair

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Do you remember the utter futility of Bevan’s declaration of peace and amnesty during the Crisis? The absolute futility of this action was so conspicuous. I think peace might rescue them and the West.
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roverS3

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My apologies for barging in with my comments on an update from page 6... I just read the storming of Cliveden (operation night flight). Revolution is so exciting, especially when viewed through the lens of a televised re-enactment. Thrilling stuff. I'm honestly surprised they managed to keep Churchill from taking up arms. I just imagine his last stand, facing down the workers with a tommy gun, like in that famous picture, until his inevitable demise. Of course, that part wouldn't then make it into the re-enactment to avoid martyrizing the man. Anyhow, back to slowly catching up...
 
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DensleyBlair

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My apologies for barging in with my comments on an update from page 6... I just read the storming of Cliveden (operation night flight). Revolution is so exciting, especially when viewed through the lens of a televised re-enactment. Thrilling stuff. I'm honestly surprised they managed to keep Churchill from taking up arms. I just imagine his last stand, facing down the workers with a tommy gun, like in that famous picture, until his inevitable demise. Of course, that part wouldn't then make it into the re-enactment to avoid martyrizing the man. Anyhow, back to slowly catching up...
Thanks for commenting, rover – and welcome to the thread! As I said by PM, I'm really happy to know you're taking the time to catch up and please do feel free to barge in with thoughts on anything, no mayor how old. :D

I've been prompted by your reading to go back and have another look myself at that part of the timeline. Glad you found the storming of Cliveden thrilling! I remember at the time there being a discussion about how strangely anti-climactic it was, almost by necessity. Two years of strikes and occupations and street fighting, and the UK goes out with Tory MPs scrambling to be heroes and Lady Astor fainting in her boudoir. Of course, as you say with the TV re-enactment part of the fun is how much you want to believe is fully true. Churchill I could definitely imagine having one final 'let them eat lead' moment. But quite right – don't want to make a martyr of the man…

I like to imagine that at some point the Commonwealth got an Eisenstein-style film of the whole thing. Would probably end up something like October meets Dad's Army

Enjoy the rest of your catch up, and as I say always feel free to drop in :)
 
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Le Jones

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Right, so, like @El Pip real world nonsense has diverted me from this. @DensleyBlair and @99KingHigh , you've been busy!

While @99KingHigh has been his trademark brilliant in portraying an America giddily plunging off the cliff, I want to focus on some of the UK. I found your portrayal of Aberfan both moving and, well, plausible; from Bevan's (understandable) horror

The first CBC reporter on the scene of the disaster was John Humphrys, at that time a young journalist with the corporation’s Welsh arm. He appeared on television visibly upset, describing what he saw as being like ‘a scene from hell’. Millions watched as CBC cameras showed the miners of Ynysowen, raised from the coal seams, digging through the spoil in search of the missing, working meticulously to ensure that their excavations did not lead to further collapse. They were helped by local residents, who had rushed to the junior school with garden tools and, in many cases, their bare hands, to help move the rubble. Around the diggers, ambulance workers, fire fighters and Workers’ Brigade volunteers all worked to help bring the situation under some sense of control. Engineers from British Coal worked to dig a drainage channel to help stabilise the tip, which had been further saturated by the destruction of two water mains during the descent of the spoil into the valley. While they worked, residents of all surviving houses in the west of the village – the side closest to the spoil tips – were prepared for evacuation in case of another collapse, although by 2 pm the tips were stabilised without further incident. Persistent rainfall meant that the threat of another catastrophe was not fully alleviated, but immediate danger had passed. It now fell to the rescue teams, the politicians and – most poignantly – the surviving residents to process the scale of the tragedy.

Tragic, heartbreaking, brilliantly written. I had to factcheck Humphrys, I didn't realise that in our TL he was the first reporter at Aberfan.

Somewhere across the water, Jim Bowen is waving his hands in the direction of the United States and shouting “look what you could have won!”

I giggled at this and said "BFH".

Chairman Bevan spent the night of the disaster in Cardiff. On the morning of November 1, he returned to Aberfan in order to see the village in daylight. He was met there by President Mikardo, who travelled from London and arrived at midday. Separately, Bevan and Mikardo gave brief interviews to the CBC reporters at the site of the disaster on the Tuesday afternoon. The President said some words about the pain of loss, declaring simply that “the Commonwealth grieves”. Chairman Bevan’s distress was more palpable, both in his words and in his appearance. Looking pale, his usual blistering style of public speech was jettisoned in favour of a frank emotional register. For once, the veteran politician seemed almost lost for words. He described the disaster as “the darkest day of my life”, before committing to take whatever action necessary to put things right, telling cameras that he would sanction the appointment of a tribunal to investigate the slippage as a matter of urgency. Cameras then followed the Chairman as he observed the ongoing rescue efforts at Pantglas Junior School, before showing him consoling a pair of grieving mothers.

To those watching on television at home, particularly those old enough to remember the hushed official response to the catastrophe at Windscale, the footage of Bevan meeting with the bereaved of Aberfan gave a sense of the scale of the change that had swept through the Commonwealth over the past five years. Before, government figures confronting disaster so openly would have been unthinkable. Bevan’s public commitment to an inquiry was a far cry from Harold Macmillan’s terse suggestion that the Windscale fire had been an ‘error of judgement’. No doubt the incumbent chairman keenly recalled the lessons of the 1957 disaster, which proved resistant to cover-ups and sparked an opposition movement that ultimately brought about Mosley’s downfall. By getting out in front of the cameras and dealing in the view of the public, Bevan would have been eager to forestall the development of any similar opposition. Unfortunately for him, it was never going to be so simple. As was beginning to become clear, the same commitment to transparency that the government hoped would save it from harm could also be used to apply pressure like never before. Clearly, the Aberfan disaster had laid the groundwork for a confrontation that would decide the character of the Commonwealth for years to come. Chairman Mosley’s history had demonstrated how fatal these sorts of confrontations could prove for those in power. For Bevan and his ministers, the race was now on to ensure that theirs would be a different fate.

Very very believable, and as Aberfan is 10 or so miles away from Tredegar, his OTL (and I presume, Echoes) birthplace, this would be personally devastating. These are his people, his kinsmen, suffering.

Gripping stuff, @DensleyBlair
 
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DensleyBlair

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Right, so, like @El Pip real world nonsense has diverted me from this. @DensleyBlair and @99KingHigh , you've been busy!

While @99KingHigh has been his trademark brilliant in portraying an America giddily plunging off the cliff, I want to focus on some of the UK. I found your portrayal of Aberfan both moving and, well, plausible; from Bevan's (understandable) horror



Tragic, heartbreaking, brilliantly written. I had to factcheck Humphrys, I didn't realise that in our TL he was the first reporter at Aberfan.
Glad to have you back with us, @Le Jones – and thank you for your kind words! I’m pleased to know that the Aberfan “plot line” is resonating with you. It’s been a long time coming, and for many reasons (most will be fairly self-evident, I’m sure) it’s one which I’ve been quite anxious about tackling. There were plenty of rewrites and I still wasn’t entirely happy with the end product, so thank you for the vote of confidence. If I can do any sort of justice to the tragedy then that’s a job well done in my book.

And yes, Humphrys was indeed first on the scene! One can only imagine how traumatic that must have been…

Very very believable, and as Aberfan is 10 or so miles away from Tredegar, his OTL (and I presume, Echoes) birthplace, this would be personally devastating. These are his people, his kinsmen, suffering.


Gripping stuff, @DensleyBlair
This is, I have to say, the bit of your feedback that I take the most heart from. The fact of Bevan of all people presiding over government when Aberfan takes place is, of course, poignant for all sorts of reasons – as you astutely point out. Much of the political tragedy, for me, is not simply the vanishing optimism of those early post-Mosley years, but more than that just how gravely the shortcomings of the whole reformist system have been exposed. These are, as you say, Bevan’s people, and if he can’t protect them then, well, which chairman could?

I think, ultimately, Bevan will be more fondly remembered in hindsight, and in the long run I don’t think he will be thought much less of in the Valleys for the part he has played in this tragedy (much bigger fish to fry…). But before that, he has one hell of an ordeal to go through trying to sort this out. And the problems are still coming thick and fast…

Incidentally, seeing as you bring up Tredegar I have to take the opportunity to share my favourite Bevan picture. There hasn’t really been a moment to use it ever in this TL, but there’s a fantastic sense of the ‘boy done good’ about it…

0FA8304E-8185-42AA-B7BB-29F202BDB3A5.jpeg
 
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TheButterflyComposer

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Looks grim as all hell.
 
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DensleyBlair

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Looks grim as all hell.
It’s possibly a case of, as Paul Simon once said, “things look worse in black and white”. But then again also probably not… those terraces are not going to be very salubrious by any means.

Bevan looks pretty happy though
 
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TheButterflyComposer

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It’s possibly a case of, as Paul Simon once said, “things look worse in black and white”. But then again also probably not… those terraces are not going to be very salubrious by any means.

Bevan looks pretty happy though
Everyone is employed but everyone is also a wage slave and dying of pollution and over work.

Progress!
 
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I get the "boy done good" vibe, or even the "I never forget my roots" angle that is often thrown around, but to me it looks like he has just bought the town and is about to flatten it for a supermarket development.

"You might not have jobs, but we've a 2 for 1 on Findus ready meals"...
 
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I get the "boy done good" vibe, or even the "I never forget my roots" angle that is often thrown around, but to me it looks like he has just bought the town and is about to flatten it for a supermarket development.

"You might not have jobs, but we've a 2 for 1 on Findus ready meals"...
Now you mention it, there is something of the ‘nefarious mill owner’ about it…

I’ll never be able to look at that picture the same way again!
 
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I’ve had a good day of writing so the next part of the chapter will be up later. Stay tuned to find out just how fraught things can get…
 
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128 Days: The Decline and Fall of Bevanite Britain (III)

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6Venre3.jpg



128 DAYS
The Decline and Fall of Bevanite Britain

Gwyn Alf Williams, 1980


(III)


The Bevan government was not enjoying a happy new year. The spate of mine occupations that had broken out in Merthyr Vale before Christmas had not been alleviated by seasonal goodwill, and with the arrival of 1967 the situation only appeared to be getting graver. On January 2, British Coal informed the government that it planned to attempt to break the workers’ control of the coal supply chain (‘from pit to people’) by sending in trucks and seizing the product for themselves. The board petitioned the cabinet to grant the strike-breaking convoy Worker Brigade protection. Bevan and domestic director Dick Crossman were reluctant to afford British Coal armed support, but David Lewis, in his dual position as economic director and deputy chairman, was more sympathetic to the coal board’s position and argued in favour of giving them the means to ‘take back what’s theirs’. He was backed up, crucially, by the veteran defence director Ken Younger, who offered the compromise that WB volunteers be deployed unarmed and in a defensive capacity. Bevan assented, and the following morning twelve trucks set off from British Coal’s West Midlands depot in Worcestershire, bound for Merthyr Vale and its four occupied collieries. At Hereford, the coal convoy was supplemented by four buses full of volunteers from the local WB, unarmed but kitted out with helmets and shields in anticipation of tension.

From Hereford, the journey to the Welsh border took about an hour. The British Coal delegation reached Abergavenny, the quiet market town on the south-eastern edge of the Brecon Beacons, shortly after 9 o’clock. From Abergavenny, it would be another half an hour before the trucks hit Ynysowen, halfway along the recently-completed Heads of the Valleys trunk road between Abergavenny and Neath. The road had opened in 1964 to service the movement of freight by lorry across the Valleys, the new dual carriageway being an improvement on the former three-lane single carriageway that had been in place since the 1950s. Lorries displaying the British Coal livery were not an uncommon sight on the Heads of the Valleys road by any means, but they had hardly been seen in the area since the beginning of November. The sudden, dramatic reappearance of the coal trucks in South Wales threatened an equally dramatic confrontation with the workers who had worked so hard to expel them only weeks before.



1967 LEYLAND COMET.jpg

1966 BMC 'Bulldog', like that used by British Coal to collect and deliver its product.


A few minutes before half past nine, the British Coal convoy turned off the Heads of the Valleys road at the Dowlais Top junction, to the east of Merthyr Tydfil. The convoy was now on the A4060, the trunk road to Abercynon, vital to the British Coal ‘mission’ as the primary access route to all four of the ‘Free Pits’ of Merthyr Vale. Three of the collieries (Cwm Darran, Trelewis Drift and Ynysowen) were accessible via the same road that led east from the A4060 junction at Mountain Hare, a residential area to the east of Merthyr Tydfil whose memorable name came from an old pub nearby. The fourth of the Free Pits, Deep Duffryn, could be reached via the village of Mountain Ash in the neighbouring Cynon Valley. At Mountain Hare, the plan was therefore that the British Coal convoy split into two: a larger group of nine coal trucks and three WB coaches who would subsequently break off into three – one for each of the Merthyr Vale pits – and a second, smaller group of three trucks and one coach to continue on to Deep Duffryn. Each coach carried 75 Workers’ Brigade volunteers – hardly approaching parity with the 1,600-odd workers employed across the three collieries, but enough, it was hoped, to ensure their co-operation in allowing the collections to go ahead.

Shortly after 9:30, the British Coal convoy left the main road at the Mountain Hare roundabout, turning off onto the access road that led on to the three Merthyr Vale collieries. Ynysowen and Trelewis Drift were three miles to the south of Cwn Darran, reached by unmetalled tracks that allowed mining vehicles to bypass the nearby villages of Bedlinog, Cwmfelin and, of course, Aberfan. The tracks also allowed for the easy passage of vehicles between the three pits. Under British Coal management, in spite of these close links the pits were run independently of one another, each with its own set of gates and each controlling its own access. Since the occupations, however, the Merthyr Vale Free Pits had been brought into common operation. Workers from Cwm Darran, Ynysowen and Trelewis Drift ran their three collieries in close consultation with each other, co-ordinating on matters of logistics and distribution. (This was also true of the fourth pit at Deep Duffryn, although this was not immediately linked to the Merthyr Vale collieries.) Most importantly, the miners also worked together to ensure the security of the occupation. The workers of Merthyr Vale had not been so innocent as to assume that their actions would go without reply from the authorities, and even if they could not have known to expect British Coal arriving with reinforcements on such-and-such a date at such-and-such a time, they had anticipated that a confrontation would take place sooner or later. With this in mind, the miners had erected checkpoints on the access roads, from which entry to the pit network could be easily managed. The first that British Coal learnt of these new checkpoints was when its convoy was forced to a halt barely 500 yards from the main road.



1967 OGILVIE COLLIERY.jpg

Cwm Darran colliery, c. 1966.


That morning, the two people on duty at the checkpoint were two Cwm Darran miners, Dick Edwards and Tony Harris. Edwards and Harris had not been informed of any coal collections planned until later on in the day, and certainly not in such great quantity. They radioed back to the site office, which confirmed that no trucks were scheduled to arrive that morning and told the pair not to let the vehicles pass. Fearing – correctly – that an attempt to break the occupation was imminent, the site office sent out calls to Ynysowen, Trelewis Drift and Deep Duffryn warning them of the possible danger. They then disseminated the news of the convoy’s arrival amongst the workers, who readied themselves to make their way to the checkpoint to resist the coming assault British Coal.

Against the combined strength of a dozen British Coal lorries, Edwards and Harris knew that alone they faced a considerable task in resisting the attempt to open up the pits. All that they could do, they decided, was to stop the convoy from going any further until reinforcements arrived, which perhaps meant keeping the lorries in place for five or ten minutes. It remained to be seen whether the British Coal workers would be willing to use force to enter the pit, the most violent possibility being that a lorry might ram its way through the wooden traffic barricade that constituted the checkpoint. Edwards and Harris wagered that this was unlikely and decided to put themselves in the path of the oncoming convoy, hoping that they might convince the lorry drivers to turn around out of basic solidarity, or else buy enough time for comrades from the pits to organise themselves into a more formidable roadblock. At any one time, about half of the total collieries workforce might be on site. A few hundred miners would stand a good chance of halting the progress of the occupation-breaking convoy. Certainly, they could at least show to British Coal how serious they were about taking management of the pits into their own hands.



1967 MOUNTAIN HARE.jpg

A coal delivery lorry outside the gates of Cwm Darran.


When the first of the British Coal lorries approached Edwards and Harris at the roadblock, Edwards went to talk to the driver while Harris stood alone in front of the convoy. The driver explained that they had been sent to collect all coal produced by the Merthyr Vale pits, and that they had almost 300 Workers’ Brigades volunteers in tow in order to ensure that the collections went smoothly. Edwards replied that the pit was not open to British Coal, and asked the lorries to turn around. Under no circumstances would they be getting into the colliery, and they certainly would not be taking any coal. Again, the driver asked to be let through, again receiving the same reply. “The name ‘British Coal’ means nothing around here anymore except murder”, Edwards said. “What possibly makes you think you have the right to demand our coal after you’ve taken our homes and our children?”

By this point, the first of the reinforcements had arrived from the colliery site, bringing trucks of their own to block the road on the pit side. The miners remained outnumbered, many incoming pickets still making the mile journey from the colliery entrance to the checkpoint on foot, but with the path of the British Coal lorries blocked the initial confrontation devolved into a standoff. On the British Coal side, the WB volunteers disembarked from their coaches and took up positions around the delivery lorries, hoping a display of strength might convince the miners to back down. The driver at the head of the queue attempted to manoeuvre around the traffic barrier and bypass the roadblock by taking his lorry off-road, but he was scuppered by the couple of dozen miners in opposition who refused to disperse. By quarter to ten, the drivers and coalmen were left with little option but to climb down from their cabs and join the ranks of the WB volunteers. Heated words shot back and forth between the drivers and the pickets. The mood was was fractious by the time the main contingent of workers from Cwm Darran arrived at the scene, neutralising the numerical superiority of the British Coal side a little after ten o’clock. The two sides were now set in place. Neither, it now seemed certain, was going to back down without some sort of a fight.



1967 MOUNTAIN HARE MAP.jpg

Map of the Battle of Mountain Hare, or Cwm Darran, January 3 1967.
(Click to enlarge.)


Early on into the confrontation, anticipating that they would need all hands in one place, the Merthyr Vale convoy had recalled the detachment sent on to Deep Duffryn. They arrived at Mountain Hare around half-past ten, greeted by an odd scene that resembled most closely a mass shouting match, tensions simmering without ever breaking into a boil. The miners concentrated above all on convincing the lorry drivers to respect the picket, hoping that a combination of spirited argument and their refusal to clear a path to the colliery would eventually bring the drivers around to leaving of their own accord. The main argument was the strike action that had been declared by the SWMF, with 30 thousand miners beyond Merthyr Vale still refusing to return to work. The wave of occupations did not change the fact that a picket was still in place in the South Welsh coalfields. The Free Pits reasoned, fairly enough, that they were working within the constraints of strike action by a process of ‘targeted disruption’. The strategic aim was to keep Welsh fires burning while putting the squeeze on the English, making clear to Westminster the vital importance of South Welsh coal to the Commonwealth, and by extension demonstrating the consequences of ignoring Welsh concerns. As the SWMF action was legal, and as the Merthyr Vale miners saw themselves as acting within the terms of the dispute, they held that British Coal had no right to attempt strike-breaking action.

The lorry drivers were not so easily convinced, but as they were now outnumbered by the miners they recognised that forcing the issue would not be a good idea. The WB volunteers had been permitted to attempt to open the pit by force if necessary, but faced by an unexpectedly strong resistance effort (British Coal revealing itself as out of touch once again, one might say) they kept to a ‘defensive’ role, intervening between the miners and the drivers where heated words threatened to spill over into something more. This testy mood was aggravated towards the end of the morning by the arrival of pickets from Trelewis Drift and Ynysowen. Compared to their comrades from Cwm Darran, whose spirited resistance was motivated entirely by feelings of solidarity, miners from the two southern pits had been directly involved in the clean-up operation at Aberfan. In the case of those from Ynysowen, some had lost homes and even family members. Even more than the miners from the north of the valley, their opposition to British Coal was charged with a deep animosity. The arrival of fresh pickets not only brought a renewed urgency to the standoff, which over the course of two hours had settled into a steady rhythm of back and forth, but injected a real antipathy. Now, beyond arguments about the brotherhood of the working man, the miners armed themselves with angry taunts, openly accusing the lorry drivers of scabbing – and more besides. Despite being outnumbered by fifteen to one, the British Coal workers responded with equal acrimony, and with the coming of the afternoon the crowd broke out into scuffles. Between the drivers, the coalmen and the miners, the WB contingent formed ranks and tried to control the pushing and shoving, hoping to forestall what they now knew could easily turn into a riot.



1967 MOUNTAIN HARE SCUFFLE.jpg

The 'Battle' of Mountain Hare eventually devolved into scuffles between miners, British Coal lorry drivers and their protectors from the WB.


At half past 12, a group of volunteers from the Merthyr WB arrived at Mountain Hare, alerted to the situation by worker at Cwm Darran. Unlike the English volunteers, whose role in the dispute above and beyond ‘crowd control’ was ensuring the security of the British Coal delegation, the Merthyr volunteers were members of the local community who knew – and in some cases shared – the hostility towards British Coal. Some of them had worked alongside the miners excavating the debris at Pantglas, and they recognised that there would not be peace in the valley until the convoy had been turned around. Once the volunteers had reassured the miners that this was their intention, the pushing and shoving began to die down. Towards one o’clock, the English WB contingent disengaged and soon after the Merthyr volunteers impressed upon them the need to leave. The British Coal workers returned to their lorries, and by half-past one the convoy had left Mountain Hare. Jubilant, the miners declared victory. Through sheer force of numbers, they had resisted the break-up of their occupation and defied British Coal. It was a considerable achievement, standing up to the state and winning, but it was far from a final triumph.


Black Winter

In Westminster, the defeat of British Coal’s attempt to force open the Merthyr Vale Free Pits only entrenched existing divisions in government. In the evening on January 3, British Coal acting director Fred Collinson telephoned Chairman Bevan to report that the organisation planned to send a second convoy in the morning, this time targeting the Deep Duffryn pit in the Cynon Valley. Chairman Bevan, already uneasy at the idea of using force against the workers, refused to assent to providing government support for a second mission, aware that the calamity at Cwm Darran had likely set back government–miner relations by a significant degree. Collinson was equally adamant that the second collection attempt would go ahead, and warned Bevan that without WB protection the drivers risked coming to harm. Annoyed, Bevan retorted that the answer was simple: “If you’re worried about your drivers’ being bitten, stop sending them into the lion’s den.” But Collinson was resolute. He may have been more sympathetic to the miners’ grievances than Albert Roberts, but he was not going to let them keep hold of ‘his’ coal. At dawn, the trucks would ride again.


1967 MOUNTAIN ASH.jpg

Mountain Ash, 1967.
Access roads at the Dee Duffryn pit are visible in the top left of the image.


After having been turned away from Cwm Darran, while the WB volunteers had returned to Hereford under orders from the top, the British Coal convoy had only retraced their journey as far as Abergavenny. On the morning of January 4, the lorries set off for Mountain Ash, the village adjacent to Deep Duffryn, shortly after 7 a.m., scheduled to arrive in the village just as the sun came up. Using these ‘dawn raid’ tactics, British Coal hoped to capitalise on any advantage they could glean from the element of surprise. Factoring in the extra time it would take for any assistance to come from Merthyr Vale, the British Coal leadership were confident that they would stand a good chance of overcoming any resistance at the colliery gate before reinforcements could arrive – particularly as any reinforcements would not be able to take up positions behind the gates at Deep Duffryn, as they had at Cwm Darran.

At eight o’clock, the 12 British Coal delivery lorries arrived at the gates of Deep Duffryn. The welcome they received would have surprised even the most fanciful of planners at British Coal. Not only were the lorry drivers met by a group of about two dozen miners, the Free Pits collectively having upped their security after the previous day’s encounter at Mountain Hare, but the miners were accompanied by an equally-sized group of women. These were their wives and partners, who had taken up the fight against British Coal with equal vigour as the men. Following the success of the miners’ strength-in-numbers strategy, the Free Pit communities had decided that the defence of their gains would be best assured if the whole community were involved. All who could spare time and energy pledged themselves to help with the running of the collieries.Those who got the most involved took on a wide range of tasks, including administrative and logistic work, and contributing to the operation of the pits above-ground. By the end of January, this support network would be formalised as the Free Pit Community Support Group, whose founding secretary was Eiry Davies-Jones, a recently-retired primary school teacher whose husband had died from injuries sustained in a mining accident twenty years earlier. Even after he husband’s death, Davies-Jones maintained a strong association with the pit and she was involved in the occupation effort from the very beginning. At 60 years old, she was among the eldest of those who faced down the British Coal convoy on January 4, standing shoulder to shoulder with women and men half her age in an attempt to repeat the success of Cwm Darran.



1967 STRIKING WIVES.jpg

As militancy grew in the ming communities of South Wales over the winter of 1966–67, women came to assume an equally significant role in the struggle as their male comrades.


From the outset, the mood at Deep Duffryn was far more militant than it had been Cwm Darran the previous day. There, the order of the day had been ‘spirited shouting, taunting, pushing and shoving’, at least in the estimation of Dick Crossman, reporting on events in the Assembly on January 5. By contrast, the Deep Duffryn pickets had come armed with stones, bricks, bottles and other improvised missiles to use against the British Coal lorries. These new tactics were a question of new circumstances. Several hundred had combined to repel the lorries at Merthyr Vale, as many as 500 all told, but the defensive contingent at Deep Duffryn was perhaps a tenth of this number. While Cwm Darran had been characterised by in-person confrontations between miners and drivers, under fire from behind the colliery gates this time the drivers were confined to their cabs. As far as concerned forcing the pit open, their best hope was to wait out the incoming fire before attempting to overpower the defenders. Determined not to fail again after the embarrassment of Cwm Darran, unbeknown to the rest of the world the British Coal board had permitted its drivers to force the pit open ‘by any means’. There would be no talk of the convoy going quietly.

The ranks of the defenders were bolstered by the arrival of the Mountain Ash WB at 8:30. The volunteers persuaded the pickets to stop their assault on the convoy while they talked to the drivers about turning around. The drivers, however, were not going to be so easily moved. Unlike at Cwm Darran, where, worn down after a four-hour exchange, they had agreed to leave the Valley, driver morale was high. Not only were they intent on staying put, but they were willing to escalate the situation in order to ‘get the job done’. While WB volunteers were engaged in conversation with drivers towards the rear of the convoy, a driver near the front started his lorry’s engine and began to accelerate towards the colliery gates. When the pickets realised to their horror what was going on, they scattered; the lorry rammed into the gates, forcing them open and knocking one off its hinges, before coming to a standstill a short distance away. Once the initial shock had subsided, the full scale of the damage became clear. After charging through the gates, the lorry had struck a picket, Gwion Parry, who was diving for cover by the side of the road. Parry was knocked unconscious, and after efforts to wake him failed he was rushed to hospital by two volunteers from the WB. The driver who had hit him was unaware of what had happened until he was flagged down by pickets and WB volunteers, who asked him to leave the vehicle and placed him under arrest. Meanwhile, the WB ordered the rest of the convoy to leave the colliery on grounds of public safety.



1967 JONES.jpg

Jack Jones (centre) delivers a statement on the confrontation at Deep Duffryn, January 1967.


Gwion Parry died of his injuries in hospital later that evening. News of his death spread and was reported on the CBC as the lead story on the ten o’clock news. Eiry Davies-Jones delivered a statement on behalf of the Deep Duffryn community in which she gave an emotional account of the mood in the Valleys, saying that: “In the eyes of tens of thousands of people in South Wales, the people who ordered these attacks on our communities are lower than vermin.” Presenter Cliff Michelmore, by no means an unsympathetic observer of events, challenged Davies-Jones on the bitterness of her language. She responded memorably:

If you had watched, in barely the space of three months, as your homes, your schools, your families, your friends and your children were all taken from you, all at the hands of British Coal, then I think you would feel yourself entitled to a little bit of anger. It’s no substitute for the things we’ve lost, that I will give you, but by God so long as we have it we will cling onto it. And if British Coal or anyone else wants to take it from us then they should see what happens when they try.

The response from both the unions and the legislative opposition was equally strong. The National Federation of Mining Unions, the parent organisation of the SWMF, asked its members nationwide to down tools for an hour on January 5 in protest at Parry’s death. NFMU leaders also announced that they would be reviewing their policy in regard to what exactly constituted strike-breaking action in the Merthyr Vale dispute, presenting a headache for the government as they tried to keep the English and Scottish coal industries free of issues. TUC leader Jack Jones followed the NFMU declarations by calling for an immediate end to the ‘collection raids’ by British Coal, announcing that he would be meeting with the leader of the Transport and General Workers’ Union (TGWU) to discuss taking action should the government itself not halt the collections.


1967 DALY.jpg

Lawrence Daly (left) is greeted by a supporter outside the Assembly, January 1967.


That evening, in a special session of the Assembly called so that the government could answer questions on the day’s events, opposition coal spokesman Lawrence Daly backed up Jones’s call to end the collections. He then demanded to know what instructions had been given to the strike-breaking drivers, in response to which Dick Crossman was forced to admit that the government had not intervened to dictate how British Coal should handle the collection attempts. Crossman tried to salvage the situation by assuring Assembly members that collection attempts would be halted immediately, ‘in the interests of public safety’, but the opposition were not to be denied their chance to skewer the government further. CPCB leader Bert Ramelson grilled Crossman on the deployment of Workers’ Brigades volunteers to protect the British Coal convoy at Cwm Darran, harking back to the days before the revolution when volunteers from Winston Churchill’s Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies terrorised striking workers. Crossman defended the role of the WB in ‘keeping the peace’ at Cwm Darran, although acknowledged that it had been inappropriate and pointed to the absence of WB protection at Deep Duffryn as evidence of the government’s recognition of this fact. When Ramelson pointed out that it had been the Merthyr WB, and not the English volunteers, who had brought calm to proceedings at Cwm Darran, Crossman admitted that sending in English volunteers had been a mistake, and conceded that the WB would not be deployed in strike-breaking activity in the future.

When Crossman took his seat once more, no doubt a very relieved man, Peggy Herbison took to the floor to appraise the Assembly on the situation of the coal supply. Herbison reiterated the previous line that stockpiles were not immediately under threat, but admitted that any disruption to systems of national distribution would pose a grave problem. Places such as schools, hospitals and some small workplaces, all of which tended to have limited fuel storage capacity, were particularly at risk from an escalation in strike action. As a result, Herbison outlined the government’s plan to avert any breakdown in fuel supply, which rested on two major proposals: the first, to work with the SWMF, the NFMU and the TUC to contain the dispute to the Valleys by a process of mediation; the second, to enter into negotiations with the Merthyr Vale Free Pits to ensure that vulnerable sites like schools and hospitals would continue to receive coal. From the Assembly Chair, Michael Foot quashed attempts to press the government on the specifics of its plans to deal with the unions, deciding that the questions fell outside of the scope of the session and could be answered more productively on another day. He did, however, consent to one final question from Lawrence Daly, who asked whether Herbison’s statement about plans to deal directly with the Free Pits equated to a recognition by the government of their right to exist. The minister hedged her response: “We are not going to force the Merthyr Vale pits to give up their coal, so our only option is to deal with them like rational adults. Part of this involves not refusing to accept what is obviously true, whether we like it or not.”

. . .
 
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TheButterflyComposer

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Even a socialist government is incapable of treating the Welsh with any sympathy, and Miners with any common sense.
 
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99KingHigh

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Even a socialist government is incapable of treating the Welsh with any sympathy, and Miners with any common sense.
*especially, not even

though I suppose we might have different interpretations of common sense

wKvxZF9.jpg
 
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DensleyBlair

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Even a socialist government is incapable of treating the Welsh with any sympathy, and Miners with any common sense.
Not that this is a didactic tale about the limits of the parliamentary method or anything, but I thought I couldn’t very well round things off without showing Bevan engaged in some head-scratching appeasement of diehard parliamentarians.

Got to give the brainworms an airing, after all.
 
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