The Welsh Schoolboys Who Went on Strike Against Corporal Punishment in 1911Historians in the News
tags: Wales, Welsh history, education history, corporal punishment
You may have thought Greta Thunberg invented the concept of school pupil strikes.
But around a century before the Swedish teenage activist called the world's children out on to the streets to campaign over climate change, schoolboys in Llanelli were already at it.
In 1911, about 30 pupils from Bigyn School walked out in protest at the "unjustified" caning of a fellow boy.
Although the Llanelli strike was quelled within a day, it spawned similar protests in 62 towns and cities across Britain and Ireland.
Historian Russell Grigg recounted the disturbance in a 2003 article for The Local Historian journal.
"Between 1910 and 1914 most of Wales, and indeed the whole of Britain, was caught up in a period of industrial strife known as the Great Unrest," Mr Grigg told BBC Wales.
"Here it included the Tonypandy coal strike, the anti-Semitic Tredegar riot, and in particular in Llanelli, the railway strike."
On 5 September 1911, the boys marched and sang their way through the streets of Llanelli, waving placards and calling on the pupils of other schools to join them - New Dock, Lakefield and Old Road schools came out in solidarity.
En route, they stopped at Park Street Chapel and held animated discussions on what to do next.
While some of the children were out for a laugh, a politically aware hardcore was more determined to pursue their cause.
A flavour of the mood survives in the melodramatic words of one pupil who went on to lead the strike in Newport: "Comrades, my bleeding country calls me, the time has come. Someone must die for the cause."
Having made their point, the Bigyn boys returned to school up the hill.
Yet Mr Grigg said it should not be underestimated how much courage it must have taken those 30 pupils to walk out.
"Corporal punishment worked, wrongly, on two levels: Firstly, the physical pain of being hit, but more significantly the fear of receiving a beating," he explained.
"For those 30 boys to march out of their class, either the problems they were facing were so severe that they'd overwhelmed the consequences of a thrashing, or else the prospect of the social isolation they'd have received from their classmates was more terrifying than any caning the teachers could impose."
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