Author: South Wales Miners Library, Swansea University

Provider: South Wales Miners' Library

Rights: Copyrighted

Interview of Jeffreys, Len by Egan, David and Francis, Hywel on 20th September 1972.
The interview forms part of Swansea Universitys South Wales Miners Library collection.

1 audio file (33 min. 20 sec.)



Egan, David: What do you remember now in the period before the First World War say about the union, about the South Wales Miners’ Federation, about you know, opinions say in your lodge? You were attending General Meetings and say wider opinions in the Federation. Can you remember at this time people like Brace, and Mabon, Tom Richards, the older generation of leaders who were being challenged by say young, more socialist type leaders?

Jeffreys, Len: I can only remember about the challenge and about the new upsurge when I became a delegate for the lodge during the war when I was sixteen years of age as a member of the lodge committee, and I attended a conference of the South Wales Federation at a time when the people on the scene then were, Tom Richards, {unclear} in a worse state than I am at an older age than he was then. He could never get up to speak. His papers in his hands were shaking like that, and Nye Bevan, S.O. Davies, Noah Ablett, the boys from the Rhondda, there was an old chappie up there, Bill Mainwaring wasn’t in the picture so prominently, and an old fellow called Banner or something I think he was.

Egan, David: Banner?

Jeffreys, Len: He was an old radical rather than a socialist, but he was a good scrapper. And a Miners’ Conference in those days were noted for the number of people that were interested, and interested in not only in a sort of passing way but in a {unclear} way. There were more young fellows in the period that I’m talking about, in 1916, there were Lewis from Treorchy, I’m sure you’ve heard about him, he was a Labour agent or something way out the east of England.

Egan, David: Ipswich, yes

Jeffreys, Len: And there was another boy that's working for National Abbey, Par not Parfitt, Parfitt’s pal Danny, Danny something his name was. There was Bill Parfitt’s brother, there was, Maslin was not on the scene then in those days but Danny Lewis and the others. There was a Tommy Lewis from Porth that led a strike and we got involved in Risca in it because he came over and made an appeal and we came out in sympathy. And he became, he took Arthur Horner’s place I think down in the West, or he was there before Horner, as Agent. The fellow I'm thinking about now, he worked in Trehafod with Murray Williams and the rest of it. But in this first meeting that I attended as a delegate, as a boy, I was very impressive, in, that is to say, emotionally led around the corner. Every speech that was made at that conference each countering the other, well always left me with the idea that the fellow who spoke last was the fellow that would get my vote. And the other fellow would get up and say something opposite, and in real good punching you know, verbal punching of course. And I never forget Cook getting up and making a rousing speech, and I thought well that’s the last word, and he was followed by S.O. Davies, no, Bevan, Nye Bevan and S.O Davies followed him, and all over the hall one after the other, real ding battle. There was a question now of searching for a path expressed in this conference, they all were wavering on whether to stick to where they were or whether to accept the new ideas but, in the main champion in the old against the new and so on.

Egan, David: What was the attitude in Cross Keys and in the pit amongst miners to the outbreak of the war?

Jeffreys, Len: A general acceptance.

Egan, David: A general acceptance?

Jeffreys, Len: Yes, without a doubt. It was only individuals here and there and the fellows, they got the rough end of the stick, that stuck out, conscientious objectors.

Egan, David: Was it discussed in the lodge at all, at the time of the outbreak of the war in 1914?

Jeffreys, Len: No, no it wasn’t, it was a question of, this was something that happened and general conforming with …

Egan, David: What about, you know the Admiralty requested that in South Wales men should work an extra hour a day, that the eight hour day rule should be waived? That men should work nine hours a day to answer the demand for coal, can you remember that being …?

Jeffreys, Len: There was opposition to that, but nothing like as it, it was confined to the reactions to being asked to work extra time, see, and having just got the eight hour day, then of course the reaction was well damn if we lose this now it means losing it for ever. But in the Rhondda the situation was different, the situation was different, and the reason for that was they had already had experience of fighting in 1910 and 1911, Cambrian and Pandy and around that area and there was no such experiences this end.

Egan, David: So there was a general level of enthusiasm from the war? What about the level {of recruitment}

Jeffreys, Len: Oh I don’t know that there was, there was this feeling of that this is a terrible thing but a number of the miners in a number of the pits had already served times in the services and at war in the Boer War, because every pit had its local territorial force. There was one at Risca, and the wife’s father, he was booked for South Africa but before he could get shipped out the war finished. But we had three or four Boer War bloody heroes, and I suppose the general feeling of, well, this is for the country's good, and there wasn’t a question, nothing like we'd have, I suppose, if we had a war now, I think we'd passed that stage, thank God.

Egan, David: There was no Independent Labour Party Branch in Cross Keys that perhaps {unclear}

Jeffreys, Len: Not at the 1914 war but . . .

Egan, David: It didn’t exist then?

Jeffreys, Len: No, but it came in immediately the war started, they, after it started.

Egan, David: Were they people who opposed the war, was that the reason for the creation of the branch? For people who had come together to oppose the war?

Jeffreys, Len: No the I.L.P. started in the western valleys on the basis for the need for an independent Socialist Party and policy, and they preached politics, and I mean at that period they preached class war politics.

Egan, David: What about recruitment, how many miners from Risca went in 1914 to the army? Can you remember, you know?

Jeffreys, Len: I can remember a number that went and I can remember one that got killed, not in action, but was killed after he got out there, shot because he overstayed his leave. This has never been published, but it's been broadcast as a result of fellows telling the story when they came back. The chap’s name was Watley, he was a Risca miner. There’s a fellow living today who went out and he became a second lieutenant, and he wasn’t even a good miner and he was as dull as a bloody {bat} . And he came back after the war, he had a slight leg wound, limped with it, got a pension, still drawing it and he’s got a pass now to ride the buses as a disabled man and there’s no more wrong with him, well he’s fitter than I am. And he’s such an ass of a fellow, when he came back, he came back and he went to work in the Lower Black, in the L.B.V. in a five feet where I was working. And he came to work and wore it all day, a wrist watch. A miner wearing a wristwatch, and this was to signify that he was still a lieutenant I suppose, but he’s an electrician now, I don’t know how he got to be an electrician.

Egan, David: What effect did the war have on living conditions, you know, there was a rise in prices wasn’t there, of everything? Things were much more expensive and . . .

Jeffreys, Len: The same thing happened that happens at all times when people have got to go short, the people that were in favoured positions, such as the cashier at the colliery, and I suppose this went for the manager and the rest of it, when rations were introduced during the war, these people could always go there and got a feed of ham or things that couldn’t be got anywhere else.

Egan, David: Can you remember the 1915 strike?

Jeffreys, Len: There was very little activity in Monmouthshire in the '15 strike. We had so many, we’d have a strike for two or three days for instance over the question of safety. '21 strike stands out more vividly than anything that happened in the way of coalfield strikes before that time.

Egan, David: So you wouldn’t say that in the years that you were working as a collier before the First World War and then the change after 1914, that there was any real change, that basically life in a mining community went on as before?

Jeffreys, Len: Well I would say that, at the, {unclear} the war, the valleys were in this position of having had the eight hour day introduced, minimum wage, and the regularity of employment, the question of conditions was such, trade was good, concessions could be won, and this air of being set for life didn’t leave. I can understand looking back why there was so little activity for something to replace something which was very good in the minds of the workers generally. And this raged throughout the valley, there were people for instance who would talk in terms about the buggers that never did any work, they were better off than we are and all that sort of thing, you would get that. And yet on the other hand you would get two others who would argue, Aye but as bad as they are we can’t do without them, you must have capital in order to have, we ought to thank our lucky stars like that somebody had it so that we could get some work. This was the general feeling, having the work, this thing was secondary, it was a damn good thing like, that they could live the way that they did.

Egan, David: So in the climate …

Jeffreys, Len: Everybody had two suits of clothes, everybody had two pairs of shoes at least. And God help it if you wore your Sunday best on a week day, if somebody saw you in it they’d think you were going to a funeral or a wedding. You had your evening suit, you had your working clothes, and you had a gardening suit, and your couple of pair of shoes. I know what we had in our house because I had the job of cleaning them. They had to go away for the next Sunday, and when I cleaned the old man’s and mother’s couple of pairs and everybody else’s, I used to think I’d done a day’s work.

Egan, David: So you can't remember the time before you joined the army that there was any real change in your life? I mean you know in your way of thinking about the world, or any physical conditions, you know the wages that you earned?

Jeffreys, Len: Oh, I started to rethink after I had that clout on the knee in Sunday School. I mean that done, and from that stage, up until this time we are talking about, Oh I’d read a lot of stuff and all of it confirmed the sort of doubts that I expressed when I was a kid of ten, and I suppose that there must have been others about that were similarly placed. But instead of that being welcomed by the old man and my mother, my mother-in-law, this was frowned on because a boy brought up in a Christian home to talk like you talk at sixteen years of age, this was terrible. And I’m not saying that I didn’t get into hot water in a number of quarters, not hot water in the sense that they shunned me or banned me or anything like that because the two greatest standbys I had in later life were my own father-in-law and mother-in-law, and the people and my old man too, Christ he threatened to turn me out of the house for expressing views that were associated with changing the world, sort of thing.

Egan, David: When did you join the army?

Jeffreys, Len: I joined the army late on in nineteen…, conscription.

Egan, David: At the end of 1916, 1917?

Jeffreys, Len: No, no, at 18.

Egan, David: Oh, that late!

Jeffreys, Len: It didn’t come in until 1918, early 1918. And when I joined the army you had the option of joining the week before you had to join, and join what you like, or waiting until you got conscripted and go where they put you. So I went in, I thought, well I’ve got to go, I might just as well go and pick my place. I went in and tried to join the Garrison Artillery on the assumption that this would mean that you’d be away from the firing line, and in some coastal defence spot or something like that behind a big gun, and not getting in the front line like the infantry blokes and the rest of it, and sheer opportunism, I wasn’t thinking about the country, I was thinking for myself. When I finally got to Brecon, the {unclear} down at the Garrison Artillery, You're too good a fellow to into a mob like that, we want you either in the Welsh Guards or in the Grenadier Guards. And I said, You might want me for what you like, I’ve made up my mind and I’m carrying out the idea that's expressed in Government regulations that when joining up a week or so before I was compelled too, I’m joining the Garrison Artillery or nothing. And on the first day in Brecon, when they sent up for breakfast, the breakfast, and coming from homes where we were well fed, they sent up a mixture of herrings and porridge all on the same plate. And I looked at it and looked around the table, big long trestle table and I said to the fellow, Damn this, little bit of mess here. One fellow said, Aye. Well, I said, It’s no good to say you won’t eat it, we’d better show that we don’t intend to. And four or five of us at the top end of the tables passed the word along and we shot the bloody lot, scooped it all down. And we’d only come out of the pit a couple of weeks and we were in this and of course there was, everybody was told what had happened and if they did that like in the front they would get shot and all that sort of thing. Anyhow we didn’t have kippers and porridge after that, and we certainly started the ball, and I thought this is it. And I carried on like that during the period I was in the army, and within six weeks of being in the pit I was a trained expert gunner with gun layers certificate, and a stripe to go with it, and I was in the front line in France within six weeks.

Egan, David: You did all your training in Brecon was it?

Jeffreys, Len: No, I did Brecon, and then I went to Derby Racecourse, and on Derby Racecourse they was subjecting fellows there to all sorts of tortures, useless in my opinion. I was physically fit, I was in pretty good shape then, about 11 stone 5, and as strong as a horse, and they’d say, Run up to the top of the grandstand, up we’d run to the top of the grandstand. Sit down, and before he’d say, Stand Up, this is to sharpen your reactions, and I thought, Well my dear, what a stupid lot. Stand up, run to the bottom, and we’d run to the bottom, and we’d never come to an end with this. Running up and down the grandstand steps to the bottom, and finally I thought, Well all the bloody nonsense. And I went out and he said, sit down, and so I sat down and he said, Stand up, and I sat down, and then he said, Run to the bottom, and they all run to the bottom and I still sat on the top and he was raving, what he was going to do. And he said, Come you down there, and he was cursing and swearing, and so when I got a whiff I got up and I walked down and he said, everybody line up and you out here. He said, What’s wrong with you. Nothing, I said. Why didn’t you run down to the bottom. Oh, I said, I don’t see any sense in it. He said, It’s not for you to say what the sense is, he said, I’ll show you he said, I’ll break you. Oh aye, so he got the men lined up and he was talking to me and he said, out there on the Derby Racecourse, now, he said, Quick march. So I sauntered, On the double. Oh who the hell are you, so I walked around and kept walking, and I wouldn’t run for him at all, and he fell in a couple of, Stick him in the Guardhouse. I thought, Oh aye this is it now.

Jeffreys, Len: The guardhouse was a bell tent right in the middle of the racecourse, he put me in this, a couple of fellows outside to keep guard, and there I’m peeping through the flap watching these fellows running up and down and enjoying myself sitting down while they are doing that. Then I got another lecture for that, what would happen if I disobeyed orders out at the front, and, I got away with that, so that was two escapes. It all goes down in the record and we get to Winchester, a short period in Winchester and I had a problem there. Out half past four in the morning grooming the horses, cold as hell, early March, and a bloke with a monocle comes up and he says, Braces down, tunics off, braces down, get to work. All the fellows, tunics off, braces down, very cold and he’s there with one of those woollen shorties, monocle in his eye, wrapped up, and I went on grooming, still got my tunic on and he came along, I’d had an order to take my tunic off and braces down. I said, I’ve groomed horses before mate and I can do it equally as good, and it’s cold! In the guardhouse again, saw the bloke next morning, another lecture from him, same thing, and he’s looking over the papers and nothing happened and away we went.

Jeffreys, Len: And prior to going out on leave, another incident I remember quite well. We overstayed leave for about two days, Billy Duffield from Pontypool and myself, and we were in London, and we had a couple of bob. When we came home our parents give us a couple of bob, and we waited until we'd spent it out and we were two days over leave, and we got to the station, and we had to go somewhere, and we went in the railway buffet and they used to serve the soldiers then with free cups of tea and then they wanted, up come the redcaps, passes and all the rest of it, so then we were locked up with, we were locked up only in the bloody shit houses, in the toilets on the station. They phoned down to Winchester and marched us back down there, and we were in there for eight hours, him in one and me in another. So they got us down there, straight into the guardroom. Out of the guardroom, next morning in to see the old man, Right what excuse. No excuse at all, we wouldn’t have been back now only we were spent out. And he said, All right, same lecture, letting the country down, letting the army down, letting everybody down. He said I’ve got a job for you fellows, and it was during the time of that ‘flu epidemic and he made us orderlies to carry in the condis fluid into the huts and supply the soldiers, and we were only two fellows who didn’t get the ‘flu. The only two fellows who didn’t get the flu’. Marvellous wasn’t it.

Egan, David: What service, you said you were on the front, how long were you out on the front in France? How long were you in France?

Jeffreys, Len: About four months, five months. Oh I had some good times there, I got singled out for bravery there.

Egan, David: Were you?

Jeffreys, Len: Yes, aye, some of the fellows said, By cripes Taffy, the bravest fellow that ever I’ve seen. What’s the matter then, and they were shelling, and they were shelling the battery and we had six guns in the battery and I’m fusing the shells and a whistle came over and a shell came down and dropped within six feet of where I’m fusing the shells, and it went down into the ground and when it dropped so close, and I looked up from fusing the shells and looked down the battery and there wasn’t a man in sight. When they, a couple of seconds, minutes after, they came around, left their guns and came up to me and I’m still fusing shells. By cripe Taffy, you’re brave fellow, did you hear that bloody shell man. I said, aye I heard it. Oh well, I said, if you got, Oh you ought to get at least the M.M. for this, that was the lowest order of the lot. I said, if you’ve got any medals, I said, to dish out, dish them out to the man across there, I said, and that was a Catholic priest that was walking about in the midst of machine gun fire, shells and all the rest of it, picking up blokes and he never took a bit of notice. Fellows there with their faces shot off, and he’s bent down and he’s give them the last rites and I said, any medals going there’s the bloke that deserves a medal, you don’t want to bother about me. I said, I was brave by accident, I didn’t know what was likely to happen, and if it happened it would have happened.

Egan, David: What effect do you think this had on you, you know, your time in the Army?

Jeffreys, Len: Oh I don’t think, what it did reveal to me was the stupidity of the whole thing, and I, the trade union consciousness that had grown up as a result of working conditions, and the things that I witnessed in the war all added up to sort of enriching. Because I’d read quite a lot of stuff before I joined the army and I wasn’t, I wasn’t alone in this, there must have been hundreds of others, and I saw things happening in the army that was undertaken by countries much less powerful than ours and soldiers of those countries, and they taught me a lot. The Australians for example, this idea of no saluting officers and that sort of business. I remember meeting the Prince of Wales just outside of {Ypres} , with his aide de corp and his general entourage who went around with him, and were walking along this road, three of us with a couple of Australians, I said, big bug coming up here, and I suppose we'll have to salute them. Well you can if you like, but we're not going to. Well if you're not going to, were not going to, and off we went. We got down the road, ten yards, got called up, called back, and he chose to pick on this Australian, and he said, Don’t you recognize an officer when you see one. Oh aye, we don’t salute our own officers, so it doesn’t make any difference, and he didn’t bother us. And then the other occasion in the army lark, two occasions, one when King George came out there late in the war, we got lined up on a day, greatcoats to be rolled up, worn over your shoulders and so on, and we were there for about four or five hours, and it came to rain, and the order was that we had to stand there with rolled coats while this King came, and nobody knew what time he was coming. I said to the bloke next to me, I’m not bloody getting wet through. I unrolled my coat, put it on, and the other fellows did the same, one after the other. A row about that, but you can’t go for a lot of people see, when one starts and the others follow suit. He finally came, and I never saw a more frightened rabbit in all my life than old King George the V. He was sat there in a car, plenty of people to look after him and as well instructions to the other side, do not fire, royal family in the area. For that happens, that did happen. And they then started, Who started this business of unrolling the coats, and nobody said anything.

Jeffreys, Len: And then when the final came in 19…, when the Armistice was signed, they lined us up and they offered us five bob extra a day to volunteer to go to Russia, to Archangel on a special mission. And they didn’t get one single volunteer, and that not on the grounds of understanding what was involved, but on the grounds that if they were giving five bob a day extra, because it was only a bob a day they were paying, five bob a day extra, the work must be dirty. And that’s what it turned out to be. They were gathering up only the fellows that were prepared to go voluntarily, they could volunteer and they never got one at all, not one out of the whole brigade.

Egan, David: When were you demobbed, at the end of 1918?

Jeffreys, Len: Aye, Christmas Eve.

Egan, David: Christmas Eve?

Jeffreys, Len: I got home on Christmas Eve, dozy as hell, and I was back at work within a week.

Egan, David: Had you joined the I.L.P. in Cross Keys before you’d gone to the Army?

Jeffreys, Len: Oh I joined the I.L.P. before I went into the Army.

Egan, David: What sort of work did the I.L.P. involve itself in, in those years?

Jeffreys, Len: Well they, public propaganda. And they were, they were narrower in scope than the party was when it started, and they were fairly narrow. There was no such thing as active work in the trade unions in the party when it was formed, not in an organised way, and we were part and parcel of the ward Labour Parties and accepted as such. And we were, I worked here in here up till 1925, half a dozen Communists and about 20 or 30 Labour Party people. Best ward Labour parties we ever had.