Author: South Wales Miners Library, Swansea University
Provider: South Wales Miners' Library
Interview of Protheroe, George by Morgan, Alun on 1st October 1972.
The interview forms part of Swansea University’s South Wales Miners’ Library collection.
1 audio file (15 min. 25 sec.)
Morgan, Alun: Had you heard Keir Hardie speak before?
Protheroe, George: No, no, that was the first time in my life that I heard Hardie speaking. Of course he had spoke in Merthyr in several places do you see, because he was here earlier than that you see. And then of course there were meetings locally arranged with the political thought which was the I.L.P. in Merthyr in those days. Of course there was no talk of a Labour Party in Merthyr then, for organising meetings or anything like that it was all left to the Merthyr Branch of the I.L.P. And from then on, then the war came. and after hearing the Minister advising me on a Sunday night to get into the army, I retired from the Church. and took more interest in the political life and anti-war spirit that was in the town at that particular time.
Morgan, Alun: This is an interesting story indeed. You had heard, this was when Keir Hardie had come down for this, he had travelled all night for this meeting, this was in what year, 1912 you say it is?
Protheroe, George: Well twelve, about thirteen, yes it was previous to the war.
Morgan, Alun: And the fact that you yourself was a Sunday School teacher, and that you had followed the Bible closely, that was the reason that you were opposed to the war?
Protheroe, George: Thatâ€™s exactly, thatâ€™s the truth yes.
Morgan, Alun: And then could you tell me what you found then within the Church and within the Chapels when the war had begun, and what disillusioned you in more detail for instance?
Protheroe, George: Well of course as they say I had little interest in Eynon Chapel then, but after the war started, of course, the minister in Hope Chapel in those days was J. M. Jones and of course he was about one, about the only one, if I can remember rightly, that preached against war. And he was holding his services there in Hope and the place started to fill and overfill as the war went on. And as I say, that was, there was a bigger spirit of anti-war in Merthyr, I think it was recognised at the time, than any other town in the country. And some of the greatest speakers had been over there, which the I.L.P. were organising peace meetings for. I attended practically every one of them, which was held in the Rink, where Hallâ€™s Garage is now, and there were between three and four thousand people in those peace meetings on a Sunday afternoon.
Morgan, Alun: Had you taught in your Sunday School that the war was wrong and you wereâ€¦?
Protheroe, George: Oh well, it was a funny thing, the afternoon when the Minister gave the sermon out, well from the Echo, they were giving the sermons for the preachers to dish out to the congregation in the Echo on the Saturday night. They letâ€™s see now Iâ€™m lost for a minute. Then of course after the Peace meetings, well there would be a rush home to tea and then it would be to Hope Chapel for another anti-war sermon that would be, you see. And that kept on, well, practically the whole duration of the war.
Morgan, Alun: But your own disillusionment from the Chapel was brought out because the preacher there had, was in favour of the war?
Protheroe, George: Oh yes, definitely, yes.
Morgan, Alun: You never went back again?
Protheroe, George: I never went back to that Chapel after, no, no, no.
Morgan, Alun: And the Church of England, the Church of Wales people, they were also in favour of the war?
Protheroe, George: Oh practically all, there wasnâ€™t one outside Hope Church that had the anti-war spirit you see.
Morgan, Alun: And because by this time you were already impressed by Keir Hardie, and had become interested in the I.L.P. you went then deeply into â€¦?
Protheroe, George: Into the political side of life then you know, and that was, I joined the I.L.P. in 1915, and of course that was the year that Hardie died you see. And then the struggle came after of course for the man to come instead of him.
Morgan, Alun: Yes, this is interesting.
Protheroe, George: So of course the meetings were still going on in the Rink, and the selection of the candidates was the same as now. You had your organisations all adopting different people so the man that won the position to fight Merthyr at that particular time was Jimmy Winstone, he was the minersâ€™ agent from over the Monmouthshire Valleys. He was a real good speaker, and he was sincere I thought at the time, and he was opposed to the war. So of course when the election was fought then during the wartime, the nominations of, I canâ€™t remember the Liberal or the Tory at that particular time, but there was a man by the name of Stanton, he was a Minersâ€™ Agent from Aberdare, and he was a believer in the Horatio Bottomley sort of business of the war carrying on. And of course, unfortunately for in my opinion, he was elected M.P. for the Merthyr and Aberdare division, because both were together at that particular time.
Morgan, Alun: Can you remember any of the election meetings of the time?
Protheroe, George: Oh well, it's difficult to remember them because there were so many getting held you see. And as I say, the Merthyr branch of the I.L.P., was, well, the Merthyr federation of I.L.P'ers, because there were branches of the I.L.P. from Dowlais down to Treharris you see, well anybody that was a member of the I.L.P., well they were the founders of forcing the election meetings of each ward where they were living, you see.
Morgan, Alun: But I understand there were some bitter incidents in this election campaign, and could you remember any of these?
Protheroe, George: Oh yes, there were rough incidents practically all over you see, because there was some with a war spirit in Merthyr see.
Morgan, Alun: You yourself had antagonism against you, did you?
Protheroe, George: Well yes I was antagonised several times, and one incident, we were told in the I.L.P. rooms, which was occupied by the tax people after, that Ramsey MacDonald was down in South Wales, and he was having a rest because he'd been pretty active with peace meetings, so like it was a holiday at the time, and like if all the I.L.P'ers that knew about him, they took a visit down to where they heard that Macdonald was having a bit of a break. Well we were there a couple of hours before anybody could find him, but eventually he came down from the falls where he had been, from the falls path where he had been, and they all got around him, but he was not prepared to speak that afternoon. As he said he was down for rest, but eventually anyhow he spoke outside one of the pubs in Pontywain, the Angel Hotel, and the landlord at that particular time was a man by the name of Jones see, the father of Neath footballers, one, if not two became Welsh internationals.
Morgan, Alun: This is Rugby is it?
Protheroe, George: Rugby players yes. And he was trying his best with the help of a few others to bust up and shout MacDonald down, but anyway after the meeting finished or just before the meeting finished, there were, I was arguing with some of these war people about the British Air Force claiming the right to have the onus of being the first to drop bombs on the civilian population. I had the newspaper cutting in the house for years, and an appeal in one of the Glasgow papers which Emrys Hughes, the MP, was Editor at the time, asked if anybody had it and I sent it up there, sometimes I wish Iâ€™d kept it, because it would be very useful today I thought. And there were other occasions after very rowdy meetings in the Drill Hall, on the, by the way, it was very often of course, it was kind of blood and thunder. But, generally speaking we had a bit more fair play in those days than what they had in other towns where they had the peace meetings.
Morgan, Alun: This was true of Aberdare wasnâ€™t it, which was more for the war than Merthyr?
Protheroe, George: Oh Merthyr now of course as I say, Aberdare people in my opinion of course went for Stanton you see, and they even shouted Hardie down, previous to that when Hardie was speaking at a meeting in Aberdare.
Morgan, Alun: You werenâ€™t at that meeting?
Protheroe, George: I wasnâ€™t at that meeting, but itâ€™s a known fact that, I may have it about somewhere that, the report of the meeting. But they did howl Keir Hardie down, the workers of Aberdare, yes aye. So, they say then the war went on, and the, of course, we got a little bit more saner around here, and of course the I.L.P. was the dominating factor in running the elections in Merthyr at the time and of course the few elections. And it came to the time when Dick Wallhead was returned from Merthyr as the I.L.P. candidate for the House of Commons. And of course we won that, well, we won it the first night according to the demonstration that took place on that particular time when he came into Merthyr. And I must say, he was in a very ragged condition because he had very little money, and he had to, all he was getting at that particular time, heâ€™d been unemployed, he was getting his small couple of coppers in those days as auditor for the socialist cause. But of course then he came to Merthyr and of course he held the seat of course then until he died.
Morgan, Alun: Can you tell us something about this demonstration when he arrived?
Protheroe, George: Oh yes, well he came into Merthyr by train. I canâ€™t remember the time, but it must have been between seven and eight oâ€™clock and Harry Morris who was the secretary of the I.L.P. in those days had made such an organisation that we had everybody possible outside the station meeting him. And they had had the loan of a car, and itâ€™s a funny thing, there was such a crowd there that the car was damaged because of the crush that was there. But it was absolutely certain that the election was won with that first night demonstration.
Morgan, Alun: To go back a moment in time, to the war, and these meetings you talk about at the Rink on Sundays. You know as the war, like every other war one presumes, ebbed and flowed you know, sometimes people were optimistic that it would end soon and that we were winning and then it would go the other way. Did the crowds vary a lot in size?
Protheroe, George: Oh no, no. The Merthyr Rink was practically packed every meeting until the end of the war, and I can tell you this, there was some, well there was marvellous speakers and the oration, well it was out of the ordinary.
Morgan, Alun: Could you remember, could you name some of these now? Some of the ones that stand out in your mind?
Protheroe, George: Oh thereâ€™s what do you call, well you see, we had all the MacDonald type of man. Then, there was a Liberal was very strong at that time, E.D. Morell, he was supposed to speak in Merthyr, and at the same meeting, if I can remember right now , Liberal M.P. because they were anti-war see, and they were coming to speak at the anti-war meetings in the rink. Well Morell didnâ€™t appear here because he got, how shall I say, he was put into Court, and he was given a six month jail sentence because he had tried to get a pamphlet, anti-war pamphlet from this country into Switzerland, into a neutral country. And of course he didnâ€™t turn up but some of the Scots speakers, oh thereâ€™s some of them difficult to remember but they were outstanding. We didnâ€™t have Johnson down here, but there was several young fellows like Maxton for instance see, and the names now see I canâ€™t recall, I wish I could because they were out of the ordinary fellows, especially the young man, about thirty, and well he would hold the crowd well for two hours when they were talking anti-war. Iâ€™m sorry now for the moment I canâ€™t recall names of those but it would be very interesting.