Clem Attlee – Britain’s greatest Prime Minister

 

Attlee at his Nefyn holiday home
Attlee at his Nefyn holiday home

Britain’s greatest Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, was born 133 years ago on 3 January 1883. He was Prime Minister from 1945 to 1951 and the longest serving Leader of the Labour Party from 1935 to 1955. He led the Labour Party to a landslide election victory in 1945 and a narrow victory in 1950 becoming the first Labour Prime Minister ever to serve a full five-year term.

The Attlee government was committed to rebuilding British society after WWII using public ownership and controls to abolish extremes of wealth and poverty. What a contrast Labour’s Socialist ideology is with today’s Tory Party’s defence of income inequality. Jeremy Corbyn’s grass-roots Socialism is a welcome return to those values.

There were many landmark achievements during his premiership using principles which cry out to be copied today.

 

  • His Government undertook the nationalisation of public utilities and major industries,
  • His Government created the National Health Service – a project led by Wales’ greatest hero Aneurin Bevan. I was born an NHS baby six weeks after the NHS itself was born.
  • He created full employment and ran budget surpluses
  • The government implemented William Beveridge’s plans ‘cradle to grave’ welfare state and set in place an entirely new system of social security by means of the National Insurance Act 1946, in which people in work paid a flat rate of national insurance. In return, they (and the wives of male contributors) received flat-rate pensions, sickness benefit and unemployment benefit.
  • Four out of five houses constructed under Labour were council properties.
  • His Keynesian fiscal policies were followed by all parties for over three decades until Margaret Thatcher’s destructive reign.
  • His Government also presided over the decolonisation of a large part of the British Empire, granting British India, Burma, and Ceylon independence, as well as ending the British Mandates of Palestine and Jordan.
Attlee with Aneurin Bevan
Attlee with Aneurin Bevan

Although he lacked charisma and was not a good public speaker, his achievements were very much behind the scenes especially in committees where his depth of knowledge, quiet demeanour, objectivity and pragmatism proved decisive. He kept its multiple factions in his very diverse party together – possibly Jeremy Corbyn could learn from his success. His leadership style of consensual government, acting as a chairman rather than a president, won him much praise from historians and politicians alike. A style decisively rejected by Thatcher, Blair and Cameron.

He died, aged 84, on 8 October 1967

Port Talbot marks 100 years of its only VC recipient: Rupert Hallowes

Rupert-Hallowes-VCWednesday, 30 September marks the centenary of the death of Port Talbot’s greatest hero. Rupert Price Hallowes VC MC was the son of Frederick and Mary Hallowes and lived at Dan-y-Ffynnon, Port Talbot, South Wales. He was active as a scoutmaster and sidesman at St Theodore’s Church, Port Talbot.

He was 34 years old, and a temporary second lieutenant in the 4th Battalion, The Middlesex Regiment, during the First World War. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions at Sanctuary Wood. Hooge in the Ypres Salient, Belgium, between 25-30 September 1915. His citation from The London Gazette reads:

Rupert-Hallowes1“For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty during the fighting at Hooge between 25th September and 1st October, 1915. Second Lieutenant Hallowes displayed throughout these days the greatest bravery and untiring energy, and set a magnificent example to his men during four heavy and prolonged bombardments. On more than one occasion he climbed up on the parapet, utterly regardless of danger, in order to put fresh heart into his men. He made daring reconnaissances of the German positions in our lines. When the supply of bombs was running short he went back under very heavy shell fire and brought up a fresh supplyEven after he was mortally wounded he continued to cheer those around him and to inspire them with fresh courage”

Rupert Hallowes died of his wounds on 30 September 1915 and is buried at Bedford House Cemetery, Zillebeke, near Ypres. His Victoria Cross, Military Cross, and other medals are on display at the National Army Museum.

Penmaenmawr Railway Disaster

The disaster scene
In 1950, the nation’s newspapers and radio were full of news of a major railway disaster in the quiet Snowdonia town of Penmaenmawr. A little after 3 am on 27 August, a train from Holyhead with over 500 passengers from Ireland, collided with the rear of a small railway locomotive which had travelled from Llandudno Junction to collect a number of stone wagons from the sidings. The engine was crossing the main line to gain access to the sidings.

A fireman on board the small engine heard the Holyhead train coming and signalled to the signal box with his lamp that a collision was about to happen. The signalman changed the signals for the Holyhead train to red, but it was too late. The passenger train collided with the rear of the small engine pushing it forwards for about 240 yards, ripping the tracks. The force of the collision shattered the sleeping carriage of the passenger train, which was immediately behind the locomotive, and five people inside were killed. Several further carriages were thrown off the rails.

Raising the locoBoth the running lines were blocked and a second collision was prevented when a freight train approaching from the east was stopped just clear of the wreckage by the prompt action of the driver of the Holyhead train who knew the freight train was due and, on his instructions, the fireman went forward, despite painful injuries from which he would later be hospitalised, and protected the line with detonators to warm the oncoming train. The goods driver saw the signal change and then heard the detonators, and braked hard, stopping 120 yards before he would have hit the coaches lying across the down line. It was particularly fortunate that the goods train was stopped because its load included ammunition.

After the crash, local people came to the station with blankets and a cafe nearby opened to dispense tea and coffee to the rescuers and survivors. Penmaenmawr station was used as a casualty-clearing area until ambulances arrived to take the injured to hospital in all 36 people were injured and six killed (five at the site and one later in hospital) – a remarkably small number.

A Pathé newsreel shows a video of the aftermath of the crash test.