Sunday, December 17, 2006

The forgotten full-time miners of wartime Britain




Photograph of Moresby Churchyard with the Lowca Pit spoil heap in the distance.

Some of the fifteen miners who lost their lives in a pit explosion in 1946 lie in adjacent graves in the Churchyard

[Photograph taken on Sunday 10 December 2006]

As I live in a former coal and iron ore mining area some of the stories I posted to the "People's War" website inevitably dealt with people and events that took place in the mines during and immediately after the war. For example my father, Joe Ritson, and his eldest brother, Tom Ritson, worked as full-time miners in West Cumberland. In addition to doing what was a physically hard and potentially dangerous job my father, uncle and most of their workmates also served in the Home Guard. They were but two of the full-time miners whose wartime contribution has been largely forgotten and rarely referred to in wartime histories.

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Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

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Because of the manpower shortage in the British mines during WW2 Ernest Bevin sponsored the scheme of 'Bevin Boys', where 1 in 10 men called up to serve the country were sent to make up this manpower shortage rather than in the Armed Forces or Merchant Navy. Many of those called up to serve as 'Bevin Boys' still feel their wartime service has been largely unrecognised. Recently, I have read about plans by the British Government to accord the 'Bevin Boys' some official recognition for their National Service, which in many cases I understand went on until 1947 or 1948 when many of the pre-war full-time miners serving in the Forces returned to civilian life.

This belated recognition of the contribution of the 'Bevin Boys' still rather forgets the contribution of the full-time miners. There were a large number of miners who lost their lives in pit accidents during and immediately after the war. For example, John Burney MM - a cousin of my father - died in a pit accident in January 1940. His son John Peter Burney was one of 12 miners who died in a pit explosion at the William Pit, Whitehaven on 3 June 1941. A younger brother of John Burney MM - Robert Morris Burney (Bob) - was one of 15 miners to lose his life in yet another explosion at Lowca No 10 Colliery in December 1946. Having looked through the records of those who lost their lives in the Cumbrian mines in the 1930s and 1940s I have not found any who were 'Bevin Boys'.

On Sunday 10 December 2006, the day after the 60th Anniversary of the Lowca No 10 Pit explosion, the Reverend Andy Edwards of St Bridget's Church, Moresby held a Memorial Service for the 15 miners and their families. The village of Lowca falls within the Anglican parish of St Bridget's, Moresby and 7 of the 15 miners were interred in the churchyard. At least at the local level, and within the community in which these men lived, worked, died and in which some of them lie at rest, they are still remembered. A great number of steps has been made in recent years with recording and evaluatiing what happened during the war years. There are, perhaps, still many more steps to take so that the experiences of miners and others is not forgotten.

Sunday, 17 December, 2006  

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