April 2018 - Marking Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 April
Many people will be aware of the numerous disasters that blighted British coal mines in the past, and the terrible loss of life incurred.
Less has been written about the volunteer rescue brigades who put their own lives at risk to rescue survivors and to retrieve the bodies of their dead comrades. They are true heroes of the mining industry.
The miners, in part through their occupational isolation underground, and their geographical isolation in pit villages, were vulnerable to the collective character assassination that was meted upon their communities by an establishment which feared their solidarity. The rescue brigades were, from the point of view of that establishment, the honourable face of those communities.
The pictures in our hall display case [including this from Explosion at Easington, compiled by Gavin John Purdon], along with various other images and descriptions in our collection, portray a people with their own culture - as in dress code, language, modus operandi - that almost seemed alien to outsiders. The rescue brigades were their way of taking control of the situation. The many official enquiries into pit disasters seem forensic and lacking in humanity when compared to the individual accounts, songs, ballads and memorials such as commemorative serviettes that we have here at WCML.