Last year in mid 2014 nearly four hundred years of industrialised coal mining came to an end on a twenty five mile seam of anthracite, known as the Warwickshire thick. Roughly half way along the seam lies my home town of Nuneaton close by to Daw Mill colliery, the last of the deep mines to work the Warwickshire thick. Daw Mill Colliery had been owned by the private company UK Coal since the end of the miners strike of 1985. Following a devastating underground fire in 2013 it was decided that Daw Mill should cease operations even though there are millions of tons still left below surface.
As a lad growing up in Nuneaton the rhythm of the day revolved around the four pit heads I could see from my bedroom window. Miners going to work, shift hooters signalling the start of another underground day, shift end hooters, miners coming home and the dreaded accident siren rarely heard, then miners going out at night to such pubs and clubs as the Jolly Colliers, the Miners Arms and the Griff Colliery Sports and welfare club. My father started at one of these Colleries in 1939 aged fourteen as a draft door boy before moving onto face work some years later after returning from service in WW2. Three of my great uncles left associated collieries along the thick to head for France during WW1, never to return.
So with no surprise coal mining and its history in the area stretching back to Roman times is very intrinsic to who I am. With this in mind I joined the campaign to save the winding gear as a lasting memorial to the many thousands who had worked and died underground along the thick, during its turbulent and fraught history, the worst being 32 dead in an underground gas explosion. However, we lost the campaign, down came the winding gear for a few lousy pounds of scrap metal and gone is any trace of hundreds of years of coal mining endeavour. No help from the government, no pseudo celebrities joining the cause, no newspaper coverage and no funding from the lottery fund despite intensive lobbying from the local population.
All well and good you may say until I explain the next chapter in this story. Some eight years ago the Ghurkha signal regiment moved to Gamecock barracks at Bramcote on the outskirts of Nuneaton. As you can imagine their contribution to the life and history of Nuneaton is relatively new and apart from a Nepalese restaurant, fairly insignificant. But up popped another phase of the militarisation of our communities. The suggestion was for a memorial to the Ghurkhas to immortalise their valuable service to the crown. Every local newspaper ran endless adverts to raise funds for a memorial to these in media jargon “tenacious likeable men from Nepal”, there were Gala charity fund raising nights, street collections and BBC TV news reports. So on the 29th of April this year hundreds turned out for a huge parade to dedicate the new Ghurkha memorial in the centre of the town at the entrance to Riversley Park, the most prominent position in the town. If this blatant militarisation of another bloody memorial hasn’t disgusted you yet then there is more, for we had a notable visitor to this memorial for mercenaries in this small ex mining town, and it came in no other guise than the Prime Minister himself David Cameron
So the industrial heritage of Britain and the millions who toiled tirelessly for workers rights, a decent living wage and safe working conditions are slowly being erased from our towns in favour of yet more bloody military memorials dedicated to a violent and imperialistic past. The next generation of young men and women will no doubt walk past these monolithic sepulchres in some deluded but conditioned belief that there is something noble and glorious in the business of war. Perhaps just one last poignant thought to end this short article. On the bottom of the memorial are the words “BETTER TO DIE THAN BE A COWARD” but to today I would say “I WOULD RATHER BE A COWARD THAN SERVE YOUR LIES” Peace and happiness to everyone who reads this.
Gus Hales served with the British Army in N Ireland and the Falklands War. He is now a member of Veterans For Peace UK.