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.
We do not need to smash the lock in order to open the door; we must simply use the right key.
Thanks to everyone for your replies. I find it very sad at the destruction of working class culture being eradicated from our towns and cities. Started by Thatcher continued by Blair and now its Cameron’s turn. Our youngsters will grow up believing that somehow the military gained us all the rights fought for through social struggle. It was Bevan who brought us an health service and Atlee an old age pension. It seems pretty obvious that this next phase of Establishment power will no doubt deliver us a couple of more wars, which are going to be fought by those with least to gain.. DONT FALL FOR THE OLD LIE.
What a very thought provoking article, and obviously written from the Heart. I am sure it is etched upon Gus’s memory , how the once Booming Industrial Area of Nuneaton – is now merely a shadow of its former self , with scarce a clue as to what its great Heritage was.
It was blokes who pulled their tripe out in dreadful working conditions , throughout the length and breadth of Britain that made it GREAT- Not the lying self serving Politicians, who throughout History have taken the credit for any improvement of the countrys wealth with scarce a mention of the working class who made it all happen.
The epitaph “BETTER TO DIE THAN BE A COWARD” is another master stroke of social conditioning, crafted words to produce pangs of guilt for those not willing to leave their loving families , along with all they ever knew and cared for- to go and die for some greedy land grabbing Idealism that the Rich people of this world perpetuate generation after generation.
How noble are we …. when on a larger global scale the so called civilised world, a world that has endless funds to supply guns and ammunition for any war – will let a child go to sleep tonight without having a clean drink of water.
Well done Gus.
An absolutely disgraceful example of the militarisation of our towns and cities. Interesting how Cameron would dance to the tune of these mercenaries while turning his back on the areas mining history. The saddest thing is that people are fooled by this stuff, and it doesn’t bode well for the younger generation. It makes you wonder what the New World Order has lined up for us?
At the time of Joanna Lumley’s campaign fr the Gurkhas, some sad person commented that they (the Gurkhas recruited by the Raj) were “more patriotic” than many (no doubt “leftie”) Brits. The writer here correctly points out that the likeable little men from Nepal are , in fact, mercenaries, whose enduring qualities would ,it should be evident, be better used in their home country than in serving the Empire. Nepal has great poverty, leprosy, a variety of the less desirable aspects of “western civilisation” (what a good idea that would be ! someone said) and now a significantly damaging earthquake. The Gurkha regiment, prior to disbandment, ought to be flown home now to help out their fellow countrymen. I don’t think the battle to oppose militarisation is going to be an easy one, but this article spells it out. A miner working for many years to support his family in potentially fatal conditions is (was) surely braver than the typical war hero, whose main quality of explosive violence is scarcely mentioned in the media. Further, with drones and more and more computerised weaponry, the young must be getting a very dehumanised view of industrial scale killing.
A great post Gus.
Great article Gus. A subject, I know to be, close to your heart.