On Sunday, I spoke at the National Coalmining Museum, at the launch event for the Miners' Memorial Garden Appeal.
This garden will be a welcome addition to the museum. My speech is posted in full, below.
Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen -
As Member of Parliament for Barnsley Central, a town synonymous with the mining industry, and as Shadow Minister for Culture,
it is a great honour for me to be here today at the launch of the Miners’ Memorial Garden Appeal.
In Yorkshire, mining has been the fibre that has linked families, created friendships and is what many of our communities were built on – communities built on coal. It is our history and it has shaped our future. I believe we should be very proud of our mining heritage and what it has brought to our region.
What we have here, at the National Coalmining Museum, helps to bring the mining industry to life for those too young to remember it, and allows those who can, to revisit the times when it was a major part of their lives.
As you all know, there have been highs and lows in the mining industry and now, there are very few active deep pits left.
But one thing I do know, is that mining communities are incredibly resilient. The community spirit in the former minefield areas is among the strongest I have ever known. This is borne out of the principles of people working, living closely, and sticking, together; through thick and thin.
The camaraderie that the men developed underground, when they knew their lives could be in one another’s hands, transcended from the confines of the pit below to the community above. Throughout the years, miners and their families have supported one another through the toughest of times, sharing their resources and doing it all in the steadfast belief that they were stronger when united, more formidable when as one.
And, amongst the most formidable groups that came out of the mining industry, were the inspirational Women Against Pit Closures. This was an incredible group of women, who supported the miners and their families. I pay tribute to the work they did when they were formed and as they continue today, supporting workers in dispute.
The mining community has also relied on the support of their trade unions. The importance of trade unions cannot be underestimated and they are just as important and relevant today, as ever before.
I am therefore, delighted to see support for the National Coalmining Museum from the three trade unions involved in the coal mining industry; the National Union of Mineworkers, National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers and the British Association of Colliery Management. I know their support is very much appreciated, so thank you to them.
I also know, very well, just how important museums are to our society. Especially so, when we are talking about an attraction that allows people to, almost literally, step into the shoes of a miner and walk the dark tunnels, just as he did.
Today, there are just fifteen underground coal mines in the UK. Of those, just a few are in Yorkshire. Where Yorkshire Miners still hew the coal from the depths of the earth. Yorkshire’s last remaining pits and miners. That is why this museum, where we are gathered today is so valuable. Because mining was not just a job. It was – and is – a way of life.
Miners kept the black stuff coming out of the ground continually; they served their communities and their country. Many forms of public service were recognised by previous governments and respected by the public, but it took time for the service of miners to be generally acknowledged. This was especially true during the Second World War, when the demand for coal meant that some conscripts were directed to the mines. Miners - and the Bevin Boys - were as much a part of the war effort as anyone in uniform.
Someone I know explained to me that his two Grandfathers both served their country during the War; one in the sands of North Africa and one underground in South Yorkshire. This is a particularly good comparison of the level of respect miners had. Everyone knew it was an incredibly hard job with immense dangers and, as we now know, with a long-term risk to health.
When I was preparing for today, and as a former soldier it became apparent to me that there are many similarities between the camaraderie that exists between soldiers on active service and that which is so evident among coal miners. They experience a shared hardship, a common goal; they depend on one another and know that ultimately, their lives can lie in one another’s hands.
They are both public servants, yet their work is not carried out in a public arena.
Whether in the deserts of Africa or the pitch black tunnels underground – here at home, they work for the people of our country. And as we all know, the death toll among miners was extraordinary, with individual disasters claiming hundreds of lives. So I believe the Miners' Memorial Garden will be a fitting tribute to our lost miners. Those who gave their lives while serving their country.
By honouring them in this way, we will make certain they, and the sacrifice they paid, are never forgotten - and of course, those who mourn them will have somewhere to reflect and quietly remember their loved one.
So, may the memories of all who made the ultimate sacrifice, live on.
May we always remember them and may the National Coal Mining Museum continue in its work, bringing mining to life for young and old alike. I look forward to seeing the garden when it is finished in 2014 and wish Margaret Faull and her team at the National Coalmining Museum, the very best with their campaign to achieve it.