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15 October 2014
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Cumberland Miners' Representative in World War Two London Victory March

by ritsonvaljos

Contributed by 
ritsonvaljos
People in story: 
Tom Ritson, Ronald Ritson, Joe Ritson, Tom Stephenson, Emmanuel Shinwell, Douglas Bader
Location of story: 
Scilly Banks, Moresby Parks, Harrington, Lowca, London
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A3564966
Contributed on: 
23 January 2005

Tom Ritson (3rd right) photographed with some of the 'Lads and Lasses' in May 1946 in front of Lowca Pit shaft before setting off for the World War Two 'Victory March' (Photo used by courtesy of 'The Whitehaven News')

Cumberland Miners' Representative in World War Two Victory March, June 1946

Introduction

One of my uncles was Tom Ritson who represented the coalminers from the county of Cumberland in the World War Two 'Victory March'. This was held in London in June 1946 to commemorate the role everyone in Britain played in achieving ultimate victory - civilians on the Home Front as well as service men and women on the Military Fronts.

At that time, there was a recognition that without the important part played by the Miners, Factory Workers, Land Girls and others, there would have been no overall victory. This short account is based on family testimony and a contemporary newspaper article in 'The Whitehaven News'.

Starting at the pit

Tom Ritson came from the small village of Scilly Banks in what was then the county of Cumberland. At the age of fourteen Tom had started work at Walkmill Colliery in the nearby village of Moresby Parks.

Together with his two younger brothers, Ronald and Joe, before the war Tom was a member of the Colliery Band and joined the St John's Ambulance Brigade. He also became involved in the local branch of the Miners' Trade Union and worked closely with the Cumberland Miners' Leader Tom Stephenson.

Miner and Home Guard soldier

Tom continued working in the Cumberland coalmines during World War Two, although he later transferred to another coalmine, Harrington No 11. This mine is in another nearby village called Lowca.

In addition to working in the mine, his trade union and First Aid activities, Tom was also a member of the Moresby Home Guard Platoon. Tom even found the time to marry his sweetheart Mary (née Casson) during the war.

Selected for the WW2 'Victory March'

By the early summer of 1946, Tom worked as a coal hewer and was both secretary and delegate for the local Miners' Lodge at Harrington No 11 Pit. At that time the Union Branch Secretary had to personally collect union dues from members. Although women were prevented by law from working underground in coal mines, during the war and for many years afterwards, there were a number of women employed as 'Screen Lasses' whose job was to sort the coal from the stone sent up the pit shaft. So Tom also represented those women who worked at the Lowca Pit during and after World War Two.

Tom Stephenson, the Cumberland Miners’ Agent nominated Tom Ritson to represent all the Cumberland Miners on this historic occasion. He was one of 36 miners drawn from all the coalfields of Britain to represent their fellow mineworkers in Britain's Victory March through London. Unlike some other coalfields, the Cumberland coalfield had been free from industrial strife throughout the war.

Coal was still being hewn by hand at Harrington No 11 Colliery, although according to the local newspaper article at the time, output was the highest per man shift in Cumberland, and in the week before going to London it had just achieved its highest ever figure. Tom had always great strength, but always of a slight build. When interviewed by the local newspaper, 'The Whitehaven News' Tom is quoted as saying he was conscious that being selected to represent his fellow mineworkers from Cumberland was a great honour but he couldn't understand why he should be the one selected: "Perhaps it's because I'm the best fitted to march four miles. I haven't so much weight to carry." The local newspaper photographed Tom with some of the fellow 'lads and lasses' he worked with in front of the Pit Head at Harrington No 11, when he was dressed in what was described in Cumbrian dialect as his "gahn yam claes" ('going home clothes'). Men who worked down the pit, especially at the coal face, would travel to and from work in one set of clothes and then change to a different set of clothing to go down the mine.

Along with his fellow miners in the 'Victory March' Tom had lunch in London on Friday 7 June 1946 with Emmanuel Shinwell, who was then the Minister of Fuel and Power. Another thing that Tom remembered about the Victory March was the RAF fly-past, which he thought was led by Douglas Bader.

Conclusion

This short account of Tom Ritson's involvement in the World War Two Victory March has been written to show that in the period immediately following World War Two the people on the 'Home Front' were honoured and recognised as much as those who served in the Armed Forces. Tom Ritson passed away in April 2003, after many years of happy family life with Mary, his children and grandchildren.

The copy of the newspaper article about my uncle Tom Ritson taking part in the Victory Parade was published the week before he went to London for the Parade. Unfortunately I could not find an article in the local newspaper written about the London Victory Parade after Tom took part in the march. I visited the Cumbria County Archives to check the back catalogue of the newspapers.

While the article I do have mentions the date Tom and his colleagues had lunch with Manny Shinwell (Friday 7 June), it does not give the date of the actual march. However, an article by Ron Goldsein, a WW2 Site Helper for the BBC "People's War" project confirms the date of the Parade as Saturday 8 June. I would like to acknowledge Ron's assistance in confirming the actual date.

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