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Pit head at a coal mine

A Fife Miner remembers the Miners' Strike

Ronnie Stuart, an ex-miner, shares his personal memories of the Miners' Strike in Fife.

I started working with the NCB as an apprentice mechanical engineer in August 1968. I completed my apprenticeship in 1972 and was at the Frances Colliery in Dysart, Fife until my participation in the 1984-85 strike came to an end.

I was wholeheartedly behind the strike and while not as active as a lot of the other strikers, I like to think that I “did my bit”. 5.30am, Tuesday morning, October 2 1984 was the beginning of the end for me working for the National Coal Board. I was arrested on the picket line at the Frances Colliery that morning. Worse still, my arrest took place on NCB property. If you were found guilty of any offence on NCB property this would result in dismissal. All possible redundancy payments and pension dues would be lost.

A rally in Kirkcaldy against the closure of Seafield and Frances collieries

A rally in Kirkcaldy against pit closures in Fife

I pleaded not guilty to the four charges that were levelled against me when I appeared in court later that day. Me and ten others were arrested that day.

My case was adjourned till March 1985 as I had pled not guilty. I knew I had not committed any crime.

Two months after my arrest, I received a phone call from a friend who had been an apprentice of mine some years earlier. He was working with a mining machinery manufacturer and had heard there was a possibility of a job arising as a service engineer with them. Would I be interested? 

I spoke with my wife about it and thought long and hard. If I stuck it out and was found guilty, I would have nothing. No job, no redundancy and no pension. If I got the service engineer's job and left the NCB before the court case, I would still have a job and could carry my pension with me to my new employer. The only thing I would lose out on was my possible redundancy.

The return to work at Frances Colliery, Fife

I decided to go for the job offer, that way I knew I would have better prospects for the future. So on January 14 1985, I started a job that would take me away from the strike.

Not quite as it turned out. I would have to travel to England, to work in mines that were still working. I had always said I would not cross a picket line even in my new job. So the first day I went to Warsop Colliery in Notts, I was concerned what would face me. Sure enough, a picket line of about a dozen or so. Most of Notts collieries were working so there weren’t a lot of pickets around anyway.

I was approached and opened my car window to speak to the picket. I gave him a brief summary of my position, how I had been on strike etc. He told me to go away and come back in an hour. There would be no pickets there at that time and I could go in without any trouble. I did this and came back with no intervention by anyone.
For the remaining time of the strike, this was the routine that I would follow. I would not cross a picket line, but if there was no picket line to cross my conscience was as clear as it could be.

I was only in that job for seven years as coal mining in the UK shrunk and its suppliers shrunk also. The company I worked for downsized in 1992 and I had to go. No regrets though, as it let me travel many places both in UK and overseas, China, Canada, France. Places I would probably never have seen if I had still been working at the Frances Colliery. But then, the Frances Colliery flooded in February 1985 and was only kept open on a care and maintenance basis until it finally closed.

last updated: 13/03/2009 at 15:43
created: 03/03/2009

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