Scattered by war and revolution

Colliery sign in English and Polish
Colliery sign in English and Polish
German mine workers at a south Wales coal pit
German mine workers at a south Wales coal pit

After the Second World War the demand for coal was high and there was a need to recruit new miners. One source for these was amongst the thousands of Europeans who had to flee their home countries during the Second World War.

In January 1947, a national agreement was made between the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the National Coal Board (NCB) to recruit from the large number of Polish soldiers who had fought with the Allies during the war.

However, there was much resistance amongst local unions. By the end of May 1947 there were Poles whose training was complete but no collieries willing to take them.

The NCB appealed for help from the NUM who put a strong resolution to a delegate conference in favour of the acceptance of the Poles and most found places eventually.

A scheme to recruit other eastern European displaced persons began in September 1947. There was again fierce opposition from local unions and by the winter only a minority found collieries willing to take them.

By 1951 only 10,000 of the 18,000 foreign workers still remained in the mines and a new scheme to recruit Italians was launched. Again there was local opposition, only 400 found placements and the recruitment stopped in April 1952.

It was no better when the National Coal Board tried to recruit amongst refugees who had fled from Hungary during the 1956 revolution. There were over 4,000 volunteers but under a third of them found places, the rest went to other industries.

The 'foreign workers' came to Wales after years of hardship and danger. The ones that found employment in the coal industry eventually gained a reputation for hard work and respectability. Wales should be proud of them and the part they played in its industrial history.

Article Date: 12 June 2007

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