Foreign workers in the Welsh coalfields

Post War miner shortage

Group of Slovenians at Oakdale Training Centre 1948
Group of Slovenians at Oakdale Training Centre 1948.

Following the Second World War, the demand for coal was high and generally rising. Post-war recovery and growth demanded cheap and abundant energy that could only come from coal. There was an urgent need to recruit more miners. One source for these was among the thousands of Europeans who had to flee their home countries during the War.

Although Britain desperately needed these men they were not always welcomed with open arms and there was much resistance from local National Union of Mineworkers' lodges. There was more disquiet when the recruitment of Italians began in 1951, and things were no better when the National Coal Board tried to recruit among Hungarian refugees after the 1956 revolution. By this time another group had already entered the coal field. In 1954 the German mining engineering group, Thyssen UK, came to work in south Wales, bringing some of their own countrymen with them.

As with today's immigrants, these 'foreign workers' faced much initial suspicion, which arose partly from ignorance and partly from the fear of unemployment among the local population. These young men came to Britain after years of hardship, danger and tragedy.

"All Poles"

Nyk Woszczycki (2nd from left) in a group celebrating his friend Joe Hughes's retirement from Britannia Colliery
Nyk Woszczycki (2nd from left) in a group celebrating his friend Joe Hughes's retirement from Britannia Colliery

Many left the coal industry as soon as they could, many even left Britain, but the ones who stayed earned a lasting reputation for toughness and hard work. Even though they came from many countries they tend to be regarded as 'all Poles' by the Welsh miner. They married local girls and settled down; on their living room walls can often be found photographs of their children and grandchildren, who have been brought up as Welsh. Many of these have gained university degrees; some have won sporting honours for Wales.

In spite of their pride in their original homelands, most now regard themselves as Welsh. In turn, Wales should be proud of them and the part they have played in her history.

This article forms part of a magazine in the series 'Glo' produced by Big Pit National Coal Museum. Download the complete magazine here:

Article Date: 9 May 2008

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