Proud as punch – David Douglass reviews Brian Witts’s Enamel badges of the National Union of Mineworkers Orphans Press 2008, £33
This is a remarkable, inspiring and fully comprehensive reference book for National Union of Mineworkers badges. This review is by definition a bit limited, since the book is in full colour, and each badge is illustrated, so you can only guess at the magical kaleidoscope of colour and drama reflected in page after page.
For the keen badge collector I guess this book might be a wee bit depressing. After all you think you’ve got a badge collection, you think you’ve got a couple of rare badges, then you look through this collection and, man, you ain’t got nuthin’! Not that this is a real collection: it is a collection of photos of badges from every source which Brian could access. An assembly of these actual badges does not exist and probably never could exist. There are getting on towards 2,000 lodge, area, national, joint union, trades council, town support and various solidarity and support badges. The author thinks he has recorded most of them, but is sure a few are still out there, undisclosed and undiscovered.
What this book demonstrates in such vivid terms is the massive impact of the 1984-85 strike, then on a lesser scale the 92 campaign – not just in every colliery and every coal town in the country, but across scores of other unions and locations where nobody had ever seen a coal mine. It demonstrates the sheer pride of the coal communities and their supporters in making such an honest and determined stand.
That we lost, and these badges, and the names of the pits and communities they represented, were swiped from the board is a tragic postscript to that bold effort. They stand now not so much as medals in our victory, but monuments to what we have lost. A loss without limit, someone once called it – this badge collection, and the men women and children of those brave communities, certainly remind us of how extensive and exhaustive that was.
The book will be at once a reference work, for collectors to carry round with them to miners’ galas and mining memorabilia stalls, etc, when checking out the badges for sale, but is also a work of art in its own right. A book which can be browsed page after page repeatedly, without losing anything of its fascination.
The work itself was put together certainly as an act of love for, and a monument to, the coal communities and the NUM, but also, more practically, to raise money for the ongoing Justice for Miners campaign, which still acts for the hundreds of miners sacked and blacklisted following the strike, and their dependants. There is a moving dedication to Rick Sumner, who is the mainstay and backbone of the Justice campaign, for which he has worked tirelessly for the last 25 years, by Ian Lavery, national president of the NUM, and a foreword by Rick himself.
The book seeks to tell a little of every badge and, insofar as Brian was able to track down the designers, lodge activists and supporters, he has succeeded – only a nit-picker would quibble at the mini-histories which accompany the collection, and one can say that, near as damn it, they are all accurate.
I cannot recommend this book enough – to collectors of NUM badges certainly, but to branch and coal community activists in general. It is one you will be proud as punch to have on your bookshelf – and standing frontways on, so everyone can see it!
Order Enamel badges of the National Union of Mineworkers from: B Witts, 4 Balmoral Drive, Hednebford, Staffs WS12 4LT. Cheques made out to ‘Nine One Seven’.