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Miners in the Great War (Hardback)

Military P&S History > Social History > Mining & Miners WWI

By Brian Elliott
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 336
Illustrations: 200 integrated illustrations
ISBN: 9781473827264
Published: 30th April 2025

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At the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, despite many difficulties and falling manpower, coalmining was the most important industry in Great Britain. It employed around a million persons in well over 3,000 pits ranging from small hillside drift mines with a few hands to substantial collieries with workforces and pit communities the size of villages and small towns. A few months into the conflict, Lloyd George in a patriotic speech to a coal conference proclaimed that coal was 'everything for us, the country's life and blood, its international coinage'.

As well as digging coal for the war effort, often in dreadful and dangerous conditions, miners demonstrated 'their old work in a new guise' when serving in huge numbers during the Great War. Thousands voluntarily swapped the pit for what many thought would be a better and safer option, around a quarter of a million enlisting by 1915; and about one in five of all military volunteers came from the coalfields of England, Scotland and Wales, an astonishing proportion. The massive response to the Call for Arms was most obvious in industrial areas where the so-called 'Pals battalions' were established and it was these recruits who suffered so heavily during the disastrous Somme offensive of 1916. The sheer number and range of gallantry awards including several VCs - also testify to the immense contribution of former miners.

The many thousands of pitmen who paid the ultimate price are inscribed on public war memorials in coalfield communities, often dominating the listings. Such was the response from large pits that many others are commemorated on memorials specially erected by colliery and coal companies, one the earliest in the village of Brampton in South Yorkshire on behalf of Cortonwood Colliery.

Whether working below and above ground at collieries or as part of the armed forces, miners played a very significant role during the Great War of 1914-18, a total contribution that deserves to be told.

'A must-read book — everyone needs to know about these men, and their great courage and sacrifice' Lynn Dunning, CEO National Mining Museum for England

'…a brilliant mining historian who has worked with us at Big Pit for many years… his book will be a valuable resource' Ceri Thompson, Curator, Museum of Wales

'A welcome and enlightening account of miners' experience in the Great War and its difficult aftermath' Brian Groom, Author, Northerners A History and Made in Manchester

'As always, Brian Elliott shines a powerful light on neglected areas of history. I am so grateful that he always works so hard on the coal face of yesterday.' Ian McMillan, Poet, author and broadcaster

'By taking these men out of the distress and showing their faces to the world, Brian has demonstrated what an extremely courageous people they were…'Sir Michael Parkinson, Author and broadcaster

‘…so pleased that Brian has paid tribute to the miners of Great Britain and their role in in the Home Front and war fronts during the First World War.’ Dan Jarvis MP, Politician and former soldier

'Once again, Brian has produced a great insight and tribute to my family's mining heritage; and to mining families everywhere.' Aidan J. Bell, Former miner from Cumberland, Durham, Yorkshire and Scotland

'Brian Elliott revives and preserves the history of our proud mining heritage we must never forget.' Professor Joann Fletcher, Egyptologist, author and broadcaster.

‘Brilliant book which shines light on a forgotten aspect of the Great War.’ Paul Reed, Military Historian and Battlefield Guide.

'Mining and tunnelling are part of the general and familiar history of the First World War but little has been published about the men in the regimental mining companies. This valuable and enlightening book fills that gap with a detailed study of the miners in war and peace, their families, pits and regions, and their experiences in the war and its aftermath.' Paul Atterbury, Writer, historian and Antiques Roadshow expert.

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 Brian Elliott

About Brian Elliott

Brian Elliott is a well-known local historian and editor who has written widely about the British coalmining history. Among his recent books on the subject are Barnsley Pits and Pitmen, Yorkshire Miners, Yorkshire Mining Veterans, The Miners' Strike Day by Day, South Yorkshire Mining Disasters (2 vols), Tracing Your Coalmining Ancestors and in Pen and Sword's Images of the Past series, Coalminers.

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