“We say this village shall be re-modelled and rebuilt!”

The “Lidice Shall Live” scheme envisioned by Dr Barnett Stross and the North Staffordshire Miners’ Federation gained clear support from the Midlands Miners’ Federation. George Jones, the Midlands Miners’ Secretary from the Warwickshire branch, put the Lidice Shall Live proposal forward as a suggestion on behalf of his members on the opening day of the Mineworkers’ Federation of Great Britain’s Annual Conference at the Winter Gardens, Blackpool, on the 20th of July 1942. The President, Will Lawther, was an eloquent speaker and a respected trade unionist. Proud Northumbrian with industrial roots, he became a collier on leaving school and soon became actively involved in the Northumberland Miners’ Association. He at once empathised with the plight of the Czech mining community and saw the renewal of Lidice as a statement of defiance against Nazi tyranny.

With the sense of moral outrage still raw, Lawther’s endorsement saw over 200 delegates representing 7,000,000 miners stand in silent tribute to their fallen comrades in Lidice as Alderman Jones referred to the:

“… wiping out of the Czecho-Slovak mining village in revenge for the death of Heydrich.” Jones suggested that “the miners of this country should join with the miners of the world in providing sufficient money to lay the foundations of a new Lidice – not in America, but on the ashes of the original village.”

Blackpool Winter Gardens c1940

When it was time for Will Lawther’s address, it seemed the President of the Mineworkers’ Federation of Great Britain had already decided:

“Especially do we refer to that mining village of Lidice in Czecho-Slovakia, where for the death of a human fiend named Heydrich, nigh every human soul has been wiped out; For that foul carnage of Lidice, for the butchery of Russian workers, for the suffering and toil that Fascism has imposed, we not merely bow our heads in silence, but renew our pledge to wipe out the slayers. Those assassins of liberty must pay the penalty.”

Then, rounding off his speech with subliminal references to future undertakings, he said,

“There from the battle front, there from the Fatherland of Socialism comes the grim warning, and if I know my countrymen, my fellow miners, the response will be that the mark of the Fascist Beast shall be obliterated. All we have, all we can give, shall be freely given in order that freedom of the common people, liberty of the common man shall not perish but shall live for evermore to exalt and enrich all mankind.”

As a final reference to Lawther’s speech, it is a matter of conjecture how much the death of one of the ‘Federation’s most respected delegates the evening before the conference affected him. Chief Clerk of the Miners’ Federation, Mr Joseph Elliott, died at Blackpool’s Victoria Hospital prior to the opening of the miners’ conference. Mr Elliott had been in the Durham Miners’ Association for 24 years and joined the ‘Federation staff in 1937. Elliott was a great friend of Lawther’s. He had fought in the First World War and had tried to enlist in the Second. It is exactly the Winter Garden event which could have stirred emotions in the President of the ‘Federation – who paid a warm tribute to Joe in his opening address before requesting a minute’s silence.

The Lidice Shall Live campaign turned out to be one of two solemn pledges carried within the conference’s first hour, the other being a pledge to produce the coal Britain needed for victory. The speed of the campaign accelerated following the ratification. There was an immediate publication of a piece in Staffordshire’s Evening Sentinel on the 21st of July describing the ambitious plans for the rebuilding of Lidice, the movement, and its national character. The article listed the chief drivers of the campaign as Dr Barnett Stross, the North Staffordshire Miners’ Federation, and the Czecho-Slovak – British Friendship Club. Importantly, the aim was not revenge, but a creative solution to generate something of pioneering value from darkness. It announced the news of a launch and the likelihood of President Beneš attending. If Beneš had received a letter of invitation, so too had the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. With millions taking an interest in the fate of Lidice, the pressure was intensifying for Anthony Eden MP to annul publicly the Munich Agreement.

For more information about Will Lawther, George Jones and the genesis of the Lidice Shall Live campaign read The Path to Lidice, available on all Amazon platforms, in hardcover, paperback and Kindle formats.

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