William Lawther, President of the Mineworkers’ Federation of Great Britain in 1942 and one of the principal architects behind the Lidice Shall Live movement, was born on the 20th of May 1889, in Choppington, Northumberland. After leaving the town’s school, he became a collier and soon became actively involved in the Northumberland Miners’ Association, which funded him to study at the Central Labour College.
Although Lawther is known as a politician, he is best remembered as a trade unionist. He was elected to the General Council of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in 1935 and as President of the Mineworkers’ Federation of Great Britain (MFGB) in 1939. Lawther saw the coal workers through the challenging war years, helped steer the industry through the rocky process of nationalisation and remained national president by the time the National Union of Mineworkers was inaugurated. In 1949, he was President of the TUC, and later that year, he was knighted. In 1954, Lawther retired from trade union work and died in 1976.
Lawther’s role in the Lidice Shall Live campaign was pivotal. Without the enthusiastic support of the President of the Mineworkers’ Federation of Great Britain, it was sure to remain a parochial, North Staffordshire-based fundraising project. However, that was not to be the case. The emotion shown in Lawther’s address at the national conference at Blackpool on the 20th of July 1942, much of it repeated in Hanley later on the 6th of September, added a weight of personal human sentiment the whole of the British coalfield could not ignore. And neither could the Foreign Secretary; a fortnight later, the Munich Agreement was finally annulled.
Following his death, declassified archives discovered that Will Lawther had covertly been working with a secret Cold War propaganda department attached to the British Foreign Office called the Information Research Department and was paid by the British government to promote anti-communist material. This would devalue his denunciations of the British-Czechoslovak Friendship Club, saying that it was “merely a tool” for the Communist Information Bureau (better known as Cominform).