Doncaster miner’s heartbreak over death of brother on picket line

Jimmy Matthews, of Dunscroft, whose brother Freddie died during the picketing in 1972 for the miners' strike. Picture: Andrew Roe
Jimmy Matthews, of Dunscroft, whose brother Freddie died during the picketing in 1972 for the miners' strike. Picture: Andrew Roe
  • Lifelong agony after brother’s death in strike
  • Thousands of miners turned out for funeral
  • Pitman to be commemorated at huge Doncaster rally

When hundreds of former miners gather in Doncaster this weekend to mark the 30th anniversary of the end of the Miners’ Strike, the day will bring back heartbreaking memories for one former pit man.

Jimmy Matthews will line up alongside his comrades, the same men he stood alongside during years of industrial conflict, for a day of events commemorating the year long 1984-85 strike, one of the bitterest struggles in British history.

Hundreds of miners turn out for the funeral of Freddy Matthews in 1972.

Hundreds of miners turn out for the funeral of Freddy Matthews in 1972.

But Jimmy will be casting his mind back even further to the tragic events of an earlier strike in the 1970s - and the day his life changed forever when his brother and fellow picket Freddie lost his life fighting to preserve the industry the two cared so deeply for.

For Freddie died during the lesser known miners’ strike of 1972, crushed under the wheels of a lorry outside a Lincolnshire power station as he and his Hatfield Colliery colleagues picketed the plant as they strove to protect their jobs.

“I will always remember that day,” said Jimmy, whose brother’s life is to be commemorated with the unveiling of a new banner at Sunday’s event.

“One of the lads phoned back and said ‘someone has been killed.’ I was sat in the club and someone said ‘it’s your Fred.’ I went round to my mum but she had already heard the news. I was in shock.”

I said it that day and I still say it now, I believe Freddie was murdered by the police

Jimmy Matthews

Freddie, who worked at Hatfield alongside his dad and four brothers, was killed by a lorry outside Keadby Power Station - but even now, Jimmy describes the death as “murder.”

He said: “I said it that day and I still say it now, but I believe Freddie was murdered by the police. He was told that the road was clear, he walked round the corner and a lorry ran straight into him. He didn’t stand a chance.”

Freddie was among scores of so-called flying pickets, bussed to key points and sites across the country to help fight for jobs.

It was the first time since 1926 that British miners had officially gone on strike and after miners walked out, power shortages saw the British government declare a state of emergency.

The strike lasted seven weeks and ended after miners agreed to a pay offer - but Freddie’s funeral was one of the galvanising points of the conflict, drawing thousands of mourners to his funeral.

Added Jimmy, 84, who still lives in Dunscroft: “There were miners there from across the country - thousands of them. The response was phenomenal. Money was coming in from all over the place and the roads had to be closed off, there were that many people.”

Freddie was just 37 when he died and he spent his entire career working at Hatfield, Yorkshire’s last remaining coal mine.

He is buried at Stainforth Cemetery, alongside his father, who had instilled strong union beliefs in his sons.

“We were told that signing up for the union was the best thing we could ever do,” added Jimmy. “I was born into a staunch Labour family and that’s something that’s always stayed with me and always will.”

Jimmy was involved in the Miners’ Strike of 1984-85 too, but by that time, his career in the pits was drawing to a close and he eventually took redundancy in 1986.

But even though events unfolded more than 30 years ago, divisions still run deep within the community.

“There’s a scab round here that no-one will talk to,” he said. “He walks around with a walking stick now but he walks with his stick like he is ready for being attacked at any minute, to use as a weapon. No one wants anything to do with him.”

Sunday’s event in Dunscroft coincides with the 30th anniversary of the return to work following a 12 month battle over a series of devastating pit closures which wrecked communities, divided families and saw scenes of bloody violence on the streets of Doncaster.

Politicians, star names and scores of miners who battled through the conflict are to come together to remember the events of those times.

The Broadway Hotel in Dunscroft will be focal point for the celebration on which will include speeches, music, a march and tributes to pit workers and officials who battled tirelessly during the campaign which pitted Arthur Scargill’s National Union of Mineworkers against Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government.

The Long March Back event will kick off at 11am at the pub in Broadway when guests will include Doncaster Central MP Rosie Winterton, Mayor Ros Jones and even singer-songwriter Paul Heaton, former lead singer of The Housemartins and The Beautiful South and a keen socialist.

They will be joined by Bolsover MP Dennis Skinner and miners’ champion for the unveiling of a new banner commemorating people involved in the mining industry at Hatfield - including Freddie - down the decades.

Jimmy will read a touching testimonial at the unveiling and said: “It will be a nice way to remember him. It makes me very proud that he is going to be on that banner.”