Four decades later, former coal miner Dave Roper recounts the heart-wrenching decision he had to make during the 1984-85 miners’ strike, arguably the UK’s most contentious industrial dispute, when he lost his newborn son. Roper, who was part of the tens of thousands of miners protesting against the planned closure of 20 collieries by the National Coal Board, shares his story in a new BBC Two documentary.
Roper, who was 29 at the time and lived near Rotherham in South Yorkshire, says that the strike left many miners and their families without wages for nearly a year. Despite the hardship, he insists that no one wanted to go on strike and it was always a last resort.
During the dispute, Roper’s wife gave birth to their son, Adam, who was born with complications and passed away a week later. Roper was initially denied a funeral grant due to his participation in the strike. This decision was later reversed by the Department of Health and Social Security (DHSS) after mounting pressure.
Unable to afford funeral expenses, Roper accepted an undertaker’s offer to bury his son in the coffin of an unrelated deceased person. He and his wife did not attend the funeral due to pride and fear of judgement.
Roper still harbours resentment towards Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government for their handling of the situation. He believes that if such a tragedy occurred today, funds for funeral costs could be raised through other means like crowdfunding websites.
Reflecting on the past, Roper maintains that he has no regrets about joining the strike. He believes that the miners were not only fighting against the coal board but also the state. He feels vindicated when he looks at his community and those in South Yorkshire.
The documentary, Miners’ Strike: A Frontline Story, will be aired on BBC Two on Sunday 18 February at 21:00 GMT. Support and advice related to the issues discussed in this story are available via the BBC Action Line.