With twenty eight of those brave, brave men up on the surface, one cannot help but have a few reflections.
Please God, stay with them all this night, and guide those remaining underground to the surface; and may God be with all of their rescuers, whether they be paramedics, hard hat guys, priests, pastors or counsellors.
In the United Kingdom, our attitude to mining and miners has historically been atrocious. The turgid monochrome in which our right wing press paints our industrial history might lead the innocent to believe that British miners were little better than tunnelling mammals, untermensch intent upon the overthrow of all our elites hold sacred. The last word must, of course, go to those best able to express it, and in the case of British mining, nobody has ever been able to improve upon those famous words from the 1920's of Lord Birkenhead, the former F.E. Smith, who remarked that he thought that the miners' leaders were the most stupid people he had ever come across, until he met the mine owners.
Expressions of sympathy for miners and mining from the British right are not unknown. One need only think of the comment of Correlli Barnett from 'The Audit of War', that the development of the British mining industry led to the development of the spirit of 'the pit village contra mundum'. It's easy for outsiders to think they understand this, but we don't. Birkenhead, by no means a stupid man, might just have known what he was talking about.
Put it this way; for decades, British miners fought with our government. They caused untold disruption - yet how many lives did their actions save?
Huh? Come again?
That's not the sort of question British people in the 21st Century are expected to ask, but it has to be asked. I don't think we'll ever know how many lives were saved by the industrial cussedness of all those flint-faced flint-pickers walking besides their garish, outsized banners on their gala days. If what they did only ever saved one human life, that is worth much more to the world than the ongoing smooth operation of the British state.
Developed societies have a habit of placing relentless over-achievers, the astronauts, fighter pilots and submarine captains, at the top of the hierarchy of courage. It is a damn shame that those who make their livings from going into the bowels of the earth, day in, day out, never seem to feature either as frequently or as prominently as those with better grades. Wouldn't do their job for all the money in the world.
The memorial to the Blantyre colliery disaster of 1877, erected for the centenary, is, like all good memorials, striking but simple. It's a single piece of rough-hewn granite about 20 feet high. At its top, a pit wheel is merged into the stone. It just might be coincidence, but earlier this evening I was almost sure that someone had placed fresh flowers at its base. The memory of those who die beneath the earth might just die a little harder than those of us who live and die in comfort on the surface; as might the sense of relief that souls have been saved from that terrible fate.
And The Lord is kind, and full of compassion, rich in mercy, abounding in love. God be with you, companeros.