R.I.P. STEEL: 1789-2002; Proud Workers Pay Tribute to End of an Era

Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales), July 7, 2002 | Go to article overview

R.I.P. STEEL: 1789-2002; Proud Workers Pay Tribute to End of an Era


Byline: LYDIA WHITFIELD

MEDAL-WEARING war veterans and young dads walked shoulder to shoulder yesterday in an emotional march from Ebbw Vale's Corus steel plant to the town's cenotaph. They were there to mark the end of 200 years of history, to relay a plaque honouring the plant's war dead, to pay their respects to the industry that had created the town and to try to look to the future.

A single drum beat got the march under way, egged on by a 20-strong brass band under the stage direction of Dai Davies, convenor of the AEEU in the plant and secretary of the works committee.

He gave the quiet instruction, `In your own time then,' and the hundreds began to stride forwards. Workers, or ex-workers now, carried two poppy wreaths and two prominent banners representing the Transport and General Workers' Union with their slogan Peace, Unity, Progress and another from the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation.

One ex-steelmaker John Weston said: ``We feel a bit depressed. What can you say really? It's a very sad day for Ebbw Vale.''

Sarah Burschell, pushing 18month-old daughter Caitlin in her pushchair, said: ``There's a bit of a sombre mood. I wanted to come here as a mark of respect. My dad worked here for 30 years and my grandfather for 44 years.

``I want my daughter to take part in a bit of history. It will all be gone by the time she's old enough to understand.''

Retired men who have served many years in the works and young men battling with high mortgages and job seeking, all wanted to do the same.

Phillip Dobbs, 63 said: ``My father spent all his working life here in the mill and works. He had so many stories to tell us. This march is to thank everyone at the works.

``I was watching a programme on Friday night about the last coil, and it feels very strange.

``The works have always sat at the heart of the community and will leave a huge void.

``I'm here in respect for my father and previous generations. We're basically all here just as a mark of respect.''

Marchers at the front of the parade included Neil and Glenys Kinnock, Peter Law and Andrew Davies AM.

Neil Kinnock had to choke back the tears when he spoke of the `irrepressible people of Ebbw Vale'.

He said: ``My father was here for 30 years and I managed five summers here. The money I earned enabled me to stay on in university.

``It's a fact that the steelworks have been the bedrock of not only Ebbw Vale, but the height of the valleys - Treorchy, Rhymney and Agergavenny.''

He broke off mid-sentence to wave at old friends lining the railings and shouts: ``Alright butt?'' to replies of `Great to see you Neil.''

He added: ``Clearly, the future lies in Objective One status and a big commitment to teaching new skills. ``I think this will serve as an enormous boost to the spirit of the people. They've survived devastating blows before but always fight back and we'll definitely see that again at the beginning of the 21st Century as we've seen before. They'll do better than survive, they will thrive from this. Theyare irrepressible.'' Mr Kinnock was speaking at the end of a moving tribute at the cenotaph conducted by Reverend Waggett. The parade filed through crowds of well-wishers lining the railings around the cenotaph.

Residents of Libanus Road which runs alongside of the cenotaph sat out on their high-up terraces or stood in upstairs windows with cameras to capture the huge moment in the history of Ebbw Vale. …

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