No pie for the miner's daughter: Mary Braid hears how the coalfields of Fife glowed red with political fervour

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LENIN, father of the Revolution, gazes down from the living-room wall, flanked by pictures of Russian cosmonauts. The Morning Star is folded neatly in the paper rack and books with titles such as Little Moscows line the shelves.

Mary Docherty, 84, who was nine at the time of the Russian Revolution, spent most of last year in this modest sheltered home in Cowdenbeath, Fife, writing her memoirs. In A Miner's Lass, she recalls the effect of the Bolshevik triumph on the coalfields of west Fife.

'They always talk about how red Clydeside was, but Fife was just as radical,' she says. 'It seemed revolution here was just round the corner. Middle-class people were terrified. You had to lie to your employer about attending marches and hope they did not see you. The London headquarters of the Communist Party even got in touch with Fife to say slow down. We were so far ahead.'

Frail now, she describes a family unusual for its time and circumstances. 'My father was self- taught. He was a good actor and wrote political plays, which I performed in. He never believed that children should be seen and not heard.'

Miss Docherty's father, William, went underground at 14. Her politics were shaped by his anger and her own experience of the poverty and hunger she describes so matter-of-factly. She showed the first signs of TB when she was four, 'as a result of my mother being underfed. When I was born, my mother asked the midwife if she would tell my grandfather she had another girl. He did not believe it. I was so small, nobody thought she was having a baby. Months before I was born there was a miners' strike and my father was out with the other men . . . my mother lived almost all the time on herring.'

Her father became a member of the Fife Communist Anarchist Group and later a founding member of the Communist Party in Britain. 'Before he became political, like many miners, he was searching for reasons for poverty. He became a member of the temperance movement, but soon realised drink was not the cause.'

The 1921 miners' strike, which led to a state of emergency being declared, is stamped on Miss Docherty's memory. She was 13 when the Army was drafted into Cowdenbeath to back police against pickets. The situation grew ugly after her father and other pickets and their families tried to throw a pit manager in a pond. Later there were pitched battles between police and pickets. Some miners spent more than a year in prison.

'In all three baton charges, miners and the police were badly hurt. The charges only stopped when all the streetlights went out and the place was in darkness. I had seen my father earlier that morning make a baton with a part of the shaft of a pickaxe.'

During the strike, Mary and another girl took a short cut from school and met the son of a blackleg. 'The boy ran away and we went after him to give him a good hammering. The result was that we were late for tea. We got a row, but after telling them (our mothers) what we had been doing, they gave us our tea but this time we got butter instead of margarine.'

Over tea and cakes, Miss Docherty smiles ruefully: 'I knew things were unfair from the start. When we had to sit the test to get into high school, the dentist's, the publican's, the grocer's daughters were all there. But only I and another miner's daughter passed, so the middle-class girls were sent to private school in Edinburgh.'

She received her adult education courtesy of the Communist Party, which she joined at 18. She was one of just two women in a class of 50 men. Reward came in 1929, when she was sent to the Soviet Union, the only Scottish delegate to an international gathering of young Communists. The 21- year-old, who had seldom ventured beyond Fife, sailed to Leningrad and then travelled two days overland to Moscow.

She learnt Russian, and from a box in the Bolshoi Theatre she saw Red Poppy, her first ballet. On the 12th anniversary of the Revolution, she joined the parade through Red Square. She spent months at the Lenin Sanatorium by the Black Sea, where she was eventually cured of her TB.

'The time I spent in the Soviet Union is something I will never forget. I felt a different person, no worry about where the next meal was coming from, free to go where I pleased, everyone doing everything they could to make me happy. When I was in Moscow I would look around and say to myself 'All this belongs to the workers. No capitalist class.' '

There were hard capitalist realities at home because no one wanted to employ a woman who had spent nine months in Russia. Miss Docherty sold firewood with her father. Her memoirs have not been published without a struggle, either, but money was eventually donated by trades unions and a local businessman.

Near the end of the interview, a letter arrives from the Democratic Left, which has risen from the ashes of the British Communist Party. She is angry and dismissive. 'They've no backbone. They have written before, but they can forget about my support.'

Miss Docherty learnt The Internationale when she was 10, but perhaps her favourite 'hymn', from Proletarian Sunday school, is a revised version of Sing a Song of Sixpence:

'Sing a song of labour

Boys and girls do try

For the master's children

Have got all the pie . . .'

Much may have changed since 1917, but Mary Docherty sings the song with the same conviction.

'A Miner's Lass', pounds 6, from Cardenden Mining Archives, 112 Station Road, Cowdenbeath, Fife.

(Photograph omitted)

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