Betty Heathfield

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Betty Heathfield (30 March 1927, Chesterfield – 16 February 2006) was a leading figure in the Miners' Wives Support Groups during the UK miners' strike (1984–1985).

Betty Vardy was born to a mining family in Chesterfield. Both her grandfathers had been Derbyshire miners. She excelled at Chesterfield girls' high school – the top local grammar school – and won a county scholarship which should have taken her to university. However she left school at 16 for a secretarial job at a local engineering company as her weekly wage was vital for her family's welfare.[citation needed]

Leaving school in 1943, in the middle of World War II, she joined the local auxiliary fire service, and it was here that she became interested in politics. Her family were characteristic Labour Party people, but at the end of the war the experience of hearing the Communist party leader Harry Pollitt speak at a local meeting persuaded her to join the Young Communist League. Her path to a radical left wing lifestyle was established and she went on to become a full member of the Communist party.[citation needed]

She met her future husband Peter Heathfield at Chesterfield's youth cycling club. He was a left wing radical active in the Labour party and the NUM. They married in 1953, when he was still a working miner and 13 years before he became a full-time NUM official. During the Miners' Strike (1984-85), she and Anne Scargill, then wife of Arthur Scargill, led the national campaign to help miners' families in every pit village in the country. They organised school holiday breaks for children and, with financial aid from other trade unions and street and house-to-house collections, somehow kept alive a flame of hope. She chaired Women Against Pit Closures.[citation needed]

At the end of the strike, she could still organise more than 2,000 miners' wives to rally at Chesterfield football ground to demand help for the thousands of families left deprived, some penniless, by the dispute.

In 1989, her 36-year-long marriage broke down. She and Peter had been a devoted couple, with four grown-up children. He moved to Worksop to live with Sue Rolstone, whom he married after divorcing Betty in 2001.

She picked up on her earlier educational talents and studying for a politics degree at Lancaster University. At the final stage, however, she fell ill with Alzheimer's disease and her last four years were spent in a Chesterfield nursing home. She was survived by her three sons and a daughter.

Her papers are located at The Women's Library, London Metropolitan University, Ref# 7BEH.

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