The year the US Air Force came to the Big Meeting

The Warren Junior Military Band from Ohio at the 1977 Gala.
The Warren Junior Military Band from Ohio at the 1977 Gala.
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The Durham Miners’ Gala will be held for the 133rd time tomorrow.

It is shrouded in wonderful history and Philip Curtis, from the Sunderland Antiquarian Society, took a look back.

The 751 3rd U.S. Air Force band at the 1960 Gala.

The 751 3rd U.S. Air Force band at the 1960 Gala.

On August 12, 1871, the first Durham Miners’ Gala was held. And ever since its inauguration, crowds from the mining districts of the county have flocked into Durham City to celebrate the day, listen to speeches and enjoy the activities on The Racecourse where it is now held.

Early in the last century, leading figures from the Labour Movement such as Keir Hardie, Ernest Bevin and Ramsay MacDonald were guest speakers.

The 1934 gala was one of the largest ever held and drew a huge crowd of more than 200,000 miners and their families at a time when communism was trying to get a foothold in the country.

Portraits of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin adorned many of the Lodge Banners.

The Americans, in their pale blue uniforms and sunglasses, led the Tanfield Lea Lodge Banner. When they entered the Market Square they began playing ‘The St. Louis Blues March’ and were immediately greeted with cries of ‘Good Old America!’

Philip Curtis

Speakers that year included Clement Attlee and Ellen Wilkinson, the Jarrow MP. Attlee went on to become Prime Minister in 1946 and included Wilkinson his cabinet.

In the 1960s, Labour Party leaders such as Hugh Gaitskell, Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan were all principal speakers.

In 1960, Gaitskell was on the balcony of the Royal County Hotel alongside the US ambassador, John H Whitney, to see the parade.

The highlight that year was the appearance of the 751 3rd US Air Force Band.

Ellen Wilkinson.

Ellen Wilkinson.

The Stars and Stripes made a return visit to the gala in 1977 when the Warren Jr Military Band from Ohio appeared.

At that gala, Jim Callaghan shared the platform with the American and Israeli ambassadors as well as several senior diplomats from iron curtain countries.

What are your memories of the gala? Email chris.cordner@jpress.co.uk

The 1934 Durham Miners Gala.

The 1934 Durham Miners Gala.