Bert Coombes settled in south Wales in 1909, where he worked as a miner for more than forty years. He was motivated to write after witnessing the death of two work mates underground, and he determined to tell his truth about the lives of miners and their families. His first book These Poor Hands was acclaimed by critics such as J. B. Priestley and Cyril Connolly and is considered to be among the most authentically vivid accounts ever written about mining. It describes with moving simplicity the harsh conditions in which he and his comrades worked and lived and the bond which existed between them in the face of poverty, hunger, danger and death. These Poor Hands was followed by several other books, all consistent in their philosophy, style and integrity - there is no hint of sentimentality, just immense sympathy for the miners' lot, its hardship and its humour. As the Times Literary Supplement noted in 1974, 'he was one of the few proletarian writers of the 1930s who were impressive as writers rather than proletarians'. As a result of his success Coombes became a frequent broadcaster and his Plan for Britain was published in the Picture Post. This excellent introduction to the life and work of Bert Coombes is valuable not just for its penetrating assessment of Coombes, but for the light that it sheds on the social and industrial context in which he lived. His writing articulated the social and economic injustice of contemporary capitalism and has enduring value because of the way in which it gives imaginative expression to the belief that working people should have greater control over their well-being and destiny.
"...an admirable illumination of a hitherto much neglected author. Covering the 1930s and 1940s, and thus encapsulating a way of life that has disappeared, Bert Coombes's concern for the reality of the miner's lot provides a record of great interest to the social historian." Social History Bulletin