John Sutherland was elected as one of the Communist councillors for Bowhill on the Fife County Council in the 1930s. If Fife was a Communist stronghold, Bowhill was its beating heart. Sutherland’s election was a by-product of a mood that had been brooding for over a decade and began a period of solid support at the polls for Communist Party.
In 1919, it had been John Bird who had been the rank-and-file leader who had led the Bowhill miners on strike for a shorter working week, Bowhill was the largest pit in the area and some two thousand miners marched to the Dunfermline union offices to demand support. In 1920, Bowhill engaged in a major dispute, from July to November, with little help from the official union. A measure of their determination and support in the community was that the local branch strike committee even produced its own currency for the duration of the dispute. (see picture)
When in 1921, the whole of the Fife coalfields was subject to military occupation, the village of Bowhill se residents did not merely engage in struggle at the pit but marched en masse as a community to a nearby railway station junction, when the railwaymen’s leaders called off the Triple Alliance to disrupt the yard’s operations.
Bird was an elected councilor in the area when a terrible tragedy at the Fife Coalfield Company No 2 Pit of the Bowhill Collieries. On 31st October 1931, ten men who were employed removing a fan were killed as the result of an ignition of methane gas.
John Bird, who was one of the rescuers, described the finding the bodies by the four masked safety men who were able to work ahead in the poisoned atmosphere over some hours. “The safety men,” said Councillor Bird, “had to crawl on their hands and knees in order to reach them. To their horror they found nine men huddled together in a corner, while the tenth man was some distance off, having apparently been hurled away from the others by the force of the explosion.”