4. Mining (Page 2)
MINING (Book 2
TWENTY FOUR Another Fight
I had met Johnny C. on a few occasions down the pit. We tolerated each other but we could never be friends.
I had been instructed by the safety officer that any accumulation of coal dust that collected regularly under the return belt of a conveyor should be cleaned up.
It was the job of the conveyer attendant to ensure all areas within his boundary was clean. I was told to remind conveyer attendants this.
Johnny C. was a conveyor attendant.
One day when I was dust sampling in his area I remarked that there was a pile of coal dust that needed cleaning up.
I thought I had been quite polite in reminding him of the task. I obviously had not been because John immediately took offence at my suggestion. He really lost his temper, Who was I to tell him what to do I was not his gaffer. If I wanted it cleaned up I could do it myself.
Perhaps I said too much, perhaps he did but the outcome was that we would meet at the pit top to sort it out.
The news of the coming fight spread like wildfire throughout the pit. John C. and Galey are at it again.
Again I was not looking forwards to the coming fight. I knew that if I was slightly unlucky or off my guard Johnny would wipe the floor with me.
A rather large crowd gathered just beyond the lamp house, outside of the pit property.
The upshot of the fight was like the first one with him.
Again we shook hands, we both respected each other. As we shook hands he remarked within all earshot that the result would have been different had the fight taken place within a ring under proper rules. I was certain I could beat him under any circumstances and I took him up on the offer if he could fix it up. He said he could.
A week later I got a message that Johnny had indeed fixed a boxing match up at a local Sea Scouts Gymnasium of which he had been a member in the past.
I took up his challenge and a fight was arranged.
We met, along with a few of our mutual friends at the Sea Scouts hall in Cookridge Street, Leeds. A proper referee was in attendance. The boxing match turned out exactly like the previous two fights. I easily out pointed him.
Back at the pit later the next week I'm afraid I was in a boasting mood telling all who would listen how easy John C. was.
Word must have got back to him because I was told that he had said that I had not really won all the previous fights and he wanted another decider.
What I realise now is that a lot of people were mixing things between us. Things were reported that had not really been said.
Another fight was arranged. This time I intended that I would demand that he would confirm to all spectators that he had indeed lost and that I was the once and for all winner.
The fight began. This time he managed to come close to grips with me and we ended up wrestling on the floor, each punching at the other. At one point during the floor punching he suddenly grabbed hold of my testicles to stop me from hitting him. Such dirty fighting at the time was just not done. Even as he did it, he realised the 'foul.' He immediately let go and apologised. We both stood up and he said "enough?" He held out his hand. I took it but said. "You concede that I won then?"
"Yeah" was the reply.
I somehow did not feel that I had been vindicated, a single "yeah" did not seem to be enough. I wanted all around to know and recognise that I was the winner. Then I would never have to prove the point again.
Just as Johnny turned his back to me he said something to one of his mates who was holding his coat.
I mistakenly heard him say "Ah! but he didn't beat me fair and square"
I was so mad at this statement that I, without warning, grabbed him by the shoulder and spun him round to face me. I let go a full blooded punch directly to his chin. It was delivered with all my strength. It knocked him down.
"What's that for." He wailed
"I did beat you fair and square." said I.
"I already said you did." accepted Johnny
"Why did you say to your mate about my not beating you then." I retorted.
"I didn't," replied Johnny, "all I said to him was give me a hand to put my coat on"
I then realised I had dropped a 'goolie'. I had acted with undue haste. He had indeed made the request about his coat. I felt the lowest of the low, hitting a defenceless man. An unpardonable sin when participating in an arranged fight.
I had to apologise and helped him to his feet.
I had won the fight but lost a battle.
TWENTY FIVE ATOMIC SHELTER?
Robin Hood pit was situated at the Half Way House on the Leeds, Wakefield Road, Rothwell. It was about Four Miles From Middleton Broom Colliery as the crow flies. Middleton was a small pit in comparison with others, about Five Hundred people work there. Robin Hood had been even smaller. It was now worked out of coal but maintenance men worked regularly to keep the pit in good order. There was still development work in progress. The surface was being landscaped.
Soon after the underground connecting road from Middleton To Robin Hood was completed Ben W. took me down it. As we were walking Ben began to confide in me about the nature of the road and why it had been built:
As has been discussed it was primary an escape route for both pits. But just as important pits were being connected with the Atom Bomb in mind. Underground shelters were envisaged as protection against the bombs. In those days people were beginning to realise Atomic bombs could rain on the British Isles. The cold war had started.
I was finding this a little hard to believe. I could understand the importance of an escape route. If a disaster incapacitated the two shafts, miners could then be directed to the nearest other shaft. Atom Bomb shelters was another matter.
We eventually reached the Robin Hood pit bottom. It was much like the one at Middleton, I remember looking up the shaft at the small circle of light at the surface. It looked much shallower than at Middleton. There was an onsetter in attendance and he offered to wind us out. Ben declined saying, "We must push on."
We headed off in another direction from where we had come Occasionally Ben looked a what I assume to be a plan of the Robin Hood workings. I was wondering if he had got us lost, for I had no idea of the way back, when we turned a corner.
Confronting us was a metal air door. I had never ever seen anything like it. It was not locked but it hung on great hinges with a large bolt and hasp type device at the side. On going through this door we were met by a second similar, but much larger, door.
Once through this one we entered a roadway that was about Twenty feet in height (Six meters). The roof was curved at the top like normal roadways but that was where the similarity ended.
The concrete walls were smooth. They were painted a light beige colour. Everywhere was spotlessly clean not a speck of dust anywhere. The floor had a kind of Red polished non slippery surface. There seemed to be no air movement but the air was fresh and clean. The roadway was well lit by fluorescent tubes set in the roof. There was no sign of any weight problems on the roadway. If I did not know better I could swear I was not down a pit at all.
I was amazed and I think Ben was, because although he had prior knowledge of its existence, it was the first time for him to see it also.
"What do you think of it?" he asked.
"Amazing, what is it"
"It's an atomic refuge." he explained, "In the event of miners becoming trapped down the pit they can survive down here. Although it is by no means finished, it will be stocked with food and all the essentials for living down here for long periods. Eventually there will be sleeping, preparation of food and office accommodation in-built."
The roadway was about two hundred yards long and at the end were doors similar to the ones we had come through initially. We did not go through them but retraced our steps and headed back to Middleton.
I have often wondered about the air circulation down in that place, the steel doors were unlike any air doors I had ever seen, there seemed to be no air circulating yet the air condition was perfect.
As we headed back Ben said, "Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, it is not a secret but until it becomes common knowledge keep it to yourself."
And I did for many years after.
TWENTY SIX A SOHO EXPERIENCE
A mate from the Thorpe, George B. and one from the pit, Eddie C. and myself decided to organise a trip to London for the Rugby League Cup Final. I went down to the Rugby Headquarters in Chapletown Road Leeds to pay for and pick up the tickets. We had decided to travel to the smoke by train in the early hours of Saturday morning, seek out cheap Bed and Breakfast accommodation for the Saturday night and travel back late Sunday afternoon.
Early Saturday morning the train pulled into Kings Cross. Back to London I thought. Back to London, that's a laugh, the only other time I'd visited the capital was also to see a Wembley RL Cup Final with the school and I was only 10 or 11 at the time. I saw Warrington Beat Widnes 19 nothing, but I still felt the same excitement welling within me as I did when stepped down from the train all those years ago.
As we exited the station Eddie asked. " What should we do first?" Personally I wanted to see the sights of London, Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, Parliament, etc.
George must have been reading my thoughts because he said much the same thing as I had been thinking.
We agreed on a sightseeing trip and followed a sign that directed us to the Underground.
Soon we were confronted by an Sub-Way Map. I remembered seeing one many years ago and I hadn't understood it. Now it looked very straight forward, the differing coloured lines representing different lines of the system.
We could see on the map where we were, Kings Cross/St Pancras, that it was on the Northern Line, although it seemed also to be on the Circle and other lines as well. I remarked this fact to my mates. "Must be like different coal seam levels down't pit." George said. I nodded agreement.
"How convenient that all these stations are in an exact straight line with each other and what a compact place obviously London is." Eddie dryly commented. I had no idea if he was serious or not.
"By the look of this map we could walk to most of these places," he continued, "they all seem near each other."
"No I don't fancy walking," says I "Lets ride it will be an experience to travel underground.
They both laughed at my unintended pun.
"Me," I said, "I would like to go see the Houses of Parliament. I once went there when I came here from school. We were met by Hugh Gaitskill, the Leeds MP. Parliament is bound to be central."
It was agreed Parliament first Stop. The trouble was Parliament did not seem to be on the map.
"Obviously there is no underground station near the Houses of Parliament." Commented Eddie.
"There's bound to be." Answered George. "Excuse me mate," he
said to a passer by, "which station is nearest to the houses of Parliament."
"Westminster of course." came the immediate response.
We had a lot to learn about the smoke, things are not as straight forward as they seem.
Manoeuvring through the system, changing once on route, we managed to exit at Westminster successfully. There in all it's true glory was the Palace of Westminster with Big Ben standing so tall and majestic, a true symbol of Great Britain, just like on the pictures. We even waited until 8-0 clock just so we could hear Big Ben inform the world what time it was, Magical.
As I looked around I half expected to see all the famous landmarks but very few were in sight. I could, looking down the river, see Tower Bridge and what could be the Tower of London it then began to dawn on me that London is a very big city, much larger than Leeds.
Through out the morning we did most of the main sights, even discovering a small market that was Petticoat Lane. We learned that it is World famous for it's Sunday market and agreed that tomorrow we would return to see it. Towards the edge of the
market we found a workman’s cafe and had a full English breakfast for Five Bob. It seemed expensive at the time but the plate was full.
About 12-0 clock we decided to make our way to Wembley, by this time we had learned the intricacies of the sub-way system. The plan was to find a pub to have a drink before kick off.
Outside Wembley underground station crowds were beginning to gather and seemed to be heading in a general direction.
At the beginning of Wembley Way we found a pub that was overflowing with both Leeds and Barrow supporters, there was no hint of animosity between the rival fans. The beer was flowing. We had been made well aware that London beer is vastly inferior in both taste and strength to our own Yorkshire brew, Melbourne Bitter, but we were prepared to sup it under protest. Funny how the taste gets better with every pint. Must be a new barrel they’ve put on.
Before too long all the pub was singing. Why is it that all Yorkshire men want to sing 'On Ilkley Moor baht at' and Lancashire folk 'She's a lassie from Lancashire'? Oh! and the locals 'Maybe its because I'm a Londoner.
The time seemed to Fly by and soon it was time to go to the match. I was a little reluctant to leave.
Entering Wembley stadium for the second time in my life and looking out around the vast ground was an experience. It was breathtaking, the atmosphere electric. I had never seen so many people in one place before. We found our designated ticket places in the West Stand, community singing had just started and we joined in. Traditionally the last song or hymn is always 'Abide with me' I am not a very religious person but that hymn caused a lump to come into my throat, it is jingoistic, reverent and seems very apt for the occasion.
The Rugby match, I heard later by connoisseurs of the game was not that exiting but it certainly was for me at the time. I screamed my head off for a Leeds win, which they did 9-7. What do we do now? we were non-plussed, get on the underground we supposed but were to? Centrally we decided but where is the centre of London, again neither of us knew. Innocents in London we certainly were. George heard one of the fans shout to his mate "See you at Piccadilly Circus."
"That's it," George said, "lets go to Piccadilly Circus." We all agreed.
Exiting the underground at Piccadilly behold there was the famous statue of Eros, just like the 'In town tonight' films on at the Tivoli Picture House back home.
Walking round we found a pub that contained a large number of Leeds RL fans. We joined them and more drinking began.
During the early evening the fans convinced us that Soho was the place to be, that’s where the life is, they explained.
Coming out of the pub with other fans all were trying to show their presence with noise, myself included. All congregated in the centre of the famous island, someone dared another to climb Eros and a feeble attempt was made. Another, then another tried but failed. None seemed as if they were really trying. Anyhow I'll show them, I drunkenly decided, racing up I jumped and grabbed hold of the curved first part of the plinth, managing to wrestle myself above it. The rest of the climb was fairly easy and I found myself hanging onto the outstretched leg of Eros shouting "Leeds. Leeds. Leeds" Really I couldn't believe my daring it was so unlike of me, perhaps London Beer was not so weak after all.
A voice rose above the other chanting fans. "Get down now." it commanded. Looking up at me were two policemen waving me down. Obeying their orders I dismounted.
Of the two Police officers One was a young Police Constable and the other an older Special, part time, officer. The Old Special then began tearing a strip from me. What he was going to do if I didn't behave myself, how he was going to lock me up and throw away the key. Exactly what he said I remember not other than his attitude. His approach and handling of me was certainly not the prescribed one, of that I was sure. I was becoming quite angry taking all this abuse for a copper, being brought up to respect the uniform, at no time in the past had I been treated by the police but with the utmost of respect. I began to say something in retaliation, at which point the young Constable took over the caution. First he took me to one side, out of earshot of the others, the Special included and began to explain how they couldn't allow persons to climb or damage public monuments. He spoke to me like a father all his words penetrated and were obviously true, I had been totally at fault. He went on that he understood we'd had a little drink to celebrate our win and there was nothing wrong with that. I sheepishly apologised because he was right, he ushered me on my way, telling me to certainly enjoy myself but always think of what I was doing.
I learned a great lesson in life with that incident. treat people with respect and they will return with respect. The old Special Constable had been guilty of almost escalating a minor problem into a somewhat larger one. There were certainly enough fans to back me up. Whereas the young PC had done his job perfectly and renewed my faith in the Police.
We followed the other fans into the underground, where we came out, I forget but after a short walk it was announced by someone that we were in Soho. Soho was nothing like I expected it, it was relatively quiet. There were a few neon lights advertising clubs, etc. but they were not very appealing. Slowly the number of fans disappeared into one club or another whilst some just walked off. We were left, just the three of us. What to do now?
"I fancy going into one of the clubs." Suggested Eddie.
"It'll cost the Earth." replied me.
"That last spieler said it was nothing to go in and the strip show was just about to start." Continued Ed.
"I don't know," I said hesitantly, "what do you think George?"
"Might as well," George replied, "it'll be something different."
That was it, we decided to walk back to the club where the lady spieler had enticed us with an imminent floor show with no admission charge.
We walked past the door lady and down some steps into what can only be described as a tarted up cellar. We were confronted by a man seated behind a table. "That will be Ten Bob each Gents." He announced.
"The woman on the door said there was no charge." said George complaining.
"Ah! that’s for members of the club, are you members by any chance? we had to admit we were not"
"Sorry lads but after the initial payment of the Ten Bob you will be able to come and go as you please. You will become full members."
I didn't like the idea and looked over to George who was shaking his head but by this time Eddie was already into his pocket for the cash. George and I acquiesced and stumped up our money.
As we pushed through a beaded curtain about Six or Seven women rushed up to us and began clawing at us saying "He's mine" or "Leave him alone, I saw him first." and other such phrases. All of the women were dolls, beautifully made up and dressed like film stars. I'd never seen such company in real life, much less been in it. There seemed to be Three vying for me and I felt very wanted. Before I could make a decision or a choice, two of them suddenly left and I was escorted to a table with a most handsome young lady. She was immaculately dressed and made up to perfection. Something similar had happened to my mates and before we knew it we were all separated and seated at extreme ends of the room.
I was no sooner sat down at a table when a drink appeared at my elbow, placed there by a waitress and another drink for the hostess. A bill was thrust under my nose for Two Beers, Sixteen Shillings. That's Eight bob for a glass of beer I inwardly gasped.
"I didn't order this." I started but the hostess hushed me to silence saying "They only serve this type of beer in here, unless you wanted a whisky or a spirit or even champagne? The trouble is these are quite expensive. Did you want something else? I can order anything you like."
There was no way I was going to buy a spirit or Champagne at these prices, if Beer is Sixteen Bob a pint what would a whisky cost?
She continued "I know the beer is quite weak in here, not nearly as strong or tasteful as the beers you Northerners drink but this is a very special place. You can afford Sixteen Shilling can't you?"
I was ashamed into saying "Of course I can, it was so sudden that's all" I handed a pound note to the waitress and sipped my beer. It wasn't even beer it tasted like watered down shandy. I had no sooner drank half of it before two more drinks were delivered by another waitress, again with a bill for Sixteen Bob. When I queried about my change from the first pound, my hostess said that the waitress would have assumed that it was her tip. Her tip I inwardly fumed, her Four Bob tip had been the equivalent to Three pints of Melbourne beer at Thorpe prices. Over in the far corners sat Eddie and George with ladies, they seemed to be enjoying themselves. How had we become separated so easily?
My hostess chatted me up very expertly, she wanted to know all about me, where I came from and what I did for a living. What a quaint attractive Yorkshire accent I had. How handsome and broad shouldered I was. She made me feel very special and wanted. The live strip show was promised to come on very soon.
She asked me if I fancied her. She made it quite plain she was available. But with that knowledge, beautiful as she was, I didn't, feeling completely out of my depth. Politely declining her offer, for I was sure I wouldn't have been able to afford her even if I had fancied her, I tried to change the subject. "When is the floor show starting?"
"Should be on in the next ten minutes or so." was the reply.
A Third set of drinks appeared, I'd hardly started the second one. "I didn't order nor want these." I objected.
My hostess appealed to my good nature. "Please pay for them or I'm liable to get the sack for not pleasing you. I have two young children at home and we depend on my earnings from this job to survive. Anyway the show starts in a few minutes. You don't want to miss that, I promise you it's well worth waiting for."
I paid for the drinks but said that those were the last, I was paying for no more, with that the hostess, without a word, got up and left. Soon after the manager came over and said that to remain in the club I must buy drinks. If not would I leave quietly.
I decided to go and the manager escorted me on my way. As I was leaving I moved first to Eddies table then to George and said that I was leaving and would meet them a couple of hours later at Kings Cross Station. I told them that I had decided, partially because by now I had very little money, not to search for Bed and Breakfast but to catch the first available train home to Leeds. It was about 8-0pm
My two mates seemed to be having a good time with their individual hostesses and I didn't want to spoil things for them. I left.
Counting up my coppers outside the club I realised I had only Three Pound Fifteen and Three-pence left, I had spent Three and a Half quid in there for three half pint drinks of near beer. As I was walking down the road George rushed up to me and said. "Wait on Jack."
"I thought you were staying." I replied.
"No way. I couldn't afford that place. My first set of drinks cost me Sixteen Bob and the Second round One Pound Five Shillings. As I was querying the prices a third lot came also at Twenty Five bob. I had already decided I was not enjoying myself in there when you came to the table. I asked Eddie if he was coming and he said he was taking his bird home so I left him to it.
Peter and I walked round looking for a cafe. Over a cup of tea we discussed the Soho experience. Somewhere in the back of my mind I recalled reading of such places in the News of the world Sunday Paper, where unsuspecting punters were expertly relieved of their cash by very experienced hostesses. They were called 'clip joints' and we had fallen hook line and sinker.
We had no where to go now, money for both of us was a little tight, we decided to head for Kings Cross to enquire about trains to Leeds.
On reaching the Railway Station we found that the next train was at midnight, nearly three hours away, so we retired to the station Buffet.
About an hour later who should walk into the Cafeteria but Eddie, somehow his walk resembled a dog with it's tail between it's legs.
He joined us and soon began to relate his tale.
"Before I knew it this bird had grabbed me and we were sat down. These drinks came over and I had to pay a pound for them. Can you believe that? ten bob a piece. Anyway when I protested to my bird she said that her commission depended on me buying her drinks. When I tasted the beer I told her that I didn't want any more drink, that I would rather pay her for sex rather than waste money on drink. She said that she fancied me also and that within the next half hour her shift there would be finished, she could then leave with me. That all I had to do was buy a few rounds of drink to keep up appearances.
Towards the back end I told her that I had only Seven Pounds odd left. I agreed to give her Five pounds for herself and to pay for the next round. Then we would be able to leave. She said there was no need to get B&B, I could stay at her place tonight. I paid the last round and gave her the Five.
Come on lets go I urged her. As I was about to get up she said that she couldn't be seen leaving with me, she was not allowed to fraternise with the customers outside of working hours. She said to leave now and soon after she would go get her coat and handbag then would meet me outside in about Five minutes.
I waited outside and waited. I thought blow this for a game of soldiers I'll go see what’s holding her up.
As I was about to re-enter the club as the manager came out. Where are you going? he asked. None of your business, I told him anyway I'm a member here. Oh! are you he said then where is your membership card? I realised we hadn't been issued with one and said so. He said he knew what the story was and warned me to go before there was any serious trouble. He left me in no doubt what the story was so I left.
As I was going up the street I got to studying, they can't treat me like that and get away with it, I'm going back I had a lot of money at stake in there.
I went back, the woman spieler on the door protested but I just brushed past her. I went back down the steps into the first room before the main room. Through the beaded curtain I could see my bird propping up the bar on a high stool with the other slags. she'd been lying when she said she take me back to her place, it was all just a con. I was about to go in and at least demand my Fiver back when a huge Fijian Bouncer appeared. Well I assumed he came from Fiji cos he was built like brick shithouse. He stood in front of me barring my way into the main room.
Where do you think your going, he demanded. I told him it had nothing to do with him.
The manager has already told you to be on your way, he said, now I'm telling you. With that he put his hand into his hand into his jacket pocket and pulled out this long stiletto blade that suddenly flicked open. He waved the shiv to within inches of my face. This is the only time I will warn you now XXXX off. And I did."
Our train was announced standing on Platform Four. We boarded it and settled in for the four hour milk train journey home. The journey to the smoke had not been as we'd originally expected of it but it certainly made a very memorable page of life.
TWENTY SEVEN SPIES?
There is a tailpiece to the last chapter which happened about two years after the above incident. I did not connect it at the time nor have I any proof that the following event connects with the above but the facts are true, here goes:-
It was almost two years later. By this time Robin Hood pit had been landscaped and little evidence could be seen to denote that a mine shaft had been there. Only one small building was to be seen and even that was hidden by shrubs.
About a Hundred yards away going towards Leeds at the Wakefield Road / Sharp Lane junction was a building. In my younger days the building used to have MOD (Ministry Of Defence) and RAF roundels attached. As of a few years ago these signs had been taken down. The signs then denoted that it was a private printing company. The, now modernised, building is still there to this day and has now become part of a public library.
One evening Brenda, my future wife and I were sitting on a bench talking. The bench was at the side of one of the roads that leads to the Robin Hood and MOD site.
As we were sitting chatting a very large black car drew up and stopped adjacent to us. The car held Four very conservative looking men. I am tempted to say they looked like spies but at the time that was the last thing I was thinking of.
The front passenger wound his window down and said, "Do you know where the Robin Hood is?"
"Is it the pit or the pub?." I asked
"It could well be either one," he said, "Its near a military establishment, that's what we are really looking for"
"No I don't know. There's no Military Establishment round here" I answered.
"None at all?" he persisted
"There used to be an RAF building down near there," I offered, "but they have moved because there are no signs on the wall now, its a printing company now."
"That still might be it, "he said, "which way?"
I gave him directions and thanking us they left
It was months after I thought of the incident and tried to put two and two together. I may have arrived at Five but :-
Were they spies tracking down potential military targets?
If they had been genuine MOD men why ask for directions? They would have known where the ex. RAF building was, or at least have an address.
Did the ex. MOD building have, or even do they still have, an entrance to the underground Shelter? The Atomic Underground Shelter that I saw was not far from the Robin Hood pit bottom. Stranger things are likely.
TWENTY EIGHT FIRST AID
Ben W. asked me if I was interested in becoming a member of the Pit First Aid Team. He said that a team from Middleton was being formed. That it would enter inter-colliery competitions. The team would meet every Wednesday evening for two hours training. Competitions were to be held at our mining area offices, or away at other area offices, on the last Saturday of every month. All training and competition time would be paid for. I liked the idea and agreed.
For two Wednesday evening we trained. Our captain, Bill B. was an experienced First Aider. What he didn't know about first aid wasn't worth knowing. He had experience of many competitions before and he really new his stuff. For two weeks prior to our first competition I swotted up on my St. Johns First Aid Book.
I was beginning to find that my evening time was at a premium, Monday I went Boxing Training, Tuesdays and Thursdays Night School and now Wednesday was First Aid training. I was finding time to do my courting very hard to come by.
We were a team of Four and we travelled to Area Seven offices for our First competition.
On arrival there were Twelve teams entered and captain Billie pulled out a number from a hat for order of play. We were to be Fourth on.
We were all dressed alike in Boots, Blue Coverall, Pit helmet and miners electric lamp.
When our turn came we were led into a large hall where spectators were seated. At one end of the hall a large raised platform had been erected and a underground mock up of a mining gate and face was portrayed.
The scenario was that we as team had been called to this coal face and found a number of men injured. We had no prior knowledge of what had caused the injuries. We were to treat the patients as we deemed necessary.
A doctor was on hand to answer any questions and to award marks for the correct diagnosis and treatment.
Our captain soon showed that he was no stranger to competition. He aimed questions of the doctor in a staccato manner. It was to his own pre-formed plan.
"Has the surface been informed of the accident" Bill asked.
"No" replied the doctor.
"Jack," he said to me "Inform Pit top by phone of the emergency and have them stand by to receive three Injured persons. Have them organise stretcher bearing parties to meet us on route out of the pit. Tell them we will keep them informed." A host of other instructions followed that I had to relay. I hoped I could remember them all.
When Bill asked of the doctor if one of the injured miners were breathing he received the answered no. He then ordered another member of the team to commence Mouth to nose artificial respiration.
Mouth to mouth or nose artificial respiration had only recently been entered in the manuals and was comparatively a new procedure.
Bill continued his assessment of the situation in his fast and highly competent manner.
At one point the doctor had to ask him to slow down he could not enter the points on his check list fast enough.
By the time we had completed the first stage of the competition we were the leading team.
The team then had to answer verbal questions from a panel individually.
I was not looking forward to this part at all. I did not feel competent enough.
Bill tried and succeeded somewhat to put me at my ease. He said it does not matter if we won or lost as long as we had tried our best
On my individual verbal question I was asked to define the respiratory system.
I was in luck in earlier training sessions Bill had suggested that we learn the respiratory and blood circularity systems as they are old chestnuts questions. They crop up in competition regularly.
I began parrot fashion:- "Air enters the nose and mouth and travels down the back of the throat to the"....etc..etc.
The outcome of the competition was that we won. We each were awarded a First prize of Five Pounds. To me nearly a weeks pay. Plus a small trophy each.
I was over the moon.
In later competitions when I may have let the side down by being asked a question that I could not answer. "Don't worry," was the only comment Bill ever gave me on these occasions, "its all swings and roundabouts"
I had a very deep respect for Bill.
TWENTY NINE PLAYING WITH FIRE (In more ways than one)
The safety officer told me that there was to be an inter-pit fire fighting competition. The form would take an individual event and a team event.
The individual event would consist of:-
At a signal pick up a CO2 2 fire extinguisher and run forward to a wooden cage like apparatus. The cage had one foot Six inches (46 cms) square opening. Inside, the cage had a door which led into a small maze of compartments. The extinguisher had to be manipulated around the obstacles. The extinguisher had to be discharged, with the resulting water jet, a target had to be knocked down. The shortest time taken would determine the winner.
The team event consisted of Four men.
At a signal the First member of the team would lift a hydrant grating and plug in a hydrant.
The other three men would pick up large rolled hoses.
The second man would hand one end of his hose to the First who would couple it to the hydrant.
The others in turn would run forward each coupling one end of their hose to the one before him.
The fourth, and last, man would couple a nozzle to his hose and signal 'water on'.
The time trial would end when a target was knocked down with the water jet.
Cash prizes were on offer. Five pounds for the individual winner, three and two pounds for the runners up. The same amounts were at stake for the team event each member of the team receiving the prize.
I picked up Ten pounds that afternoon. We were also informed that all the pits in the area were having Fire Fighting competitions.
Winners would then compete at area. Area winners would then go forward to a Divisional competition at Doncaster.
Ben allowed the team to practice our moves in the afternoon after work. We were paid overtime for the pit top practice.
Our team came second at the Area competition and I managed to come First individual, picking up Fifteen Pounds.
Being Area winner I was allowed to practised every afternoon trying to shave microseconds from my time also earning grateful overtime whist doing it.
I became Second individual at Division championships for which I received Twenty Pounds.
Brenda and I, at around this time, began courting seriously, we had become an item. Although definite plans of marriage had not been finalised it had been agreed that on her Eighteenth birthday, in a few weeks, we would become engaged. Marriage would follow in about a year. We often engaged in loving clinches and I made numerous clumsy attempts at groping but was always 'knocked back' with the words "Good girls don't." At that time most girls didn't, not until they had a ring on their finger and a promise of marriage at least. I had tried, on many occasions to cajole her but the threat of pregnancy put her, as most people, off. We discussed the subject of contraception and after the talk I decided to acquire a packet of Johnny’s
One afternoon, having showered at work, I called in at the Co-op Chemist and a young lass on the other side of the counter enquired what she could do to help me. The sight of the female threw me. I hadn't realised how hard it was going to be to get some French Letters.
"Eh!.. Ehm.. I have a headache have you any aspirin? was the only thing I could think off. A tape of 8 aspirin was produced. Did I detect a slight smirk on the lassies face as she accepted my money?
"Will that be all" She asked . Had she been in this situation before? I swear she was enjoying making me squirm.
Here was my chance again. "Yes,.. er no, thank-you." I'd fluffed it again I retreated the chemist with my tail between my legs in more ways than one.
There are Two chemist's at the top of Middleton Park Avenue, each within a stones throw of the other. Go to the other one and be more determined, I resolved. Walking across the road to Kershaws Chemist I discovered it was half day closing. Just my luck I'll have to go back to the other one and start all over again.
I did but as I was about to enter, through the plate glass door window I could see the same female shop assistant at the counter. My bottle went once more and I about turned. What was I to do now it was a little too late to go into town. The barber's that was the answer, I decided, they sell Durex. Often when I have been having my hair cut I’ve seen the pictured advertisement of a barber asking a man, who's hair he has just cut saying, "Something for the Weekend Sir?"
I didn't need my haircutting, having just had it done the week before. What excuse can I give for going in? Yeah, Brylcreem, I didn't use the stuff but it's as good an excuse as any.
I walked up the steps leading to the Second floor barber shop above the Tivoli Cinema. Luckily there was only a few old codgers in, none of them probably knew me.
John Appleyard, or Johnny Barber as everyone called him was cutting hair, I walked over and stood by him. He stopped cutting. "Yes Jack what can I do you for?" Johnny knew me from being quite young.
"A jar of Brylcreem please John."
"Sure Jack," said he reaching for a jar. "have you come all this way just for that?" he enquired, for John knew where I lived.
"Had to John the chemist is closed, half day."
"Kershaws is but the Co-op isn't." corrected John.
If only he new I thought. As I got my money out to pay him this was the time I had planned to, offhandedly say "Oh! by the way I may as well take some Durex with me as well." but the words were not forming as I expected. I handed Johnny a Ten Bob note and waited for my change.
"Anything else?" Johnny enquired.
"Eh!.." again the words were just not coming out.
"Packet of Three as well?" suggested Johnny.
It was my chance. "Yeah go on then, might as well whilst I'm here." I tried to make it sound as if the rubber goods were a total afterthought. My packet of Three, Brylcreem and change were handed to me. They were mine not exactly as I had planned but mine they were.
As I walked out of the room and down the stairs I heard a murmur of voices and a few laughs. Was I the butt of their humour? At that stage I didn't really care.
To this day I cannot remember what happened to that first packet of Three, well that's my excuse. I don’t kiss and tell.
I do remember though when I opened the packet, inside was piece of paper which read.
Please supply ....... packet/s of Durex
rubber Protective’s. Thank-You
I retained that piece of paper it would save future problems.
THIRTY SUCKER PUNCH
The NCB boxing championships were being advertised. I had decided to enter. I was in reasonable shape because I had kept up my training at my local youth club. I also belonged to The Montague Burtons Boxing Club in Leeds occasionally turning out for them.
On hearing that I had submitted a application form John C. did the same.
The Saturday came that we had to be present at Area for our preliminary bouts. It was to determine who would represent Area Seven. (our Area)
When we arrived we weighed in. I was surprised to learn John was within my weight class. So were two other boxers. the Four of us drew out of a hat for the fight off. The two winners of the afternoon events would fight for the area championship in the evening.
I drew Johnny. I was so pleased. I was telling anyone who would listen that I would show Johnny up in the ring. I would prove to all, once and for all, that I was not only the better fighter I was the better boxer. I was doing what I hate most in other people, bragging. I was a hypocrite.
The bell sounded for round one. I came dancing out showing, to all and sundry, how good I was. Bop!
Johnny threw a Right hander that connected flush on my chin. I never saw it coming although I did see stars. I had never ever been hit with one like that before. I went down. Unused to being on the canvas I tried to regain my feet but my legs would not support my weight. I just fell down again. I did manage to get up but Johnny rushed in to easily finish me off.
The referee stopped the contest, I was unable to defend myself. I had not struck a blow, I had lost. I was so ashamed I wanted the canvas to open and swallow me up. The punch that I had always been afraid of in all our fights had landed.
I did not feel like going to work the following Monday, I was so ashamed. Of course I had to. I did think of trying to explain that I would have won if I had taken proper care instead of 'lording' it. But what was the point I had lost to Johnny fair and square.
Just after this time I was called for interview by Leeds City Council officials with regard to my application for an Outward Bound Course. In this I was successful and the Eighth of November 1954 saw me ensconced at the Outward Bound Mountain School in Eskdale, Cumberland. The course lasted 26 days and it took me to limits I never thought existed. I had always thought of myself as a physical person and thought that nothing could faze me. There was not anything that could be thrown at me that I could not handle. How wrong I was. The very first morning the staff ordered us out of beds at six O Clock for a run around the tarn. This was a medium sized lake and although it was cold the run was not too bad. It was what came at the end of it. We were ordered to jump into the lake making sure the whole body was immersed. I have never had such a shock to my system Every morning was the same and it was something to be dreaded. Being winter, many times ice covered the lake and it had to be broken before the dip.
We were all allotted into troops of Ten. I was designated troop leader which in itself was an honour. The members came from all walks of life, many like myself being sponsored by city councils. Some came from industry, some private and even the war office sent boys. In our troop there was a potential Army Officer and one from the RAF. There was an ex borstal boy and a public schoolboy. Two of our members came from Canada.
We learned many outdoor survival techniques, rock climbing, fell walking, map reading, Caving, Canoeing etc. All skills had to be put to use in a final scheme that lasted a full 3 days self containment in the field.
This course was the first time I had ever been away from home for any length of time I and although I never admitted it to anyone I was very homesick. It was a very strange feeling, whilst I was on exercise or my mind was preoccupied, the sickness did not affect me but when the periods of instruction had finished for the day, the evenings were hell. I was not only missing my home but my girlfriend as well.
I would like to report that I enjoyed every minute of it but I have to admit it was very hard. Something that I was totally unprepared for. At the conclusion of it I wouldn't have missed it for the world but if I had been asked would I do it again the answer would have been a resounding NO.
THIRTY ONE COAL FACE TRAINING
I continued to study at Wakefield Tech. I had managed to pass my First years exams which guaranteed a continuation of my day release.
The second year my basic Secondary Education was beginning to let me down, particularly in Mathematics. I could only manage to grasp Algebra in its simplest forms for now we had to calculate with Sine, Cosine and Tangents and there were no calculators in those days. All data had to be searched for in a book of tables. I was beginning to struggle.
Electrical science was my hardest subject. Although I could grasp the basic idea of electricity, calculating the various values was beyond me.
Of the Five subjects taken I passed in Four, even Maths, but, as expected I failed in Electrical Science.
To carry on studying for my O.N.C. I would have to re-take Year two in my own time. Three night classes a week.
I thought long and hard over my decision but I realised that even when I passed Year two, year three would probably be beyond my potential.
Deciding to quit school I informed the Training officer. I discussed with him my problems and that I wanted to be put on the waiting list for coal face training when I became eighteen which was only a couple of months away. He was aware that I was saving up to get married and money was important.
Ben, to give him credit, tried to persuade me to continue with my studies. He realised the opportunity I was throwing away. I could not see further than my face. All I could think of was doing my coal face training, which lasted 100 days, and getting a big money face job.
I had already decided on completion of face training that I would take a Shotfirer/Deputy course.
Because I had been a satisfactory worker and the Training Officer thought highly of me he decided to help me. He explained that although there was a long waiting list to go face training he would ensure that I got to the top of it on reaching the age of eighteen. He said that normally the first Forty days face training is taken on day shift, coal filling. The next 20 days on afternoons belting and chocking. The final Twenty days were on nights machine coal cutting. Usually when a person finishes his training they remain on that shift they finished on, usually a back shift.. He proposed that I would do my afternoons and nights first and then my final period would be on days. He assured me that I would then be able to remain on days.
He was as good as his word. I completed my first two periods of afternoons and nights.
When it came to do my Coal filling training, instead of helping out with a corner man as was usual, I found that he had put me with a team who were 'arking out' a new coal face. The new face was the North East 1s. I did not know at the time but anyone who arks (cuts) out a new face, is entitled to demand a permanent coal filling job on that face.
Ben had done me another favour. Here I was just turned eighteen and a 'piece' of coal of my own. Men worked years before they were offered a piece' of the own and even then your face had to fit.
THIRTY TWO A PIECE OF COAL
To describe a 'piece' of coal:-
A side of a face of coal is over eighty Yards long. That would mean that it would take Seven men to shovel the Eighty plus yards of coal on to the conveyer belt each shift. Each man would be responsible for about Twelve yards of the hewing and shovelling. The tailgate corner man taking slightly less.
All the coal face workers, including me, who had a claim to a piece of coal drew numbers out of a hat. From that point on the corresponding piece to that number was yours and unless you could not do the work, was yours for the rest of that faces life.
I drew the Third piece from the right hand tailgate.
My new work mates quizzed me how I had come to get a regular piece of coal, having only just completed face training. I don't think initially they liked the idea but there was nothing they could do about it.
All of my new associates, soon to become mates, were hardened colliers. All of them were at around Ten years older than I, with their resulting experience.
The first shift I walked up the tailgate with my new face workers. They will all recognise themselves except one.
To name them :-
GEORGE Cullen. He was in the corner piece. A man who tended to open his mouth without thinking but one whom you new exactly where you stood with him. He would not go behind your back about anything. He would be the first one to tell you to your face of any complaint. He took a lot of understanding but I grew to like him.
HARRY Dinsdale. First piece from the corner. One of the most likeable men down Middleton pit or that I ever met. A deep thinker would never do you a wrong. He was the brains of the face. Whatever he suggested, he never demanded, went. We all agreed his way was usually the best. He was tragically killed later in a coal face incident.
MYSELF, Second piece.
JOE Dinsdale. Brother of Harry also a likeable person. Said little but turned out to be a great boozing companion.
JEFF Taylor. or it could be Geoff I never did get to know. Fourth and last piece from the tailgate. Jeff was the older brother of the diesel driver who squashed the 'faeces' pie into my face at the loader end. A good bloke to be in trouble with. Although not educated he was nobody's mug. You knew where you were with him.
I liked and respected all of my new team workers.
There were two others on the team but they got to their pieces via the Loader gate. The time came for us all to crawl on to the face to begin our 'stints' of coal. I was determined to do well and show the others that I was worthy of my place in the team.
On the roof of the face the deputy had chalked an arrow at Twelve yard intervals to denote pieces, I found my chalked arrow and proceeded to 'Break in'
To break in means to hack and shovel a way into the broken coal face. The face conveyer is a bottom loader. The coal is thrown on to the bottom of the belt to be scraped off at the face loader end. The return belt travels along the roof of the face. At the start of breaking in one has to shovel over the belt until a space is made into the coal. Timbers are erected under the virgin roof and progression forward can be made.
I hacked away as fast as I could at the coal before me. My shovel and pick whirred at speed. No one could possibly go faster that I. I would prove to them what a good worker I was and prove to be a worthy place in the team.
I kept looking forward of me and below me to see how they were going on. They seemed to be shovelling slower in comparison to me.
I thought I was doing well. The sweat was pouring off me I was becoming exhausted. I had never worked so hard in all my life.
As I looked back I saw Harry had completed his Twelve yards. He had 'filled' off before me and I had three yards to go.
I still had a yard to go when Joe also filled off. Jeff also completed his stint before me.
I was disgusted with myself. I had worked really hard and as fast as I could. How could I hope to keep up with them. I had suffered a loss of face.
When discussing my poor showing they said that I had not done too bad, for they were old hands at the job. Nevertheless from that day on I was in a race with to fill off before them, they did not know they were participants in a race but I did.
I had been working for some weeks, before I realised how Harry always managed to fill of before anyone else. Even though he always looked to be going slow. Every time he took a shovel of coal it was a full shovel. I probably shovelled half as many times again than Harry but my shovel would be only partially full compared to his.
When I realised this fact I gradually became more adept at filling coal. It took a while but before long I could hold my own with all the others, except Harry. He always 'beat me off' at filling his piece. In all the time I worked there I only ever beat him off once, even then it was only because his stint had been in the 'rough'. More about the Rough late.
Slowly I became an accepted member of the team and I was proud to be in such company.
Ours was a new face with little problems, and were a good team. Helping each other out when needed. We made good wages. The year was 1955 and I was earning over Twenty Five Pounds a week without the occasional Saturday working, a small fortune in those days. Both Brenda and I were now seriously saving up to get married.
I took and passed a shotfirer/Deputy course during my face training period.
THIRTY THREE MINES RESCUE
I had been face working for a few months when I became interested in becoming a member of the Middleton Mines Rescue Team.
I arranged to see The Training Officer for further details. He explained that I would have to go to the Mines rescue centre at Wakefield for training. It would involve a day a week for Six weeks. This would be a test of my suitability to become a member of the Middleton team. I expressed my enthusiasm and he duly promised to get in touch with me when he had arranged training.
The following week I had to report to The Mines Rescue Centre, Wakefield for a weeks course of instruction.
At the centre we had lectures on all the aspects of mines rescue. History, current regulations, safety, gases, breathing apparatus's, first aid, the transport of injured or dead miners from the workings, temporary roof supports, were just a few of the main subjects discussed.
A typical day at the station would be lectures in the morning with practical training with artificial breathing systems in the afternoon.
There are numerous types of breathing systems but the one we were specially trained for was the 'Proto' Apparatus.
This system consists of a small compressed oxygen cylinder that is attached to a large 'breathing bag.' The bag is carried and strapped across the front of the chest. Inside the bag are Protosorb crystals that absorb carbon dioxide expelled when we exhale. A mouthpiece is connected to the bag and one tries to breathe through it at normal rate. A nose clip is also worn. Valves from the oxygen cylinder control the amount that is released to the wearer. Expired air passes through the bag and is cleaned by the crystals, the air being re-used. The main problem with this apparatus is that the crystals soon become CO.2 saturated. The Proto system was designed for a period of approximately two hours use.
During practical uses of the breathing apparatus, we would enter specially prepared rooms that simulated underground conditions i.e. darkness, height restrictions, dust, heat, etc.
We would be required to do manual work shovelling sand from one place to another for an hour. This work gave the wearer of the apparatus the opportunity to experience the problems one may have in actual mines rescue.
Because we had a nose clip on and mouthpiece in, our only means of communication was a small hand operated horn. Signalling one hoot for stop, two to carry on etc. We also had a system of hand signs. Working whilst wearing breathing systems is no yoke.
We studied the different types of gases before and after an explosion, Blackdamp, Whitedamp, Firedamp, Stythe, Afterdamp, all had their own peculiar properties and all had to be detected and respected.
We also learned that the quickest way to detect for gas was to expose a small bird to the suspect atmosphere. These small birds, usually canaries, have such a fast blood circulation that an alien gas is quickly detected. Their metabolism takes up the gas fast and they fall of their perches. Providing one gets them back into good air again they suffer no ill consequences.
The regulations of that time decreed that all mines that employed one Hundred men or more must keep at least two small birds on the premises. This last fact maybe why many miners are avid canary breeders.
I managed to pass the course of instruction and I became a member of The Middleton Broom Colliery Mines Rescue team. I was a very proud man. Twice a month we would have a day of lectures and practical training as a team.
We could be called out at anytime to attend serious incidents at our own or other mines.
Slowly but surely I was becoming an experienced miner.
THIRTY FOUR A Fall of Roof
Ten to Fifteen minutes before going underground at the beginning of the shift most workers would congregate on the pit top.
For smokers this would be the last time for a drag, for the next Seven and a Quarter hours. They would be puffing away as if it there was no tomorrow. Right up to entering the air doors they would be smoking. All smokers used to have a small tin in which they kept a few cigarettes and matches. Just before a smoker entered the air doors he would stub out his cigarette and put the tab end into his tin. It would then be placed it in a large wooden case just outside the air doors.
At any one time there were numerous tins in the case.
All would be searched for smoking materials prior to the entry of the doors.
Once underground a smokers mind and body would switch off for the need of nicotine. As soon as they surfaced their craving would begin again and they would retrieve their tin and begin smoking again.
At no time did I ever have any knowledge of underground smoking.
Many did try to make up the intake of nicotine by taking snuff, for snuff is of course ground tobacco.
Another way of nicotine intake is via chewing tobacco. Although chewing is a misnomer, one does not chew tobacco. A chewer keeps a plug between his lower teeth and gum and occasionally sucks it. The result is tobacco flavoured spittle a horrible and acquired taste. A chewer must keep spitting out the juice for to swallow it or the tobacco is devastating to the stomach. I have known men literally turn facially green and then have to go out of the pit ill after accidentally swallowing chewing tobacco.
Taking snuff or chewing tobacco is permitted underground.
One shift our team went underground. We were told that our face on the North East was not ready. It had not been turned round the last couple of shifts. We were instructed to go 'fill' the Ebor 23s.
The 23s face was always a very rough face to work. It was nearing its end of its working area and we had been told that within a few weeks it would hit strata faults and the coal would run out. The face would have to close.
We spaced our selves along the face and began to 'break in'. None of our team were happy with the situation or the working conditions but there is little we could do about it. Both the old roof and the newly cut coal roof was 'Bitting' (breaking up) I managed to break in successfully and got me a few props and bars up to protect my back. I slowly began working forward, setting the few supports that I had. It came to a point that I had no supports left. I was continually shouting up the face for them to put some props on the belt. All to no avail. Nobody answered, even if they could have heard me above the noise of the workings.
The supports would be forthcoming when they were available. Probably the pony driver had been held up.
I had two choices, stop shovelling coal until I had adequate supports to erect, or carry on and take risks. In the cold light of day the decision is easy, stop work. But to stop work when every one else is working means that they will finish their stint before you and will feel obliged to come and help you off. Then you will lose face.
Like a fool I carried on working. I was reaching out shovelling coal under virgin roof when it caved in. It buried me, not completely, but buried I was. I could not move. I shouted for help but did not expect anyone to hear, because of the noise on the face.
No one can hear anyone else unless the conveyer stops I was frightened, not because I was in pain, but because my cap lamp had been knocked off my head. I could not properly see, all appeared dark. The roof was ‘bitting’ and small chips of rock fell on to my body enhancing my fears of further imminent falls.
Miraculously Joe Dinsdale. heard my shouts, come to think of it they probably were screams. He rode down the conveyer and extricated me, then rolled me on to the face conveyer. Riding down the belt, fully outstretched, I consciously felt myself for injuries. I was complete and did not hurt anywhere. I was feeling relieved.
On reaching the end of the conveyer it was stopped to allow me to get off it and enter the Main gate. I stood up and then immediately collapsed. My back could not stand my body weight. I could not stand up.
I felt no pain but I could not stand up. I had to be stretchered out of the pit. I spent the next three weeks in hospital. A further period of Four weeks went by before I could resume work.
When I returned my piece of coal on the North East 1s was still there, and was still mine.
THIRTY FIVE SHOT FIRING
About two months after my injury, I stepped out of the cage to begin a shift. The under manager, Mr Kinsey. came out of his office and said to me. "Jack you've got your Shotfirer’s ticket haven't you?"
"Yes" I replied.
"Go back to the surface and collect Forty Dets. (Detonators) I need you firing today. I'm short of staff"
"What about my filling money" I said. He realised that a coal filler on a successful face earned bonuses and good wages. More that a shotfirer who was on Staff pay and was fixed.
"Don't worry you wont lose money. I'll have it made up."
I was satisfied with this. I about turned and headed for the surface and the explosive stores.
Someone else, on the market, would be sent to fill my piece of coal off but the piece would still remain mine.
Market workers were a pool of spare worker who stood in for absent workers.
On surfacing I went to the explosives store. The attendant there had been informed prior of my arrival.
I signed for Forty Detonators, and was further issued with a length of two core cable, a battery and key and a pricker. I then went to the lamp room to get a safety lamp and lighter key. On returning underground again I was instructed to go and 'fire' the Right hand face of the South East threes.
This was to be the first time that I had fired a shot properly. I had studied what to do in theory. I had seen it done in practice but I'd never done it for real. The method of preparing and shot firing a hole according to regulations is :-
The shot firer is presented with bored holes in the coal face at regular Six feet (2m) intervals, Six feet in depth.
On deciding which hole is to be fired the area must be cleared. Sentry's must be posted at least Twenty five yards (8m) away at either side of the hole, around a corner or behind protective cover.
The hole must be cleaned out with a Six foot long scraper to clean out the hole of any loose coal dust. Check out the hole with a break finder to detect any breaks within it. Any breaks that are detected should not be fired. A new hole should be bored.
A test for gases must be made at the site of the hole to be fired and at least Twenty Yards on either side of the hole.
The explosive can then be prepared by using a pricker to make a hole in the soft pill of explosive.
A detonator complete with attached Seven Foot (110cms) long wires is withdrawn from your case. It is placed in the hole of the pill of explosive. A half hitch is wrapped round the pill with the detonator wires.
The required number of pills of explosive and the detonator primed one is then placed in the hole and pushed to the far end with a wooden rammer.
Non combustible material, like clay, is rammed home behind the explosive. The hole is fully stemmed.
The cable ends are then coupled up to the two detonator wires that are protruding from the hole. The cable is reeled out at least Twenty Yards.
A check of your sentries and a final test for gas is made.
The other ends of the cable are coupled to your battery exploder.
The battery key is placed in the exploder and "Fire" is shouted.
Turn the key sharply and the charger will create an electrical circuit that fires the detonator.
After the explosive explodes the area of the fired shot is examined. If all is in order a further hole can be prepared and the above sequence can again be carried out.
Except in multi-shot firing, another situation entirely, only one shot may be stemmed and fired at any one time.
As can be surmised by the above instructions the procedure for firing one shot is time consuming. A shotfirer may be required to fire Forty shots a day. To carry out the proper procedure it would take him all day to fire his quota. Whilst shot firing is in progress all work on that face must stop. (A shotfirer who held up a face from working all day would soon be without a job)
Now I will tell you exactly what happened in those days when firing shots in coal at the coal face.
All the holes, in the region of Forty, are all stemmed with detonator prepared explosives.
Little stemming is used, it takes time, an 'extra' pill of powder used in lieu.
The first detonator leads are coupled up to a Six foot (2m) length of cable.
The cable is coupled up to the charger.
Keeping your back to the explosion and your body well into the face side the battery key is turned.
The explosion blasts conically outwards. Providing the firer is outside of that cone the blast will have no effect on the him.
The cable and key is left coupled to the charger and the next detonator is coupled prior to a repeat of the above sequence.
The whole Forty shots can be fired this way one after the other all within a short period of time.
This cutting of corners of the shot firing regulations was completely unlawful but was necessary if the coal face was to be prepared on time. The extraction of coal was the ends to the means.
All management, from above and below the colliery manager knew of such actions by the Shotfirer’s but of course could not officially sanction such acts.
Shotfirer's started work only one hour before the coal fillers. It would be impossible for a shotfirer to do his job according to the regulations and complete his task. There would be no time for the coal filler to follow him and in turn complete his job. A blind eye was turned by one and all.
The total time to fire his quota of detonators was about an hour or less. From the time of his last detonator fired, to the end of the shift the Shotfirer’s time was his own.
Shot firing was the easiest job in the pit it could also be classed, at times, as the most dangerous job in the pit but I certainly did not. think of that.
I completed my first firing shift before the age of nineteen.
After that first shift, I was to fill in more often as time went by.
A little story that happened whilst I was shot firing will explain the urgency to get the job done in time was:
As has been stated after charging a hole, very little stemming, more likely nothing, was rammed up behind the explosive. An extra pill was often used to make up the deficiency.
One time having prepared all my holes I was busy firing them. I coupled up one prepared hole. Unbeknown to me the detonator wires had become snagged to my boot. As I crawled forward the detonator wires were pulled out of the hole. The pill of explosive lay on the floor 6 feet from me. I twisted the key of the charger and the shot exploded. I had my back away from the charge and was crouched forward. The resulting explosion left my backside peppered with small chipping's of coal.
At the time I thought I was hurt more than I was. I had to get help from my other shot firing companion, Sid, on the other side of the face. He gave me first aid and had to fire the rest of my shots. I was in no position to.
I could not report my injuries to the medical attendant, questions would have been asked. I did not even report the accident to my doctor. I had the next few days off due to a heavy cold.
I was very lucky that a more serious injury did not result in my foolhardiness. I took greater care in the immediate future shift but again soon became complacent..
THIRTY SIX LOW ROOF
Our corner man, George Cullen. was a great character. A good laugh. It was hard to take any offence at him.
But the other four of us in the team had a problem with him. If any of us took sweets down the pit we had to hide them.
Whilst we were 'filling' down the face George, more often than not, would come out of his corner piece and rifle our jackets that were hung up in the tailgate and acquire any sweets or goodies.
Whenever he was taken to task about this he would deny it blaming the tail gate pony driver, the shotfirer, the deputy, anyone and everyone, but himself, was at fault. In the cold light of day this sounds like stealing, it wasn't like that it was just one of the 'done' things. One day I decided to teach George a lesson.
I bought a bar of chocolate and, at home, carefully unwrapped it. One of the blocks of chocolate I carefully hollowed out. I refilled the hole with snuff. I resurfaced the block with molten chocolate and the block looked normal.
In the tail gate whilst getting ready and putting on our kneepads I unwrapped the chocolate bar. I gave everyone a piece and, in the hearing of George, remarked that I had saved a piece for myself for later, on completion of my shift.
At the end of the shift, in front of the others, I searched for the chocolate. As expected it had gone.
I outwardly cursed the thief.
Of course George said. "It wasn't me, you know me better than that, I blame the pony driver."
I laughed and said. "I hope he enjoyed it because I had filled the hollowed out piece of chocolate with shit."
George could not admit to being taken in nor could he berate me for my dirty trick. I left other tainted traps for George but from that day they were never again sprung.
It was the first day back to work after our annual two week summer holiday. Most face workers dread that first day back.
In normal practice if a face progresses forward daily, the roofing weight is all directed towards the past workings, the 'gob'.
Before the weight can effect the new face, a new face Six feet further, has been created. The faster a face progresses forward the less weight problems arise.
On return to work after a break the weight on the face is directly over where you are working. It is 'rough'. It is a very dangerous time for all concerned.
Anyone who says he is not scared or apprehensive at this time, is fooling himself not me.
It was to be my first real taste of 'weight'. I'd had other lesser experiences of 'rough'. The roof creeks and the floor 'blows' and the weight is on but all that is taken in ones stride.
Providing roof supports are correctly set and you take care, one should get along. Its called 'watching your back' I think the term explains itself.
This day, the team crawled on to the face. The weight was on heavier than I had ever experienced it. I had started to crawl on to the face with my shovel blade the wrong way round. I realised that I would not be able turn it over. I had to return back to the tail gate before I could right way the shovel. The width of the shovel blade is less than sixteen inches. (40cms)
We could not complete the 'filling off ' of the face that shift. It was left to the afternoon men. Their work in turn would have to be done by the night shift
Another time I remember 'the weight being on' the two foot (61cms) props that were normally supplied by the pony driver were too long. Our Four man team had a wood bow saw that was shared. We had to take turns in using it. Every prop had to be sawn down before it could be set.
I was about to set a prop. I measured the distance between roof and floor with my arm. I placed my Left elbow to the floor and extended my arm to the roof, fingers outstretched. I placed the width of two fingers of my other hand to the top of my outstretched fingers and they reached the roof. Measure that and it comes to about 20 inches (51 cms) That is the height we were working in.
One other time that the weight was on I had sawn a prop and cut it slightly too short. But by the time I had set it the roof weight just tightened to it.
When I think about these bygone times I think how foolhardy we were. It is quite scary now but then it was normal and we were well paid for the normality. We had been brought up with tales of the really old colliers who without machinery had to 'hand get' all coal hewn. The seams were thinner than ours. They didn't have adequate light or ventilation. Things were really scary then. Those old hands were real colliers.
THIRTY SEVEN UNIONS
I have explained earlier that the pit worked a week in hand as regards wages. All work done was paid at a Union contracted rate. Any extra work done, above and beyond our contract, had a rate attached to it.
Examples of extras were
If the previous shift workers had not completed their tasks, we would have to do their work before we in turn could begin ours. The agreed rate would be 'booked' by the deputy. The extra pay to be shared by the team.
If there was a fall of roof in the gate and the deputy wanted us to clear it away then we would negotiate a 'rate' for the job.
'Wet money', many times the face was wet. At certain times the face could be in inches of water. The worker then had to lay in this water and work. Men working in wet conditions, providing they finished their allotted task, could finish up to Twenty minutes early.
The deputy would issue a hand written note for them to be able to exit the pit before time. three shillings (15p) extra for wet conditions, would be added to his shift money.
Working in water is a horrible experience. The water is salty and contains chemicals that penetrates into every cut and opening. 'Wet' skin rashes and boils were quite common among miners who worked regularly in wet conditions.
Powder money. Often we would have to carry a Five pound canister of powder. For this the rate was Nine pence (4p) per canister. The powder carried is explosives as used by a shotfirer.
Many was the time as a shotfirer when I had experienced a greater explosion than was normal for the amount of powder that I had put in. Sometimes a coal filler will 'acquire' a few pills of explosives and feed them into the holes within his piece. He did this in the mistaken belief that the extra powder would greater dislodge his coal. It would, the first time.
When a shotfirer suspects a miner of putting extra powder in his own holes he would automatically deduct a pill from his intended amount throughout that piece. Consequently that piece did not get the required amount it would otherwise have had. Less powder would be put in for at least a week. It soon taught the offending collier to stop messing about with the holes.
All extras had to be paid. Every Monday morning all face teams would congregate outside the lamp room prior to their descent.
Each team had what we called a 'puffler' or team spokesman. His job was to go to the mine secretaries office and get the details of pay and the extras that were to be shared by the team, the following Friday. The details were contained in a what was called a 'day note'
Because George Cullen. had a 'big mouth', he was our elected 'puffler'. George was too thick to understand the figures contained in the day note. It was doubtful if George could read.
When he picked up the day note he would pretend to read and understand the figures, occasionally nodding or shaking his head at them. Then after a short interval he would hand the note to Harry Dinsdale. and say. "What do you think of it Harry?" Harry was the brains of the team. He forgot nothing. Every canister of powder or wet money or other extras had to be accounted for.
Because Deputies were accountable to the manager, they had to keep a tight rein on costs. They tended to 'forget' certain promised payments.
More often that not something minor would be wrong. Harry would immediately spot it. He would say "George we haven't got paid for..". Whatever. This and that would be explained to George.
He would return to the secretary and complain. The secretary could only promise to look into the matter.
That would not do. Unless we were promised payment we were not going down the pit.
This scenario happened every Monday with one or other of the puffler's.
At that time the National Union of Mineworker were very strong. If one man refused to go down, all would refuse. It was all for one and one for all.
The secretary was not in a position to promise payment. He would contact the under manager who may already be underground or even at home. He would have to be contacted to sort the matter out.
In certain cases when the item was disputed by the under manager then the manager would have to be called from home.
By this time two to three hours could have elapsed.
The manager even knowing that the men were at fault had to decide; to 'give in' to the grievance or stick to his principles.
He knew that if the day shift did not go down then it was certain that the afternoons and nights would refuse to work. A whole Twenty Four hours would certainly be lost. All for what probably amounted to a matter of a few pounds.
Always the management gave in. They could not afford not to. A minor strike at his pit could easily escalate to other pits.
The manager would then agree to a settlement as long as the miners went down now. Then the men would say, "Yes we'll go down now providing we get paid for the time we have spent arguing this grievance".
The time elapsed could easily have been three hours. The Manager would have to give three, or lose Twenty Four. In circumstances like these the manager was over the proverbial barrel.
I have been in a position, as above, where we have all gone down the pit. travelled inroads for about a mile. Had our snap and when that was eaten it would be
time to walk back for the shift was over. We would be paid for the full day.
Sometimes the miners had a genuine grievance but more often than not they were in the wrong. The union just liked to show its muscle. At that time we enjoyed it we were being paid for doing nothing.
THIRTY EIGHT HOME COAL
In March 1958 after almost four years of on off courtship Brenda and I were married. We had both saved up for a splash out wedding. More than a hundred guest sat down to a slap up meal and no expense was spared. I invited all my friends to our wedding but especially I invited my face mates and their wives.
The wedding ceremony and reception went without a hitch and a barrel of Tetley beer was put on after the bunfight.
Later that evening we retired to the Middleton Social and Welfare Club where the beer was in full flow. A great time was enjoyed by all. Especially when George had an argument with my new father in law and 'floored' him. George then promptly fell asleep under the snooker table.
Initially after our wedding we stayed at my parents home whilst saving desperately for a deposit for a mortgage it was usual then to put down ten Per Cent of the total value of any prospective borrowings. Within a few weeks we had saved over One Hundred pounds an enormous sum for those days. We began house hunting in earnest. Although our deposit would restrict the property that we really wanted, quite decent houses could be had for a total of One Thousand pounds. We settled on a large through Victorian Terraced house of four floors for Seven hundred and Fifty Pounds. When we first viewed the property I had seen a potential and immediately realised that the Two roomed basement floor could be made into a self contained flatlet. The house could almost pay for itself, Brenda agreed with me and soon the sale was finalised.
I made an appointment to see the managers secretary to apply for home coal. Home coal is a subsidised grant of coal to and underground worker who is also a householder It is a grant of Eight, One Ton loads per year. A load just over every Six weeks. It is only for the sole use of the householder and any infringement of the subsidy can invalidate the concession. I had all the necessary documentation for the coal concession to be granted
Within a few months my uncle and I had finalised ‘do it ourselves’ work in the basement and it was ready for occupation. A tenant was soon found who agreed to pay Two pounds a week for the flat which came with the unlimited use of coal . Our private mortgage repayment was exactly Two pounds a week and the house now began to pay for itself
As I was applying for 'home coal' earlier I remembered a few months before when the manager had come into our tailgate.
He had asked each in turn how we were getting on. When it came to George C. he said to the manager. "Eh! Mr Poskitt. I want to put in for home coal." Really this was a trivial detail with which the manager did not really interest himself with. His secretary dealt with home coal.
"Congratulations George, have you got married then?"
"Well not exactly." Being married was a pre-requisite for home coal.
"What does, not exactly mean, George. You either are married or not" In those days it was swept under the carpet when anyone lived together without a marriage licence. It was just not done
"Well I'm kind of, er," George mumbled.
"What George, come on out with it."
"Living funny" replied George, sheepishly.
With that we all burst out laughing. The manager included.
The manager said "Well I've heard it described in many ways, George, but I've never had it described as living funny before. Come up to my office later and we'll try to work something out" and with that he was gone.
The manager did arrange home coal for George.
At that time house coal was quite expensive. In normal circumstances a miner could not burn all his allowance and sometimes one would 'bend' the deliverer to deliver it to another address. The cost of a ton of 'bent' coal then was Five Pounds.
A pit friend was Peter Whitehead. Peter was the one who had his finger off whilst working as a diesel drivers mate. My wife and I often made a Foursome with him and his wife when going out socialising. Peter and his wife lived two streets away from Brenda and I.
One Saturday, Peter was a little short of money. We had arranged to go to our social club that evening.
Peter had an idea. On our terrace was a lady who owned Four of the houses like mine. She let all of them off in flatlets or bedsitter’s. She was 'coining' it in. She, occupied one basement flat in the house next door but one to mine. She often offered to buy my house. The previous owner of my house had refused to sell it to her.
Peter went to see if she wanted to buy any coal. She did. Peter said to me "Mrs Ruane. will give me Five Pounds for a ton of coal. Will you give me a hand to get it from my house to hers? It'll give me some beer money for tonight."
I agreed. We went to Peters house with an old pair of pram wheels he had borrowed.
Down in his cellar we loaded a sack full of coal. We manhandled it up his cellar steps. Through his kitchen to the street outside. Loaded it on to the wheels. Pulled and pushed the coal from two streets away round to Mrs Rouane's house. Lifted it from the wheels, down four outside steps, though her cellar kitchen and emptied it into her coal cellar.
We returned for another sack full.
We made this journey Twenty times, each time the sack contained a least a hundredweight of coal. Mrs R. watched all, she made sure that each sack was full and that there was indeed Twenty.
On completion Peter said "There you are Mrs R. a ton of coal. A good Fivers worth of any body's money"
Mrs Rouane. replied, " Peter, I've been thinking, I don't think the coal was worth Five pounds"
"Come on Mrs R. we agreed, a Fiver for a ton of coal. You checked the bags were full and there was Twenty of them."
"Peter I really can't afford a Fiver. Will you take three pounds"
"No," said Peter "Five or nothing, exactly as we agreed"
"Then nothing it will have to be. I haven't got the money" Peter and I looked at one another in the certain knowledge that Mrs Rouane certainly could afford the full price for the coal
Peter said "I'd rather take it all back than be conned. You agreed on a price and now you've reneged."
"I'm sorry Peter that all I can afford" Both Peter and I thought she was bluffing. Mrs R. had plenty of money.
"I'll take it back" Peter threatened.
"Take it back then. I really can't afford it Peter"
"Come on Jack" And with that whole journey was made in reverse, all for nothing but we certainly kept face..
We still got out, as a Foursome, that night.
Peter loved to sing, the piano and drums in the Thorpe or in the pit showers. (By this time showers had been built for all.) One of the many other places Peter sang was in the cage when ascending after a shift. Funny thinking about that, he never sang going down the pit, I wonder why?.
Peter's voice was quite good really and the hollow sound of the pit shaft's reverberations made him sound quite presentable.
One afternoon, during ascent Peter began to sing.
"Water. Cool clear water.
Keep a moving Dan don't you listen to him Dan
he's a devil not a man
for he spreads the burning sand with water..."
It was Peter’s favourite Frankie Laine song of 1955 'Cool Water'
"Water. Cool clear Water.
Dan can't you see that big green tree
where the water's running free
and it's waiting there for you and me"
George Lee. another mate nudged me. He nodded down to his hands that were holding his plastic water container. He unscrewed the cap.
Cool Clear water.
Water... Water... Water..."
Just as the cage came in sight of the pit top and Peter was coming to the end of his song, George turned back and splashed the remaining contents of his water bottle directly into Peters face. His suprise timing and aim was perfect. Although the cage contained 10 men very little splashed on anyone else but it's intended victim.
"What you playing at yer silly bugger." spluttered Peter
"Shut you up didn’t it?," returned George, "and you got what you’ve been asking for, water."
All the cage saw the funny side of the event, even Peter, he knew the act had not been done maliciously, only as a joke.
Peter never sung 'Cool Water' in the cage again his favourite tune changed in 1956 to '16 Tons' by Tennesee Ernie Ford.
Almost a year to the day after our wedding my wife gave birth to our first son Stephen, he was much wanted and planned for.
THIRTY NINE FREDDIE
There were many characters down Middleton Pit, all unique in there own way. But of them all, I must make mention of Fred. I do not have to mention his surname initial, all past workers and anyone who knows him will recognise him.
Fred contacted Polio whilst he was an underground worker. When he returned to work after two years or so, it had left him with a pronounced limp. He was unable to walk without the aid of two sticks. His job was at a face button. (Face conveyer operative)
Fred's disabilities got steadily worse, but to more than adequately make up for it, he had a heart like a lion.
His company, above or below the ground, was much sought after. He, along with others youths, would 'knock about' together of an evening and weekends. Because of his personality he was never short of company.
Fred did his face training and he proved that he was more than able to do a face work. He, along with many of his mates secured a piece of coal on the South East 1s
Every morning, Fred and his mates and our team had to walk inbye approximately two and a Half miles. We would all set off from the pit bottom, walking in single file, together. Fred would invariably be last.
After having walked about half way all used to have a brief halt to get our breath back. The walking was hazardous and we all had to watch our step. There were many potholes and stones underfoot.
Fred would be lurching this way and that, he was unable to walk without the aid of his sticks. How he managed to remain upright was a feat in it's self. Many times he would stumble and fall. Woe betide anyone who attempted to go to his assistance. They would only try it once and the tongue lashing they received would put them off helping him, in that way, in the future.
By the time Fred would catch us up, after our rest, we would be setting off again. Fred did not rest, he just carried on.
The same thing would happen on reaching the face. Men would have a brief sit-down whilst putting on their kneepads, generally getting ready for the work to come. Many would have a bite to eat or drink and catch up on the gossip of the day. By the time Fred arrived the men would be almost ready to go on the face to work. Fred would quickly prepare himself and begin work at the same time as them.
Whereas everyone else had at least two short rests, Fred had none. The walking inroads must have taken double its toll out of Fred.
Once under the 'low' (face) Fred was equal, in most cases, more than equal, of all his mates. When he was off his legs, on his knees or laid out, he seemed to be in his element.
Nearly every Monday, Fred's gang would collect in the shower rooms. By that time showers had been installed.
He and his mates would discuss the events of the past weekend. Most had that Monday morning feeling no one was looking forward to work. Invariably one of them would say to another. "How much money have you"
"Couple of quid" may have been the answer. A discussion would then ensue to determine how much each had got. If there was enough money in the kitty it would be lent or borrowed so that all would have roughly the same. They would then, as a man, decide to 'go back'. To go back meant that they were not working today.
Fred would invariably complain and state "Well I'm going 'down'."
An argument would usually ensue. Many has been the time when I have seen his mates literally kidnap him and force him to go with them. I have seen them bodily carry him struggling from the pit premises. They would be heading for a mornings fishing then the rest of the day on the booze.
I must emphasise that the thing that kept Fred going was the size of his heart. In comparison, ours was the size of a pea. I still see him, he is still like that to this day. Nothing seems to faze him.
A follow up to Fred's story is that as Middleton was about to be closed down, the Manager, Under manager and Overman all said at different times to Fred that; whichever future mine they worked, there was always a job for FRED. They weren't saying it out of charity but in the sure knowledge that they would get a fair days work out of him.
Photography became my hobby. I had installed a darkroom in the attic of our house. In those days, although colour film was used, only monochrome film could be processed at home. Often pit mates would ask me to develop their films for them. I enjoyed doing it and was glad to oblige.
One of our team asked if I could reproduce a series of pictures from other photographs. "Have you got the negatives" I asked.
"No only the photo's", was the reply. I explained that even though I had never done this before I would have a go. "They are dirty photos you know?"
I laughed and said that did not bother me.
The following day he duly delivered the photographs to be copied. When I looked at them my heart froze.
By today's standard they were no more that you can see in any page 3 newspaper. But then they were very risky even depraved..
I could not go back on my word.
Whilst going home they felt red hot in my pocket. I felt as though I had changed somehow and that everybody knew what I was carrying.
In the darkroom that evening it became a challenge as I had never attempted anything like this before. After numerous attempts at the copying I managed to develop quite a number of acceptable prints.
When I had finished I began to worry. What if my wife found out what I was doing up in the darkroom? What if I was caught carrying them to the pit? What if my mate was caught with them in his possession and informed the police that it was I who had reproduced them. There were so many what ifs..
My name would be in the News of The World on Sunday.
I could not allow them out of my possession and so, without leaving my darkroom, I burned them.
I took the originals back to my mate and told him that I could not manage the reproductions. I handed them back and was greatly relieved to get them out of my sight.
The fore mentioned Peter Whitehead. became interested in my photographic hobby. We decided to try and make our hobby pay for itself.
Each Saturday and Sundays we would, after first gaining permission from the licensee, visit pubs and clubs offering to take photographs of customers enjoying themselves. The price was 3 postcard size photos for Half a Crown. (12 1/2 p) we did not make a fortune but the hobby began to pay for itself. It also gave us a good excuse to our wife's, going out boozing together.
One day, Peter said "I think I've let us in for it Jack
"What do you mean?" says I.
"John Blooms.'s daughter is getting married a week next Saturday and he's asked me if I could take the wedding pictures. I've said Yes and gave him assurances that we had done other weddings."
At that stage we had never done a wedding. We were a little under confident that we could take one on successfully. Both of us aware that a wedding is once in a lifetime event. It is totally unlike 3 postcards for half a crown, when we could give them their money back if things didn't turn out right. Peter had committed us and we could not lose face by turning the opportunity down, we decided to make the best of it.
We did not have a light meter at that time so all camera exposure and time settings we made were pure guesswork. When we were taking pictures outside of our own family it did not matter if the snaps were under or over exposed, we could always put it down to experience. Not so with a wedding.
We agreed that I would use the tripod and arrange the setting of Bride, Groom, guests etc. Peter would take the same shots at different angles. We would both take a number of the same shots at different exposures and speeds to be certain of getting at least one negative right.
The wedding day came. It was late Autumn and was foggy. The conditions for taking photographs could not have been worse.
Peter and I were 'flapping' Could we take acceptable photos under such conditions? We had to get it right first time. We could not go back to John and his daughter and say "We've made a mistake can we take your wedding again?"
I reaffirmed to Peter. "Take as many photos at different Speed and exposures setting as possible, I'll do the same." We could not afford to drop the proverbial goolie.
The actual setting up of the groups at the wedding outside the church went without hitch. Peter snapping away at random.
We were sure of the photos at the reception cutting the cake etc. because these were taken with flash and exposure times and settings are pre-set. Peter added a little sideline and did a roaring trade taking 3 snaps for half a crown.
That afternoon we went to my darkroom to develop the films. We had taken 11 films. We were using HP4 film Twelve photos per film.
Somewhere along the line two of therolls of film went missing, to this day I don't know what happened to them.
When we came to process another of the films and threading it into a developing tank I allowed light to get in. It became fogged. It just proved how inept we were at the photography game.
To cut a long story short we were not very successful in the film processing. No, to use the right words we made a mess of it.
When we came to developing prints from the negatives, most were under or over exposed taken at wrong speeds. We were in a stew.
Our verbal contract with John B.s daughter was that we would supply a wedding album complete with Twelve pages of prints.
We did not have Twelve good negatives to enlarge.
An idea. Although one of the group photos was badly arranged the brides expression looking at the groom was one of true love. We enlarged the head and shoulders of the couple and presented it as a complete picture. It made quite a nice study and we were very pleased with the result. We further managed to manipulate the existing negatives to produce prints for Eleven pages.
We could still do with another good photo to make up the album.
Another idea. Peter and I went to the St. Mary's church in the old village, Middleton. We went to the vicarage and spoke to the Vicar, asking for permission to take a few photographs of the inside, empty church. We would of course make a donation to church funds. Then very few church heads gave permission for photographs to be taken in church. Some did, but most did not.
The vicar on principle refused. What could we do.
An idea. We hung around outside of the church out of the vicars sight. When he went out to do the rounds of his flock, we nipped back into the church. In those days all places of worship were always open for the passing worshiper and were never locked.
Peter kept a lookout whilst I set up the tripod in the aisle at the back. I then proceeded to take numerous time exposures of the inside looking towards the large stained glassed windows. The exposures again were guesswork and some lasted as long as a minute.
On developing the film and prints we were amazed at the clarity and I think perfection of the prints. The darkened side pews with the high alter in the middle ground and the lights shining through the stained glass windows. I have never been as proud of any photograph, then or now, as that one
We delivered the photo filled album to John B.s daughter. She opened it to find the first photo was of the empty inside of the Church. It was perfect so unusual. Looking through the rest of the album, without doubt she was delighted. She paid us the Eight Pounds Ten shilling (£8.50) fee there and then, with a further pound for us to share as a tip.
The following morning down the pit John B. who having seen our results, congratulated us most warmly. Telling all and sundry what truly professional photographers we were. If he had only have known.
At the end of that shift we both travelled to Leeds centre and purchased a light meter with our profits. We never looked back again taking many weddings after that.
I had to do a shot firing shift one Sunday morning. I knew that very few workers would be working at that time, almost none on the face I was to work. I took my camera down. When I had completed my work I set the camera up in various positions showing the coal face. The light source was my helmet lamp. I set the time exposures for over two minutes. I also took some in the roadway.
When I developed he pictures there was a quite an interesting selection. I was quite pleased with them. One stood out. It had been taken of the rock side of the gateway. Quite clearly a grinning face of a laughing cavalier could be seen. The bearded face and plumed hat were all in detailed. Had I taken a picture of a ghost? obviously not but it was an interesting thought at the time.
FORTY ONE A TALL STORY
Long Harry S. was a deputy. Although he was nicknamed long for obvious reasons he was very thin. He looked as if he weighed no more that a damp dishcloth.
Most Deputy's worked weeks about. Each taking his turn, with two others, to man a district the full 24 hours.
Harry had arranged with the other two other deputies that he would do the night shift permanently. The other two were quite happy with this agreement and alternated the days and afternoons between them.
Harry S. never got a shower, preferring to go home in his 'muck'. Everyone thought he was a little eccentric at this. He had been working nights regularly for about eighteen months.
One shift he was found Semi conscious at the end of some old workings. It was a suspected stroke they could not bring him fully round so he was placed on a stretcher and carried out of the pit.
The stretcher bearers complained about the suprising weight of Harry and constant changes of carriers had to be made.
At the surface he was examined by a First Aid attendant who unloosened his clothes. It was then found that Harry S. was concealing a large coil of copper wire wrapped around his waist.
Afterwards the full story came out.
Harry liked to be on nights because Once a full inspection of his responsible area had been completed and all workers instructed as to their tasks he would have plenty of time for other things. He would go up old worked out gates. When a face has been worked out of coal then it is abandoned. Usually In a number of these gates thick armoured electric cabling had been left. The cabling cannot be reused and is not worth the manpower to retrieve it for scrap.
With a hammer and set Harry S. would dismantle the armoured cable and 'chop' off a length of the thick copper wire.
No one would ever suspect a deputy of such theft. He would accumulate it at home and later weigh it in to a scrap metal merchant for cash. It was later estimated that he had stolen Hundreds of pounds worth of copper with his fiddle. He was later tried and convicted of theft of copper wire from the mine. He was, of course, dismissed his job.
No wonder Harry S. felt so heavy on the stretcher, the bearers later complained.
FORTY TWO STAFF AT LAST
The occasional shot firing job had now become permanent although not staff. The lack of qualified suitable persons to be employed at Middleton left a gap that had to be filled.
I started work at the same time as the 'staff' shot firer's at Five O Clock. I had been working permanently for about three months. My wage was made up to the average wages earned by the coal fillers of the North East. My piece of coal still remained mine and I could return to it at any time I so desired. My pay was on average of Six pounds a week more than the Staff shot firer's and about three more than a deputy.
The other staff men were not happy with this state of affairs. I was assured that they did not blame me, I had every right to claim the extra money.
Neither could they could really blame management. They would be quite willing to employ any suitable qualified applicant.
I was approached by the pit president of NACODS, (National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputy's and Shot firer's) Walter Tuke. He put to me the salient points. His members could not and would not tolerate my getting more money than his members who were doing exactly the same work as I.
Would I be prepared to join the staff and become a permanent? I had previously considered the option. I would be losing money but I would have a staff position and eventually be promoted to a Deputy.
I agreed. I enjoyed shot firing and my aim was to become an Overman or the next pit Safety officer.
The manager was aware of the NACOD'S grievances relating to my employment as a shotfirer. When Walter saw him the manager explained that he could not place me on staff until I attained the age of Twenty two which was the accepted lower age limit.
Walter officially informed the manager that if the problem was not solved then he would have a NACOD'S Strike on his hands.
The following Monday on my lamp, had been left a message to see the manager at the end of the shift.
At the meeting with the manager, he said that he had special permission from Area and was able to offer me a permanent staff position. Would I accept.
Of course My answer was yes. From that day, just a few months after my Nineteenth birthday, I became Staff.
By taking the staff job my pay decreased, I had expected that but then I realised that I would have to pay super annuation. This money was going into a kind of pension scheme and so it was in a sense being saved.
Another setback was that I would have to work at least One maybe two Saturdays a month without extra pay. None of this bothered me because I felt as if I had hung up my shovel for good.
The first Saturday that I worked I was instructed to go to Ebor 9s I was to take charge of the face. Although the face was not working that day, I was the Deputy. My brief was to help get the face ready for Monday morning. There was a problem in the Right tailgate with the coal cutting machine.
On arrival at the gate the coal cutting machine was indeed stuck fast. The roof weight had lowered on to it.
Luckily the team that had been sent to move the machine was headed by a very experienced machine man. Without him I would not have known where to start. He asked me what I wanted done. I deferred to him and asked his advice. He suggested that holes were bored at strategic point and that I fire them. I agreed. I think I would have agreed with anything he said. He was a very experienced miner.
We, sorry, the team succeeded, in the task. Before long the machine had been freed and turned round. I left them 'gibbing' in. They knew what they were doing, I would only get in their way.
I had 'my' district to inspect. I was a very important man, or so I thought.
There were two shot firer's to a district. At one period my mate was Sid Clarkson. He was an old hand at the game. Sid and I worked together and would help out the other if the need arose. He had been the one who gave me first aid when I had my mishap when the detonator come out of the hole.
When we had finished we would meet in the gate.
Sometimes if a shotfirer had any detonators left he may required to travel to another face where extra shots may need firing. This extra work could mean a couple of miles extra walk.
We reasoned, as most did, that if they cannot find us they can't send us.
Often Sid and I would go for a walk. More often than not we walked up a road that few people went. We would go well up the gate and turn off our lights
By being in the dark we could see anyone approaching, they in turn could not see us. Miners have a cap lamp that throws a wide angle light. Officials and staff have a spotlight that focuses at a point.
If a light was approaching our position we would be able to determine who the wearer was. If it was a miner no explanations would be necessary. If it was the manager or such then we had a ready prepared excuse. Sid was just showing me my way round these extreme workings etc. Every one knew what the story was.
Sleeping down a pit carries a heavy fine or even is a dismissible offence. Having said that, in those days, anyone who says that they have never slept or nodded down a pit must have a halo above their head.
One particular day Sid and I went well up an old gate. We propped some wood bars against the rock side for back support. We ate our snap then turned the lights off. Sid did not normally go to sleep. I nodded.
Suddenly in the distance I could see a light heading our way. It was a spotlight. I'd better warn Sid. He obviously had not seen it. Was he asleep? it was so unlike him.
"S...." I tried to speak. Nothing was coming from my mouth.
"S...." I tried again. I not only could not speak I could not move a muscle. However much I tried I could not move or speak. Is this what its like to be dead I thought. I was aware of all around but I could not move an inch. The light was getting nearer, it was a spotlight. We were definitely going to be caught sleeping and I could not do anything about it.
Suddenly Sid turned on his light and said "Jack! are we going?"
I awoke suddenly. I was back to normal. There was no light coming up the roadway nor had there been.
"Its time to go" said Sid.
"How long have we been here," I said, it felt as if we had only been here a few minutes. "About an Hour," replied he. "You were really going strong in your sleep, constantly grunting as though you were trying to say something and you didn't seem to be able to breathe properly. That is why I woke you up."
"I was trying to say speak, I wanted to tell you something. I was trying to say Sid." I replied and went on to explain the past events.
I had been asleep all the time and had been dreaming the events in reality.
One shift I had completed my tasks. The face phone rang. It was the under manager, Mr Kinsey. Had I got any detonators left? I had and was instructed to go to the old Ebor 17s. A few shots needed firing. Another shotfirer, not Sid, who had also finished, said he would have a walk with me.
Ebor 17s had been a face but the coal had been exhausted. Recovery men were dismantling the main machinery for it to be transported to other areas of the mine.
On reaching 17s the recovery men were boring holes above a face conveyer machine. The roof had settled on it. It was held fast and could not be extradited.
While waiting for the borers to prepare the holes, my mate and I decided to have a bite of snap. We walked down the road, away from the face about Fifty yards.
As soon as we got our snap tins out, hordes of mice came out of the holes. There are always mice down a pit. They come down in various ways, usually with materials. Once a pair take up residence breeding soon begins. There is only a certain amount of food for them, horse droppings and feed, the occasional half eaten sandwich that has been thrown away. The mouse population is, of course, governed by the amount of food within that district.
A novel way of catching them is to place an empty bottle or one that is half filled with water, almost upright, making sure a pathway to the neck of the bottle can be reached by the mouse. A few crumbs of bread are deposited into the bottle. A mouse will smell the food and scamper into the bottle opening. When they have eaten the bread, the sides are too slippery for the mouse to climb out. They either starve to death or are drowned. I have seen many such bottle traps in old gates where numbers of mice have drowned or starved.
When a district has been 'worked out' of coal then it is left. The mice are still there but the food supply is not. Normally the mice are shy creatures and scuttle out of the way when one is around. This day, because they were very hungry, they gathered around openly showing themselves. As we shone our lamps at them Hundreds of beady little eyes reflected back of us. a little eerie.
We decided to have a little fun at there expense. I reeled out my long shot firing cable. I wired up a detonator and then the exploder. Then I took half a slice of bread and moulded it round the Det. I laid it to the ground and retired to the exploder. There was a mass of mice bodies all trying to get a feed of the bread. They were very hungry, they must have thought that all their birthdays had come at once.
At just the right time I twisted the key and the detonator exploded, mincing dozens of mice bodies.
Both I and my shot firing companion had a real good laugh at the spectacle. I had heard this trick has been done many times in the past by other shot firer's but it was a first for me.
On thinking about it afterwards I was not proud of myself. I knew that they were 'only' mice But..
More important I had used a detonator illegally, the consequences were potentially dangerous.
This is the first time I have told the story and I do so without any sense of gratification. I did wrong and I openly admit it.
FORTY THREE NORMAN'S GHOST
"Have you heard about Norman C.s ghost?" my dad had said to me as couple of months earlier.
"No, what's the story." I asked.
"I don't know the full tale but that house he bought it seems it's haunted."
Norman C. was a comparative newcomer to the pit scene. He was ex.Royal Navy. He had done his three weeks underground training prior to him working down the pit. He had bought a house in Holbeck, Leeds about two Hundred yards from my house. I afterwards heard much gossip about the haunted house but I could not verify it because Norman worked in a different part of the mine.
One shift I was visiting Norman's place of work. It was months after my father had told me about Norman C.. I remembered his Ghost. I sought him out. When I began quizzing him he was very reluctant at first to tell me the tale. But this is the story exactly as he told it to me:
Soon after he and his wife had bought their house things began to move. They never saw them move but sometimes items would be in a different place from where they had been before they went to sleep the night before. Both blamed the other for moving the items. It soon got to the point where, before going to sleep, they would note where each item was placed in the bedroom. Sure enough next morning something would have been moved. The ornamental candlesticks may have move to the centre of the dressing table instead of at the sides, l the alarm clock would go off at the far end of the room rather than the bedside table.
They had heard small noises upstairs as if someone was moving around but they had put it down to old house noises. a few times their little Six year old daughter had awoken with cries that the little old lady would not go away from the foot of her bed.
One Sunday evening his wife was out visiting her mother. As was usual Norman was getting ready to go to his local pub. He decided that it was a little too cold upstairs to get washed in the bathroom. He took his suit and from the bedroom wardrobe still on its hanger and took it down stairs. He hung the hanger on the doorknob of the door that led from the living room to the hall way. He got washed and shaved in the scullery. (We did not call them kitchens then) When he came out of the scullery into the lounge, his suit had disappeared. He searched both rooms but to no avail. He decided that he must have only thought he had brought his suit down from upstairs. He opened the door to the hall stairway and his suit swung in from the other doorknob. There was no other person in the house. It shook him. He realised that it would have been possible to have hung the hanger on the outside of the door and then swung it sideways, closing the door fast. But why should he do a thing like that.
He was on shifts about. One afternoon he had just finished work. He was entering his outside door into the hallway, the stairs were in front of him. Looking up the stairs he saw a woman walking up the last few steps and was just turning round the stair corner at the top. His wife worked and their child was at school. Not too unconcerned he thought perhaps his wife was not at work and had fetched a visitor home. He opened the living room door on his right, no one was there. Looking into the Scullery, again no one. Calling his wife's name upstairs, there was no reply. He ran up the steps to see who the visitor was. There was no one to be seen. He searched all the upstairs rooms in such a manner that no one could get past him to the stairs. He said his search was so thorough he even took up small carpets. Why he did this he does not know But such was his search of the house. No one could be found. He was definite that the person he saw on the stairs was no apparition. It looked just like any normal lady would.
This, he said, was the final straw. He and his wife contacted their local church and a priest came and chanted prayers and sprinkled holy water in every room. He said that after that, the visitations, movements and noises had ceased. His child had stopped seeing 'little old women'."
I said. "Wow! what a weird tale. So everything at the house has now stopped has it?"
He said "Yes. It's been quite for months now. But last funny enough last Wednesday when I came home from my afternoon shift I came into the lounge and my wife had asked what had I been doing in the hall. I replied nothing, that I had merely been hanging my coat up and had came straight into the room. She said you must have been doing something as you've been making noises in the hallway for a few minutes I could hear your heavy breathing. Oh! yes I said "I did spend a few minutes there. I had been running and I was catching my breath."
He confirmed to me that he had not spent any time in the hallway. He had gone straight into the lounge. But he dare not upset his wife and tell her that.
I've told the tale exactly as I heard it from Norman C.
FORTY FOUR A DEATH
It was late 1959 I had just finished my shift and was walking outwards. As I passed the loader end an old acquaintance of mine said. "Have you heard about Harry Dinsdale.?"
My ears pricked up immediately. "What about Harry?"
"He's been killed on Twenty threes"
"Ah!" I felt a pending of doom." are you sure?" knowing full well miners don't joke or maliciously spread rumours about something serious like this.
"They carried him out past here a half hour ago." affirmed the man.
I was so shocked, it was like losing a father. Harry had been good to me and for me.
No further news was available at that time.
It later transpired that a hug rock had fallen from the roof and forced his upper body into the duffy (machine dust wastings) He had suffocated rather than succumbing to physical damage.
In the old days before Nationalisation if a person was killed down a pit, all work stopped and all miners went home. The National Coal Board realised that this practice was in no ones best interest. The Board lost production and the workers lost wages.
The Coal Board made an offer to the Mineworkers Union. In the event of an underground death, if the men stayed underground and continued to work that day, then they would give a gratia payment to the dead mans next of kin of one Thousand Pounds. This payment would not affect his statutory rights.
The unions accepted the offer.
It was generally accepted though, that the dead mans district could not continue to work.
I certainly could not imagine continuing working on a district that a mate had just died on.
At Harry’s funeral practically all the pit workers attended it was a sad day for all.
A nicer man than Harry you will not find. What is the power that allows good men like Harry to expire prematurely. Where is the reasoning, I'll never fathom it out.
It was not long after Harry death that newspapers began reporting the virtues of Atomic energy. It was to be the next best thing to sliced bread. Someday all energy would be produced this way it was clean and cheap. There would be no need for coal or oil. Coal especially was old fashioned and too expensive, it was to be to be a thing of the past.
It wasn't exactly reported like that but that's how I interpreted it.
I now began to look at my life down the pit. Up to that point I had quite enjoyed being a miner. The money was good. The conditions and work I could handle.
I started looking around me: At the old colliers that looked ready for retirement but were probably only fifteen to Twenty years older than I. The constant coughing and having to stop through shortage of breath and energy. There goes me in a few years time I thought.
I discussed my feelings with my mate Peter Whitehead. He sympathised and confided that he felt exactly the same. He too was looking for a way out of the pits.
From that point on I seriously began to consider at what else I could do. I was only trained to do one thing Mining.
I had a thought, I wouldn't mind being a policeman. I would be trained for the job. Thanks to the mining college I now had a reasonable education. I was more confident now than at any time in my life, education had given me that, not my fighting prowess.
Policemen were respected, the money and conditions of work was good. Okay that was it, I'd be a policeman.
That evening I discussed my idea with my wife. She realised that I had slowly become disillusioned with mining and agreed that a policeman's lot could be a happy one.
I called in at the main Leeds police Station, Milgarth and made enquiries. A senior officer asked me a few questions and said that they would be in later contact.
Two weeks after I received notification of an appointment for tests and interview.
Once there I underwent a physical examination and an intelligence test. I was informed that all was okay.
Then began my interview with a Chief Superintendent. I was asked all sorts of questions regarding the makeup of my personality. I had a clean police record. All was going well. The interview seemed to be succeeding. Then the officer asked me in which branch of the services I had done my National Service.
National Service was still in force at the time. Of course mining was exempt, I told him that.
"Unfortunately the Police Service is not an exempt occupation." was his reply. "It seems that you would have to complete National Service before we could accept you."
The crux of the matter was, that if I were to leave the mining industry then I would have to go into the armed forces.
I left the interview really down. I was trapped. The pit had now become my prison.
Again I mulled over my problem with Peter W. telling him that I was seriously considering joining the army as a career. He seemed interested and said he might consider that outlet. We agreed to talk to our respective wives to sound out their feelings.
Discussing the situation that evening with my wife she was in no uncertain terms about my joining the services. She did not like the idea. I tried to persuade her that I could go in the army and make it a career. We would get married quarters. We could both travel and see the world. She was still against it.
I knew I had to do something, my pit bubble had been burst. From my next shift I began to hate the pit. Whereas before I could look at all the best the pit had to offer me. Now I looked completely on the black side
My shot firing colleagues knew of my decision to join the police. The next day when I saw them they asked what had been the outcome. When I told them they sympathised and asked what I was going to do. I replied that I didn't know. It looked as if I would have to join the army and get that out of the way. I told them that I was thinking along the lines of making the Army a career.
Just then Walter T. who was an old ex army man, said. "You wanted to be a policeman and you have to join the army, why not be an army policeman."
"Army Policeman what's them then?." I replied showing my naiveté.
"They are just like the civil police but they are the army police. They are Military Policemen. They are called Redcaps."
"Because they don't wear a beret like normal soldiers they wear a Red peaked hat and have an arm band with the letters MP. Theirs is the Corps of the Royal Military Police."
From that point I was hooked. Wearing a uniform with a red hat and an armband with MP on sounded great.
I would have to go home and re-talk it all over with my Brenda and I knew what that outcome would be. I couldn't possibly discuss it with her, I was sure she would dissuade me from my course. She certainly would make me change my direction.
That day, after my shift, I again talked to Peter and told him of my wives attitude to my joining the army. He said that his wife wanted whatever he wanted. I told him what I’d heard about the Military Police. He was very interested especially about the MPs and suggested we go and get further information.
We both went down to the Army recruiting offices in Wellington Street, Leeds. After discussion, interviews and tests we were informed that we were both suitable candidates for the Army and that they were prepared to enlist us in Corps of the Royal Military Police.
The upshot being that we both signed there and then for '9/22', Nine years, with the option every three years of re-signing, to a maximum of Twenty two years.
That evening I went home to tell my wife that I had joined up.
Two weeks later Peter and I were on board a train heading for Woking, Surrey, the Depot and Training Establishment of the Royal Military Police.