PART SEVEN: August 1984

LIFE ON THE FRONT LINE
In the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike

Bruce Wilson

PART SEVEN: August 1984

 

The drift back to work “We started to picket our own pit”  

Silverwood Colliery entrance. Miners’ out in force to picket their own pit as two scabs go in to work.
Silverwood Colliery entrance. Miners’ out in force to picket their own pit as two scabs go in to work.

 

Wednesday, 1st August 1984.

Welsh miners barricaded the Welsh NUM headquarters in Pontypridd. Government anti-trade union laws fined them 50,000 pounds for illegal secondary picketing of Llanwern steelworks and Port Talbot. Had a day off today. Heard yesterday that Pye Hill Colliery was closing (exhausted coal reserves) the men had gone on strike. They wanted redundancy, but management want to transfer them to other Notts pits. Which means journeys of one and a half hours for them. Just goes to show how selfish these scabs are. It’s all about ‘themselves’ and all this rubbish about wanting a ballot is just a smokescreen, an excuse to hide behind.

 

Thursday, 2nd August 1984.

Destination today, Cresswell. Got through at Worksop on the A60. Ran a roadblock. A transit van full of pickets in front of us sped through, a copper went to kick the van and missed. He went on his arse. We did the same and got through, nobody followed us. We stopped in the village. A flathead (Senior Officer) threatened me and Shaun with arrest if we went into the shop for some cigs! The maudy bugger. We kept quiet today. One of those days when you know it’s best to keep a low key.

 

Friday, 3rd August 1984.

Scunthorpe Steelworks, ten quid petrol money. Set off at 6.00am. Coppers didn’t waste any time putting roadblocks up, we could not get through. There’s only three ways into Scunthorpe, and each way there’s a bridge. It was a waste of time.

 

Monday, 6th August 1984.

Newstead, South Notts. £9 petrol money. Stopped at Clowne Strike Centre and had breakfast. A nice cup of tea, egg, bacon, tomatoes and a slice of bread for 25p. We set off and got through without trying, through Pleasley. We only came across one jam sandwich (patrol car) the lads got down in the back of the car. Very quiet at Newstead today on the picket line. In fact picketing in general is quiet. I hate to admit it, but it’s getting rather boring. All the good lads nicked or locked up. Going on for 4,000 arrests.

 

Tuesday, 7th August 1984.

Bevercotes, six pounds petrol money. We were supposed to try and catch the ‘Silver Birch’. (a young bloke who was a scab) he has silver grey hair. Couldn’t go, car exhaust knackered and we had to sit and wait to see a solicitor at 10.00am in the Baggin’. Went to the Swinton Civic Hall for our dinner, it only costs 10p.

 

Wednesday, 8th August 1984.

Hope things start brightening up soon on the picket line. Two scabs from Manton Colliery are taking the NUM to court. They are taking an injunction out to stop picketing etc. ‘SCABBING BASTARDS!’ They keep saying on telly they’re Yorkshire miners! Since when has Worksop been in Yorkshire? Who’s pulling their strings?

Today’s orders are different. It’s a night shift, leaving Baggin’ at 8.00pm for Bevercotes, Notts. I can’t go picketing as Gay and the kids are coming back from her mum’s at 7.30pm, and I have to see a solicitor.

Been working on the car all day, exhaust been blowing. Got a new middle piece, but it’s too short. Tuesday night 300 pickets converged on Harworth Colliery. Only 20 police on duty, some of them hospitalized. Pickets nearly flattened the pit top, about 20 scabs’ cars were damaged, havoc was caused, police got hold of maps from pickets showing all the pit locations. Police inspector thinks NUM officials are organizing all this trouble. All pickets carry a map, even me, I wouldn’t get far without one.

This morning a 1000 pickets gathered at Harworth, police waiting for them. There was still some battling going off, police vehicles damaged, cavalry sent in etc etc.

After Harworth on Tuesday night, South Yorkshire pickets went to Silverhill Colliery, South Notts and went on the rampage, forty scab cars were damaged. When they came out of work they were sick as pigs. Then it was Coal House at Doncaster, a few windows were removed, we missed out on a good day.

 

Thursday, 9th August 1984

8.30am start from the Baggin’. Can’t make it due to meeting solicitor. Anyway my car exhaust has had it, my men as sick as pigs, especially Shaun. The dark nights are creeping in, lighting up time 9.15pm. Two weeks ago it was 10pm, soon be winter.

This morning I went to pick the lads up, me our kid and Shaun. Bob Taylor wouldn’t come out of the house, looked like he’d just got up, he needed a shave and didn’t half look rough.

Went to see the solicitor at the Silverwood Miners Welfare, the Solicitor just took statements etc. The man was the branch Secretary from Maltby Colliery, he used to be a magistrate. His idea was to save the NUM money, by not using solicitors so much as they were charging 30 quid an hour. So all them that knows something in the NUM are putting it to good use, doing statements etc.

Today’s destination was Bevercotes, the lads that did get through had to watch themselves, the police were in a mean mood (Essex police). Very quiet on the picket line lately. 4,000 arrests up to date.

Foulstone and Taylor, two scabs from Manton Colliery, Notts went to London to take the NUM to court. They wanted a ballot and to withdraw pickets from Manton pit etc. The Scabbing so and so’s. What they mean is, they want to go to work but are frightened of crossing the picket line. So they want more scabs to join them. And they say its bringing democracy back into the union!

They are like the media and the press, ‘have a ballot’. How many ballots do we have to have? What they mean is, have a ballot and keep having ballots until they get the result ‘they’ want. The minority should follow the majority, if not get the NCB to bus them in.

Notts have had their ballot and it went against a strike by a few thousand, but they all went back to work. So if we had a ballot and the majority voted for strike action, they would still work.

The Government and Macgregor are going all out to break the strike, but so far so good. On telly today they keep saying two Yorkshire miners have gone back to work. But they live and work in Notts! Also there’s a massive drift back to work in Staffordshire etc. About 200 men have gone back to work after their holidays. Holidays? They must have been working before their holidays. We can’t afford holidays. The Government propaganda people must think we’ve got ‘stupid’ painted on our foreheads.

The NCB are drawing plans up to develop a 70 million pound mine in South Wales that will create 700 new jobs. The NUM are looking at this announcement with suspicion and I don’t blame them, it comes at a funny time. The plans for Mardy [Wales] have been on the books for years, so why announce it now? It’s all a bit fishy. I bet Thatcher and her cronies are sweating now, the strike is still solid in Yorkshire. That’s 55 pits, including the Selby Complex. Mind you as soon as the Selby complex comes on stream, a couple of dozen ‘uneconomic’ pits will go.

Northumberland …….Solid
Scotland ……………. Solid
Durham …………….. Solid

Also on telly tonight they were on about the ‘state of the mines’ another propaganda exercise, after six months on strike what do they expect, you will get a bit of damage. The government think there screwing us into the ground, but it’s the other way round. Their trying to screw the working class into the ground, they will just have to keep trying.

 

Friday, 10th August 1984.

Blidworth Colliery South Nottinghamshire. Nine pounds petrol money. Meet at the Silverwood Miners’ Welfare [Baggin’] at 9.am.

We had a right job getting through at first, we went the A619 Worksop to Chesterfield road. It was sealed off, so we had to ‘run a roadblock’ we got through. At Pleasley there was no coppers at all. Someone knows something, that was very strange.

When we got to Blidworth we made our way to the picket line, in front of us there was stood this gigantic copper! He looked like Bernard Breslaw, the actor in the ‘Carry On’ films. We shouted to him, “CAN THA’ EAT THREE SHREDDED WHEAT?” Referring to the telly advert. He looked mean at first but we managed to get a smile out of him.

A quiet day today about 200 pickets got through. I didn’t get home until 2pm. ‘Silver Birch’ (Butcher) an arch scab is from Bevercotes Colliery, a Blacksmith on the pit top. He’s only worked at the pit for five years and during the overtime ban he worked seven days a week. I think that says it all the scabbing bastard.

Blidworth Colliery Nottinghamshire. Striking miners’ on the picket line.
Blidworth Colliery Nottinghamshire. Striking miners’ on the picket line.

 

Monday, 13th August 1984.

Destination Markham Main; Chesterfield, six pounds petrol money.

40 cars full of pickets left Silverwood Miners’ Welfare [The Baggin’] about 12 got through. We set off at 2.00am. Going through Swallownest then Staveley road, absolutely no chance of getting through at all. At 2.00am in the early hours someone knew something! Someone knew our destination. After a lot of dodge-duck-dive and weaving and running the occasional roadblock, we finally got through, using the A619 at the Worksop-Chesterfield road.

On the A619 to Chesterfield we found a side road. The police were using minimum deployment to block both ends of the road off and using the A619 in between near the ‘big pub’ there was a Shireoaks sign. In the near distance we could see lines and lines of police vans with crowds of coppers either stood around or sat in their vans. Probably reinforcements or a quick deployment force to any trouble.

We finally got to Markham at 5.00 am, not bad! Three hours and fifteen miles of farm tracks. We decided to have a nap, we were all wiped out. None of us had been to bed that night, Captain Bob woke us up at 8.30am we were all bleary eyed. It’s a good job we didn’t leave the car unattended some lads returning from the picket line found their car side windows put through and all the wiring under the dashboard ripped out

I always leave my car well away from the pit we are picketing, usually in a housing estate or in public view. But never in a pub carpark, as the Landlord takes car registration numbers and hands them over to the police and certainly not down a country lane.

 

Tuesday, 14th August 1984.

Today’s destination- Flixbo’ Wharf, Sunny Scunny (Scunthorpe).

We set off at 7.30am for Flixboro’, no chance of getting through. The same again, three Bridges to cross to get into Scunthorpe and they’re all blocked off. Bloody hell! Thousands of police, they’ve surrounded Scunthorpe. I think there’s a spy in camp, someone is warning the police and it’s coming from? Well it’s not us lads anyway. Seriously though we have been warned by our NUM to be careful what we say on the phone, there’s a suspicion they are being tapped. I told our NUM official I use smoke signals as my phone has been cut off.

We could not get through to Flixboro’ on the way back approaching a police roadblock on the A18, I was driving steady, Bob Wilson wound the window down and shouted, “what’s the matter now?” to a group of policemen, a thin copper with big lips put his hand in the car and slapped Bob in the face, Bob nearly jumped out of the car to get him, the car door was locked so he couldn’t get out. The copper threatened to arrest me, confiscate the car and make the lads walk home. Fascist Bastards!

After that we got home without incident. It’s a good job the car door was between Bob and the copper. Bob’s got a thing about coppers now. He can’t f***g abide them.

 

Wednesday, 15th August 1984.

Destination – Cresswell, Derbyshire. £5 petrol money, left the Baggin’ at 9.30am. Forty cars left the Baggin ’only five got through. The Notts- Derby’s border is practically impossible to get through, it’s totally sealed off. We got through though. We could have been the decoy or it was just a case of being persistent and lucky.

At Worksop after driving through the old cement works and then the old Steetley Colliery pit yard we went down the A60. Then we came to a police roadblock, Bob Wilson shouted something to a Bobby, the Bobby pulled his truncheon out and started waving it about, then he started laughing.

He told us to turn back, we did and at the first chance I had we turned off onto the Worksop road. Bloody hell we finished up going through the cement works again, then we came to another roadblock, the lads did the usual routine they got down in the back of the car, driving through the coppers who were all parked up and stood around watching, well; they guessed we were pickets, they could see me, but nobody was going to stand in the middle of the road when I was doing 50 mph.

Early morning call for picket duty.  Bob Wilson, Greenpiece’  Cottages.  Haugh, Manor Farm, nr Rotherham.
Early morning call for picket duty.  Bob Wilson, Greenpiece’  Cottages.  Haugh, Manor Farm, nr Rotherham.

 

There’s a hell of a lot of propaganda about miners’ returning to work. The NCB (National Coal Board) insist there is a serious return to work going off. Last week at Bilston Glen in Scotland 70 men went back to work, this week according to them 80 men have gone back. A third of them are safety men then there’s the office cat and her litter of six, the milkman, postman, the bus driver who pulls up outside the pit. They will be breaking all production records next week.

I’ve heard that an underground locomotive driver at Gascoigne Wood Pit in the Selby coalfield has returned to work, they will be producing coal next week according to the NCB.

 

Thursday, 16th August 1984.

Cresswell, North Derbyshire. Set off from the Baggin’ at 9.00am, five pounds petrol money. I pick Captain Bob up every night about 6pm. Eric Cassidy our NUM treasurer or Granville Richardson our NUM official sit at a table with their backs to a wall. Tonight I went up to Eric, he showed me a piece of paper with our next day’s picketing ‘target’ wrote down, along with the departure time from the Baggin’. There’s no talking, just in case the police employ secret lip readers. Seriously though, nobody trusts anyone. If a stranger comes into the club he is asked to leave, or sometimes they don’t even get through the door. I then sign for the petrol money and picket money, I give it to the lads when I pick them up. I’ve got instructions from Daz to save his money until Friday. He doesn’t buy any cigs, he smokes everyone else’s!

I picked the lads up as usual, Shaun last. You should have seen us all this morning sat in the car. God! Did we look rough, not a comb between us, we looked a right bunch of tramps, probably get nicked for vagrancy today and looking at us I wouldn’t blame them.

We managed to get through OK, mind you the police don’t make it too hard when they realize were only going to Cresswell. It would be different if it was Notts!

On the picket line it was fairly quiet so we had a walk round, there must have been at least 2,000 pickets today, went back on the picket line and gave it some scab when they went in. The scabs here are thick skinned, they must be living on a different planet to us, the abuse that’s thrown at them is unbelievable and they take it! Made our way back to the Baggin and had something to eat, then dropped the lads off home.

 

Friday, 17th August 1984.

Cresswell again, five quid petrol money and a pound picket money. Daz will be getting his five quid picket money today what I’ve saved for him. I bet he’s going out tonight. When me and Captain Bob go to the Baggin’ for our orders there’s only two people sat without a pint, and its us!

Now and then I think to myself after a long weeks picketing, wouldn’t it be a bugger if we got arrested and locked up, and couldn’t spend our hard earned five quid picket money down the pub. Now that’s what I call hardship. We just have a cig, a chat and listen to ‘Wham’ on the jukebox. We’re used to it now. Set off with a full team, finding it easier to get through, but I still have to use ‘short-cuts’ like disused railway lines and farm lanes. After six months on strike, I know North Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire like the back of my hand.

When we got to Cresswell there was the usual police presence. Creswell is a dismal place, I would not like to live here, especially in winter. Old terraced houses, back to back and a pit literally in your back garden, mind you they don’t have gardens. A couple of scabs went in. Well, walked in swinging their arms with their snap bags in their hands, some scabs still throw their snap into the pickets and go home. From what I can see they must be bussing most of them in through the back door. I have never seen more than a dozen or so scabs go in. Mind you, I can only be in one place at a time and there are two entrances to the pit, about 300 yards apart.

Driving back on the motorway today I witnessed something very strange. It was a windy day and driving back up the M1 there was an articulated lorry parked on the hard shoulder. As I drove along a gust of wind blew the trailer back doors open for all to see and inside it was full of computer gear on desks lining both sides off the trailer. Women secretaries were sat on stools operating the computers, while I was at Cresswell today one of the lads told me that the management were setting apprentices on if they ‘crossed the picket line’.

I went out with my old dad tonight, he bought me a few pints. At his house I asked him if I could use his telephone, I phoned the Sheffield Star newspaper up and asked them if they were interested in the news that the NCB were setting men on at Cresswell, but they must be ‘prepared to cross a picket line’. They must have taken notice, in the Star a few days later the NCB announced that they were recruiting a few apprentices, electricians and fitters etc and they were not expected to cross picket lines. What they mean is they got found out the crafty bastards.

 

Sunday, 19th August 1984.

Went to a big meeting at the Baggin’. It was closed doors, no one was allowed in unless they worked at Silverwood. An NUM official stood up and requested that anybody present in the room that was not a Silverwood man must leave. Captain Bob was a Cortonwood lad and was asked to leave the room.

It was packed with miners, me and my team stood up and stated that Captain Bob had been picketing for Silverwood with us since the start of the strike, that he was a ‘Silverwood lad now’ and he should be allowed to stay. There was no opposition to our request, in fact there was a lot of smiles in the room. But we had to go through democratic procedures. He was allowed to stay unanimously.

Captain Bob made his way to the bar, all he wanted was a pint, well; it was Sunday afternoon. At the meeting we were told that two Silverwood men would be going in tomorrow. They would arrive anytime between 3.00am and 11.00am. So we are to picket our own pit from tomorrow.

 

Monday, 20th August 1984.

I didn’t sleep at all last night, I got up at 11.00pm and sat drinking tea for a couple of hours. Someone called ‘Massey’ is going into work this morning. I left home at 1.30am and did the usual rounds, picking the lads up, Shaun being the last call, he lives nearest the pit, at East Herringthorpe.

We parked up at the Reresby pub, some of the lads had nodded off! I gave them a shake and we had a steady walk up the railway line that leads to the pit. We came out at the bridge on Hollings Lane, having to climb a steep banking, which lead us back onto the main road.

We made our way to the pit and stood outside the NUM hut. There was a brazier lit, we couldn’t get near the fire as it was too crowded. A good turn out this morning, plenty of us and plenty of police as well by the look of it and I don’t think their very pleased to see us. You can sense the atmosphere given off by the police, the scabs are going in and there’s not a lot we can do about it.

Silverwood Colliery entrance. Miners’ out in force to picket their own pit as two scabs go in to work.
Silverwood Colliery entrance. Miners’ out in force to picket their own pit as two scabs go in to work.

 

Tuesday, 21st August 1984.

After the big meeting on Sunday we started to picket our own pit. I don’t know what time the scab is going in. Got to Silverwood early this morning, about 2.30am.Walking up to the pit in the pitch black we were ambushed by riot police. They pulled up alongside us, jumped out of their vans and set about thirty of us. We lads got some right hammer.

 

Wednesday, 22nd August 1984.

Silverwood. Arrived there for 3.00am, very quiet. Police not standing for any nonsense this morning, talk too loud and you get some boot.

 

Thursday, 23rd August 1984.

I overlaid! Three men sneaked back to work at Kiveton Park yesterday.

 

Friday, 24th August 1984.

Destination, Silverwood, 3.00am. A pound petrol money and a pound picket money. I’m having to push the car home, the petrol money we are getting is just not enough.

Pic 4

 

 

Monday, 27th August 1984.

Silverwood, 3.00am. A quid petrol money. Some lads put a tarpaulin up, it made a lovely tent, and made a brazier for us to keep warm. A bit nippy this morning.

 

Tuesday, 28th August 1984.

I’ve been going to Silverwood for 3.00am and going to the Baggin’ for orders between 6.00pm and 7.00pm the previous evening. I’m not getting a lot of sleep. Sometimes I get down on the settee at home, setting my alarm clock for 1.00am. I can’t help overlaying occasionally.

I’ve had some long days out starting at 1.30am and not getting home until about 2.00pm. I’m tired but still look on the bright side. The boys in blue still expect us, so they have to stop up all hours too. Peering over hedges, sitting in their cars and vans for hours, standing at roadblocks all over Nottinghamshire – just waiting for us! They don’t know were not coming! That fresh air will do them good, keep them fit for the next time we bump into them.

Silverwood Colliery. ‘The official picket’ stood next to the wall at the pit entrance. Some lads put a tarpaulin up, with a nice brazier next to it.
Silverwood Colliery. ‘The official picket’ stood next to the wall at the pit entrance. Some lads put a tarpaulin up, with a nice brazier next to it.

 

Wednesday, 29th August 1984.

Silverwood.,3.00am. A pound petrol money. Quiet this morning, stayed until 8.30am then made our way to the Baggin’ and had a game of snooker, waiting for our food parcels.

 

Thursday, 30th August 1984.

Silverwood for 3 00am. Picked lads up and parked in the pit car park, it’s only a couple of hundred yards walk to the pit entrance and the picket line. Things have been quiet up to now, so I risk leaving the old ‘Battlebus’ on her own. When it’s dark, that worries me because no one can see what’s going on. But the police seem to be in the pit yard all the time and only come out at ‘scab time’.

We stopped until about 9 am then made our way to the Baggin’ for some egg and beans. I think it’s about time they changed the menu, all we do lately is stand on the picket line, next to the brazier farting. Someone will say, “I will name that tune in one” or shout, “the Silverwood Brass Band is playing” and comments of, “it’s like that scene out of the film ‘Blazing Saddles’ here” [when cowboys are sat round the camp fire after eating beans]. The sense of humour breaks the monotony and boredom waiting for the scabs.

 

Friday, August 31st 1984.

Silverwood, 3.00am. Arrived late today, got to the pit about 4.00am. It’s wonderful when we arrive early on the picket line at this time, there’s usually about 20 to 30 pickets and there’s always room round the fire.

The mornings are not too chilly, and we haven’t had a lot of rain. Around 8.00am onwards people going to work pull up alongside the picket line and donate tins of food, potatoes, fruit and a schoolteacher gave us a couple of bags full of apples. It’s the thought that counts!

At the Silverwood Miners’ Welfare tonight, our orders have changed, there seems to be an organised ‘back to work campaign’ going off in Yorkshire. We are going to be very busy from next week. We were told to have a good weekend and report as usual to the Baggin’ Sunday night at 6.00pm. Sounds interesting!


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