LIFE ON THE FRONT LINE
In the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike
PART ELEVEN: January/February 1985
South Yorkshire pit villages under siege.
‘YOU’D FIGHT BACK TOO’
January, February 1985.
My diary entries are less exact now. Some dates are not entered as it was the last thing on my mind after getting home after picket duty. It was getting nasty now. Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse. The police were running amok in the long dark hours accountable to no one.
At Cortonwood Colliery in the village of Brampton, it resembled something out of the Apocalypse. These were very frightening times on the picket line. You had no rights, you were just a striking miner, you were arrested or truncheoned just for being there. You were shown no mercy, you could be hospitalized just for standing on a picket line and exercising your right to demonstrate. All we ever did as striking miners was to have a push against police lines, a bit of fun.
The New Year and early January 1985.
The old battlebus has had it. The ‘Picket Mobile’. I parked her on my mother’s drive at 220 Kilnhurst Road, Rawmarsh and set about breaking her up, it took me two days. All I used were spanners, a hacksaw, hammer and chisels. Started work on her in the morning, and completely stripped her down in two days. All I was left with was an engine and gearbox. Gave them to Razzer [a Silverwood lad] for scrap. He came round and we ‘hand-balled’ them into a small trailer he had on his car. The price of scrap was high, sixty pounds a ton. I weighed the old battle bus in for about eighty pounds, alloy wheels, alloy cylinder head, copper radiator plus other bits and bobs. Our kid, Gordon who was not a miner had a pickup and took the scrap in for me.
Mrs Ridgeway the lady next door, a nice lady came out one day and said that she knew my circumstances, “but don’t ever do that again or I’ll report you to the council” and she meant it!
Thursday, 3rd January 1985.
Got a ‘new’ car – an old Austin Maxi 1750 for thirty pounds. I saw it in the local paper. I borrowed the money to buy it, took it to the Union, showed them the receipt and they gave me thirty pounds back, they even taxed it for me. It’s tested the MOT runs out in June 1985. We’re back on the road again!
Friday, 4th January 1985.
Picked the lads up in the new battle bus MK2. They are impressed! Nice comfortable seats, better views out of the windows etc. Picketing our own pit again, no ‘flying’ this week. Our orders are to arrive at Silverwood for 10.30am. It’s daylight so I parked in the pit car park. As we got out of the car and set off walking to the picket line, we spotted Mr. Nesbit in the car park checking all the cars and inspecting tax discs etc.
Monday, 7th to Friday 11th January 1985.
Our orders are to attend Silverwood all week 10.30am. Cold damp and dull, at least we have a couple of braziers on the picket line to keep warm. A lorry comes now and then delivering a load of old pallets to burn. They’re a God-send, the wood is dry and burns lovely. It’s quiet on the picket line at the moment. No trouble just awkward policemen who park their van’s in front of the tea hut, stopping us getting in. ‘A law unto themselves these lads’. NCB reckon that a 1,000 men went back to work this week.
We have been having some lovely cold weather, snowing all the time, a big freeze on since Christmas. Some Doncaster working miners are taking our Union leaders to court. Arthur Scargill, Mick McGahey and Peter Heathfield for ‘organising all these mass pickets’. If they win it will mean just six pickets at each pit. The government is trying all sorts of tricks to get us down. SO THAT MEANS FOR THE LAST ELEVEN MONTHS ALL THOSE MINERS GOING INTO NOTTS ETC. AND PICKETING THEIR OWN PITS WERE DOING NOTHING ILLEGAL AND HAVE BEEN ARRESTED FOR NOTHING! And who is pushing these scabs to go to court?
There is someone out there who has not got the guts to come face to face with the miners’ The NCB say 1300 men went back to work today. I’m sure they pull the numbers out of a hat! Anyway it still leaves 135,000 on strike!
On our travels to other pits in the early morning darkness, going down country lanes etc. several times we have driven past two or three green scab buses with a line of police transit vans parked up next to them. Men getting out of the vans wearing brand new NCB donkey jackets, shiny new trainers and new ‘T’ shirts. These are not scabs.
Monday, 14th January 1985.
Silverwood, 4.30am. Overlaid for the morning shift, I picked the lads up and went on the afternoon shift. The lads don’t mind it’s cold and freezing. This morning Paul Willis [Silverwood electrician] got nicked outside of the tea hut. The police had deliberately parked a van outside the door stopping us getting in or out. Paul gave it some ‘scab’ as they went in. The police have got it into their heads that the miners are holding the country to ransom and should not be allowed to get away with it. They treat miners like dirt. It’s their job to uphold the law, not to be used politically as strike breakers.
Tuesday, 15th January 1985.
Silverwood 4.30am. Got to the Reresby pub at 5.00am. Parked up and walked up the hill to the pit. The police have been putting roadblocks on Hollings Lane at the narrow bridge. They are doing everything possible to deter us from picketing and keep us away from the pit. The more they try, the more determined we are to picket. After doing a stint at Silverwood we went flying to Kiveton. Missed them, got there too late.
January 21st – 25th 1985.
Silverwood. 4.00am, then Manvers Main colliery. Got to Silverwood at 6.00am, cold dark and grim again this morning, we managed to get a warm next to the brazier, had a couple of hours then went flying to Manvers Main. On the housing estate where I live all of my neighbours are miners and the odd steelworker. I live in the ‘Concrete Canyon’ it’s the local nickname for our housing estate of pre-fabricated pit houses. We purchased it off the Coal Board a couple of years previous for the sum of 3,000 pounds. My neighbour’s are either Silverwood, Kilnhurst or Manvers men.
We set off for Manvers pit near Swinton, drove down the long country road and parked near the pit deputies club. On the picket line I saw a couple of mate’s who I have not seen for a long time, they were picketing their own pit. They told us to be careful, Superintendent Nesbit was in charge and he could be a funny bugger. I told my mates I knew all about him and I was well aware of his antics.
There was a couple of hundred pickets this morning, we stood across from the pit gates, loads of police about. The official picket across the road from us were surrounded by police, they had no intention of letting the pickets talk to the scabs this morning. Then the scab bus came flying up the road with its police escort, we had only been there about forty-five minutes, it happened so fast that if you blinked you would miss them.
Mr. Nesbit came out five minutes later with his loudhailer shouting, “THAT’S IT, EVERYBODY GET OFF HOME” with an added, “YOU’VE GOT FIVE MINUTES.” I was thinking ‘Oh no!’ he’s going to send the riot squad out. Everybody started to disperse and walk back to their cars. We went back to the Baggin’ for some breakfast and a cup of tea.
For the rest of the week our orders were to picket our own pit Silverwood, then fly to Manvers or Cortonwood, ‘The Alamo’.
One morning this week, I can’t remember the exact date. We were on the picket line at Manvers, it was cold dark and miserable, we stood across from the pit entrance. The scabs had gone in, Superintendent Nesbit came out with a loudhailer and a riot helmet on, as he lifted it to his mouth, Dick Rawlings a Manvers Main Union man shouted to him, “MR NESBIT, YOUR FATHER WOULD TURN OVER IN HIS GRAVE IF HE COULD SEE YOU NOW!”
Superintendent Nesbit looked straight at Dick and made a bee-line for him, as he got close to Dick, Nesbit lifted his riot helmet visor up and said, “what did you say?” There was a scuffle, someone tried to bring their helmet visor down onto Dick’s face, he was too quick and moved backwards, several riot police grabbed Dick, he was dragged off and arrested.
For ten minutes it was deathly quiet, pickets faced a line of riot police with truncheons drawn and visors down, this was a stand off and nobody was backing down! The riot police in front of us were just itching for us to make a move. After what seemed like a lifetime, the riot police turned away and went back into the pit yard. A couple of press photographers from the Sheffield star were present and photographed the events. It’s a small world in these mining communities, you can’t keep anything secret. Superintendent Nesbit worked with his father at Aldwarke Main Colliery, at Parkgate near Rotherham, I believe he was a ‘Ripper’ it closed due to exhaustion in the 1960’s. Superintendent Nesbit joined the police force on the pit’s closure.
Friday, 25th January 1985.
Silverwood 4.00am, got to the pit at 6.30am, better late than never! Same again, had a warm next to the brazier chatting and smoking then went flying to Manvers. Got there about 8.30am, a couple of hundred pickets here and a strong police presence and by the looks of it a yard full of riot police. The pit canteen is behind us, next to the main road, shame it’s shut, quiet this morning but it suits me.
Tuesday, 29th January 1985.
Silverwood 6.00am. Picked lads up, got there about 7.00am. Watched the scabs go in. Then a convoy of scab lorries loaded with coal came out of the pit yard. The Government keep saying there is no fuel shortage, I don’t know who their kidding. It must be pit management and scabs who are loading them.
Got the lads together and made our way to Brampton. There were a few hundred miners today. It’s been like this for the last few weeks. Everything is concentrated on the Alamo. We are flyers. Silverwood has got its regular pickets, there is always a good turnout of miners with their wives and kids sat in prams wearing coal not dole stickers.
We walked down to the front line, I got right to the front, the police literally at arms- length. I fell again! Only been stood there a few minutes when up went the cry ‘ZULU’ we all surged forward pushing at the police front lines. A bobby just in front of me grabbed me by the shoulder, then wrapped his arm around mine, “got you!” he said. I pulled my arm out of his grip, elbowing him at the same time and managed to get away. The same bobby grabbed Bill Robson, a Silverwood man and passed him back to his mates, ‘arrested’ I mingled with the pickets. How I got away I don’t know. Not too bad a morning just a few arrests but I wasn’t one of them.
February1985 (no date).
Silverwood for 4.00am. Stayed for an hour then went flying to Cortonwood. Parked the car up on a backstreet in the housing estate, near the working’s men’s club. Walked down to the picket line sticking to the causeway next to the main road, but looking cautiously over garden walls as we came to them. We just don’t trust the police, I would not put it past them to do a ‘Jack-in-a-box’ on us, jumping out, truncheon in hand.
No worries this morning, as we got closer to the front line the pickets were already in action, hundreds of them. When we got to the pit entrance some of the pickets had dragged a massive grass roller off the cricket pitch and were pushing it down the road, towards the police lines. I just stood there watching with Captain Bob. The police front line just parted ranks, it was ever so funny, done so calmly. When the roller went through they just closed ranks again. I bet the police are fed up with clearing all this mess up when we have gone home.
February 1985 (no date).
Destination this morning Cortonwood. Arrived early, in pitch dark, a mass picket again. It’s misty and cold. In the near distance, street lamps gave off an orange glow outlining the shapes of men moving about in the road. Made our way to the front line.
The police want the road clear. We did not get near the pit entrance and neither did anyone else. The riot squad chased us back up the road, all dressed in black, carrying shields and truncheons drawn. I turned to the left, into the housing estate. When I looked behind me whilst still running I could not see them but you could hear them chasing you, mingling in with the dark, I jumped over garden wall after garden wall, with other pickets. We managed to get well away from the pit but constantly looking around us. This went on for hours.
Decided to have a breather, I sat on someone’s garden wall near a crossroads, I could hear what was coming from four directions, I lit a cigarette up, only smoked half when I heard the sound of boot’s running towards me. I looked all over, I looked in all four directions, it was still pitch black and no street lamps here. I could not make out from which direction the noise was coming from. I threw my fag into the garden and ran towards the main road, then headed for the Working Men’s Club.
I bumped into a group of four pickets who had heard the sound of boots in the dark, they ran too. We made our way up to the Working Men’s Club, only walked twenty five yards when a couple of the lads turned round and said, “fucking hell!” I looked round, and in the dark you could just make out the shape of six riot police, little round shield in one hand, truncheon in the other, visors down, the glow of a street lamp behind them highlighting their helmets and visors. Spooky! They had just come out of the housing estate. They were the running boots.
They arrested ‘Tiger’ this morning, two riot police dragging him away. Tiger is a Kilnhurst lad who lived in the ‘concrete canyon’ at Rawmarsh, near me. His photograph was on the front page of the Sheffield Star the next day. ‘Tiger’ was killed in a man-riding accident at Kilnhurst Colliery not long after the strike, jumping off the paddy while it was still moving.
I got talking to Dick Rawlings a Manvers Main NUM official in the Baggin’. He’s been annoying the police and scabs. The scabs are coming from Rotherham police station by bus to Manvers. At Rosehill Park near where we live, Dick waits at the pedestrian crossing. As the scab bus got close to the park he pressed the button, and believe it or not the scab convoy stops and waits at the red light! Dick walks up and down the outside of the bus looking at the scabs and writes their names down in his little book. He does it regular but he has not been arrested yet! (Dick was arrested at Manvers main).
After the strike he went to court and as expected he was found guilty and fined. Superintendent Nesbit was unable to attend, he was in Switzerland on holiday. Dick showed me the photographs the Sheffield Star took. I believe Dick tried to use them for his defence, but to no avail.
Wednesday, 27th February 1985.
I had to go to court today, at Barnsley. Bill Robson had named me as a witness for him, following his arrest at Cortonwood. I couldn’t see the point as I already knew what the outcome would be. Anyway I picked Bill up. He was the engine driver at the top of 3’s drift, and was also a barber by trade. He used to cut men’s hair down the pit for some extra cash.
He would sit you on an old box and give you short back and sides. We went to King Arthur’s castle (NUM headquarters) first, to see a solicitor and get some expense money, petrol money for me. Then went to Barnsley Court House. It was a waste of time. Bill got fined and I got a day out.
February 1985 (no date).
Silverwood, 4.00am. Scabs went in, they are walking in now from the pithead baths across the road. I could see some of their faces. Every pit has its weak men. There seemed to be a lot but probably only 15 or 20, but that’s small compared to the size of the workforce, nearly 1500 men work at Silverwood. One day a lad went in, walking from the pit head baths and across the road. Dave and some other lads recognised him and shouted to him just as he got in the pit yard, saying, “what the fuck are tha’ doing? Get thi’ sen back on picket line.” He turned round came out and joined the lads explaining that he was just wanting to see who was going in. I don’t think he realizes how lucky he was. But he made the right decision.
February 1985. Cortonwood.
The police ran riot, wearing boiler suits with no identification numbers.
As the days moved on things got bad at Cortonwood. The police were getting nasty. In the daytime, it was uniformed police, when darkness came the riot police took over. This was nothing but a strike breaking exercise. After picketing our own pit Silverwood, our orders were to fly to Cortonwood, that’s all we did through January and February. Our pit was like a holiday camp compared to what’s going off here. At Cortonwood, day in day and day out the riot police went into action, keeping us away from the pit entrance.
Went to Cortonwood early this morning. Police are giving miners a rough time, things have changed for the worst. The riot squad continually chasing us through the streets, it came on the news that petrol bombs were being thrown at the police, they weren’t. I was on the picket line and some miners stood next to me threw empty milk bottles at the ranks of riot police and warned them that if they don’t stop their violence then the bottles will have petrol in them next time. They had carried a couple of crates of empty milk bottles from a corner shop. What do the police expect when we keep getting battered and hospitalized?
Anybody in their right mind would fight back. I was chased up the high street. The police were just jumping over walls. No questions asked you were just truncheon into submission or unconsciousness, then arrested.
I ran past some terraced houses on the main road just past the pit entrance, chased by the riot squad, I noticed an old man coming out of his house on my left. He had a donkey jacket on, it was dark and early morning. They stopped chasing me, three riot police jumped over a small garden wall at the front of his house and knocked seven bells out of him, straight in with their truncheons, no kidding!
He turned round to lock his door, you could see he had a luminous patch on the back the back of his jacket, he was a council worker, poor bugger. Imagine coming out of your front door, turning round to lock it and three men in black, with truncheons setting about you. He was only going to work, he went to hospital instead. All morning the police ran riot in the streets of Brampton.
Cortonwood Colliery ‘The Alamo’
Chief Superintendent Nesbit; somebody remove that snowman!
Got there early. There was a fair covering of snow on the ground, it was cold damp and misty. We just stood there on the picket line, pickets and police both blocking the road, facing each other. Noticed someone had built a snowman round a concrete bollard. Some miners started shouting at the police lines, “ARE YOU TAKING PRISONERS TODAY MR NESBIT?”
Superintendent Nesbit does not like anyone referring to him, or comments directed at him, he thinks the pickets are taking the piss. He instructed one of his men to go and flatten the snowman, use force if necessary, he pointed to a Range Rover and said jump in that, I got the impression his men were disobeying a direct order, they all looked away!. So Mr. Nesbit jumped in a brand ‘spanking’ new Range Rover, revs it up and set off, heading straight for the offending snowman. Crash, bang, wallop. Mr. Nesbit didn’t know there was a concrete bollard in the middle! Silly bastard. Mr. Nesbit looks more than upset.
Quiet for the rest of the day. One Range Rover written off. Someone’s going to pay for that, I bet it’s us. Pickets always address Superintendent Nesbit with the lowly title of Mr. Nesbit. We do not acknowledge his rank, which he attained after Arthur Scargill’s arrest at Orgreave.
The next day at Cortonwood
Got there early morning, as daylight came the pickets formed a frontline, blocking the road, facing massed police ranks a few feet away. It was not long before shouts of, “ARE YOU TAKING PRISONERS, MR NESBIT?” And, “ARE YOU COMING OUT TO PLAY MR NESBIT?” Were made, along with, “THERE’S A SNOWMAN OUT HERE MR NESBIT!”
I’m very wary, I know what this man is capable of, I was expecting a truncheon charge. Then all of a sudden a shout of, “ZULU!” we all charged forward in one big push. I was right at the front and got caught in the crush, some lads next to me got lifted by the police. Apart from this the police were easy going this morning. The police have issued new orders to keep the road clear from now on.
February 1985 (no date).
Silverwood 4.00am, then Cortonwood. Arrived at Silverwood did a couple of hours then moved on, went to Cortonwood. It was daylight when we got on the frontline, it was cold and damp. Mr. Nesbit wants the road clear, the police march out and form ranks across the road.
There were loads of pickets today. I was on the front line but back a bit compared to last time, then it happened, some bastard shouted, “ZULU!” and everybody pushed forward. We had a good push against the police ranks, I didn’t go down on the floor for a change. A few lads at the front got snatched by the police. After our ‘push’ had ended the police composed themselves and behind them more police marched up, strengthening the already thick blue line, when they were in position they marched up the road, clearing it, pushing us out of the way, making us stand on the grass banking.
A miner with a sense of humour was stood in the middle of the road with what looked like a ‘home made cotton wool snowman’ about two feet high. I was on the grass banking watching, I had my camera with me, this was too good an opportunity to miss I took three photo’s that showed the events. The picket attracted everybody’s attention by waving his arms and shouting, “MR NESBIT REMOVE THIS OFFENDING SNOWMAN” then he shouted, “MR NESBIT ARREST THAT SNOWMAN!” It was hilarious, the picket line was in uproar.
At first the police made no attempt to move the picket and the offending snowman, you could see the police smirking and grinning. Mr Nesbit is not impressed at all. Then someone gave the order for the picket and the snowman to be removed. The picket was arrested, I don’t know what happened to the snowman. Maybe he got ‘life’ or tortured with a cigarette lighter?
The arresting police officers were very reluctant to arrest the snowman, I’m sure they were smiling when they took them both away. The police seem to be OK as long as the road is kept clear. Captain Bob asked me a question. ‘Na then Bruce, when we have these pushes and Zulus, what would we do if we broke through?’ It set me thinking that one!
February 1985 (no date).
The police keep the road clear now, so this is a good time for a bit of humour. A sequence of photographs by me, showing the ‘artificial snowman’ incident at Cortonwood. The first picture shows a picket waving his arms, shouting to Mr Nesbit to come and remove the offending snowman at his feet. In the middle photo, the picket is marching up and down the road shouting, “arrest that snowman” to applause and laughter from the pickets. In the final photo, someone gave the order for the offending picket and snowman to be removed. I’m sure the police were smiling as they took the picket and snowman away. I wonder what they charged them both with?