LIFE ON THE FRONT LINE
In the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike
PART TEN: November/December 1984
It breaks my heart to see,
and I cannot interfere,
In what is happening in our country,
this terrible strike,
of the best men in the world, who beat
the Kaiser’s army and Hitler’s army,
and never gave in.
November 13th 1984. Former Tory premier, Harold Macmillan delivered a devastating attack on Mrs Thatcher’s Britain. The 90 year old Earl used his first speech as a member of the House of Lords, to spell out his heartbreak “over the hatred” dividing north from south- and the “terrible” pit strike.
Thursday, 1st November 1984.
Silverwood. Days. All quiet, glad, enjoying the quietness, everybody behaving themselves. A man from a school drove up to the picket line today and gave us some apples. I took some home for the family.
Friday, 2nd November 1984.
Silverwood. On the early day shift again. Watched the scabs go in. Decided to go down to the Rotherham Assembly rooms where there was clothing donated by Germany and other European countries. We swallowed our pride and went down to see what was on offer for now’t I got a lovely thick woollen jumper, well made and warm, they know how to make good quality clothes in Germany. I think the previous owner of my “new jumper” must have been an alpine skier.
Shaun was looking at all the clothes on the rails. I told him Calender News was filming him for the tea time news. He dropped what he was holding like a hot brick and shot off. It’s embarrassing and it hurts your pride, accepting cast-offs but we needed warm clothes badly, especially now the weathers turning.
My new jumper was ideal for the picket line, not too cumbersome, freedom of movement, not too heavy to slow you down when chased by the police. Perfect for picket duty. Went home re-clothed and kitted out at teatime.
Saturday morning I went with Arthur Brasher and another Kilnhurst miner, picking coal. We went by the side of the bridge at Kilnhurst, near to the pit. You could tell it was crap coal as soon as you saw it, I tried burning some of the ‘coal’ over the weekend. It’s a good job I only got a few bags. It didn’t burn, I finished up spreading it on the garden to get rid of it.
Monday, 5th November 1984.
Silverwood. Early day shift. I picked lads up, had a cup of tea at the Baggin’ then went to the pit about 6.00am. A lovely fresh morning. It’s getting boring now just stood outside the pit gates shouting at the scabs when they go into work. Then we go home. It’s too cold to go anywhere else anyway. We have got no fuel to keep the house warm and I’ve got two little kids. Our daughter is 14 months old, and our lad is 4 years old. Mind you, Thatcher’s not bothered.
Went to see Rotherham Council, they gave us a bag of smokeless fuel, their giving us one bag a week. To pay back after the strike ends. And we only get that because we have little kids “under a certain age”. But tonight we will be warm, we have a sack of coke!
Tuesday, 6th November 1984.
Same again, Silverwood, 5.00am. There’s not many scabs going in at Silverwood, but it’s strange how everybody knows all their names. I can’t see them properly on the bus when it comes down the hill into the pit yard. The bus windows are dirty, they have metal mesh guards on all the windows. And most scabs look away as they drive past us.
We made our way home at 8.30am, the picket line was fully manned, the 9-5 shift came on, or the women turn up after taking the kids to school. I’ve got two pounds to my name. Two days picket money. And I’m going to invest in a ‘Bow-saw’, to cut some wood up to keep me and my family warm. I went to the local DIY store and got a bow-saw blade for one pound and twenty five pence. I’ve got the saw, courtesy of the NCB, Silverwood.
No coal, no money. I set off for the nearest wood. I found a small one, across from Lynskeys excavations at Kilnhurst. Three days I was at it, leaving a wood with no trees in the middle. When I’d done I had a pile of logs as high as me in our shed at home. Lighting the fire at home, I got it going by using a few old shoes as firelighters. I got some right fires going! Think we will need a new Parkray soon, the heat is melting all the metal bars in the fire. But the house is lovely and warm though.
A quiet month. We mainly went to Silverwood our own pit. It wasn’t too bad, everyone was still full of beans, laughing and joking. I get a feeling the police don’t like this. I think they just want to go home! It’s cold. We have a couple of fires going on the picket line, they don’t. They are maudy buggers at times. They stand in front of the tea hut, but they never go in and buy anything. I don’t think the couple running it would serve them anyway.
We went to Kilnhurst Colliery a few times, it’s just a mile down the road from our house, and it looks like being a nightmare for the police. Kilnhurst pit entrance is on a hair-pin bend in the road. At either end of the road there is a bridge, and one length of the road has a canal running parallel to it. When the scabs went in from the canal side not much effort was made to stop them. But if they came the other way, via Kilnhurst Road and under the low bridge. ‘Well’ they weren’t thick. Anyway I think the NUM are not too worried about Kilnhurst.
One morning in November 1984.
After picketing our own pit Silverwood, we were given instructions to go ‘flying’ to Kilnhurst pit. It’s not far, when we got there it was quiet, too quiet. It was daylight, 10.00am in the morning. There were about 200 of us and as many police. All of a sudden dozens of police came marching out of the pit yard in two’s. ‘Bloody hell someone had kept them well hidden’ we thought they were coming for us, I looked around to see where I could get away.
They totally ignored us and marched towards a scrapyard behind us. They marched past us like the Coldstream guards, swinging their arms and looking straight forward. We could not believe it, they marched into the scrap yard and ‘took it!’ It turned out that the owner had allegedly been dealing with stolen motors, breaking them up for spare parts. The way they marched at us, I thought they were going to break us up for spare parts! Today they thought more of stolen cars then scabs.
One morning in November 1984.
Looks like ‘action stations’ this morning. We meet in the Baggin’ at midnight. Looks like there’s some scabs going in at Kilnhurst pit. I bet they don’t live round here. If so, they must be stupid. I did the usual routine picking the lads up. I was ready for this one. We are going to Kilnhurst pit, it’s ‘home ground’ just a mile from our house and I know the area like the back of my hand.
At 1.00am we set off, we were expecting some fun. We parked up safe and walked down to the low bridge, then cautiously to the pit entrance, doesn’t look like there’s a heavy police presence, but we don’t know what they’ve got in the pit yard. Made our way back to the low bridge and climbed up onto the top. Well! It was like we were holding a castle wall.
Police transit vans came out of the pit yard and started patrolling the road in the both directions. On the bridge there was unlimited supplies of ‘ammo’ at our feet [railway ballast] and nothing but miles of countryside around us. It was dark and quiet, you could hear yourself breathing. Then they came! Vans full of police, cruising up slowly and then stopping a good fifty yards away from us, they couldn’t see us. But they knew we were there. It was very frustrating, they would just not come any closer. We never saw any riot squad. All night the police vans drove up and down that road, but they would not come near that bridge. We all sneaked off about 4.00am, leaving the police thinking we were still there.
Thursday, 6th December 1984.
Silverwood, 3.00am, then Thurcroft and Dinnington pits. Didn’t stop long at Silverwood. We had a run to Thurcroft first. Parked up in the housing estate, just past where you go over the M18 motorway, and walked to the pit. On the right hand bend in the road, there stands a pub.
The lane to the pit branches off to the left. There was a big patch of grass, about 100 pickets standing there. It was early morning and dark, and all quiet, then it turned nasty, the police surrounded us in numbers, the atmosphere was very tense, it was a cold morning, some pickets had black balaclava’s on with slits where the mouth and eyes are. After they had surrounded and outnumbered us, a high ranking police officer in a flat hat started pointing at people on the picket line, which resembled a sheep pen by now, his men would rush in and grab someone, usually a picket with a balaclava on. It was terrible, you felt very vulnerable and we could do nothing about it. You just wondered if ‘you were next’. There were women amongst us too.
The police arrested who they wanted, within a few minutes I saw three young miners dragged from the ‘sheep pen’ the police ignoring cries of dismay and disgust. One women asked for her son back. The police ignored her. Some of the women were terrified, you felt so helpless. Me and my crew decided to move on. We ended up at Dinnington Colliery a couple of miles away. There was about 150 of us, we stood dead across from the pit entrance on the causeway, it was still dark.
For a short while it was quiet, just ordinary police in front of us. Then all of a sudden the ‘snatch squad’ came marching out of the pit yard. Big bastards, all 6ft 6inches tall, built like brick shit houses and wearing fluorescent jackets with no identification numbers on! We had only been facing them for five minutes when one of them reached out and grabbed Bob Wilson, he pulled back into the crowd of miners, the police hung onto him, but as big as they were, they would not come into the crowd of miners.
Some pickets crowded round Bob to shield him, I put my arm round his and wrapped my other arm round a lampost. For a few minutes, me and the snatch squad were playing tug-of-war with Bob in the middle. Then one of the snatch squad leant over and grabbed my nose, he twisted it between his fingers that was painful! Sorry to say I had to let go. This was about 6.30am. They took him into the pit yard, two big bugger’s, one either side of him. They took him round the back and told him to stop struggling ‘nobody can see us now’ they said, or we will knock the shit out of you. At least they gave him an option. Bob decided to ‘go quietly’. He finished up fined 400 pounds, but it could have been much worse. The NUM paid his fine (see 14th December entry).
Friday, 7th December 1984.
Manvers Colliery, 5.30am. About 300 pickets turned out, quiet no trouble. Went to Doncaster court this morning. My brother Bob Wilson was freed on bail at 1.15pm. He had been held in custody for 33 hours! It turned out that the motorbike bobby that Bob had jumped out on, and went ‘Boo!’ frightening him at Yorkshire Main Colliery was at Dinnington that morning. He pointed Bob out to the snatch squad. Bob got charged with a right shopping list of offences, assault, criminal damage, GBH etc, and all he had done was scare a copper on his bike. Bob thinks he’s lucky, they didn’t charge him with attempted murder, must have been a sympathetic judge.
Monday, 10th December 1984.
Shirebrook, North Derbyshire. Told to expect roadblocks. We set off from the Baggin’ at 11pm and got there at midnight. Supped tea and played cards all night in the club. Started picketing from 4.45am. Scouse (Liverpool) police on duty. Everything was alright until the Notts police came. Then the scabs arrived, six or seven coaches of them followed by a few cars. Out of 800 men employed at the pit I reckon there’s 600 going into work. The official picket managed to turn the Deputies back. An under manager was at the pit gates trying to coax them in. The pickets have managed to turn the Deputies back for the last few weeks. The Shirebrook strikers told us that for the last few weeks 600 scabs have been stuck on the pit top, arguing about only being paid day-wage and how cold it is!
Friday, 14th December 1984.
The following statement, supplied on behalf of Mr Robert Wilson, concerning his whereabouts on the 13th September 1984 when he was charged with various offences that took place at Yorkshire Main Colliery, near Doncaster, during a mass picket. He was accused of trying to knock a police motorcyclist off his motorbike, amongst other things. The charges were serious, he wouldn’t be going to the pub for a while! Bob was caught later on at Dinnington, the sharp eyed motorbike cop spotted Bob on the picket line and the snatch squad grabbed him. So I had to tell a few little white lies, coupled with me having an attack of ‘amnesia’ as well. I played them at their own game.
Thursday 13th September 1984. I Bruce Wilson, set off to pick my regular team up for picket duty. We would picket our own pit, Silverwood Colliery. At 1.00am I picked Mr Robert Wilson up first as he lived closest to me. After picking the rest of the lads up, we arrived at Silverwood Colliery about 3.00am. Apart from myself, there was Robert Wilson, Robert Taylor, Darren Goulty and Shaun Bisby. We usually did a stint of 5 or 6 hours.
That morning, the two working miners went in about 4.00am. There was a push, something went on at the frontline and a miner was arrested. His name was Craig Dimbleby. Mr Dimbleby was taken into the pit yard by the police. Our NUM treasurer, Mr Eric Cassidy, one of the six official pickets allowed, exchanged a few words with the officer in charge and Mr Dimbleby was released. Mr Dimbleby remembers Mr R Wilson well, because he was one of the first miners he spoke to after his release.
We stopped at Silverwood until about 8.00am. Then I dropped the lads off home, at their houses. We did not go anywhere else, as our union only gave me two pounds petrol money. My car is a Triumph 2500 TC and only does about 23 miles to the gallon. My home is about five miles from the pit. We stopped flying to other areas. Notts, Derbyshire etc in late August so as to concentrate on picketing our own pit, Silverwood.
The NUM verify us as being present at Silverwood that morning. I cannot get a copy of their records for obvious reasons (their records show that we signed a form to collect our one pound picket money on that morning).
The first part of the letter is true, young Craig getting nicked etc. but our morning’s orders were to fly to Yorkshire Main after the scabs went in at Silverwood. All is fair in love and war (they say). My statement did not work, our kid got a 400 pound fine, the NUM paid it for him.
An up to date list of scabs going into work at Silverwood Colliery on December 14th 1984. There are approximately twelve men.
A diesel foreman.
A safety officer.
A Miner, who wrote a letter to the NUM wanting to rejoin the strike, but he’s still going in. At one time the NUM were paying his rent and helping him out financially.
A miner who used to collect for the miners outside the Assembly rooms in Rotherham. He got caught fiddling, and even took the collection box with him when he scabbed.
An underground loco-driver, he grassed on a lot of Silverwood men, some are still doing time in Armley prison. He told the management he would go back to work on condition that ‘He got a new start after the strike had ended’ He wanted to move to the new Selby coalfield, new house, new job etc (after the strike all Silverwood scabs were transferred to Cresswell, North Derbyshire, or Clipstone, Notts). He did not get what he wanted.
A miner who was employed underground as a Becorit driver (man-rider) he thinks nobody knows he’s going in, he even went for his food hamper the other day along with his mate who’s scabbing.
A man who works in the medical Centre.
A scab who was one of the first to go in. A picket line bobby ran off with his wife.
A scab who used to work weekends when the overtime ban was on.
A man who worked in the time office.
A man who is up at Sheffield Court next week for alleged offences against a young girl.
It’s getting close to Christmas. Just picketing our own pit Silverwood. We had a few excursions to Kilnhurst and Treeton Collieries. Stopped picketing one week before Christmas and then had nearly two weeks off.
Gay’s mum sent us a food parcel containing a few things that we could not afford. The kids didn’t do too bad. We took them on a round of Christmas parties. One at the Baggin’ one at the Cricket club (Rawmarsh) and a couple of others. Then there was the school parties. Our Suzanne is only fifteen months old, Ricky is four, she’s not old enough to know what’s going on. Our little lad got a present, or a little gift of money at the parties.
Gordon, one of my younger brothers, sent us a Christmas card but when I opened it he had sellotaped a teabag inside! ‘Have a drink on me.’ Any other time we would have found it funny but it’s hard for us at the moment. It’s a bad time to be a comedian. We hardly had any coal left, we were burning old shoes, in fact anything that would throw a bit of heat off to keep us warm and give a bit of warm water. Mind you, he meant well and over Christmas he bought me a few pints. He thought the teabag joke really funny.
A neighbour brought round a bag of apples and oranges, I thanked him, then looked in the bag, bloody hell! Most of them were green and mouldy! Well, like they say, it’s the thought that counts but were not that desperate. I waited for half an hour then I ran outside and put them in the bin.
We did not go without food and the basics, fuel was my main worry, Rotherham Council are delivering us one bag of fuel a week, we got two bags delivered just before Christmas, but that’s got to last for two weeks and everyone’s on holiday.
We did the rounds of kids Christmas parties. The Fighting Cocks pub at Rawmarsh had a kid’s party and they all got presents. Then we went to the Baggin’ where they got a present and some money. Then we took them to the Titanic (WMC) Gay bought a second hand rocking horse for our Suzanne for two pounds. Our Rick got a boxing punch bag from Gay’s catalogue, the little bugger woke us up at 7.00am Christmas morning knocking seven bells out of it. Grandparents sent them a few presents as well, so they didn’t do too bad considering.
Went out with Gay a couple of times over Christmas. On Boxing Day we had a good night out. A few years ago my grandma gave me some sets of 1981 and 1982 coins of Great Britain, I used them to go out with. We were sat in the pub one night and the local poacher came in, “rabbit’s a pound each” he shouted. I called him over and put my hand in my pocket, my mate sat next to me said, “meeeeow!” I asked him what he was on about? He said, “meeoow.” I asked him to explain, he said, “that’s Jim, never buy a rabbit of him without it’s head on. You can’t tell the difference between a pussycat and a rabbit when it’s skinned and no head on.” I looked in Jim’s bag and pulled my hand out of my pocket and told Jim I’d changed my mind. My mate explained that we were on strike and people are doing anything to survive. No rabbit stew for us then!
Christmas day was nice, apart from being woken up at 7.00am to the sounds of a punch bag being clobbered. We had a lovely Christmas Day dinner, Gay bought a cheap ‘Bernard Matthews’ turkey breast joint and we all put a silly hat on out of our crackers. It was lovely having a rest from the picket line over Christmas and the New Year. Me and our Gordon had many a laugh over his ‘teabag joke’ although at the time we did not have two pennies to rub together, hardly any coal and Margaret Thatcher is throwing everything she’s got at us, Including the kitchen sink.