LIFE ON THE FRONT LINE
In the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike
PART THREE: April 1984
When we started ‘flying picketing’ I found an old driving atlas and cut the Nottinghamshire page out. I marked off all the Nottinghamshire pits with a ‘black dot’ and put the map in a plastic folder to protect it from wear and tear. This map was referred to all through 1984 in our attempts to beat the police road blocks in Nottinghamshire and North Derbyshire. I also wrote a list of ‘picket police personalities’ a list of the different police forces we faced daily on the picket line and their attitude towards the pickets. In the first few weeks of the strike the police were fairly pleasant and ‘fair’ then all changed. Things changed drastically ‘for the worse’. As far as we [pickets] were concerned none of them had fathers.
I also made a note of various collieries we were sent to picket, including Orgreave and how much petrol money the ‘car driver got’. We almost always set off from the Silverwood Miners Welfare at Dalton near Rotherham. All pickets got a pound a day picket money. In May and June of 1984 we were sent into Nottinghamshire to picket a pit in the early morning and then we would ‘fall back’ to Orgreave later in the morning, for this ‘double picket duty’ we received two pounds picket money.
Sunday, 15th April 1984.
A few days previous while I was working on my car, a neighbour of mine, Mick Tracy or ‘red ragger’ as he was nicknamed down the pit, asked me why I wasn’t out picketing? Mick was in his fifties, I explained about my knee and not being able to walk and all, anyway that Sunday night I went to the Silverwood miners’ welfare club in Dalton, or the Baggin’ as it was known locally, to see what was going off. I put my name down to go picketing, starting the next day. So me, Bob Wilson, Shaun Bisby and Darren ‘Daz’ Goulty got our first flying picket duty, our destination the next day was Bolsover Colliery in Derbyshire.
Monday, 16th April 1984.
I got up early morning it was about 3.00am. I went round knocking all the lads up, we set of with a full team to Bolsover, from what we were told there was 900 men at Bolsover pit, and 400 were on strike. After driving for a while, leaving the south Yorkshire county border, I couldn’t believe what was happening at first. There was road blocks all over manned by police. By Roache Abbey, there’s a road sign there saying ‘welcome to Nottinghamshire’ as we drove past it we were stopped by a police jaguar car, he told us to turn back which I did then he followed us right from Oldcotes crossroads till we reached a sign saying ‘Welcome to South Yorkshire’ population 250,000. The police jaguar following us stopped here and turned back into Nottinghamshire.
This is unbelievable, one side of the road says ‘Welcome to South Yorkshire’, and on the other side of the road facing the opposite way there’s a sign saying ‘Welcome to Nottinghamshire’, what’s going off here? Am I been told where I can go and not go in my own country?
We didn’t give up. I managed to get to Bolsover by going through Dinnington and from there, using country roads right into north Derbyshire. We arrived about 5.15am, it was cold and raining. We stood picketing at the bottom of a hill, and in front of some colliery buildings. There was barbed wire everywhere, it must have been to keep us ‘sheep’ in.
There was a massive police presence, we were stood with a few hundred pickets in front of this colliery building, all was quiet, there was no shouting, in fact the pickets were very quiet just talking between themselves oblivious to their surroundings. Then I noticed something very strange, a couple of pickets shouting at the scabs in the building, waving their arms about in the air and trying to encourage the rest of the mass picket to join in with their verbal abuse. Then they moved quickly to the rear of the picket crowd, these men looked strange they had brand new NCB donkey jackets on, brand new white trainers, lovely new fashionable shirts on. These weren’t striking miners, they looked like they’d just walked out of a Fosters menswear shop. We found out later they were ‘agent provocateurs’.
After standing in the rain and the cold we’d had enough and decided to go to Welbeck colliery in Nottinghamshire. We got through to Welbeck but the police wouldn’t let us anywhere near the pit entrance. We stood as close to the pit entrance as we could a policeman said to us, anybody shouting scab will be arrested, forewarned or what!
It was Surrey police this morning at Welbeck, they tried surrounding us and ‘penning’ us in like sheep, Bob Wilson gave it some Baaaaaa! Baaaaa! He couldn’t have got any closer to being nicked that morning. After picketing was over we made our way back to the car, all our names and addresses were taken by the police, I will have to watch myself now. Common-sense says the police think the car drivers are ‘fair game’ and arrest them, that means the rest of lads walk home. What bastards they are, and its less striking miners on the picket line, I think they call it attrition.
Tuesday, 17th April 1984.
Orders for today, Ollerton colliery Nottinghamshire. I picked the team up early morning again and set off to Ollerton, going through Maltby to Oldcotes crossroads. We were stopped again by the police as we went past the South Yorkshire sign into Nottinghamshire. We gave the police some verbal abuse, telling them ‘who do you think you are’ telling us where we can go and not go in our own country? The police just smirked at us, we’re not going anywhere fast here.
We turned round and started to drive back into South Yorkshire, we felt like royalty for a while, a motorway jam sandwich escorted us out of Notts, and left us again after reaching the county ‘welcoming signs’.
We didn’t give up though we found another way to Worksop, but it was bad even here, loads of cars turned back. We called it a day and went back to the Silverwood miners welfare. When we got there it full of striking miners, pickets like us who had been kicked out of Nottinghamshire. We had a nice cup of tea, I read a few newspapers, then after half an hour I got the lads together and dropped them off home. I was feeling very guilty, the N.U.M. keep giving me petrol money, and I’m not getting through the roadblocks into Nottinghamshire to picket.
Wednesday, 18th April 1984.
Orders for today are Linby Colliery in Notts. I got £10, nine quid petrol money and a pound picket money. I picked the team up and set off into Nottinghamshire. I tried all ways but could only get as far as Worksop, a heavy police presence everywhere. There must have been hundreds of pickets cars turned back this morning, the police have got Nottinghamshire well and truly sewn up.
We made our way back to the Silverwood miners’ welfare, feeling very frustrated. At the welfare we had a cup of tea and a chat and read the papers again. This is getting ridiculous now, things had better change, It’s like a ‘police state’. I have relatives in Nottingham, what if I wanted to visit them? Anyway I dropped the team off home, and see what tomorrow brings.
Thursday, 19th April 1984.
I got our orders from the miners welfare the previous evening. I always went to the club at 6.00pm, I got my petrol money, picket money, the destination was written on a piece of A4 paper, you looked at it, nodded acknowledgement to the NUM official sat at the desk. He asked you the names of pickets going in your car, and you were paid accordingly. Words were kept to a minimum.
Today we were bound for Linby Colliery in Notts, just me and Shaun today. We set off down the M1 motorway, every junction or turn off was swarming with police. I tried to come off at junction 25, but I got turned round and sent back onto the M1 northbound. While being stopped and given directions where to go by the police, we gave a Geordie hitchhiker from Middlesboro’ a lift. A police jaguar patrol car followed us back up to Yorkshire, watching our ‘police state’ poster in the back window of the car, the policeman wasn’t impressed at all!
The Geordie lad in the back of the car couldn’t believe what was happening, but he’d seen it for himself now. When we reached the ‘Welcome to south Yorkshire sign’ near Woodall services on the M1, the policeman in the jag patrol car zoomed off. We got back to the welfare club, had a cuppa and relaxed for a bit then I dropped Shaun off at home. I got 9 quid petrol money, and hardly used it, but it puts me in front for when I travel up and down country roads and going off the beaten track.
We never got to Linby today, I reported to the Baggin’ at teatime and got another 9 pound petrol money, destination tomorrow, Linby again.
Friday, 20th April 1984.
We set of for Linby Colliery in the early morning, we were still novices and learning. I set off southbound down the M1 motorway, I should have known better. I came off at every motorway junction right down to junction 25 and at every junction we got stopped by the police. They searched the car boot, then we were told to get back on the motorway, at the last junction (25) we went up the slip road and was waved over by another policeman, he told us to get out of the car and then he took our names and addresses.
A policeman opened my car boot, looked in, had a quick rummage then he shut it, but he had left his black leather gloves on top of the car boot! As I got back in the car and about to set off the bobby asked me if I’d forgot my gloves, those on the car boot? I said, “yes they’re mine”, this was very puzzling. So I drove off the proud owner of a pair of new black leather gloves. I never wore them, I don’t know where they’ve been, I see them as a trophy, and a bobby with a pair of cold hands.
Monday, 23rd April 1984.
Got our orders from the Baggin. Destination Harworth Colliery. Notts. When we got there it was a mass picket, there must have been 10,000 pickets and thousands of police. It was surprisingly quiet although there were a few arrests. We were stood dead opposite the pit entrance. The police stood in front of us went and asked a lady householder if they could stand in her front garden.
Tuesday, 24th April 1984.
Same again today Harworth Colliery. We arrived at 4.30am. There was me, Bob Wilson, Bob Taylor and Shaun Bisby. It turned out we were a decoy today only 30 pickets got through and that was including us. The police would let so many pickets into Nottinghamshire to see where they went. Then they could deploy and concentrate their forces on the target. The police today were Eastenders from London and what bastards they were. Arresting anybody for anything.
Wednesday, 25th April 1984.
Today’s orders – Cresswell Colliery, North Derbyshire. We arrived on time, no trouble getting here and another mass picket on today. There must have been 10,000 pickets here and 2,000 police. There was loads of trouble this morning, all hell was let loose at times. This was an experience coming here, it was like going back a hundred years in time. The pit headgear sticking out into the sky, surrounded by very old buildings. It was like Coronation Street with a coal mine in the background. The pit was surrounded by little terraced back to back terraced houses.
Thursday, 26th April 1984.
Destination, Bevercotes Colliery, Notts today. We managed to get through and there were about 2,000 pickets. Merseyside police on duty today with South Yorkshire police horses to back them up. A scab drove through the picket line and had his windscreen put through.
An elderly striking miner stood next to me wanted to answer the call of nature. He left the picket line and set off walking to some nearby bushes, but he was stopped by the police and told to “get back on the picket line” and do it there. The elderly miner carried on making his way to the bushes, two coppers followed him, one of them smacked him and the other copper dragged him off and arrested him. We were surrounded by police and could not help the elderly miner.
Friday, April 27th 1984.
Agecroft Colliery, Manchester. Got our orders the previous evening from the ‘Baggin’, a very different destination today. It’s an early start for Agecroft colliery near Manchester. The pit was not far from the motorway and was situated at the bottom of a hill, not that steep just a steady gradient down. As we arrived the sun was just rising and there was a nip in the air. There was not that many police here either and they didn’t look that interested.
We were told to stop in a group across the road from the pit. A line of police stood in front of us. Across the road there was another few dozen police, a few scabs arrived in their cars and went in. We got bored and left the main body of pickets making our way to a road junction that was an entrance to the pit. There was a couple of policemen across the road from us, so we thought we would have a bit of fun. At first the bobbies seemed to be oblivious to us, they were not the least bit interested, so me and Daz picked Shaun up and charged the two policemen using Shaun as a makeshift battering ram. All in fun, they just looked at us gone out, no sense of humour or what? I even explained to them what we were doing. These police seem too good to be true.
We decided to push our luck and climb into the pit yard through a gap in the chain link fencing. Me, Daz and Shaun and some more pickets, we all walked up to the mine shaft, literally. No police. We went up to the shaft and some lads started dropping objects down. You could hear the clanging of lumps of scrap and bricks hitting the sides of the shaft as they dropped down. Then it went quiet as they fell out of ear range. After this we all had a walk round the pit top armed with lumps of metal, there was nobody here and nobody challenged us!
We have never experienced anything else like this before. Freedom of the pit top, surely the police know we are here? They just don’t seem bothered, we carried on scouting round the pit top, we had the freedom to do what we wanted. Someone told us the day shift had gone down the pit and were not due out till dinner time, so there is men down the pit and pickets have been chucking stuff down the shaft, bloody hell! After an hour we all decided to go back to the main picket. A good day today and we all got home safe.
Captain Bob Taylor joins up with the team, April 1984.
Thinking about it I know I was on strike but I was one of the lucky ones, living with my parents I had a roof over my head, no rent to pay and they fed me. If I had been on my own I would probably ended up sleeping on a park bench. The only income I received was a pound a day picket money and as time wore on I got a welcome food parcel, but no matter how hard it was, I would never ever dream of crossing that sacred picket line.
I lived at Rawmarsh but it was still three and a half miles to my pit Cortonwood. At the start of the strike I used to walk it everyday and stand with my mates, I didn’t get a chance to be a flying picket at my own pit. Some of my mates who worked at Silverwood pit told me to get myself down to the Baggin’ [Silverwood miners welfare] on a Sunday afternoon and have a chat with Granville Richardson the, NUM president. So I got myself down.
Granville fixed me up with Bruce, a lad from Rawmarsh like me, but he had a car, and who I was going to go picketing for the next 12 months, as a ‘flying picket’. The story begins! Only this is no fairytale, its fact.
The first morning with Bruce, he picked me up at 5.00am. I was tense, not knowing what I was in for, I’d heard rumours about what happens on the picket line with the so called police and the pickets. Anyway, Bruce picked me up first then we picked 2 more flying pickets up, Bob Wilson, Bruce’s younger brother and Shaun Bisby from East Herrinthorpe, Bruce’s workmate. So the four of us set off for Nottinghamshire and I did my first flying picket duty.
One day very early morning as we were leaving the Baggin’ we noticed a police patrol car parked up across from the miners welfare, watching how many pickets cars were leaving and which way they were heading. As we set off for Nottinghamshire and got on the motorway it wasn’t long before we got pulled over, the police stopped us and told us to turn round, if not “you would be arrested” and they say Notts isn’t a police state!
Anyway Bruce said to us, “do you want to go home, or do we try another way in?” We all agreed to go for it and keep trying, f**k em! We finished up driving down this country lane trying to beat the roadblocks, if we could make it to Pleasley, border country we might stand a chance but not today police everywhere. We gave up that morning and came home, never mind tomorrow is another day. The first day with Bruce’s team was over.
The next day we set of for Notts again. We got to Pleasley near Mansfield, but there was a police roadblock on the corner so Bruce had a bright idea. He said, “if you all get out of the car and walk across the fields I will meet you all further down the road. I stand a better chance of getting through on my own when the police stop me.”
So all four of us got out of the car and made our way into this farmer’s field, we climbed over barbed wire fences and jumped over streams. I was a big lad then and when we jumped over a stream, I always landed in the middle or two foot from the other side. When we met up again Bruce was in hysterics, he couldn’t stop laughing. We asked him what he was laughing at?
“Well today lads, there wasn’t a road block” he replied. As you can imagine we gave him some right verbal abuse, he could be a bastard at times, we had to watch him!
Sometimes when we got into Notts and it was very rare by now that we didn’t, we would do our picket duty and when the rest of the picket went home, or we couldn’t get to our original destination, we would go somewhere else to make a day of it. One day approaching Ollerton crossroads in deepest Nottinghamshire, Bruce said, “get down everybody, police roadblock in front.” He would drive straight through it, but yet he would keep saying, “keep down, we’re not clear yet” and he would leave us all squashed up in the bottom of the car for ten minutes telling us to stay down. He thought it was funny! Well you have to laugh.
Captain Bob Taylor.