LIFE ON THE FRONT LINE
In the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike
PART TWO: March 1984
IT MAY STRIKE A CHORD
At the beginning of the strike ‘flying picketing’ up and down the country was pleasant, fun and very enjoyable, away from the mine working deep underground. ‘On the top’ enjoying fresh air and sunshine, laughing and joking with the police, even playing football or games with them. Having a little ‘push’ against their lines to relieve boredom. As time wore on it became nasty, frightening at times, worried for your safety.
Who were these men in uniform telling us we could not travel freely in our own Country? Stopping us and telling us to get out of our cars and then arresting us as they wished for nothing. Telling us Yorkshire miners to ‘piss of back to Yorkshire’ where you come from. I for one was brought up to respect the police. Then in the midst of this long and bitter strike Margaret Thatcher called the striking miners ‘the enemy within’. My forefathers fought and died in two world wars so I could live in a free and democratic society and I’ve got their medals to prove it.
After returning from picket duty somewhere in the country it was good to return to ‘The Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire’ as Margaret Thatcher called it. As the strike dragged on it turned into an all-out-war. Mining villages invaded by hordes of police in full riot gear many in boiler suits with no identification numbers on. Battles on the picket lines. How the police reacted when miners’ turned on them. They were used to people ‘doing what they were told’.
Anyone who read’s this ‘strike diary’ will no doubt be shocked at the tactics reverted to. Ambushing and setting traps, ignoring police instructions. We fought long and hard. We were fighting not just for ‘our pit’ and community, but for the coal mine and its community ‘down the road’. Read this story and you may begin to understand why we fought so hard and for so long. Then think to yourself maybe my father, grandfather, brother or uncle was a striking miner? Then imagine being called ‘The enemy within’. It may strike a chord!
Come on the journey of a lifetime with me. Experience a rollercoaster ride of emotions you never knew you had. Let me take you on a 12 month journey with five young men fighting for their jobs and communities, the sadness of losing a baby half way through the strike, the humour, comradeship, bitterness, compassion, frustration, fear and hate. And the days when your brain just shuts any emotions out, numbed not able to comprehend what was going off around you. But above all, the loyalty.
Are you ready to go? Let’s ride!
First stop Nottinghamshire, April 1984, into what seemed like a police state.
Friday night, 2nd March 1984.
Me and my mate Shaun went on the Friday night shift starting at 6pm. Our last shift of the week. We finished at 1.15am, I was the locomotive driver and Shaun was my loco guard. It was Saturday morning, we had done our shift and nothing unusual happened or was discussed, it was just an ordinary shift to us.
We did our job then at 1am we fetched the development men off the district on our paddy mail, a flat mine car which the men rode on, illegal but you couldn’t see the men walk that distance to the pit bottom you were talking a good mile walk.
We then parked our loco up and made our way to the pit bottom, just a few hundred yards walk. I said to Shaun I’ve got a feeling we won’t be coming back down the pit for a while and we talked about the possibilities of a strike. I said, “I think it’s going to be a strike, an indefinite one, if so it’s a shame as I’ve only got enough coal left for about a week and we have got two little kids at home. There’s a big meeting at the Silverwood Miners Welfare on Sunday morning the 4th March.”
In the pit baths that night one or two miners were discussing what was going off, the comments and feelings of most men I’ve talked to or overheard is ‘to work’ but the union is going to recommend industrial action. Always back your union, without them you’re lost. I for one will follow my Union, there’s something big going off at the moment but I don’t know what it is.
Sunday morning 4th March 1984.
I picked Shaun my mate up from East Herringthorpe and we got to the miners welfare early. It was absolutely choc-a-block, the N.U.M. men got on the stage and there was a very good case put across in favour of the union recommendation to strike. A couple of miners put their hands up and argued their case to work, everybody listened, everyone’s view was listened to and respected.
Then came the vote. A hand near me shot up in the air, mine followed second then all the workingman’s club concert room was full of hands in the air, hundreds of miners voting for industrial action we are on strike as of from now. We left the club me and Shaun, I dropped him off home then I made my way home and told my wife, “that’s it were on strike.”
Monday, March 5th 1984. The first few weeks.
The first week on strike my wife Gay is poorly she’s been in bed all week, I’m having to look after our two little kids. Ricky our little lad is 3yrs old and our daughter Suzanne is 6 months old, it’s nice to spend time with your family not in these circumstances though.
It’s the weekend now and Gay is feeling better. Now I’ve got a massive boil on my left knee, it’s infected and very painful. I couldn’t walk for a fortnight. We have no coal left and I’m struggling to get about. We are burning wood or anything that burns, it’s not too bad in the day time, it’s been sunny and warm, but at night time its freezing. I’m managing to get the house warm at night and a having a bit of warm water as well.
I was that poorly we got the doctor to pay a home visit. On a sunny March morning Doctor Venkit from Parkgate Surgery came and saw me. He gave me a prescription for antibiotics and a sick note for two weeks. I didn’t realize at the time what a blessing this sick note would be. The prescription though; cost me and the wife our last three quid, that’s all the money we had in the world, but I had to get my antibiotics, I never saw a doctor in my life; unless I was dying.
Last week I had my wages paid into the bank and it’s all gone. But I sent the sick note in and for the next two weeks I get sick pay of thirty pounds a week. It’s better than nothing, most people living next to me or near me are getting nothing.
Where we live it’s a mining community, a pit housing estate, nicknamed the ‘concrete canyon’ purposely built for miners in the 1950’s. All prefabricated concrete with names like ‘Coronation Road’. On our estate there were quite a few Welsh, Scotch and Geordie miners who moved down to South Yorkshire when their pits closed in the 1950’s.
The months of March and early April weren’t too bad weather wise. I remember plenty of sunny but chilly days. In the first few weeks of the strike, striking miners were quick to live of their own resources, many of them kept rabbits or poultry, one lad down the road from me had rabbits, bloody hundreds of them. I got a nice little job taking him to Rotherham market as they were closing. We collected all the old cabbage leaves and carrots etc, from under the market stalls on the floor. In return my payment was a ‘rabbit’. It wasn’t long before I had more rabbits than him and I could make a lovely rabbit stew.
The back of his house looked like Fort Apache! Miners weren’t posh buying overlap fencing, they made their own with whatever was at hand. A favourite was old house doors off demolition sites. What a sight they were, miners back gardens surrounded with different coloured doors, 6ft high and what was behind them only God knows.
Saturday, 31st March 1984.
My Grandma Wilson passed away today. Aged eighty eight years old. Alice ‘Lil’ Lilian [Nee’ Hall]. We all went to her funeral at the Haugh Road Cemetery, Rawmarsh.
There was a big attendance, all her family, children, surviving brothers and sisters etc. I went but Gay had to stop at home with the kids. I met her brother who was invalided out of the army in 1915, after his heel was blown off during the battle of Loos, in France.
There was family and relations who I have heard about, but never had the opportunity to meet before. My Aunty Judy was there with her husband, they had moved to Nottingham years earlier, her husband was a policeman, he was in the Nottingham CID. At the wake, where everyone went back to Grandma’s house ‘Uncle’ Keith, Judy’s husband who was a jolly chap, asked me jokingly if I had been on the picket line yet? I replied no, I was still having trouble walking, the abscess on my left knee had not healed up yet. We had a laugh and a joke. Later on we said our goodbyes. I never saw him again.