Coal Mining In the Second World War 1939-1945
World War II and up to Nationalisation
All Had To Register For War Service
John V Faben was an evacuee from Lowestoft and began in the mining industry as a pit top worker aged 14½ at Whitwell, then underground worker at 15, face man, Deputy, Overman Markham, Planner Silverhill, Assistant Undermanager Ollerton, Undermanager (5203) Harworth, transferred to Bilsthorpe and then later to North Nottinghamshire Area Mechanization department.
Miners’ Hostels were set up to accommodate the recruits
(and also Polish entrants later).
Alfreton Miner's Hostel, Nottingham Road
Locally there were Hostels at:-
Hardwick Park (RAF)
Creswell (for 500 men)
Eastwood (for 320)
Hucknall (for 150)
Woodhouse (for 250)
Worksop (for 400-500)
Queen’s Drive (for 500)
Alfreton, Nottingham Road (for 200)
Mansfield East, Forest Town
Mansfield North, Abbot Road Mansfield (for 500 each)
Workings Getting Further From The Pit Bottom
As the workings at all pits were extending on longwall advancing methods, the workings were getting further and further from the pit eye or pit bottom every day, and a noticeable drop off in production became apparent.
Rope-hauled manriders or paddies began to be installed to transport the colliers several hundred yards inbye towards their workplace so that they would fresher to start work and not be so tired as if they had walked there, and of course return them at the end of the shift back towards the pit bottom. Of course this was expensive and it was only the larger companies that spent money on such ‘luxuries’. Many men illegally rode on the back of a tub or on the draw bar, which was even more dangerous.
In March 1944 there was a County strike in Derbyshire lasting 6 days, over pay? The Government monitored production, but let districts dictate the industry.
During the 52 weeks ending March 1944 there were 177 major and fatal accidents in North Derbyshire, 36 in South Derbyshire and 177 in Nottinghamshire.
War Bonuses And Income Tax
War bonuses were paid periodically. Pay as you earn (PAYE) income tax was introduced from 6th April 1944.
National Wages Agreement
A National Wages Agreement from 20th April 1944 when there was a consolidation of wages. The actual rates of pay up to 1944 depended upon the basic rate of pay for the job. A percentage addition to the basic pay rate varied every month or 3 monthly as laid down by the various districts. The method of fixing the basic rates of pay was different for those on piecework and those paid by time. For Nottinghamshire it was 87%, North Derbyshire 4.61%, South Derbyshire 74.63% and Leicestershire 85.37%. No overtime was paid before 1944.
The 1936 flat rate and the district percentage were merged to give a consolidated wage plus 2s 8d (13¼p) flat rate. For day-wage men the percentage was wiped out. Piece-rate workers retained the 1911 basis rate but the percentage rate was increased to 164.1166%. All skilled workers received one shilling (5p) per shift increase. Many day-wage men also received the one-shilling (5p) increase for special jobs.
There was also a guarantee that for 5 years the wage would not fall below the April 1944 rate.
Wages at 14 years was 38s 6d (£1.92½) per week underground and 31s 6d (£1.57½) on the surface and at 20 years of age, 80s (£4) per week and 70s (£3.50) surface.
The 'Skilled Shilling'
The ‘skilled shilling’ (5p) was introduced for craftsmen and certain other specified personnel. This was over and above the normal rate for a day’s pay. Men entitled to the special bonus included underground Fitters, Electricians and Bricklayers. On the surface there were many more including Blacksmiths, Wheelwrights, Joiners, Sawyers, Tub and tram repairers, Shoeingsmiths, Wagonwrights, Electricians, Saddlers, Boilersmiths, Turners and Fitters, Clip repairers, Painters, Moulders, Plumbers, Welders and burners and Bricklayers. The men above entitled to the 1s 0d (5p) increase received a flat rate advance of 2s 6d (12½p) following the Greene award.
In Nottinghamshire, Fillers and Chargemen, Packers and Timber Drawers and Chargemen, Rippers and Chargemen, Coal Cuttermen and Chargemen, Borers and Chargemen, Conveyor Shifters and Chargemen, Repairers, Timbermen, Stonemen, Shaftsmen, Onsetters, Haulage Enginemen, Ropemen – splicers only, Haulage Corporals and Headmen at Loader ends, Head Roadlayers, Belt maintenance men, Pump men, Winding Engine men, Banksmen, Boiler men, Loco Engine Drivers, Shunters, Lorry Drivers on repairs, Lamp Chargemen, Cardox operators, Electric Generator Enginemen, Air Compressor and Fan Enginemen, Head Platelayers, Chargemen on Washery Plants etc, Surface Pumpmen, Cutter Pick Sharpeners, Men on dirt tip working in the open, Screen Foremen, Men in charge of First Aid Rooms, Wagon Lowerers, Telephone and signal maintenance men, Blacksmiths’ Strikers, Underground Joiners, Yard Foremen, Horsekeepers, Signal Box Attendants, Motor Mechanics, Underground Surveyor’s Linesmen, Arch Girder Re-shaping Chargemen.
Similarly in North Derbyshire, with exceptions such as Second Chargemen for Timbermen, Stonemen, Repairers, Runners on and Runners off at shaft, Men engaged in clipping on and knocking off. On the surface, Loco Crane Drivers, Belt and Screen Enginemen, Men in charge of Flotation Plants or similar.
However in South Derbyshire Men with Base rates of 6s 6d (32½p) to 7s 11d (39¾p) inclusive. Underground: Skilled Shaftsmen, Onsetters, Rope Splicers,. Surface: Winding Enginemen, Banksmen, Boiler and Stokers, Loco Drivers, Lamp Chargemen, Power House men, Foremen Platelayers.
In Leicestershire Day wage Piece-workers Chargemen, Repairers, Timbermen, Stonemen, Rippers – Chargemen only, Shaftsmen, Onsetters in charge, Coal Cuttermen Chargemen, Rope Splicers, Hauliers, Road Layers, Belt Repairers, Packers, Borers, Winding Enginemen, Banksmen, Boilermen and Stokers Chargemen, Loco Engine Drivers, Lorry Drivers doing repairs, Lamp Chargemen, Electric Generator Enginemen, Deputies and Shotfirers.
The 5th Porter award brought in ‘overtime payments’ for weekend work and overtime at the rate of double and one and one third rates the normal rates respectively. Weekend work was to be all work at the start of Saturday afternoon shift ending with the start of the Sunday afternoon shift. Work during the 6 Bank holidays. In the case of Piece-workers the extra remuneration is to be based on the actual gross earnings etc.
On April 18th 1944 there was a weight drop at the coalface at Pilsley colliery (Derbyshire) at 4.30am. A miner E Vickers was using a compressed air cutting machine when a band of rock or flamper above the coalface broke and lowered the roof by about 8” (0.20m) and also a bar that was above his head, and pinned Vicker’s head against the conveyor pan side. Frank Nix and some other men went to his aid. Nix noted that all the wooden props within the vicinity of Vickers were broken so he sent the other men to fetch some new ones.
Nix carried on working alone and by setting broken timber made his way to the trapped miner, however a fall of roof was in his way.
This he cleared and by breaking the ‘flamper’ with a hammer and sawing off the end of a wooden bar he was able to release Vickers.
The operation took about 2 hours and for all that time Frank Nix was under broken roof and working in a height of about 15 inches (0.38m). He was a very brave man, and for his efforts he was awarded the Edward Medal, (instigated in 1907 for miners who endangered their own lives for others). The Edward Medal was changed to the George Cross later in 1971.
USA Lease and Lend
Following the USA Lease Lend agreement towards the end of the War Ireland colliery was quick to introduce US manufactured track mounted arc shearers with gathering arm loaders with American shuttle cars and conveyors. A three-shift system was introduced and with the headings advancing around 100 yards (91m) per week, some 27 men with three officials were able to produce around 4,000 tons of coal a week. The system would continue until the early 1950s.
At Clipstone another Meco-Moore cutter loader was introduced in June. The cyclic system developed at Rufford (Nottinghamshire) had 2 horizontal cutting jibs, one at the base and one halfway up the seam and a vertical back jib and a small cross conveyor that swept the coal onto the face conveyor as the machine cut a pass of 6 feet (1.83m) along the face.
The School Leaving Age Was Raised To 15 In 1944
The school leaving age was raised to 15 in 1944 leaving a void in the recruitment of lads.
The new national holiday pay was for one week, £5 5s 0d (£5.25) at age 21 and above; £4 4s 0d (£4.20) at 18 to 20 years and £3 3s 0d (£3.15) for under 18s.
Coal At Any Price
Towards the end of the War many pits were in very poor condition and the workforce was exhausted. A particular district underground at Ollerton (Nottinghamshire) was abandoned and the number of ‘timber draggers’ was greatly reduced. One of my predecessors, the Surveyor Jesse Price, wrote in the note book on the final survey of Top Hard 7s district LH Airway Gate on the North side of the pit where umpteen settings with the dial had been made due to conditions - ‘this gate is neither fit for man nor beast’. Obviously there were no rails in the gates for transporting materials to the face and these were physically dragged there on hands and knees. Another district at the pit was 3s district on the East side where he made a similar remark on the final survey of the panel – 3s RH Airway Gate – ‘a rough passage’.
‘It was coal at any price’.
One of the first underground boreholes was drilled up and down in this district for exploration of other seams. Those days coring 5 feet (1.52m) a day was good and not uncommon. The Surveyor was responsible for logging the core and noting and identifying and correlating the various rocks and coal seam thicknesses at that time.
Technical Advisory Committee
In September 1944 the Government set up a Technical Advisory Committee on coal mining under the chairmanship of Charles C Reid ‘to examine the present techniques of coal production from coal face to wagon and to advise on what technical changes were necessary in order to bring the industry to a state of full technical efficiency’.
Home Guard Stood Down
Blackout restrictions were lifted from 11th November 1944 and the Home Guard was stood down.
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) was formed in November 1944 from the amalgamation of all 36 County unions in the country. Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire had Branches of the new NUM
First aid teams were now allowed to administer morphine to injured miners down the pit thereby saving many lives as it could take hours sometimes to release a trapped man and transport him outbye to the pit bottom. Although a very arduous task there was never any lack of volunteers to carry an injured man out of the pit.
Average wages per shift
North Derbyshire 23s 8¾d (£1.18½)
South Derbyshire 25s 8½d (£1.28½)
Nottinghamshire 25s 11d (£1.29½)
Leicestershire 27s 0½d (£1.35) per shift.
Output for Opencast
North Midlands 2.716m tons
South Midlands 0.757m tons
Output for 1944
There were still 40,000 pit ponies employed at the mines throughout the country.
North Derbyshire 13.8m tons, with 53 pits using 522 coal cutters, 43 pits using 818 conveyors, 44 gate end loaders, 25 power loaders
South Derbyshire 1.45m tons with 7 pits using 54 coal cutters, 81 conveyors, 2 gate end loaders and 4 power loaders
Nottinghamshire 15.8m tons with 45 pits using 437 coal cutters, 41 pits with 745 conveyors, 96 gate end loaders and 19 power loaders
Leicestershire 13 pits with 144 machines producing 4.38m tons.
NUM Took Over From MFGB
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) took over from the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain (MFGB) on 1st January 1945 with 21 separate Area organisations. Banners, beautifully worked in silk would be made later for all Lodges and paraded at all demonstrations and fêtes etc.
New Coalfield Discovered
A completely new Coalfield had been discovered East and South East of Lincoln during exploration for oil. (see later Vales of Witham and Till).
The Coal Tar By-Products Order 1945 came into force on 5th March. There was increase of ½d per gallon (0.2p).
Valuation of Mines
By 31st March 1945 the valuation of the mines was complete and was the end of the transactions by which Coal Royalties had been transferred from private to public ownership. The valuation totalled £64,559,559.
The average weekly earnings underground workers for the second half of 1945 was £5 13s 10d (£5.69p) compared with £2 18s 3d (£2.91p) in the corresponding period in 1935.
European Coal Organisation
In June 1945 the European Coal Organisation was established in London. The committee came to the conclusion that although we needed to produce more coal it would be undesirable for German Prisoners of War to work in British coal mines. (Maybe the thinking was that they would try to sabotage things, not unlike some of our Prisoners of War did in their mines during the Second World War 1939-1945.)
‘Have A Go’
At Ireland colliery (Derbyshire, Staveley Coal and Iron Co) in 1945, the popular Radio Quiz show ‘Have a Go’, presented by Wilfred Pickles and his wife Mabel, was recorded in an underground engine house. A piano was taken down the pit for Violet Carson to play the accompanying music. She later became better known on TV as Ena Sharples in the ‘soap’ Coronation Street. Thrice weekly episodes were still being shown on TV in the year 2016.