Christmas parties were held on most underground districts and surface workshops, though I can only comment on those that were held underground.
If you worked on a coal face a party would usually be held at each end of the face, one at the supply gate end and one at the loader gate end. If you were a development worker a party would be held on your respective development, should the developments be in the vicinity of each other you would often have a joint party. Obviously there would not be any alcohol involved underground, though on one occasion I can say that there was.
My first involvement with a Christmas party was when I was a face worker; this was not a party as such and would be better described as an extended snap time (food break) towards the end of the shift, with a joint effort in providing a more exotic menu than what would normally be eaten underground. Pork pies, pineapples, mixed nuts, sausage rolls, mince pies and such was the order of the day, not forgetting the Christmas decorations that would be removed by the last shift to be worked that day.
My first Christmas party that I attended when working on a development was a small affair, there was only five men in total, each of us supplying different food to share with the others, the only drawback to this were that one of the men was Polish and he had brought food that I can only say was lavishly laced with garlic. This man’s name was Stan Rozmus and I have to say that he was a gentleman; one of the finest men that it has been my pleasure to know and work with, having said that the smell of garlic permeated throughout the district. Only Stan ate the food that he had supplied. I must add one further comment about Stan; I was deeply touched when years later Stan (who was now frail) and his oldest daughter arrived unannounced at my home. He knew that he had not got long to live and wanted to see some of his old workmates so that he could say goodbye; I phoned for my brother David and my brother-in-law Graham to come to my home to see Stan. This was one of the most emotional times in my life and I felt truly honoured that Stan would wish to pay me a visit under such circumstances.
Christmas parties on the coal face were much more lavish affairs; this was due to a larger workforce being involved at each end of the face, as many as twelve or fourteen men in attendance. These parties took place on the last day at work before the Christmas holidays; the machine would have to be parked up with extra supports set to protect it, the first task would be to do the required number of cuts so that the machine could be left at the desired end of the face. The dayshift would do all the cutting and work through without a break so that the work could be completed in time for the parties to take place towards the end of the shift; the afternoon shift would set all of the additional supports before they had their Christmas party. I remember one party that took place on Waterloo 16s district when I was the deputy; the fitter (mechanic) and the electrician arranged seating (wood battens) and hung paper decorations from the rings along the whole length of the pantechnicon in the Loader Gate. The pantechnicon was about twenty metres long and straddled the conveyor belt it was pulled forward behind the stageloader; it carried all of the electrical switchgear, transformer, control panel, armoured flexible cable and fire fighting equipment, fluorescent lighting was also provided along the length of the pantechnicon. Unfortunately only one man was unable to attend the party, he was Roy Hancock the conveyor belt attendant situated about five hundred metres away; we did run a supply of food out on the conveyor belt for him to eat.
Whilst I am writing about 16s Loader gate I must mention what could have been a serious shot firing accident that could have resulted in a double fatality.
16s L/Gate had an advanced heading that was driven in front of the face; the method of work was to have the whole face of the heading fired with a maximum of 100 shots using carrick millisecond delay detonators, the debris was loaded onto the stageloader using an Eimco 625 shovel. Carl Wombwell was my “Gate End Supervisor” and shotfirer for the Loader Gate end of the face; he was about to fire a round of shots in the advanced heading as I walked inbye up the Loader Gate, he told me to take shelter behind the shot firing shield and proceeded to fire the shots. After waiting a few minutes (it should have been ten) for the fumes to clear both of us stood up so as to walk to the advanced heading to examine the area when we noticed two figures appear walking towards us.
|On seeing these two men, Carl threw his arms in the air and screamed “My God, what have I done” and collapsed onto the floor in shock fearing that he had seriously injured the two men. It was the district fitter Albert Williams and Horace Turner the district chock fitter; both of these men had gone onto the tight side of the stage loader between the stage loader and the pantechnicon to repair a damaged hydraulic ram without informing anyone and were hidden from view. Fortunately neither had been injured, on hearing the shots being detonated, both had thought that it was the sound of the roadway supports “giving” (movement caused by pressure). Carl had understandably failed to see the men in that location and had asked the stage loader driver where both of the men had gone as he had noticed that they were missing before he fired the shots. The stage loader driver had informed him that both men had left about one hour earlier and thought that both had gone onto the face.
Development To Face Deputy
The last development that I was to work on was Waterloo 24s Loader Gate; a drift rising at 1 in 0.8 (steeper than a staircase) was to be driven up from the Loader Gate to the North Manrider in the Dunsil seam some thirty yards above for ventilation purposes. This drift would not require any machinery to transport the debris out; it was so steep that all the debris resulting from any shot firing would fall away onto a short armoured conveyor at the bottom of the drift that loaded it onto 24s Loader Gate conveyor. This drift was dangerous for a number of reasons; you were constantly at risk from falling as you had to climb up the drift pulling yourself up on a rope and then work off a platform without any safety harness. Falling objects were a problem, often tools and materials would be accidently knocked off the platform and fall down the drift; I remember a spanner narrowly missing me when I was climbing up the drift. One day I was preparing to stem the shot holes and was in the process of pulling a bag of stemming material up the drift; I was just about to pull the bag of stemming over the platform when the bag broke free from the rope that it was attached to and fell to the bottom of the drift, it took me forty minutes to retrieve it. The greatest danger would take place after shot firing operations; more often than not the ventilation ducting would be blown down and the resulting fumes from shot firing would remain at the top of the drift, this would act as a smoke screen hiding from view any loose stone that was about to fall. I have to say that entering the drift on these occasions could be described as playing “Russian Roulette” it was frightening to see lumps of stone hurtling down out of the fumes towards you; it was a wonder that no one was injured on this development.
On completion of this drift the undermanager asked if I would stay on Waterloo 24s as the district deputy; or to give it the new description as Face Manager; of course I accepted the position.
Terry Hallam |
What a Nightmare, what have I let myself in for? Conditions on the face were good with no problems with the system of work or equipment; the only problem that I had was the workforce, it was like working in “Payton Place”; I do hope that you can remember that television series. A number of the men were knocking off some of their colleague’s wife’s; I can’t tell you the problems that this caused, no way was this team of men going to get along with each other. Forgive me for not mentioning any names or identifying any of the culprits associated with these misdemeanours, I am sure that you will understand my reasons for not doing so. Not all of the workmen were bad; some of them were good working chaps like the face chargeman Terry Hallam, it is just that the conflict between some of them caused trouble for the others. I am also of the opinion that as I was new to being a face deputy and much younger than the majority of the men that they would not accept my authority, though I did not have any problem with this when I were on the development.
I remember on one occasion; Ralph Bradshaw a colliery overman not being familiar with the above mentioned problems deployed a spare man to my district to cover the absence of one of my regular workmen, the problem with this was that he had deployed the spare man to work alongside a man that had recently ran off with the spare man’s wife. Ralph had failed to notify me of this deployment; if he had done so I could have prevented the men from coming into contact with each other. They had not been on the district for more than thirty minutes when the Supply Gate shotfirer Stan Bailey called for me over the Tannoy to get to the supply gate as soon as possible as the two men were fighting. I eventually got these two men to calm down and redeployed the spare man to a different location on the district in an attempt to prevent any further altercation.
After 24s had been exhausted the team were transferred to Waterloo 16s, this district had the same system of work as 24s. There were good conditions from start to finish except for a few minor falls of ground, I only remember methane being found once on this district and then by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Mines (HMI). During one of his visits, the HMI on reaching the Supply Gate end of the face asked my Gate End Supervisor Malcolm Mowberry if he had located any methane (CH4) that morning, Malcolm replied with confidence that he just made a test for methane and had not found any. Methane being lighter than air would be most likely found at the highest point at the ripping lip where the ventilation tends to be more sluggish. I had the greatest confidence in Malcolm and had no hesitation in passing my Methanometer to the HMI so that he could test for methane; you can imagine my shock when he found some in the roof of the roadway, however it was only a small amount I would guess that there was no more than a cup full. I have mentioned this just to show how quickly methane can accumulate; you cannot drop your guard for one moment, methane is highly explosive in certain percentages and has caused the death of many miners.
I started work about forty minutes before my workmen; this gave me time to go through the books and familiarise myself with the previous reports for the district on which I was to work, I was also able to deploy the men from the surface and to travel into the mine with them. At this particular time the management had decided that the face teams were not to work on a regular district but to move onto a different district each week. We were told that this would familiarise everyone with each district; I could see the reasoning of this but did object as you would not be able to follow matters up as you could if you worked regularly on one district.
Some months later; one Monday morning my team and I were deployed to a district that we had not worked on for four weeks and was to find that this district had been left short of materials with insufficient hydraulic props to comply with the manager’s support rules. I immediately telephoned the undermanager to make him aware of our predicament and was informed by him to get everything put in order as that day we were to have a visit from the “HMI” (Her Majesty’s Inspector of Mines and Quarries). Later that morning the Manager arrived on my district accompanied by the Mines Inspector; I met both of them at the outbye end of my district so that I could escort them around the district and be available to answer any questions that may arise. The visit went well until we reached the supply gate end of the face; the inspector noticed that there were insufficient hydraulic props and questioned me about this. I informed him that this was my first shift on this district and that I had discovered the shortage on arrival; I also said that I had instructed the men to set additional wood props as a temporary measure and had asked the undermanager for an urgent delivery of hydraulic props. I then went on to describe my dissatisfaction with a system of being placed on a different district each week as this did not allow the deputy to follow up any shortages or other problems. I could see the rage in the manager’s face; if looks could kill you would not be reading this, to make matters worse the Inspector agreed with me. The following week the system was changed back to working regularly on one district.
After 16s had finished the team was transferred to Waterloo 30s; the only difference to this district was the height of the face, extensions had been added to the top of the legs of the chocks so that they could support the roof. The face got higher as the face advanced; this was due to the band of dirt in the middle of the coal seam getting thicker, this was to cause many problems towards the end of the face life. Men had to be deployed with 16lb. hammers to break the lumps of dirt up before it was delivered by the Armoured Face Conveyor onto the Stage Loader as it was causing blockages and delays in production.
I can only remember two accidents on this face; the first accident involved two men in the supply gate stable-hole, they were in the process of advancing roof supports (Girders) when a fall of roof occurred, one man received lacerations to his back and the other suffered a fractured scapula. Both men returned to work after a few weeks.
The other accident occurred in the Loader Gate; I received a message from my Gate End Supervisor Carl Wombwell that a workman, Jack Hadfield, had received a blow to the head and would require carrying out of the mine on a stretcher. 31s district development was being driven further outbye in the loader gate and I knew that there were a number of vehicles parked there that would block the passage of a stretcher; so I phoned the development and asked the deputy there to make a way clear for the stretcher bearers and then proceeded to the loader gate to investigate the accident. I must draw your attention to the fact that Carl was a bit excitable and prone to panic on these occasions and often over reacted. On reaching the scene of the accident I could see that Carl had got Jack onto a stretcher and had bandaged Jack’s head; well I’ve never seen anything like it, Carl had applied so many bandages that it looked as if he had bandaged over Jacks helmet. To cut a long story short; when Jack had the bandages removed in the Medical Centre only a small lump to his forehead was revealed.
After about one and a half/two years the Colliery Manager George Noble instructed the undermanager to split this team of men up due to the reduction in capacity; another deputy Tom Purseglove was retiring and I was to take over his team of men.
New Face Team
This team of men had worked together for years and each man knew what the other was doing; there were not any problems with this team of men, they worked like clockwork together. Jack Vardy was the face chargeman for this team and I have to say that Jack was of the “old school” and a better chargeman I couldn’t wish for; he ran the face team and this left me to concentrate on my own job. I would remain with this team of men right up to the moment when I finished at Teversal as the pit neared closure.
I don’t remember the first district that I was to work on with this team; I believe it to be Waterloo 30s that only had a short time to run, from there we were transferred to Waterloo 22s the only retreat face that was to be worked at Teversal. A retreat face is where the gates to the coal face are pre-driven and the face is headed out at the inbye end of the gates and then the face travels in an outbye direction abandoning the roadways behind. It is on this district where the greatest production was achieved, this was due to the fact that the stable-holes and roadway formation had been eliminated.