At Florence Colliery the last thing you did before going underground was to fill your water bottle. The taps were situated in a brick built room at the end of the pit head baths. The room was some 20yds square, with double doors at each end, one set leading outside, the other set back into the baths. The taps, well hardly taps in the true sense of the word, as they could not be turned off, were down one side; down the other side was the boot cleaner. At shift change this room became like a market place; men having their first fag, or their last, passing messages. Whatís won the first race at Doncaster? How have Stoke gone on? You will need this or that, the roof is bad here, or thereís some gas there. What I found strangest of all was that a lot of these men were talking in a foreign language.
I was 15yrs old, it was 1957, I had not been at the pit very long and I was fascinated. What was even more interesting was that on the wall there were two notices, one in English, which warned of the dire consequences of taking cigarettes, cigars, matches etc underground and signed by the manager, the other in German giving the same warning signed Das Fuhrer. I used to wondered how these miners, working at this pit, who had been either fighting against Hitler or had been a victim of German aggression, felt when seeing this sign. They were by and large excellent workers who cared greatly for their families. During my time in the mining industry I was privileged to work with men from all over Europe and beyond. What follows is the story of just one of them
Rudi's Mum. ...........Rudi's Dad .......Rudi's Baptism Certificate
E. Latala (Rudi) was born on a small farm just outside the southern Polish city of Krakow. It was 1919; he was to be the eldest of eight children, four boys and four girls. His father was an army officer; his mother had plenty to do looking after the family. From age five to fourteen he attended the Wrzcmpia Catholic School. He never knew what it meant to be idle, for even as a young child he was used to work. There was always something to do around the farm, feeding the various animals, taking them back and from the fields, mucking out, hay making. Everyone on the farm was employed in trying to support the family.
Upon leaving school at fourteen he was indentured to Karol Muller a local butcher. The apprenticeship was for seven years. It was hard work, rising early to sort out the horses, hitch them to the cart, then go to the slaughter house to collect the meat. The meat would then be taken for cutting up before delivery to the three shops owned by Herr Muller. During the week Rudi would have to attend school, but he would still have to look after the animals either before or after school.
He stuck at the job for five years, when lack of money and prospects forced Rudi and his family to reconsider the situation. It was decided that if he passed the medical Rudi could join the Army. He passed with flying colours. A few months later Hitlerís war machine invaded, most of the Polish Army was destroyed. Rudiís regiment fought a running battle with the advancing Germans. They fought, then retreated east as far as Russia, from there they went south, before being surrounded near the border with Romania, where, after waiting two days they were forced to surrender when permission to cross was refused. It would be over twenty years before Rudi would return to Poland.
So now Rudi was a prisoner of war, and along with other soldiers he was loaded into cattle trucks for the long journey west towards Germany. They would be moved from camp to camp, out of Poland and into Austria, it was bitter cold there was very little food; sometimes days went between meals. There were guards everywhere. At each camp there was different work to be done, sometimes repairing roads or bridges, farming, or making camps for all those who were to follow. All of this moving about had one advantage; Rudi began to pick up a working knowledge of many different languages. He did not know at the time, but this was to be very useful to him in the future. He tried to escape but was recaptured and sent to work at a sawmill in a small town called Donaswengan 12 kilometres from the Swiss border. Some of the older men started to plot an escape but they did not tell Rudi until the very last minute. They overcome the guards took them prisoner and made their way to Switzerland. They must have been ecstatic. You can imagine them jumping around, slapping each other on the back; they were free men again. This euphoria did not last. The Swiss guards telephoned the authorities; they sent special agents to tell Rudi and his friends they could not stay. They were to rejoin the Polish Army. Within days they were on an aircraft bound for Egypt.
AB 64 part 1 Rudi's army paybook
Rudi met up with the Polish Free Forces just outside of El-Alamein. He was in the Second Corps of the 8th Army Commanded by General Anders. It was here that his linguistic ability was to prove useful. Billeted at Company Headquarters, he was part of a team, who would interview captured prisoners. They gained valuable information on the enemiesí strengths, weaknesses etc, He would also be able to talk to prisoners who alleged they were neither German nor Italian, but some other nationality and had been forced to fight for the Axis. This would have been most important to the Allies in sorting the wheat from the chaff.
Following the defeat of Romell in North Africa Rudi followed the war into its next phase in Italy. It was here in 1945 that he was wounded. During a particularly heavy bombardment, a German mortar shell exploded near to where Rudi was taking cover. He came round two days later in the hospital, his leg in plaster. The pain in his leg was so intense that one night he decided to cut the plaster to reduce the discomfort. He was reprimanded and sent back to his unit.
Following the end of the war, along with thousands of others, Rudi came to England. Still a serving soldier, he was sent to a camp in Horsham. The authorities spent many months trying to sort out places for people to go. Some of the countries on offer were Australia, Canada, and the U.S.A. or Rudi could opt for employment in coal mining. This is not as strange as it seems. Itís now 1947, and the newly elected Labour government had kept a long standing promise to Nationalise the Coal Industry, but the pits were in serious trouble.
In the early months of the war, the fall of France resulted in there being a glut of coal on the home market. Mining ceased to be a reserve occupation many men left to join up, or to work in the rapidly expanding war factories. So many miners left that by 1941 the government was forced to introduce the Essential Works Order, to prevent men from leaving the mines. They also released 33,000 ex-miners from active service. But it was too late as there were 84,000 fewer men in the pits than there were in 1938. What was even more worrying was that each miner was producing less coal than before the war. The miners for the first time had power, they were earning good wages, and, safe from the sack, took time off when they felt like it.
The Labour government was desperate, they had nationalised the industry, given the miners the best wages and conditions they had ever had, virtually guaranteed employment, and still the numbers were falling. How were they to increase the manpower and production? The answer was simple; thousands of foreign servicemen, and displaced people would be offered employment in the pits. Officials from the Department of Employment were dispatched to all camps with the good news. Some of Rudi's friends accepted the offer, and left for the various coalfields. Over the coming weeks they would return, looking prosperous and reasonably content. Rudi was finally convinced. He would work in the pits, but not Wales there were too many mountains for his liking. It would have to be Doncaster.
Polish discharge papers
On the morning of departure from the camp they travelled to the station by truck then by train to London. At Waterloo station there was a message waiting for them; the plans had been changed and they were to go to Wales for their training; then they could go to any area they wished. They arrived at Newbridge station at 4.00 pm then on to a big camp at Oakdale. There were about 12 of them. The camp was full of foreign ex-service men, displaced persons and some British people, all of whom were to be trained for mining.
British Government Alien Certificate to be carried at all times
Rudie said "during my time in England, while still a serving soldier I had sixpence [two and a halfpence] a week stopped out of my pay to help support these displaced people".
Oakdale Colliery was situated in the Sirhowy valley, Monmouthshire, South Wales. The valley stretched north/south between Tredegar and the docks at Newport. A number of pits were dotted along its length. To the north of Oakdale were Ty Trist, Pochin, and Markham; Wylie, Rock, Nine-Mile Point, and Risca to the south. As well as being a working pit, Oakdale had both surface and underground training facilities, and was able to cater for new entrants of all ages. At first Rudi was deployed to the surface, getting use to carrying a lamp, reading notices, being kitted out, learning pit terminology some Welsh words etc. His next period of training was spent underground. During his first visit into a heading, he remembers a face worker appearing from a hole at the side of the roadway with a bag of coal on his back then putting the coal into a small wagon. (This suggests to me that they were working this seam using the bord and pillar method.) He also learned how haulage systems worked, coupling full and empty wagons by means of chains to the rope haulages, and how to start/stop conveyors etc. A few weeks later his training over, he transferred down the road to Wylie pit.
As a production pit Wylie was entirely different to the Oakdale Training Centre. Most of the men who were deployed to face or development work were on contract. The more coal they produced, or more yards they advanced the higher their wages, Rudi was sent to work in a coal heading. The roof and sides were supported by wooden timber. As the roadway followed the coal seam, the timber had to be cut to fit tightly between the roof and floor. The joints at each end of the roof beam were made with an axe, so the uprights could be held in position. This was right up Rudiís street.
His time spent as a P O W in the sawmill made him an expert in anything to do with wood. He soon earned a reputation as a good worker though his English was a little scratchy. One day his mate warned Rudi that someone important was to visit later in the shift. Rudi asked him who he was, his mate replied "he a bastard" when the VIP arrived he said to Rudi "Do you know who I am?" Rudi replied, "Yes youíre the bastard". The rest is best left to your imagination.
On another occasion Rudi was being questioned by an official, as to the most important thing to do when working in a pit. Frantic, Rudi looked high and low for inspiration, when suddenly the official cried " thatís it, thatís it, well done boyo. Keep looking around you, most important that" and went away happy.
With money in his pocket Rudi was soon able to move out of the camp. He went into lodgings at Cefn Forest at £2.70 a week, full board. There was still rationing, and his weekly allowance was used to augment the food budget. He was reasonably happy with his lodgings; however, he said, "I became aware that my room was being searched while I was at work". There was a daughter at the house, she must have taken a shine to Rudi, but as these feelings were not reciprocated, she took revenge by urinating in his shoes. There could also be problems in the pubs; the local young men would see these "foreigners" taking their women. There would be many battles fought on a Saturday night in the little town of Oakdale.
But it was not all bad news; there was always the Miners Institute. This is where the cultural life of the community was nurtured, and it was here that Rudi was to spend many an happy evening in the company of the girl he would live the rest of his life with, Miss Loveday Wilson. I asked Rudi's wife about her name. She explained "When I was a child I hated my name. Then, my mam and dad told me it was because they made love in the day not in the night like everyone else. From then on I thought my name was wonderful".
There was no drinking allowed in the Miners Institute. It was here that all the "nice" activities took place. Downstairs there was a library, a games room for darts skittles etc, a kitchen and some meeting rooms. Upstairs was the dance hall. At the side of the building was the cinema, but you could only enter with an adult.
Loveday met Rudi the first day he arrived in the village. It was love at first sight, she told her friend "keep your eyes off him heís mine" she was fourteen and a half years old; it was a year later before Rudi knew her true age. She had left school a few months earlier, to work as a domestic servant to the mechanical engineer at Oakdale Colliery.
Her father was very protective, and had he known of the developing relationship between his daughter and Rudi he would certainly have put a stop to it. Every Saturday night there was a dance to a live band at the Institute. Lovedayís father would see her into the hall and he would meet her coming out, the time in between being spent with Rudi.
Occasionally one of her brothers would say he would take her to the pictures so she could meet with Rudi, her parents unaware of the real situation. By the time Loveday was sixteen Rudi had completed his face training and was among the high wage earners as a cutter man. His job was to drive an Anderson Boyes cutting machine from one end of the face to the other, taking out a six inch deep by one and a half-foot wide by four and a half-foot long cut at the bottom of the seam. Wedges were then placed in the cut to keep it open; holes were then drilled above the cut ready for the shotfirer to prime with powder, before exploding the shot to bring down the coal. It was vital that the cut was properly done, as a bad cut would mean less coal. Rudi had learned his trade well, it became obvious that he could make a living at any pit he wished and there were plenty choose from.
As the relationship between Loveday and Rudi blossomed, always at the back of their mind was the knowledge that if Lovedayís father found out, there would be hell to pay. So they hatched a daring plan, to elope. Rudi's best friend was a fellow Pole by the name of John Aneshko. One day while looking through a magazine they spotted an article about the village of Morpeth in Northumberland. The article explained that even though the village was deep in the countryside, there were many pits nearby. After a discussion with Loveday they decided that this was the place for them. The plan was simple, Rudi and John would go to Northumberland find a job and accommodation. They would then travel to Gretna Green to make arrangements for the wedding. Everything went well, and within three weeks Rudi was back. He and John had found work at the Hazelrigg Colliery Northumberland.
On the day they were to leave Oakdale, Lovedayís parents found out about the arrangement. There was a terrible row "My mother and sister brought Rudie to the house" said Loveday "My father said he would never allow Rudi too marry his daughter." thankfully my brother Ivor stepped in, and told my father, "Let her go, donít stop her." My elder sister Ivy grabbed my purse and I was forced to leave with just the clothes I stood up in. But what did it matter? I was leaving to marry the man I loved
They travelled to Gretna and were married by the blacksmith the following day. After a honeymoon lasting one night, they headed south to Northumberland. The same day the following telegram arrived in Oakdale, saying "Married today, love Rudi and Loveday"
They only stayed two weeks at their first home before moving up-market. The new accommodation had one bedroom, one living room, together with a shared kitchen and bathroom. The toilet was outside it consisted of a wooden seat, which was hinged for men. Ashes were taken to throw down the hole after you had finished. The "hole" was emptied about once a week.
Rudi and Lovedays Identity Cards
There were further house moves in quick succession, finally ending up at 17 Charles St on the Hazelrigg Estate. The rent was 25 pence per week.
The following year their first child, a daughter, was born. Rudi and Loveday thought it was time for the child to see its grandparents in Wales. Loveday, the baby, and a brand new pram boarded the train in Newcastle-on-Tyne for the long journey south. Eventually they all arrived at the small town of Blackwood a couple of miles from Oakdale. When the first bus for Oakdale arrived, Loveday was unable to get the pram through the bus doors. There was only one alternative; she would have to walk. As she neared her home she spotted her father standing by the bus stop, and when he saw her, he cried and cried. He pushed the pram up to the house, and shouted "Mam look what I found growing in the back yard". From then on Lovedayís father and Rudi became the best of friends
Back in Northumberland Rudi had moved the short distance from Hazelrigg Colliery to Dinnington Colliery. He was working on the "Busty" seam as a cutter man. The seam was good quality steam coal, but only two feet three inches thick. With so little coal to play with it was vital it was properly cut. The coal cutter was ten inches high, two feet wide and including the cutting head (jib) about twelve feet long.
Face Worker on Busty Seam
It was driven by compressed air. Rudi sometimes worked the "fore" shift. He explained; "The shift started very early. I used to pay a man called Mr Porter to knock on the door at two oíclock in the morning so I could get to the pit for half past two."
During this period Rudi worked a lot of overtime, it was nothing for him to be at the pit for days at the time. He would work his shift then go to the surface and sleep for an hour before returning underground. When his first son was born the midwife sent a message to the pit to tell him of the birth. He had been at work for almost three days.
I asked Loveday when they found out what had happened to Rudi's family? She explained "It was shortly after the birth of our first daughter. I wrote a letter to the address I found in Rudi Ďs Army Pay book. The letter was in English. Enclosed was a photograph of the baby. Months went by then a letter arrived with the news that all of the family had survived." Rudi was delighted; it seemed the birth of this child had brought both sides of the family together.
The news in Northumberland was not so good. Rumours started in 1951, that pits were to be closed and men transferred. Near to Rudiís home the newly formed National Coal Board started the development of the Savannah Drift. Dinnington and Hazelrigg Collieries would close. The Savannah mine would take most of the men but a considerable number would have to go elsewhere.
The local papers carried adverts and each man was given a leaflet with his wages explaining that in the Midlands there were pits with reserves which would last for two hundred years, with jobs for anyone who wanted them. There would also be cheap housing, transfer benefits, travel expenses, etc.
A typical advert of the time. This one from the Sentinel Jan. 1951
Rudi and Loveday discussed the situation and decided they would go to Nottingham.
Arrangements were made, and Rudi left Newcastle-on-Tyne station early in the morning. There was only one problem; he was on the wrong train. Some hours later he arrived at Stoke. The Stationmaster gave Rudie directions to the N.C.B. offices in Leek Road. When Rudi explained what had happened, the officers dealing with incoming minerís told him not only would they find him a job but would guarantee him a house.
They were not about to let a fully trained faceman get away. Within an hour Rudie was on his way to Great Fenton Colliery to sign on. When Rudi showed the training officer his wage slip from Dinningington he was told they could not match the money but they would make it up in other ways.
Glebe Colliery Fenton
The Headgears centre picture are made of wood
Coal Cutting Machine as used at Glebe
Rudiís first few weeks were spent at the Knutton Hostel, in Newcastle-u-Lyme, which was not the most comfortable place to live. The sleeping arrangements were very basic, similar to Army Barracks, which made life very difficult, especially for men on different shifts. There was, however, a canteen where you could purchase a hot meal or sandwiches. He travelled to the pit by bus.
At work the main differences between Glebe and Dinnington were the heat, the depth and steepness of the faces and the thickness of the seams. Glebe was extremely hot, and was known locally as "the burning rag," Face and development workers would strip down to their shorts, boots, kneepads, and helmets in the downcast pit bottom normally the coolest part of the pit. The colliery was working in four seams, the Banbury, Bowling Alley, Cockshead, and Holly Lane, which were all at least twice the height of the Busty seam at Dinnington.
After three weeks Rudi had a note on his lamp telling him to go to the Leek Road offices for the keys to his new home. At the offices he was surprised to be given the keys to no less than four houses. He examined each in turn before deciding to take the one with the most space, number 31 Main Street on the Coalville Estate in Weston Coyney. He would not move again for 36yrs.
General view of Coalville Estate Weston Coyney
Loveday did not see the house before moving in. When she did she was broken hearted. She could not believe the dirt and grime there was on the buildings, the coal tips, and the thick black smoke issuing from the chimneys of the potbanks of Longton. As for the estate, it was only half built with no roads or pavements.
The main shops were in Meir, and the nearest school in Caverswall. To get to work Rudi bought a bicycle. From the top of the estate to Longton it was all down hill, then flat along the side of the railway at Foley, before dropping into the pit yard in Fenton. Coming home was a different matter. From Longton it was murder: he managed to ride the bike as far as Parkhall colliery but from there it became a true pushbike.
At Glebe colliery Rudi became mates with a local man called Bert Smith, it was a friendship that was to endure for many years, they would among the highest paid men at the pit. Bert had one major fault: he had a wicked temper. On many occasions Rudi would have to get him out of trouble, usually for fighting. There was always a need for caution, Rudi explained; "Bert and I were working on a Banbury face, and the machine we were using was taking a middle cut. Suddenly there was a flash, flames started coming out of the cut, for a second there was panic. Then Bert and I pushed slatters into the cut to deprive the fire of oxygen, soon the flames died down and the fire went out, it was pretty hairy for a while".
 Slatters are to coal what sawdust is to wood
By 1959 Rudi and Loveday had 8 children. With the exception of Rudi they were all British. It was time to do something about it. The necessary forms were obtained from the council offices in Hanley, duly completed and sent to the Home Office. There followed months of waiting and a visit from the local constabulary. Finally the great day arrived. When on the 14th of December 1959 Rudi climbed the stairs in Longton Town Hall, and was then ushered into a private room, here before Mr G. E. Leese J. P., he swore allegiance to the Queen. He left the building a British Subject and £25 lighter.
Rudi's Naturalisation Papers
After months of planning and saving they were ready. The passports, and visas were in order, they had their travellersí cheques and various foreign money. Lovedayís mum and dad would look after the children. Her brother Ivor had brought the car. They were driving to Poland. By the time they stopped that first night they were over the border into Germany. They could not help but notice the large number of army vehicles there were about; indeed for long periods whilst travelling along the autobahns near Berlin it was as if they were being escorted. There were British Army trucks both in front and behind their car. The following day it was south into Austria, then east towards Poland. The closer they got to the Polish border the more signs there were of military activity.
They crossed into Poland and tried to find petrol, but they were told there wasnít any, so they had to return to Austria. They then went further south before crossing into Poland once more. Again they found themselves running out of petrol so they again left Poland. This time they stayed in Austria until they were at the nearest possible point to Rudiís home. Hours later they arrived at the place where they were to cross.
There were long queues of cars, the guards were searching every nook and cranny, the contents were being piled up by the side of the road, and the drivers told to move on. Rudi was very concerned and wanted to turn back. Loveday said, "Have you killed anyone?" Rudi said "Of course not." "Have you hurt anyone?" "No," answered Rudi. "Have stolen anything?" Again the reply was "No", "then you have nothing to worry about." Soon it was their turn to cross. The guard asked them to get out, checked their papers, took a cursory look through the car, then told them to get back in and drive off. They breathed a huge sigh of relief. Rudi was nearly home. The date was August 17th 1961, the day the Communists started the Berlin wall.
It was now very late they decided to pull into the side and get their heads down. When they awoke the next morning, people were passing the car in all sorts of transport. There were horses and carts, bicycles, hand carts, even a dog pulling a small cart full of vegetables. They were going to work in the various factories dotted around, and as they passed they were all staring as if they had never seen its like before. Ivor started the car and drove off.
Soon Rudi began to recognise his surroundings and became very animated, pointing out where this or that road went to, or telling of the things he did here or there as a young man. As they pulled into the lane that led to the farm, Rudi could see his sister. His father was coming out of the barn. What followed is difficult to describe, but amongst the hugging, kissing, and tears, Loveday could hear Rudi asking about his mother. Then he saw her coming out of the house, ran towards her, and threw his arms around her, telling her how much he had missed her, and how wonderful it was to be back home again. There was only one problem he was speaking English. Loveday shouted "Rudi speak Polish".
One of Rudiís brothers was a professor at the local university; he was also a fervent communist. He never missed an opportunity to extol the virtues of his beliefs. Coming back to the farm one day after visiting fiends, Ivor and Rudi managed to get the car stuck in the mud. The more they tried to move the car deeper it went, eventually it was up to the axles. A farm horse was hitched up to the car and quickly pulled it out. Rudiís brother asked, "What horsepower is the car?" Rudi told him it was about 16. His brother replied, "The power of one Polish horse is greater than the power of 16 British horses".
Before leaving England Loveday had knitted a cardigan for Rudiís father. When it was finished she showed it to Rudi who told her he thought it was too small, as his father was a big man. She undid the cardigan, bought more wool and knitted it up again. This time Rudi thought it was much nearer his fatherís size though still on the small side. More wool and many hours later the cardigan was completed to everyoneís satisfaction. When Rudiís father tried it on he found it would fit him, his wife, and a small horse all at the same time. Rudiís memory of his father was somewhat larger than life, based on what he remembered as a nineteen-year-old boy, the age when he last saw him.
Anyone who as ever worked on or near a coalface will be aware of the noises that are made when "goafs" go off. Gas that has been trapped for millions of years between layers of rock and coal, is suddenly released, the noise is like a muffled thump. Simultaneously the ground near this release shakes and the whole thing lasts less than a tenth of a second. During a shift a faceman would hear dozens, and think nothing of it. But on the 14th of July 1964 the noise Rudi and his friends heard was different. It lasted longer was somehow louder. Then something strange happened to the ventilation, it seemed to stop, as if it was taking a breath, then it reversed, before returning to normal. These are the classic signs of an explosion.
Following further investigation, officials found that a coal heading in the Cockshead seam was the scene of a most horrific accident. Most of the pit was evacuated except for a few volunteers. Rudi took up the story "we made our way carefully along the road towards the heading testing for gas as we went, at the entrance to the heading we could see that the flexible ducting which carried the fresh air to the top of the heading was all burned, leaving only the metal skeleton. As the small team of rescuers made their way into the heading they found one of the men still alive." Rudi again "We picked this man up and rested him at the side of the road, he heaved, was sick, then he sadly died." Further in the heading the bodies of two more men were found. In a split second three women were made widows and nine children all under sixteen became fatherless.
The explosion highlighted the poor overall condition of the pit, and on the 30th of October 1964 it closed. At closure the No1 shaft (upcast) was 915yds deep. The No 3 shaft (downcast) was 782yds deep. The last Banbury seam worked at Glebe was 1050yds from the surface.
Rudi and Bert did not leave when the pit stopped production, they stayed on to salvage and recover the costly machines that were scattered all over the underground workings. On January the first 1965, Rudi and his mate Bert transferred to the big "A" Hem Heath Colliery
It was around this time that Loveday decided to spread her wings. She had already done some part and full time work always making it fit around the needs of the children and Rudiís shift work. Now with some of the children working, and the remainder old enough to look after themselves, she was free do something she had always wanted. For the next twenty years as a psychiatric nurse she gave care and understanding to some of the most severely ill, and dangerous people in society.
The big A at Hem Heath Colliery
Although the pit had been in existence for many years the N.C.B. had decided to modernise it from top to bottom. On the surface there were new winders, screens, workshops, baths, fandrift and fan. The shafts were widened and deepened to access the lower seams. Major new roadways were driven out from the shafts at 462yds, 612yds, 912yds, and 1062yds. All of these improvements were made to access the estimated 200 million tons of coal just waiting to be mined. The first face Rudi and Bert worked on was in the Moss seam, at first as cutter men, then later as shearer drivers using the most modern machine available the "Trepanner Shearer".
This machine had a small cutting head at the front, a larger one at the back, and in between a pre-cut jib. A steel rope ran the length of the face, and was used to pull the shearer along. At the same time both cutting heads were ripping through the coal, tearing it into small pieces, and throwing most of it on to the armoured conveyor. When the shearer reached the other end of the face, the direction of pull would be reversed, allowing the shearer to go back down the face ploughing any remaining coal on to the conveyor. The speed, at which this machine could cut, was limited by how quickly men could timber the roof behind it. A very fine balance had to be struck between on the one hand producing coal, and on the other hand keeping the roof in good condition by allowing men time to erect supports.
One day this balance was disturbed. Rudi takes up the story: " Burt was driving the shearer and I was in front levelling the conveyor. I became aware of shouting near to the machine. Unbeknown to me Bert had put the machine into fast cut. The men putting up supports were unable to keep up. They had tried reasoning with Burt, but to no avail. On the main level (roadway) the face overman was informed. He came charging up the face and had been giving Burt a real rollicking. By the time I arrived at the incident the situation had deteriorated. The overman who was six foot four and seventeen stone had Burt by the throat. I could see Bert was red in the face, his eyes bulging, and frothing at the mouth. Nearby there was a pick, I grabbed it and warned the overman that unless he let go I would hit him with it. I could see he wasnít sure at first, but then he removed his hands and allowed Burt to recover.
At the end of the shift we all had to see the colliery manager. Burt went in first, and was told he would be transferred to a new job. Rudi was told he was to stay as the shearer driver. The friendship between Rudi and Bert was at an end. Following the meeting with the manager the overman asked me if I would have stuck the pick in him. I said, "He was my mate what do you think?". The overman went on to manage one of the biggest pits in North Staffordshire. This incident gives a good insight into the mining industry in the mid sixties. No mention of the fight in the Sentinel, no great fuss. It happened and was dealt with.
It was not all doom and gloom. One of the many tales Rudie told me was of the two deputies sitting down at the end of the shift writing out their reports. One of them called Nunk was a great character, very bright, and a sharp as a needle. The other, Bill was the exact opposite. Nunk could see Bill was struggling, by the amount of crossing out on his report. Finally in exasperation Bill turned to Nunk and said "For f**k sake tell me how to spell paint!" Quick as a flash Nunk replied." What colour?!."
Rudi was never a political animal, thought he always voted Labour. Loveday voted Conservative. As for the union, he rarely needed their help but had great respect for one N.U.M. offical called Jim Colgan. He recalled one occasion where a member of the N.U.M. was agitating Rudi and others not to go to work. There was a lot of shouting and threats being made in the colliery canteen. Colgan arrived and within minutes had sorted the problem, telling the agitator that he would not have anyone on the committee supporting unofficial action.
In the late sixties the N.C.B, signed an agreement with the various mining unions to introduce a National Power Loading Agreement. The agreement would apply to everyone in the industry, and ensured that men working on coalfaces, anywhere in the country received the same wage. Other underground workers would have a percentage of the full rate dependant on their job. Surface workers were the lowest paid of all.
The Board must have felt that given the new machinery being introduced into the mines, it would be no longer necessary to have men on contract. How wrong could they be? This agreement meant that the only way men could increase their wages was by working overtime, most of it manufactured. There was a saying at the time that the agreement "made good men lazy, and lazy men rich" and led directly to the 1972 miners strike.
Rudi felt that it was a just strike, and remembers how he would spend hours on the tips in Fenton trying to find enough coal to keep the children warm. One day he went to the benefit office, filled in loads of forms, stood in a line for ages, only to be told sorry thereís nothing for you. The strike lasted seven weeks; the miners won the biggest wage increase in their history.
Two years later they were back again. Raging inflation had put the miners near the bottom of the wages league. This time the strike lasted four weeks; men on picket duty were paid. And again the miners won large increases. This strike was to rekindle the N .C .B, interest in contracts, and by 1978 most face and developments had their own incentive schemes. Other workers had a percentage of the average wage earned by men on contract. ie Elsewhere U/G 60%, surface 40%.
Following the 1974 strike Rudi left the coalface to work the new developments in the Ragman and Ten-Foot seams. He worked days, afternoons, and nights in rotation, with five men per shift. Rudi was the chargehand on his shift. These, men using new machines like Doscos, and Road Headers, produced some extraordinary results. Two machines working in parallel 200metres apart could drive two roadways 1000 metres in about ten weeks. For the first time Hem Heath could produce coal by retreat mining.
RH 25 Road Header
Rudi was now 60 years of age and ready to take advantage of the Mineworkers Voluntary Early Retirement Scheme. This scheme recognised the arduous nature of coal mining, by allowing men with a minimum of 20yrs underground service to retire when they reached 60yrs. They would then receive weekly payments until they became 65. Rudi made enquiries about the scheme. He was told donít leave yet give it time, the benefits may be better next year. The following year the answer was the same. Rudie knew he could leave anytime he wanted but decided to wait. Then at 62yrs of age, with 34yrs service all underground and mostly at the sharp end, he called it a day. He remembered that his last wage slip showed he was paid, with overtime, the equivalent of twelve shifts.Loveday retired at the same time. This was 1982.
Rudi was very disappointed with his weekly benefits; he felt that the calculation used to produce the payment was wrong. His reaction however was typical, he told the officer who did gave him the figures donít worry I will get my money back. " Oh yes." said the officer." How will you do that?" "Easy," said Rudie." I will live to be a hundred."
Rudi and Loveday moved a few years ago to a smaller house. They didnít go far, just four doors down the road. They keep reasonably well, although Rudi recently had a slight stroke. They are surrounded by their family, which runs to 8 children, 27 grandchildren, and 14 great grandchildren. As Rudi said, "From a little spark you get a big fire."
Rudi and Loveday at their 50th Wedding Anniversary
It has been a real pleasure for me to travel with Rudi and Loveday through their fascinating life. I hope, you who have read this story, will see it as a series of snapshots showing the highs and lows, the rough and smooth, and the laughter and tears of a man who came from Krakow to Coalville.
Sadly, on the 29th of August 2002 in the late evening, Rudi passed away. In the tender arms of his beloved Loveday, with his Family around him he slipped slowly into the hereafter. The strength and dignity he portrayed in his last days surprised no one. For after all to Rudie this was not the end, but a new beginning.
"The hours that I spent with thee, dear heart,
Are as a string of pearls to me;
I count them over, every one apart,
For to me you are my Rosary"
( Robert Cameron Roberts)
|Back to Stories||Back to Names||Back to Index|