30 June, Mates in a very real sense: II.

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After a year I was beginning to believe I was a proper miner. Then one day as we were going on shift Tommy called out, ‘We’re shooting today.’

I thought he was joking, so quipped back, ‘The whole Board or just the chairman?’

‘No, this is proper shooting,’ Tommy replied. Then he explained that there were little spur lines bringing coal down from higher levels in smaller wagons. These loads had to be integrated into the main wagon lines, which was accomplished by what was called ‘shooting’, or sliding crowbars under the front wheels of these smaller trucks, and simultaneously jerking them so that they were switched to the main wagon line. The first time we tried this it seemed very tricky and Tommy had to bear the chief burden. As I began to get the hang of it and even enjoy the operation, there came an almighty crash and Tommy was shouting ‘Coal-oh!’ as we dived into the safety ditch which ran alongside the main wagon line.

Tons of coal fell in on top of us and I feared I would be suffocated as I was tightly pressed down into the safety ditch. Then what relief! I heard a rescue squad arriving and calling out to us not to move. In no time at all they cleared the coal that was covering us, gave us a quick check over and escorted us to the cage and up to the pit head.

Once we had cleaned up and checked over our bruises, the duty overman took us to the miners’ club bar where he stood us a double brandy each. ‘I was wondering if that safety ditch would do what they said it would’, he said. ‘Now I know it does. Well done lads.’

 

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