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U3A Writing: Dew, It Was Hard

...I was now fifteen years of age and finally got my wish to work underground at the pit. I was to work with Ivor Davies (also known as Dollgano) - apparently he was called this after a famous card player. Doll was mad on cards, I think he was the best I've ever seen. I will never forget that first morning shift. I had to pick up my lamp from the lamp house, they were the old type and weighed over twelve pounds. Then, with my water can (jack) containing two pints of water and my food box, I started the one mile walk to the coal face with the colliers. My cap was too big, it was lucky I had ears! I tried to hang the lamp on my belt like the other men but it kept hitting and bruising the inside of legs. I was already getting tired and thirsty, my arms were aching and I started to drink my water. The lads told me to stop drinking, 'When your water is gone there will be no more. There are no taps underground, water is gold'....

In this vivid and unforgettable slice of autobiography Viv Saunders tells of hard times in a Welsh mining village.

I was born in February 1926 in a three-bedroom, terrace house in the village of Gorseinon on the fringe of the Gower Peninsula and the Loughor Estuary. It was not a very good year, in fact, it was the year of the Coal Strike. We were a large family but we were not on our own, as there were quite a few other large families in my younger days.

When I came along I was number seven. We lived with my grandfather and grandmother and their youngest daughter, my aunt. Three more came along after me making it ten children - nine boys and one girl. So with my mother and father we numbered fifteen. Of the three bedrooms, two were quite large so we were able to move in another bed, but even with the extra bed my brothers and I still had to sleep 'top to tail' for several years.

Sadly, my sister died at the age of two. If she had lived, just think with nine brothers, she would have been spoilt rotten! Around this time my aunt got married so the sleeping arrangements became a little easier.

My grandfather worked in the local coal pit underground as a haulier as did my eldest brothers. Although we lived in a Welsh speaking area, Welsh was not spoken in the house. My father came from Hereford and he was not interested in such things, but my mother and grandparents were fluent, in truth their English was not too good. Of course we did speak a little Welsh at home but, looking back now, to my sorrow I wish I had tried harder. My father was in the building trade. He was a Plasterer and worked for his elder brother who owned a small building firm. I can remember his wages being 2 12/6p. In the summer, work was plentiful but in the winter months plastering work was scarce and so his wages would become smaller (Dew it was hard!).

Money was in short supply, but we were blessed with a very long garden and my father was a keen gardener - I suppose he had to be or we would have gone hungry many a time. I was the only brother interested in gardening. From the age of seven I was always with him whether he was digging, planting, weeding or harvesting. This brought me very close to him, more so than my other brothers. He taught me the correct and best way to grow vegetables and how to look after them while growing. Even though I had a closer relationship with him, he would not excuse me from his golden rule; before tea everyone of my brothers old enough for school had to go out and fill two buckets with horse manure and add it to his pile at the bottom of the garden. This was no problem as we lived opposite a farm and besides, most transport was still horse and cart - those who had cars were rich.

Because of the many mouths to feed, the money coming into our house was never enough. Our Sunday roast was always rabbit. You could buy a rabbit for a few pence. We had rabbit roasted, boiled, fried, stewed or in a pie with plenty of vegetables. This was always followed by rhubarb tart at teatime. Even to this day, rhubarb tart makes me shiver. I often think my father had more rhubarb in his garden than Gorseinon Market!

When Christmas time came around we used to get a parcel from the British Legion. My father was not a member but qualified for this gift due to the large number of children he had. In the parcel was a small chicken - this was the only time we would taste chicken. Our Christmas' were not that special, well not to me anyway. Being around the age of seven I can't remember too much, we had the usual games - Snakes n' Ladders, Dominoes, Ludo. I used to hang my stocking up but I never got what I asked for, not for many years. But we did enjoy the sweets and the nuts, and because everyone was home we used to play games and be allowed to stay up late.

The following week on New Years' Morning, every child (boys and girls up to the age of 14) would get up at 5 am. This was very important to us. We would sing carols to every house, even catching the workers before they left for their jobs. We sang non-stop until midday (that was the deadline). We were given halfpennies, pennies, oranges, and apples. If we had twelve pence or more it had been a good morning - but we sang ourselves to a standstill.

I felt I was now growing up. I was about to leave what we called 'the small school' and join 'the big school'. I remember on the last day at 'the small school' being asked to stand up and read a passage from a book. I read it well without any mistakes and the teacher complimented me by saying, 'Very good Saunders, keep it up and you will go a long way'. Well, I got to Caldicot and that's over 70 miles!

Being 8 eight years old and also in 'the big school', my parents allowed me to play further afield. I had a really good pal who lived next door. He was also of a large family - one of seven. We went everywhere together. We were also friendly with the son on the nearby farm and spent hours there helping in our small way by carrying feed for the horses and the four milking cows, collecting eggs, and feeding the chickens. But the farm was mainly about horses, and they made their money by renting out horse and carts (gamboes) to the local tradesmen i.e. coal man, fruit and veg., pop man, even removal men. They used to come early in the morning and collect their horse and cart and return it in the evening. The horses were then fed and we were allowed to go with the farmhand and help brush them down. Yet, the weekends were the best when we were allowed to actually ride the horses down to the cwm. They were very tame and only walked.

Life at the age of eight and onwards was mostly the same. I loved the summer and hated the winter, but now I was beginning to take more notice of what was happening around me. My mother and grandmother used to bake bread every third day as bread in those days went stale quickly, although ours didn't - it wasn't around long enough with so many mouths to feed. Also, in the summer, after I had collected my chore of two buckets of horse manure, my mother often used to send me to pick dandelions and nettles to make 'small beer'. It was cheap and easy to make and we drank gallons of it.

Around this time I heard that electricity and flushing toilets would be coming to our area. Electricity didn't interest me too much as I could read with ease by the oil lamp but our toilet did need improving. It was a small, cold, brick building with just a bucket inside, and to make things worse it was well over a hundred feet down the garden. My older brothers used to tease me about going to it knowing well how I disliked it. Staying on this subject, it's obvious that the buckets had to be emptied. This was done three times a week between midnight and 2 a.m. It was called 'the night cart', a huge cylinder, drawn by horse, which could revolve when being emptied. Walter, the farmhand, was in charge of the night cart and for a penny per night we would help him carry the buckets. On one occasion while I was going to get the bucket from our garden, Walter was doing likewise two doors down which happened to be his Aunt's house. I heard his aunt shout to him, 'Walter, leave my cabbages alone!' To which he replied, 'Well if you are not going to do it straight, I have to use the cabbage leaves to carry the bucket!'

Yes, the summers were great. My father had plenty of work, my mother had a smile on her face and there was so much for me to do. We would build tree houses, play all sorts of games e.g. Wheel and stick (we called it Bachen and washer), kick the tin, follow the arrow, cowboys and indians, even make our own kites. We would also go scrumping apples, helping with the hay- making (hoping to earn a swig of cider), nutting, picking blackberries to sell, and bird nesting.

Yes, I liked the summer. On many a warm evening my pals and I would sit and listen to tales about working underground from my grandfather. He would paint a very black picture. He would often say 'Don't go down the mines boys, find some other work.' Then, he would take a huge drag of his pipe and if you caught any of it you would be coughing until bedtime. He used to smoke Franklin's Dark Shag (very strong) and when his weekly allowance was getting low I remember seeing him add dried tea leaves or cabbage leaves to make it last longer.

I was now approaching the age of nine. Around this time I learnt to swim. We lived quite close to the Lougher Estuary and we would also go there fishing, mostly for 'flatters' using a pointed stick. But the highlight of the summer was the annual Working Men's Club trip to Porthcawl. It was all free so my mother could come as well. It was wonderful, once off the train we would jump onto a miniature railway to Coney Island. We would go on several 'rides', eat chips out of paper bags and have lots of pop and ice cream. For many years, this annual outing would be the only time we would ride on a train.

But the winters, we used to dread. When it was very cold i.e. ice or snow, there was less work for my father. On some cold hard spells he was forced on to the dole. Many was the time that I would see my mother holding pencil and paper with tears in her eyes trying to make ends meet. On a few occasions the rent man or insurance man had to be sent away and asked to come back next week. But we got by and we were never cold as my grandfather had an allowance of one ton of coal every eight weeks. This was another job for my brothers and I. To see a ton of coal tipped by your door was like a mountain. We had to carry it all to the shed in buckets. Dew, it was hard!

My life in the big school was mixed. I liked school and was coping well with all subjects, but you'll always have the bullies and the snobby, well-off children. They would comment on my clothes, which were hand-me-downs from my elder brothers. They were always clean but had quite a few patches on them.

The next three years I grew up quickly, not in size but in mind. When you live with older boys you tend to copy them. Then things started to get better, two more of my brothers started work in the pit. Yet this led to other problems. There were no pit baths, and with five men coming home each day as black as the ace of spades - bath time was an education to witness!

At the age of nine I was old enough to escort my grandmother to Gorseinon Fruit and Veg. Market on a Saturday evening. We would get there just before closing. My gran would then barter with the stallholders for all the bruised and damaged fruit. We would end up with two full carrier bags (the ones with cord handles). On our way home, Gran would visit the local pub at the back. She would knock on the Snug window and pass her bottle in. It would be returned to her full of stout for a few pence. When we arrived home all hands would make for the fruit and the damaged and bruised pieces were cut away. That evening my mother and gran would enjoy their Saturday treat - a glass of stout.

Sadly, later that year, both of my grandparents died within months of each other. Even though the sleeping arrangements improved, (we no longer had to sleep top to tail), we missed them very much. Then what the Council promised finally happened. They came and built a flushing toilet close to the back of our house. This was pure luxury, no more running right to the bottom of the garden. My elder brothers had plans to build a dovecote in the old toilet, but the council informed them that it was to be demolished.

One month later they turned up at 8 am. to pull it down. At 8.05 am. my father suddenly developed a mystery illness. He said he was unable to go to work. This worried and upset my mother greatly, no work - no money. She tried to coax him into going as every penny was needed but he was adamant and refused. In the meantime the workmen had started knocking down the toilet and unbeknown to anyone my father was watching them very closely. When all that was left was a pile of rubble he made a miraculous recovery. Down the bottom of the garden he went with his shovel and informed the workmen that amongst the rubble were six florins and they were his!

Apparently, in summers past, he had been given tips for extra work he done. He used to hide this money on top of the inside wall in the toilet. When he heard that the building was to be pulled down, he went to recover the coins but could only find three florins, the other six had fallen into the cavity of the walls. After a short time the coins had been found and his mystery illness had been explained. I'd never seen my mother so happy, nine florins and a new toilet all in one morning.

There were now better times to come. My father was offered work on the pit top. A lamp house was to be built and they needed a permanent plasterer - an offer of employment he readily accepted. Slowly, we started to get things we had been deprived of. For example, we'd never had very expensive Christmas presents but that next Christmas we were bought a three wheeler bike. We rode that bike so much that by New Year's Day the axle had worn through and the wheel fell off.

Time went by but as I grew up I still didn't grow very much in size. I was never a big lad, in fact I was very thin. Even when I got married I was only nine and a half stone in weight. In school we had free milk and, for those suspected of malnutrition, a spoon full of malt. In later years we had to pay for the milk - two and a half pence a week.

I used to look forward to going to Sunday School. I loved the stories from the bible and enjoyed the singing. In fact, my mates were always telling me not to sing so loud.

At this time it became more apparent to me that I needed money to enjoy myself more. But, money had to be earned. In good weather we picked coal off the colliery waste tip, and coke from the steel works and got a penny a bucket. On Palm Sunday we would sell buckets of red ash to be put around graves for three pence each. Yet best of all was fetching beer for the tin workers from the local pub (Tavern-a-Trap). We had a penny for fetching and a swig of the dregs on the way back!

One little story I must tell you - I was helping my father in the garden when I found a coin. It must have been covered for some time as I could not make out what it was. My father gave it a good rub and pronounced it to be a shilling, but such was its state that no shop would take it. I had an idea, I would try it in the cigarette slot machine. I put it in and the machine accepted it, out came a packet of 20 Players plus a half penny change. I then sold them to one of my brothers and with just that shilling my best mate and I went to Swansea Bay and back on the train and had some pop and ice cream.

I was now eleven years old and there was more good news to come. My father's application for a council house was approved. The new house had four bedrooms, flushing toilet, bathroom and most of all - electric lights. We were over the moon to finally have electricity. We played with the light switches so much that we broke one! The council came to replace it plus I had a clip off my father for good measure.

Soon the news, that everyone had been dreading, was announced. There had been much talk about war lately but now it was a reality. It was September 3rd 1939, and I was twelve. One of my brothers was in the Territorial Army and by midday, the same day, he had been ordered to report for duty. He didn't even have time to say farewell to my mother. Within a short spell of time the whole country was put on rations, given identity cards, gas masks, and told to close curtains every night for the 'black out'.

My brother, who had been called up first, was now a sergeant in the Royal Engineers. He was sent to France with the Expeditionary Force. Not long after he was in Dunkirk, but, he was one of the lucky ones. After that he was stationed in Ireland, where he remained until D. Day. He was one of the lucky ones - he had gone to war in the first wave and still lived to see victory.

I was too young to join the L.D.V., later called The Home Guard. But, I was able to join the cadet organisations, in fact I joined all four of them - the Army Cadets, the Sea Cadets, the Air Training Corps., and the Fire Service as a messenger. With all those uniforms I now had too many clothes.

The next two years were hard and sad for everyone, war is very cruel. People were losing their loved ones and food was scarce. I had two more brothers called up (1 Army, 1 Navy) while my other brothers were exempt as they worked in the pit.

I was now thirteen and also worked as a delivery boy at our local grocery shop (Daisy Stores) on some evenings and weekends. The owner, Mrs. Davies, trusted me to collect money as well as deliver goods. The book I carried covered all of her customers. I noticed that my mother still owed a few pounds from the bad old days and was paying it off at the rate of a 'half a crown' per week. Before I had finished working there, my mother's slate was clean.

At the age of fourteen my school days came to an end. Yet, because of the war, there was plenty of work. But, like a fool, I wanted to follow my brothers and work in the pit. I started as a colliery surface worker. My job was to pick 'slag' out of the coal as it passed on the conveyor belt for 1 2/6p a week. The two shillings and sixpence was my pocket money - oh, I forgot to say that by now I was smoking, in fact, I had been for the past year on the quiet. But now that I was earning money the Woodbines were on the grocery bill. Nearly everyone smoked in those days. We used to collect cigarette cards, every brand had their own series. I had a set of them all, my favourite was the cricket series. If only I could have looked into the future and seen what prices they are selling for now!

I really liked working on the pit top and did all the jobs asked of me. The job I liked best was 'spragging' the wheels of the drams after leaving the cage. I got so good at this that I could throw the sprags and nearly always stop the dram. But the call of working underground was getting stronger, I wanted more money. I wanted to be a man before my time, and was told that I had to wait until I was fifteen.

The war was still raging and was very frightening. The Germans appeared unstoppable. They were sinking our ships and bombing our cities. We even had a bomb dropped near us. Thank God it was only in a field, we were told later it was dropped by a returning enemy bomber trying to make its load lighter. As you may remember, I said earlier that I was a messenger boy in the Fire Service. One night I recall the Germans had bombed Swansea, so the Gorseinon Fire Service was called out as a back up. The fire was in a NAAFI warehouse. By the time we arrived the Swansea crew had extinguished the fire and had been told to return to the depot. We, being the backup team, had first chance to get hold of any damaged goods. In amongst the mess were lots of slightly damaged valuable commodities, - cigarettes, chocolates, cigars, writing materials etc. We were told to clean up the mess and I was given the job of salvaging any item of use. I must have made dozens of journeys back and fore between the fire engine and the bomb site and managed to store all the loot in the side hose compartments. We had quite a haul, but we didn't get away with it. The Swansea fire engine was waiting for us on the trip home. They blocked the road and a 50/50 split was agreed - looking back I think everyone was satisfied.

I enjoyed those early days with the Fire Service. Other episodes come to mind such as, due to really heavy fog, a man with a torch had to lead the way to the fire, or due to very hard frost we had to borrow boiling kettles to defrost the water hydrants. After a while I became a full fireman (part time). I stayed until we were disbanded due to the war ending. In those days heights never bothered me, but now if I repair the heels on my shoes I get giddy!

Meanwhile, back to wartime. My life was now really hectic. Something had to go, so I handed in my Army Cadet uniform - I didn't like the Sergeant anyway. I still enjoyed the Air Training Corp and we looked so smart in our uniforms. The Navy Cadets had its drawbacks i.e. we had to go to Swansea Docks for our training. I was in the Navy Cadets for about two years but, because of a silly prank we were asked to leave. This is what happened. On our naval hats was a band with just the word 'CADET' on it. We went to a costume shop in Swansea and bought other bands giving the impression that we were real sailors.

Well, off to Porthcawl we went and then to Coney Island pretending we were on leave. We forgot the time and missed the last train home so we had to settle under the promenade for the night. At about 5 am. we were awakened by the police demanding to see our navy pay books. We tried to explain what we had done but they didn't believe us and thought we were deserters or A.W.O.L. So they marched us off to the railway station and put us (accompanied by a police officer) on the first train to Swansea. When we arrived the Military Police were waiting for us. Again we explained and apologised, but this time, even though they now believed us, they warned us how serious the offence would have been if we had been older. They then took us to Gorseinon Police Station where the Inspector tore a strip off us.

I was now fifteen years of age and finally got my wish to work underground at the pit. I was to work with Ivor Davies (also known as Dollgano) - apparently he was called this after a famous card player. Doll was mad on cards, I think he was the best I've ever seen. I will never forget that first morning shift. I had to pick up my lamp from the lamp house, they were the old type and weighed over twelve pounds. Then, with my water can (jack) containing two pints of water and my food box, I started the one mile walk to the coal face with the colliers. My cap was too big, it was lucky I had ears! I tried to hang the lamp on my belt like the other men but it kept hitting and bruising the inside of legs. I was already getting tired and thirsty, my arms were aching and I started to drink my water. The lads told me to stop drinking, 'When your water is gone there will be no more. There are no taps underground, water is gold'.

We finally made it to the coalface. I could hardly stand. Doll took one look at me and saw a small, thin boy, not much more than 5 feet tall, wearing a cap three sizes too big (there were no helmets then), with tears in his eyes. He told me to rest while he unlocked the tools. That first shift was a nightmare. Doll gave a shovel and said to fill the three drams standing there with coal. The shovel was very heavy and when it was full of coal I could hardly lift it. But, I persevered and did it. I took the skin off my knuckles, got blisters on both hands but I did it. When those three drams were full, three more were brought in. I remember thinking to myself, 'What have I got myself into?' Yet my pride stopped me from crying and at mealtime when we sat on the floor to eat, I only nibbled at my food and fell asleep. Doll let me sleep through the break and woke in time to resume. I knew inside that I had to stick it out. The end of the shift came at last and we began the mile walk back to the surface. Even though I was shattered, the return journey was not too bad. Once up on top all the colliers would go to where they had hidden cigarettes in small tin boxes. That first cigarette was wonderful - there was no smoking allowed underground, we were searched every time that we entered the cage.

I had no trouble sleeping that night, but, the next morning, when my mother called me for work, I didn't come down. When she came to see what was wrong, I told her that I just couldn't do it, it was too hard, and I started to cry. She left me so as not to upset me any more and, after I'd had my little cry, I pulled myself together. I thought, 'What would the other men think of me?' So, back to work I went. After about two months my aches and pains started to subside and I was getting to handle a shovel easier. I was now filling the drams as fast as Doll could cut the coal. He must have been pleased as he increased my wages by two shillings. He started to show me mining skills such as how to breeg and but the coal with a mandrill (two pointed pick), how to use a sledge and wedge, and how to cut timbers for roof supports.

The months rolled on. My father was also working underground at this point on the new engine house as the lamp house had been completed. Then one Friday, while shovelling coal into a dram, my shovel hit a roof support. The roof support came away and, within seconds, the roof collapsed on top of me. I didn't know too much about it all, as I was knocked unconscious. They told me later that the cry 'Man under fall' had gone out. When this was heard everybody stopped working and, with their tools, ran to help in the rescue. My father, who had been working in the engine house, heard that I had been trapped in this fall and was in the front of the digging when they reached me. By the time they had got to me I had regained consciousness. The stretcher was brought but when I was lifted onto it I screamed with pain. I heard the first aid officer telling the others to tie me down tight so as to stop me moving. They feared the worst, that I may have broken bones or even damaged my back. I was brought to the surface where an ambulance was waiting to take me to Gorseinon Hospital. When they admitted me, they tied me down with sandbags so as to prevent any movement. A Doctor came and examined me and said that luckily no bones were broken but that my hip muscles had been torn. Looking back on it now, I think the worst part of it all, was when a nurse I knew quite well came to give me a blanket bath.

Even though I was as black as the ace of spades, people reckon that they could still see me blushing! Although, to this day, I have to say that the hospital staff were wonderful.

Three days later, I celebrated my sixteenth birthday there. Not the best place to be, but, the other patients cheered me up when they all sang 'Happy Birthday' to me. After ten days I was discharged and put on 'the sick'. I had to use a walking stick to get about and started to feel a bit sorry for myself, yet the rest of the world was much worse off. The Germans were knocking on our door and all of our large towns and cities were being bombed. Thank God for the R.A.F., it was so important to win The Battle of Britain. Evacuees were being sent to Wales by the hundred, Bevan Boys were being sent down the mines, cigarettes were being sold on the black-market, even beer was getting scarce.

Then the war took a dramatic turn. The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour, sinking most of the American fleet, causing America to enter the war.

I was still out of work and decided to enrol for Night School, hoping to get a better future
for myself . Around this time Doll was putting together a concert party, with the aim of raising money for Gorseinon to buy a Spitfire, and had heard that I had quite a good voice. He asked me to join, which I did, and along with him as compere and comedian, and two other lads doing a puppet act and farmyard impersonations, our concert party was born. I knew most of the popular songs of the time. You could buy the lyrics on song sheets from Woolworths for three pence. Doll booked us into pubs, clubs and village halls and I thoroughly enjoyed it all. The concert I remember most was for a large audience at Pembrey Airdrome. I was really nervous in front of over two hundred airmen but they applauded at the end of my act so perhaps I wasn't too bad.

By this time I was fit enough to go back to work. I tried for a job on the pit top, telling the management that I was too frightened to go back underground, but they wouldn't have it. So back I went. Electric lamps were now in use, also new safety helmets - they were a big improvement on the old heavy ones.

My mates and I were now all seventeen and wished we were in the 'forces'. But, when we tried to enlist, we were told that our jobs made us exempt. We even tried to stowaway on a ship so that we could join the Merchant Navy, but we were found before it left shore. The outcome was a clip around the head and a kick up the backside. We then decided to work slowly, all three of us. The management put up with it for a few weeks and eventually sacked us. We tried to enlist again but the authorities were very angry with us. They threatened us with heavy fines if we did not return to work. At this point we realised that we would not get our way so it was back to the pit.

The Americans were everywhere by now. They had a large camp near us and their jeeps and lorries were very common sights. They would hang around any household that had daughters old enough so much so that the popular saying of the time was, 'If there's another war in twenty years time, just send the uniforms over!'

I now went to night school twice a week and was taking work seriously. Our concert party was still going strong and Gorseinon did achieve its target and managed to pay for a spitfire. It was a nice feeling to know that I had helped fund a spitfire bearing the name
'Gorseinon'.

The tide of war was slowly turning our way. The Americans were making an impact. They had plenty of manpower and huge resources to back them up. But, just as things seemed to be getting better we had some terrible news. My brother serving in the navy had been killed. He had been escorting food convoys in the English Channel when his ship was hit by shelling from the French coast. Apparently, they had this enormous gun which had been nicknamed 'Big Bertha'. He was only twenty-one. We cried when we received the news but we had to come to terms with our loss, we were not the only family losing sons or daughters in this cruel war.

I was now becoming a hardened collier. Being seventeen plus, I was classed as a man at the pit but I still had the appearance of a small lad being only 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighing 9 stone 6 lb. So, when Saturday night came along I used my brother's identity card (the one serving in Burma) to allow me to get into pubs. My interests were now more grown up. I was showing interest in the opposite sex. I started playing billiards and snooker in the two halls we had in Gorseinon. We also had a dance hall referred to as 'the sixpenny hop'. Ray Allan and his band played there and I would often get up and give a song. On some Saturday nights I was employed as the cloakroom boy. When the yanks came in they would enquire 'How much, buddy?', 'three pence' I'd reply and then they would just hand over all the loose change they had in their pockets. Once I'd deducted the three pence the rest was mine to keep. The Americans were well paid while our service men were on a pittance in comparison. There was a lot of trouble around the Americans when they went on a night out. They would often provoke the black American service men which more than often ended in fights. If it came to taking sides, the colliers would help the black Americans. Now that the Yanks were stationed near us, cigarettes became more plentiful. Much of their rations found their way into people's houses. The small children had their share of sweets and chocolate (Candy, they called it) and every yank I met chewed gum and lived on a ranch or owned an oil well!

Back in the pit, things were getting better. We now had transport to the coalface called a spake. There was talk of machinery - coal cutters, conveyers - just like the big English pits. There were also plans for pithead baths but these took a lot longer to arrive. One morning that I'll never forget I was stopped entering the mine. The firemen informed me that we had a 'squeeze' in our working area. This meant that the roof was slowly coming down and breaking all the timber supports as it dropped. We were told to wait as new timbers were on the way. When we finally entered our stall what we saw frightened us to death, it seemed like half of Glamorgan was on the move down. All the supports around us were breaking, as soon as we replaced them they would break again. The squeeze lasted for about half of our shift and by the time it had finished we had lost over two feet.

Dew, it was hard!

I was now the proud owner of a bicycle, paid for by weekly instalments. In the summer months we'd cycle to The Gower, Port Eynon, Oxwich, Caswell, Mumbles, and watch as cockles were picked at Pentclawdd Sands. All of my family loved cockles and laverbread (which is made from seaweed). Whenever I visit Swansea now, I try to buy laverbread from the market.

Then, out of the blue, my brother stationed in Ireland came home for a week's leave. He said that something big was about to come off and sure enough, next month, D-Day happened. The rest is history, we won the war and I'm happy to say that the rest of my family lived to see victory. I still remember the street parties as if they were yesterday.

Now that the war was over it was business as usual back down the pit. But, at the age of nineteen I was given my own stall, No. 125. It was piecework earning us two shillings and two pence for every ton of coal. If there was any slag amongst the coal, the whole ton was confiscated and we were given no work the next day. I was earning good money, the pithead baths had been built, we now had a canteen and the machinery was about to arrive. Then I was selected to go to Sheffield for six months on a course about mining engineering. I passed all my exams at Swansea College and was offered a job on the Staff as a fireman but declined it as my wages on the conveyers were better.

This more or less brings me up to the end of the story of my youth, but before I finish I'd like to pay tribute to the men that I worked with. They were the kindest, most helpful and hardest working men that ever drew breath.

It's hard now to appreciate how we each managed to dig fifteen tons of coal every shift. If any miner was struggling to achieve his quota then the lads who had finished would lend a hand. In other words, without friends like them - 'Dew, it would have been even harder!'

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