ON THE FRONT LINE stories from the Miners strike ‘84-85

In 2001 I made a documentary about South Shields miners and their families who lived through the strike of 1984-85. Here are short extracts from those interviews, people who need to tell their stories of what it meant to be on the front line. A year that would shape and change their lives forever.

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Phil Screaton: In the lead up to the miners strike there was an air of gloom and pessimism. The writing was on the wall.

Bill Hall: We’d all be warned by Scargill months prior to that, that it was something we had to do to protect our futures.

Joan Cook: It was a whole industry, millions of men fighting for their future. It was a period of time were there was just nothing, at all, coming in. It did wreck havoc, it really did.

Phil Screaton: What I did find during the miner’s strike and since how rapidly all these pits became uneconomical all of a sudden.

Bill Hall: I think the feeling at the time was that we had to do something about it because we had been warned especially by Margaret Thatcher that she intended to deindustrialise the country. Which we had already seen done to the steel works and docks. And we knew that we were next.

Ian Wilkinson: I don’t think any of us had any idea that it was going to be so quick and so strong.

Joan Cook: Everybody was in the same boat and had the same problems so there was always somebody there to talk to. I mean nobody had any money.

Bill Hall: Being a Union Committee man I was brought on board to produce food parcels every week.

Joan Cook: We did get our parcels from the miner’s hall. A few tins of hot dogs, beans that sort of thing. You just get on with it cos you can’t not get on with it.

Phil Screaton: Mortgage was put in abeyance, bills were put to one side you just get on with it.

Bill Hall: To come down from a regular weekly wage to £11 per week is quite a drop.  As the strike wore on it caused a lot of separations and divorces.

Joan Cook: We knew one family with two boys they never got back to their marriage. We knew lads with mortgages who had to sell up. Insurances had to be cashed in.

Bill Hall: When you’re down the pit you relied on everyone around you for your safety and security, that continued through the strike. We all looked after each other.

Joan Cook: They did help each other, it was a strong bond. That industry was like that because it is a very dangerous profession.

Ian Wilkinson: Sometimes I end up dreaming about Westoe Colliery and the water is coming in as it fills up. And panic at the darkness. That’s a lasting effect it’s had on me. Other miners have lost a leg, an arm an eye which is devastating on their lives but this still happens to me at night where I think I’m still down Westoe Colliery.

Phil Screaton: We went down to Orgreave cokeworks  picketing where the police, just local bobbies in their shirts were in line. Then the wagons would come and we’d push them, they’d push us that sort of thing.  But one Monday we were there after doing the Great North Run the day before, and we had North Run t-shirts on, shorts, trainers and walked down the road to the police lines.  Well it was just unbelievable, Thatcher had got on to the police to step it up…they were in riot gear, on horses this was completely different. It was scary to see how it all got out of hand but also last thing you wanted to do was being chased by police horses all over town.

Bill Hall: Halfway through the strike it was quite common to get up in the morning and pick yer mail up and find a packet of bacon had been shoved through as well. You never found out what neighbour sent it, you were just pleased you got it. And It’s the only year I got a suntan. That year of being in the fresh air and taking the kids to the beach (laughs).

Phil Screaton: My son was only 6 months so spent a lot of time with him, raised a lot of money for a cause I believed in and still believe as a socialist that it was a valid point. It was one of those years when it was a turning point in yer life. You were out of work but not down and out of work.

Bill Hall:  I loved the camaraderie down the pit. We used to work hard, play hard and have a good laugh. Even with no pit’s left the mining community are a proud community. We’re still fighting for things in our community.

Watch the film ‘On the Front Line’ (17mins) narration by Tom Kelly, music by John Clavering.

Gary Alikivi August 2019.

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