I was finally persuaded to get out of my comfortable bed at 6.30am, just in time to grab a cup of tepid black sugarless tea before heading out into the frosty morning air. The ground was white with a heavy frost and we had a bit of trouble getting the van started. After taking a couple of wrong turnings we arrived at the strike centre just after seven. The official on duty asked us if we would be prepared to do some local picketing before trying to get into Notts and we all eagerly agreed, keen to do something useful, and to repay the excellent hospitality we had received.
Our target was the well named town of Grimethorpe where we were to picket the NCB area offices. A lot of white collar workers from the APEX union were scabbing, and we got there by following a car full of Yorkshire pickets.
The picket was unsuccessful in terms of persuading the scabs to join the strike but it did provide us with our first experience of the humour of a Yorkshire picket line. I have always had a grudging respect for the police so the way the lads took the piss out of them came as a bit of a surprise at first.
The main picket was at the top of a fairly steep bank and there were about 50 lads present. As we stood jeering at the scabs going through our line, a lot of the lads began making their way down the bank. I asked a lad what was happening and he said;’Follow me and tha’ll see for thee sen’. We dutifully followed, speculating on what would happen next. At the bottom everyone seemed to be looking back up the slope at the police. We soon found out why as the police formed into ranks and began marching smartly down the bank. Just before they reached us the pickets formed into ranks and began goosestepping back up the hill, laughing and jeering at the police as we passed them. The police about turned and followed us, and again down we marched and repeated the process. I was sure the police would get angry and attack, but they didn’t, they just followed us. They must have been knackered in their heavy uniforms.It was funny, and the experience put us in high spirits.
Back at strike HQ we were introduced to another car load of pickets who assured us they would get us into Notts, saying they’d never failed yet. Before we left I was given another£30 for petrol. Somehow I was looked upon as our leader so it was to me that a reporter and a photographer from the ‘Morning Star’ came and asked if we could give them a lift. No one had any objections so we set off, stopping at a local petrol station to fill up before heading for the M1. This did not strike us as the most subtle route to take but the Yorkshire lads were so confident that we weren’t too worried. Our confidence began to wilt a bit as we headed south because every flyover we passed was jammed full with police vehicles. Geordie kept repeating,’You aint seen nothing yet!’ As we got closer I had to agree because I have never seen so many police vehicles in my life! It was very intimidating and not a little scary.
We pulled off the M1 at junction 29 and at the top of the slip road we were forced to take a diversion by police signs. We were now certain that we were about to be stopped, especially as geordie reminded us that this is what had happened the other day. Sure enough, as we approached a roundabout we were forced to go down a road that led to a police checkpoint. A policeman flagged us down and we could see about a dozen cars in front of us, their occupants lounging about on the grass verge.
The policeman spoke to Brian and said;’Can I ask you where you are going sir?’ Brian was at a loss what to say so he told them we were going into Notts to hand out leaflets asking for support. With a huge grin on his face the copper said;’ I must warn you that if you proceed any further you will be arrested because I believe that if you proceed a breach of the peace may ensue.’We all started shouting saying we had no intention of breaching the peace and that they had no grounds for stopping us.It was a bloody police state! A senior police officer came over and asked what the problem was, and when he heard our protests he said;’Where have you lot come from then? When Brian told him he said;’You cheeky bastards! You’ve got some bloody nerve trying to get in, in broad daylight, in a bloody van!’ He then ordered everyone out except Brian, who had to give his details.
We stood on the grass verge chatting to some lads from Cortonwood, one of the 5 pits that sparked off the strike. They were delighted that Durham miners had joined the strike and one of them admitted he never thought Durham would join the strike, having a reputation as a moderate coalfield. We told him that we were surprised as well! We all posed for a photo in front of a sign that said ‘Pleasely’. This upset Brian who was still being questioned and couldn’t join us. he likes having his photo took does Brian.
After a while the police ordered us all to get back into our vehicles, which we did but in as slow a way as possible to show some defiance. According to the Yorkshire lads we were to be escorted back onto the M1, and some of them said they were going to block the M1 by driving slowly, as had happened yesterday. Brian refused to join in because he had been warned by the police that he would be arrested if he was caught driving in Notts again during the current dispute. we were escorted in convoy back onto the M1, with motorcycle outriders to make sure no one tried to escape. The blockade never materialised and we had a straightforward journey back to Barnsley. Back at strike HQ we were asked to return at 5pm, and we had a bit of discussion as to whether it was worth it or not. We decided it was, and Jeff Mackins was appointed our new driver. We had some dinner and then I grabbed a couple of hours kip.
The staff at the college were fantastic, providing us with a huge parcel of sandwiches and fruit and an early tea. Well fed we set off back to Barnsley.
At Strike HQ we were given another £30 which we decided to share out for a little pocket money. I felt guilty about this but was outnumbered so reluctantly agreed. we were given a new guide, Malc, who worked at Grimethorpe and travelled in the van with us. he was a brilliant guide, not only taking us through three counties but also giving us a running commentary about places of interest along the way, including the birthplace of Arthur Scargill and the home of Jackie Charlton. we seemed to use every back road, track and minor road, and went in so many different directions none of us had a clue where we were, including Geordie. Incredibly we never saw the police until a car flew past us near our destination. We entered a housing estate and looked for a safe place to park, settling on a piece of waste land next to some garages. Thanks to Dekka we were sticky and uncomfortable because he’d opened a bottle of coke and soaked everyone and the inside of the van. Ian Wilburn looked like ‘the creature from the black lagoon’ because he bore the brunt of the ‘explosion’.
After eating sandwiches we set off in pairs to follow Malc’s instructions on how to reach the pit we were to picket. I went with Joe Humphries, and despite our slow pace we soon caught up with Keith Smoult. I was as nervous as hell, feeling like an escaped POW in wartime Germany. Keith felt the same but Joe was so cool he even went into a local Miners Welfare to ask for directions! We tried to act as normal as we could but I felt that everyone could see we were pickets. Keith’s nerve broke first when a police car went past and he dashed off the road into some nearby trees. I was very tempted to follow but Joe said we were safer on the road, and anyway, we weren’t breaking any laws.
After 15 minutes walking we caught our first sight of the pit outlined against the darkening sky. As we approached the pit we stopped dead. The whole of the entrance was crowded with police, the driveway was full of police, and as we got closer we saw the pit canteen was also full of police! It was an unbelievable sight! I’ve never seen so many police in one place before. My immediate thought was there must be a mass picket in place, or one was expected. We headed towards the flat caps visible between the ranks of police. As we arrived we saw there was no mass picket, and after a quick chat with one of the half dozen men present told me there was unlikely to be one. The colliery was called Annerseley and is in the South Notts area. I spotted Brian and asked him where the others were and he told me they’d gone down the road to a connected colliery called Newstead. Keith turned up and we chatted with a few lads from Grimethorpe who we’d met this morning. There was no sign of humour or piss taking at Annersley. The police seemed to have been hand picked for their height and build, brick shithouses in every sense of the word!
After a few minutes a senior police officer crossed the road and began shouting at us. He said;’Right you scum! Stand there, keep still, and don’t you dare shout anything at the decent working men coming out. As a matter of fact, don’t even breath too loudly or I’ll have you in the back of a van so quickly you won’t believe it!!’ His tone was highly aggressive and I had no doubt he would carry out his threat at the slightest provocation. It was extremely frustrating to have to stand there whilst the scabs coming out hurled abuse at us!
After a while the rest of our lads turned up from the other pit but before they could tell us anything about it the senior officer returned and said there were too many of us and if some of us didn’t move on he would arrest the lot of us for obstruction. What a bloody joke, if anyone was causing an obstruction it was the hundreds of police. There were only about 15 of us, but to stop the pig carrying out his threat Keith, Joe, Ian and myself decided to try out the pit down the road whilst Brian and Jeff went to get the van so lads could shelter from the rain that had started to come down.
The road to Newstead ran alongside the colliery buildings and we could see scabs working beneath the orange lights. We were tempted to shout at them but daren’t because the road ahead was pitch black and we didn’t know what lay ahead.
We finally arrived at Newstead after getting lost for a while.It lay at the bottom of a road lined with a mixture of condemned and inhabited pit houses. It was a depressing sight and did nothing to calm my jumpy nerves. There were about half a dozen lads present, including our guide Malc.They were as cocky as the picket had been at Grimethorpe that morning, taking the piss out of the police. One lad told me this lot were ‘green’ and were from Devon and Somerset and as such were easy targets. He also warned that the next lot who would be taking over shortly were real wicked bastards and were from the local police force.
Sure enough at 9.30pm the green police marched off to be replaced by some of the biggest bastards it has ever been my misfortune to come across. Within minutes four of the Yorkshire lads were roughly arrested, including our guide, Malc, all of them unceremoniously thrown into the back of a van and driven off. I admit to being terrified, certain we were to be next. Joe wasn’t frightened and asked a sergeant if he could hand out some leaflets to the scabs who were beginning to arrive. To our great surprise he was allowed to do so on the condition he didn’t speak or try to force them to accept a leaflet. Whilst he tried to do this I learned from one of the lads that Malc and the others had been arrested because they’d been there the night before. I said that wasn’t a crime but the lad said being a striking miner and being there was enough. As we chatted one of the police facing us deliberately stood on my toes, causing me a lot of pain as I tried to get them from beneath his heavy boots. The bastard had a sadistic grin on his face, and only let me get away when the lads started to move off. He called me,’Fucking scum’ as I limped off, cursing under my breath. I know who the scum are!
As we walked back to Annersley in the pitch black talking about what we’d seen I almost had a heart attack when two policemen jumped at us, shining torches in our faces and demanding to know where we were going. Joe did the talking until we were asked for our names and addresses. When I told him mine he told me not to take the piss and cuffed my ear. He was finally convinced when I showed him my NUM diary which had my name and address inside. We continued on our way now completely soaked by the rain, which seemed to be getting heavier by the minute.
When we reached the van we found it full of police taking everyone’s details. Joe and Ian managed to squeeze inside but Keith and I were forced to stay outside in the torrential rain. I again gave my name with almost the same result minus the cuff round the ear. To my astonishment Keith not only gave a false name and address but he also used the name of one of our lodge officials as his own. I couldn’t help but admire his cheek but also felt certain he would be discovered and arrested.The police finally left, warning us that if we were caught in Notts again we would be arrested, and if the van returned it would be impounded! So much for our ‘free country’. It is frightening that we, as legitimate trade unionists, should be prevented from exercising our democratic right to picket. Welcome to Thatchers Britain 1984! Orwell wasn’t far off.
The journey back to Barnsley was very subdued. Brian was very relieved that he hadn’t been arrested as he had been threatened with this morning. We were all totally shocked by our experience, apart from Geordie, and are looking forward to going home later today. I had to stay up and write this whilst it is still fresh in my memory. I’ll end by using a quote from a book I found in this room;
‘A man may perhaps say the public peace may be hereby disturbed, but he ought to know there can be no peace where there is no justice, nor any justice if the government instituted for the good of a nation be turned to its ruin’. Algernon Sidney,1680.