I can honestly say I’ve never experienced anything like I did today and I hope I never do so again! It was terrifying and exciting at the same time and I’ve got the bruises and aching bones to prove it! Incredible.
I left the house at 1.30am to walk the five miles to the Armstrong Hall. It was quite pleasant for a change, warm and sultry, and I felt excited. I met up with Joe Humphries and Lol Calvert at the top of Stanhope Road and we talked on our way down. Lol said we were definitely going to Orgreave because he’d overheard two committee men talking last night. The Chairman, John Chapman, picked us up in his car and confirmed it was to be Orgreave and said he thought it was a waste of time and union funds. He also said Scargill should be negotiating with the NCB instead of calling for mass pickets because they only led to violence. I did mention Saltley Gate but it just flew over his head.
We all collected our £8 picket money and piled aboard the two coaches.There were a few empty seats but I put that down to the early start because we left at exactly 3am. Most of the lads tried to catch a few hours kip but I was too excited and chatted to Gary and Keith about what might happen. We thought it would be good to see some action after almost 14 weeks of no action and it could be the kick up the arse the strike needed.
We arrived in Sheffield just after 6 after having been held up briefly by a convoy of coaches we thought were pickets but saw they were actually pigs as we passed, hundreds of them who turned off towards Orgreave. We had been told to meet outside NUM HQ but when we got there we found the whole place in darkness and locked up. We were soon joined by 5 coaches of Scottish pickets, and more coaches from Durham Lodges. No one seemed to know what to do until someone shouted through a megaphone and we all started to line up to march to Orgreave because our coaches had already left to park up.
It must have been an amazing sight as hundreds of us headed for the motorway with Scottish flags and banners at the head. The police had closed off the road and we marched along it chanting defiantly. It was a great feeling because there were surprisingly few pigs but we seemed to march for bloody miles. As we approached a slip road we saw it was lined with coaches. More pickets we thought until pigs started to pour out of them and came to march either side of our columns, trying to herd us into an organised mob. We responded by stopping, then setting off at different paces, the more energetic lads actually running and forcing the pigs to set off after them. Pretty soon we had strung ourselves out so much there were long sections totally unpoliced. This ended when we came to another slip road totally blocked off by pigs. I was glad because I was knackered and needed a rest. They kept us there for a good twenty minutes until even the slowest lads had caught up and then we found ourselves totally blocked in by pigs and prevented from leaving the march. We set off again and workers came out from factories to cheer us on, and people caught in the traffic jam we’d probably caused honked their horns noisily in support. We were eventually filtered off to the left and found ourselves on a small country lane that petered out into a footpath, wide enough for only three abreast. There was a footbridge over a railway line and it was from the top of this that we caught our first sight of Orgreave.
There was the coke works in the distance,squatting on the land and belching out smoke from Yorkshire coal. A black line of police spread across the yellow field in front, with horses to the rear and sides. The pickets were to one side facing them and the whole scene was like a science fiction film, or a scene from the English Civil War! As I reached the bottom of the footbridge I heard lots of noise and shouting in the distance and guessed it was a clash between police and pickets so I and everyone else began to run up the lane. After a few hundred yards we could see hundreds of pickets running up the field with pigs on horses in hot pursuit. It was an awesome sight and I remember thinking that there were more pickets than horses and they could easily beat them. It was only later when I was in the mass picket that I found out for myself the panic that spreads instantly when the horses charge and makes you react without thinking!
We joined the pickets at the top of the field as the horses were returning behind police lines and I spotted a lad I’d met at Skegness called Dermot and he filled me in about what had happened. The cavalry charge had been in response to a few nutters throwing bricks from the back of the picket. Dermot had been hit twice by a baton and had two very painful lumps, one on his side and one on his shoulder. It hadn’t stopped him from trying to sell Socialist Worker, which is how he’d ended up in the frontline in the first place because some pickets had given him the usual abuse about being more interested in selling the paper than fighting the pigs, so he’d gone to the front to show them that they were wrong. We talked for a while and tried to guess the size of the picket, coming to the conclusion that there were more of us than them, but we felt there still weren’t enough to really make a difference. The police stretched across the field in full riot gear, standing behind huge plastic shields, with mounted police, also in riot gear, behind them. It was a chilling sight, especially as we were dressed only in t shirts and jeans. How could we beat them? The answer was, of course, mass pushes, but we reckoned there were only about 5,000 of us whilst at the famous victory at Saltley Gate in 1972 there had been 15,000, and the miners then had been reinforced by other workers. The SWP had produced placards reading,’Turn Orgreave into Saltley’ but it didn’t look like we had enough to turn it into reality. Scargill was with us, but where were McGahey, Heathfield, Taylor and the rest?
Dermot and me made our way down to the front and I scanned the crowd looking for familiar faces. I saw Tommy Wilson and his sons just in front of me, and when Tommy spotted me he came over and said,’We’ve had our differences in the past Strike but at least you’ve got the guts to be where the action is and I respect you for that. Not like those jelly backed bastards back there’ he snarled, pointing at the vast majority of pickets who were as far back up the road as they could get, with hundreds more standing on walls that lined the road. Suddenly a hail of missiles began to fly over our heads and land amongst the police lines. We all shouted at them to stop and come down the front with us if they wanted to throw stuff. A lad near me fell down screaming, felled by a lump of stone.Blood was oozing from the back of his head. As lads went to help him and get him to his feet the police line parted, and without any warning the horses charged out, closely followed by pigs in riot gear and round shields. I just ran to the side of the road and jumped down the embankment thinking it would be safer there. Dozens of others did the same but to our shock the pigs came after us, and not only that, hidden to our right were police with dogs which they began to unleash. That was all I needed for the andrenalin to kick in and I began sprinting up the field, trying to avoid the slower lads. I made it to safety but was horrified at what I saw as I looked back down the field. Dogs were biting lads whilst others were being truncheoned by pigs and either led away or dragged away! It was a disgusting sight and one I never thought I’d see in this country. I’ll never forget it but worse was to follow.
Back on the road Arthur Scargill was standing, wearing a baseball hat and shouting through a megaphone,’Come on lads! Don’t run from a few mounted police! I’ve seen bigger horses at York races. Get down the front for a push, there’s enough of us to break them’. Some of the lads started off down the road but the majority just stayed where they were taking no notice. Scargill then shouted,’I’m ashamed to see miners standing by while their comrades are fighting for their jobs!’ Even this didn’t shift the cowardly bastards and as I made my way back down to the front I could still hear him pleading for more men to join us. I lit up a cigarette, which was a big mistake because I didn’t even have time to take a drag before the push started and my hand was trapped by the crush. We managed to force them back a few yards before their lines were reinforced and they pushed us back. An angry picket shouted at me to get rid of the cigarette and I managed to drop it, burning a hole in my t – shirt as I did so. I struggled to keep my feet in the crush as we were forced backwards. The shout went up of ‘man down’ and this ended the push as it always did. The pigs seized the chance to grab anyone they could and I saw a few bodies disappear behind police lines. This angered some of the pickets and I saw one lad launch himself feet first at the pigs whilst another group managed to wrestle free a riot shield which they waved defiantly at the pigs. I also saw one of our ‘Turn Orgreave into Saltley’ placards being held aloft by a picket standing right in front of the police. he was a lot braver than me.
I decided to move into the field to my right, determined not to get caught in the middle of another push.The feeling of claustrophobia always frightens me in a push, the feeling you’re about to faint because of the pressure crushing your ribs and making breating difficult. I hate it yet always seem to forget and find myself in the middle of another push, despite my avowals of ‘never again’. I spotted Dave Hayes who used to live in Newcastle but now lives in Sheffield and who I’d met at Skegness. He was talking to a woman who he introduced as Sheila McGregor(a worse surname than mine!) It was a glorious hot day with heatwaves shimmering in front of the police lines, making them look even more unreal than they were. The three of us stood talking about what needed to be done, and I took off my shirt and tied it round my waist, enjoying the heat of the sun on my back. Some lads had set fire to the captured riot shield and the stubble in the field had caught fire. We were trying to stamp it out when Sheila told me my trousers were on fire. They laughed as I jumped about trying to put the smouldering jeans out. The pigs must have been wound up because I just had time to see the police lines part and the horses move forward before turning tail and starting to sprint up the field to avoid being caught. Believe me, sprinting up a field in steel toe capped boots in scorching heat is not to be recommended, but the sound of galloping hooves and the occasional ‘whooosh’ of a baton being aimed at your head is a wonderful incentive to break the pain barrier, and probably the world record for the 400m! I sped past other lads running and reached a wall at the top of the field and dived over it, heedless of what might lie beyond. I went tumbling down a steep railway embankment and landed painfully at the bottom by the side of a railway line. I dusted myself off and gingerly began to climb back up, watching out for pigs as I climbed. as I watched I saw the horses returning behind police lines, whilst all over the field pigs were beating pickets whilst others were being dragged away. I could see one pig repeatedly clubbing a lad as he lay helpless on the floor. Any respect I may have had for the police disappeared today. I’ve seen riots on TV, Brixton, Toxteth etc but this was different because it was my fellow miners being clubbed for nothing more than fighting for the right to work! If this is how Thatcher intends defeating us then I for one will never give in!
We eventually made our way back down the field but I met Gary Marshall and he told me our coaches were going and we had to leave. I couldn’t believe it! We couldn’t leave now and desert the battle. We made our way back up the field and met Tommy Wilson. He had been badly clubbed while he was trying to help an injured picket and was in a lot of pain. I advised him to get to hospital and have his injuries looked at. We reached the bridge and found most of our lads talking to Scargill. They had told him about us being ordered to leave and Arthur was furious and told us to stay to fight back. He complained bitterly about the waste of union funds to send us down for the day instead of for a whole week. He also said that if necessary he would pay for our transport himself. We all voted to stay because none of us wanted to go anyway, not without having another go at the pigs. We wanted revenge!
We were all starving so when we saw lads passing with bags of food we decided to go in search of the shop which must be nearby. A few hundred yards up the road we found hundreds of lads sitting and lying outside a supermarket, a lot of them drinking beer and cider, and getting pissed by the looks of it. One criticism I would make of the union is probably not shared by most miners but I’ll say it anyway. £8 a day ‘subsistence’ money is too much, and £4 would be enough, especially for a one day visit. A lot of lads take most of it back for their families but a lot also abuse it and get pissed, which does nothing to enhance a mass picket and leaves us open to criticism from the media.
Anyway, Gary, Keith and me went into the supermarket where I bought some bread rolls, cheese and a carton of milk. Keith spent ages deciding what to get and ended up with crisps. We went back outside and found a seat on a wall and settled down to eat hungrily. I noticed a couple of lads looking at us hungrily and I offered them some bread and cheese. It turned out they were striking miners from Nottingham and had only been given petrol money because their funds were frozen. I gave them £2 and Gary and Keith did the same. They were embarassingly grateful but we told them we were grateful to them for striking against the majority and we discussed how hard it was for them to be in the minority. One of them have me his union badge and I was really touched. We rejoined the picket feeling really humble.
When we got back to the bridge we found the pigs had taken advantage of the pickets absence and had moved their lines right up and refused to let anyone pass. This caused a lot of anger and as more pickets returned the anger turned into action and we all started to throw anything we could find at the pigs, forcing them to retreat under a hail of missiles. I spotted Ian Mitchell from Silverwood Colliery and we both criticised the police for preventing us returning to picket and causing the violent response.It wasn’t helping our cause but nothing could be done to stop it.
The pigs regrouped andcharged forward weilding their batons and everyone just turned tail and ran. I cursed the slower men in front of me as I stumbled forward and was relieved when we came to a halt a few hundred yards up the road because the pigs had retreated again. The word buzzed around that Scargill had been injured and arrested in the charge and this only infuriated the pickets further and gave them a fresh incentive to attack the pigs. At the bridge a group of pickets were dragging a car across the road from a repair yard to the right of the bridge. I joined in, by now so mad that I was prepared to do anything to stop the pigs charging again. The car burst into flames, set alight by an unknown hand, and everyone cheered and taunted the pigs who were unable to get at us because of the burning car and the hail of missiles raining down on them. Local residents started to put bottles of water out on their walls which we drank gratefully in the scorching heat. It was encouraging to see they seemed to be on our side.
Something had to happen because the pigs couldn’t afford to be beaten, and sure enough the horses reappeared through the black smoke causing wild panic with pickets running in all directions to get away. I’ll never forget the fear I felt as a horse just missed trampling me and fortunately for me the following pigs were too busy clubbing other pickets so I got away. I saw a man run up a metal staircase and the bloody horse was trying to follow him! It was incredible. I ran to where I thought safety lay with the majority of lads in front of the supermarket but the pigs had scented blood and were hell bent on getting at us, charging forward into the crowd. I was off and running again and I ran into the car park and hid behind a car.The noise of shouting and pain was everywhere. I crept over to join some other pickets hiding nearby. They were Welsh and older men, unlike the majority of us.One of them looked like he was having a heart attack, his face contorted with pain. His two mates didn’t look much better but after a while they seemed to get better. One of them told me they were at the back when the pigs charged and were caught unawares and had to run into the supermarket.Security guards chased them out to where they were now.
After about ten minutes I decided to venture back onto the main road, leaving the Welsh lads behind because they didn’t want to take risks. There was no sign of the pigs and a large crowd was forming on the road. A group of drunk Scots chanted,’We’re mental, we’re crazy, we’re off wor fuckin’ heeds’ and aimed kicks at any car that tried to pass. I went into the supermarket to ring Kath and tell her I was OK. She told me Orgreave was all over the news and that miners had been violent. That made me laugh but I told her I’d explain when I got home around nine.
The Westoe lads were called together because our coaches had arrived. Some lads had gone into Sheffield to get them and it now seemed pointless to stay because everything had gone crazy and it didn’t make sense to risk more lads being arrested for nothing.A head count was taken and men sent out to round up stragglers. There was a rumour going round that the pigs were going to arrest anyone left, just like at Mansfield. We boarded our coach for safety and when the lads sent out returned we headed for Sheffield to pick up the lads who had been taken to hospital. One of them, Fred Taylor, told us how he’d been clubbed in the first push. He’s a big lad and has a plastic hip so he couldn’t run like the rest of us. He just stood still but a pig attacked him, clubbing him to the ground then hitting him in the ribs! He was lucky not to have been arrested. None of our lads were but a few were injured. A lot of others today weren’t so fortunate and it’s a bloody miracle nobody was murdered.!
The journey home was very quiet and subdued, with most of us catching up on sleep. We weren’t depressed, more angry at what we had seen and been through and would have stayed the week if someone could have arranged it. One thing we are all determined about is not to give in and the more the state throws against us the more we will fight back.
Kath and me watched it on the news tonight but the slant they put on it made us seem like the aggressors! They showed none of the bad stuff done to us so it looks like we are on our own.