My college day release was going quite well I thought, but I was struggling a little with the maths; I had only a very basic education at school. Most of the class were ex-grammar school boys. In maths for instance I had never heard the word algebra, never mind calculate in it. Some of the others were used to doing quadratic equations, whatever they were. When first year exams results were given I had passed, not with high marks, but with sufficient to enable me to be granted a second year of study.
It was during this first year that I took a course of St John’s First Aid lectures which gave me a qualifying certificate. From that point on I carried, at all times, a satchel of First Aid equipment.
A series of Morphine Safes were installed at strategic points within the underground workings. These were small sturdy safes set in concrete into the rock wall. Only responsible persons who were qualified in the use of morphine were entrusted with a key. I felt very grand when I passed a course of instruction and was given a key to the safes. Morphine is given to seriously injured miners who are in great pain, and it is thought there may be a delay in being treated by a doctor. Morphine cannot be given lightly to a patient and strict records must be kept of any administration. If Morphine is ever administered, a large ‘M’ must be drawn on the forehead of the patient to ensure that a double dose, which may be lethal or habit forming, is not given. Part of my duties was to periodically check the safe contents and record same
I also had to periodically check fire hydrants and extinguishers. Both these are usually situated at key points and where machinery is constantly being used. A fire could break out where machinery bearings have broken down and friction has caused the machine to overheat. Prompt action by the person on the spot can save lives.
One shift I was checking the Fire extinguishers in the coaling pit bottom. There had been a hold up at the pit top. No coal was being hauled up the shaft. All the pit bottom lads had congregated in a group. Amongst the group was Johnny C. I was surprised to see him there because his usual job was as a conveyor belt attendant.
Johnny had been boasting about how he had taken up weight lifting at his local club. The discussion was about how much each could lift. It was suggested that John should show us how he could lift a full tub of coal off, and then back on to the rails by himself without using leverage. He completed the task with ease and made it look a non event. John was a very strong person all had to agree.
There was an old tub to one side of the roadway. It was in bad state of repair and was not used. Someone further suggested that if it was completely overturned and Johnny was under it could he lift it with his back and be able to stand up? It was obvious he could and John said so.
Ah! But if a lad sat on the upturned tub could he still do it?
John said he would have a go. He got under the tub, but instead of one lad getting on top, all of them, me included, got on. There was no way he could lift it there were about six people on it. Even then John was almost moving it. “Come on Johnny,” they urged “you can do it.” John heaved and pushed. There was no way he could lift the tub. I doubt if Charles Atlas, who was the strong man of the time, could have done it.
One of the lads nodded to another and one got off the tub, quietly telling all the others to remain on it. As one lad got off then his weight would be compensated with a couple of one hundred weight sacks of stone dust. They then put steel rings and fish plates on top. No way could Johnny free himself he was trapped. They remained ignorant to his pleas of release. He was left him under the tub until the Deputy came and made the lads release him. The whole episode did not seem to faze or bother Johnny, there again nothing ever seemed to.