It was late 1959 and I had just finished my shift and was walking outwards. As I passed the loader end an old acquaintance of mine said. “Have you heard about Harry Dinsdale?”
My ears pricked up immediately. “What about Harry?”
“He’s been killed on Twenty Threes”
“Ah!” I felt impending doom,” are you sure?” Knowing full well miners don’t joke or maliciously spread rumours about something serious like this.
“They carried him out past here a half hour ago.” affirmed the man.
I was so shocked; it was like losing a father. Harry had been good to me and for me. No further news was available at that time.
It later transpired that a huge rock had fallen from the roof and forced his upper body into the duffy (machine dust washings) He had suffocated rather than succumbing to physical damage.
In the old days before Nationalisation if a person was killed down a pit, all work stopped and all miners went home. The National Coal Board realised that this practice was in no ones best interest. The Board lost production and the workers lost wages. The Coal Board made an offer to the Mineworkers Union. In the event of an underground death, if the men stayed underground and continued to work that day, then they would give a gratia payment to the dead mans next of kin of one thousand pounds. This payment would not affect his statutory rights. The unions accepted the offer.
It was generally accepted though, that the dead man’s district could not continue to work. I certainly could not imagine continuing working on a district that a mate had just died on.
At Harry’s funeral practically all the pit workers attended, it was a sad day for all. A nicer man than Harry you will not find. What is the power that allows good men like Harry to expire prematurely? Where is the reasoning? I’ll never fathom it out.
It was not long after Harry’s death that newspapers began reporting the virtues of Atomic energy. It was to be the next best thing since sliced bread. Someday all energy would be produced this way it was clean and cheap. There would be no need for coal or oil. Coal especially was old fashioned and too expensive, it was to be to be a thing of the past. It wasn’t exactly reported like that but that’s how I interpreted it.
I now began to look at my life down the pit. Up to that point I had quite enjoyed being a miner. The money was good. The conditions and work I could handle. I started looking around me, at the old colliers that looked ready for retirement but were probably only fifteen to twenty years older than I was. The constant coughing and having to stop through shortage of breath and energy; there goes me in a few years time I thought.
I discussed my feelings with my mate Peter Whitehead. He sympathised and confided that he felt exactly the same. He too was looking for a way out of the pits. From that point on, I seriously began to consider what else I could do. I was only trained to do one thing: Mining.
I had a thought; I wouldn’t mind being a policeman. I would be trained for the job and thanks to the mining college, I now had a reasonable education. I was more confident now than at any time in my life, education had given me that, not my fighting prowess. Policemen were respected, the money and conditions of work was good. Okay that was it, I’d be a policeman.
That evening I discussed my idea with my wife. She realised that I had slowly become disillusioned with mining and agreed that a policeman’s lot could be a happy one. I called in at the main Leeds police station, Milgarth, and made enquiries. A senior officer asked me a few questions and said that they would be in later contact. Two weeks after I received notification of an appointment for tests and interview.
Once there I underwent a physical examination and an intelligence test. I was informed that all was okay. Then began my interview with a Chief Superintendent, I was asked all sorts of questions regarding the makeup of my personality. I had a clean police record. All was going well. The interview seemed to be succeeding. Then the officer asked me in which branch of the services I had done my National Service.
National Service was still in force at the time. Of course mining was exempt, I told him that.
“Unfortunately the Police Service is not an exempt occupation.” was his reply. “It seems that you would have to complete National Service before we could accept you.” The crux of the matter was that if I were to leave the mining industry then I would have to go into the armed forces.
I left the interview really down. I was trapped. The pit had now become my prison.
Again I mulled over my problem with Peter W. telling him that I was seriously considering joining the army as a career. He seemed interested and said he might consider that outlet. We agreed to talk to our respective wives to sound out their feelings.
Discussing the situation that evening with my wife she was in no uncertain terms about my joining the services. She did not like the idea. I tried to persuade her that I could go in the army and make it a career. We would get married quarters. We could both travel and see the world. She was still against it.
I knew I had to do something; my pit bubble had been burst. From my next shift I began to hate the pit. Whereas before I could look at all the best the pit had to offer me. Now I looked completely on the black side.
My shot firing colleagues knew of my decision to join the police. The next day when I saw them they asked what had been the outcome. When I told them they sympathised and asked what I was going to do. I replied that I didn’t know. It looked as if I would have to join the army and get that out of the way. I told them that I was thinking along the lines of making the Army a career.
Just then Walter T. who was an old ex army man, said. “You wanted to be a policeman and you have to join the army, why not be an army policeman.”
“Army Policeman what’s them then?” I replied showing my naiveté.
“They are just like the civil police but they are the army police. They are Military Policemen, they are called Redcaps.”
“Because they don’t wear a beret like normal soldiers they wear a Red peaked hat and have an arm band with the letters MP. Theirs is the Corps of the Royal Military Police.” From that point I was hooked; wearing a uniform with a red hat and an armband with MP on sounded great. I would have to go home and re-talk it all over with my Brenda and I knew what that outcome would be. I couldn’t possibly discuss it with her, I was sure she would dissuade me from my course. She certainly would make me change my direction.
That day, after my shift, I again talked to Peter and told him of my wife’s attitude to my joining the army. He said that his wife wanted whatever he wanted. I told him what I’d heard about the Military Police. He was very interested especially about the MPs and suggested we go and get further information. We both went down to the Army recruiting offices in Wellington Street, Leeds. After discussion, interviews and tests we were informed that we were both suitable candidates for the Army and that they were prepared to enlist us in Corps of the Royal Military Police.
The upshot being that we both signed there and then for ‘9/22’, Nine years, with the option every three years of re-signing, to a maximum of Twenty two years. That evening I went home to tell my wife that I had joined up.
Two weeks later Peter and I were on board a train heading for Woking, Surrey, the Depot and Training Establishment of the Royal Military Police.
You can read all about the next chapter in Jack’s life as a Military Policeman on his website at www.jackgale.co.uk
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