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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Memories



Please forgive my self-indulgence, but I have transcribed a further ‘trip down memory lane’. The memory centres once again on my Father (George Leslie Bell of Ferrybridge) and is an apt transcript for the November issue, with Remembrance Sunday being one of the most prominent dates. At this point I must thank Phil Yates for the themes of his book.

Were people in folklore more colourful or has time just faded the colours to the harshness of black and white, sharpening the focus thus making them and their deeds more polarized? My Father related many tales of note. This is one such tale an oral history of my family. Once again written in the ‘first person’ style.

The Prince of Wales Saved My Life

Every November on Remembrance Sunday, I read out to myself the names of my school pals, whose names are engraved, on our village war memorial. I contemplate a quirk in history that kept my name from being engraved alongside them. This experience was no less harrowing than war and no less a butcher than the battlefields of Europe, Africa and the Far East. But no medals were won here, no citations for valour were read, no epitaph emblazoned on memorials. We did not fly with the ‘Few’, pit our wits against the ‘Desert Fox’ or run the gauntlet of the ‘Wolf Pack’, yet we were still a ‘Band of Brothers’.

My war service was with a forgotten army; though our contribution then was of extreme importance to the success of the British war effort: I refer to the production of coal.

The person responsible for sending me down the coalmines, was born a poor illegitimate child in 1881 - his name? Ernest Bevin. He announced that a blind ballot would select 10 per cent of men registering for military service, to be directed down the mines. Young men from all backgrounds, found themselves in the unfamiliar surroundings of the mines. They became known as "The Bevin Boys".

I was one of the 45,000 teenage boys, who were arbitrarily selected by lottery. There was no question of appealing. To young men whose friends and brothers had joined the Forces, it was akin to a ‘white feather’. Many had never done any manual work in their lives. Being directed into the toughest industry in the country was ludicrous. I had grown up in a mining area; so I was familiar with the rigours it brings.

We were introduced to those dreadful black depths, instructed how the safety lamp worked and paired with our fellow beast of burden the ‘pit pony’. There was a 'certain way' of driving pit ponies, dependent on the temperament of the pony. Some lads never grasped this special gift throughout their entire service down the mine. Fully trained I was posted to the Prince of Wales Colliery.

Very few of us ever got to work on the coalface. The jobs given to us were usually confined to moving the coal, rather than cutting it; we were employed to move and keep the underground traffic system running smoothly, with our allies the ponies.

On occasions, my lamp failed deep down the haulage road and left me in complete darkness. By instinct, (we called it pit-sense), I grabbed hold of the pony's tail and it led me back to the pit bottom where the stables were situated. An old miner told me: "Tha needn't worry lad, if tha gets lost; pony will always look after thee. Nag nows every inch of’t pit." My pony, called Lion, would share my sandwiches. If I wasn't careful Lion would put his head over my shoulder and eat the lot or just steal them out of my pocket. Like most of my memories, the bad moments seem to have left me, the good ones remain. I do not regret my time in the mines.

As I view the names on the war memorial, remembering their faces, the classmates at school, the friends at home, the young men who so proudly marched through the village to war, I reflect, giving thanks to the fact that 'The Prince of Wales saved my life’.

No one over thirty-five is worth meeting who has not something to teach us,
- something more than we could learn for ourselves, from a book.
Cyril Connolly (1903–74)

Andrew G. Bell

[Memories Index]

Also by Andrew Bell:

Of Bowmen
Reach Your Potential
Letter From the Front

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