ECHO'S OF THE PAST
- MYTH OR MYSTERY
ANDREW G. BELL
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.
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
The Prince of Wales Saved My Life
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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,
more than we could learn for ourselves, from a book.
Cyril Connolly (1903–74)
Andrew G. Bell
Also by Andrew Bell:
Reach Your Potential
Letter From the Front