Your Stuff

Cliff Lowtons’ first day underground

Sutton Manor Colliery

Thursday 5th July 1962 found three of us lads sat nervously inside the Training Office waiting to be taken underground the start of our mining careers. Harry Smallwood, John Beech and myself. John was allocated to the pit bottom hooking on but was destined to take up a late entry place on the apprenticeship scheme. Harry was located to the underground loco sheds and eventually became a loco driver as I did on my 18th Birthday. However, on this particular day my first as a Pit Lad was to be overshadowed by tragedy. We were due to be taken to our underground workplaces at 8.00am but were delayed until 10.30 to allow a casualty to be brought to the surface. In the training office with us was an ex collier who had been given light duties and who was to accompany us underground had himself suffered a grievous injury some years before. One half of his face was noticeably stepped back from the rest and heavily scarred by skin grafting. In addition to his horrific facial injuries he had suffered brain damage when the handle of a Sylvester, which was a very crude winch had slipped from the sweaty grip of a work-mate hitting him full in the face. As a result of his brain damage he had no control over his bowel movements but assured us in a genuine jovial manner that it was a small price to pay for the continuation of his life. He informed us that as the Sister from the medical centre and a Doctor had just been lowered into the mine the signs did not bode well. An ambulance arrived and was reversed up to number 1 pit shaft. The cage on arriving at the surface seemed to take longer than usual to halt and when it did and the blanket shrouded stretcher was transferred to the ambulance, then did I realise that my first day at the pit had been marred by a fatal accident.

The miner aged 51 had been clearing debris from a conveyor carrying coal out of the Crombrouke South district. It appeared that his jacket sleeve had caught in a conveyor belt hinge and carried him into the drive. He had died instantly from multiple injuries. I was to work in this district on that very same job later in the year and came to know exactly where the man had died. Throughout my mining career I was to witness many more deaths but that first fatality stayed with me for a long time. But the greatest irony of all was that the poor man broken in health and older than his 51 years was a hero. I was to later hear of the exploits of Earnest Cunliffe Gee and how he had received an award for valour when he had saved the lives of three miners in a pit fire. Mr Unsworth Miner’s Agent giving evidence at the inquest told the Coroner that he had had the honour of presenting Gee with the award and that his action would be recorded in Mining history.

Cliff Lowton kindly sent in poem he found in the Reporter dated Friday 22 November 1940

The Ravenhead

He went to work gaily-I whispered goodbye-
With a song in his heart and a laugh in his eye.
And when I murmured God Bless from the heart
to the door, and many times more.
But ere many hours the news came to me
That never-no never-alive more I’d see
The child of my bosom for broken and dead
He lay at the mouth of the dark Ravenhead.
And often I sit and I think and I cry
That he should be taken so young for to die.
My only one perished, why wonder I weep
Oh cruel dark wrong of the Ravenhead deep.

Signed A.H. Woo