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In 1943, at the age of 14 years, I took up a position as a junior weighman/ticketer, by Harold Stoves

In 1943, at the age of 14 years, I took up a position as a junior weighman/ticketer with Strakers and Love Limited, Private Coal Owners, at Brancepeth Colliery, Co. Durham. My hours of employment were from 6.00 am to 2.00 pm- 5 1/2 days per week - weekly salary - 12 shillings (60 pence).
On my first morning at work I met the weighman who had been at work since 4.00 am and I noticed lying on a weighbridge a workman's crushed boot. When I asked him about this he said that it had been retrieved from a man who had fallen into the central washery (not a good introduction for an inexperienced young boy).
The main weigh office building comprised of the coal office, the traffic manager's office and the coke office. My first duty was to remove all the outside "black-out" blinds from the windows (these were wooden structured frames covered by black material, and held in place by wooden pegs) they were unwieldy and heavy. Then I had to light and maintain the coal fires in each of the three offices. The only flooring was old rubber conveyor belting which I had to "damp down" with water to stop the dust rising.
My prime duty was to assist the weighmen in their capacity of weighing coal trucks as they came past the weighbridges. My ticketing task was to ensure that, after the trucks were weighed and put into the colliery sidings, hand written tickets showing the various destinations of Allied Countries, e.g. Russia, were allocated to the correct trucks containing either coal or coke. The colliery locomotives then had to transfer the trucks to LNER sidings for pick up by main line engines for transmission to the various parties and onward shipment. The ticketing work was extremely hazardous and dangerous because of the movement of trucks and locomotives particularly in the dark where my only form of light was a paraffin lamp; and I well remember on one occasion when the snow was very deep and I was ticketing that my paraffin lamp caught fire. I flung it away from me and was then left in darkness with moving trucks around me. A scary situation to be in. No mobile phones in those days!
We were also responsible in the weigh office for the accounting procedures regarding these daily shipments and transferring the information to head office at Newcastle upon Tyne.
Later, I was promoted to the letter carrier-supposedly less hazardous and dangerous and I no longer had to wear overalls. I was a free agent providing I carried out my duties in a diligent and responsible manner. Hours were then from 7.00 am to 3.00 pm. My duties comprised of meeting the mail train on my bicycle, with a post office representative who then proceeded to collect all the mail from the train on a special carrier and then returned to his post office where he sorted out all the correspondence etc relevant to Brancepeth Colliery and office outlets. I then had to ensure that all the mail was hand delivered to senior staff at these locations.
Here again on my rounds I witnessed several serious incidents e.g. riding down the colliery road the Gas House blew up within 20 yards of me and a workman who had been in the building was blown out of the roof and landed within a few yards of me. On another occasion when visiting the coke oven office a colleague fell off a ladder - it was later proved that he had been overcome by gas, as the coins in his pay packet were discoloured green as the inquest revealed.
After the morning round was completed, I then had to relieve the telephone switchboard operator who was also on an evening rota for fire watch duties etc.
After further promotion by the end of World War Two in 1945, I was then working in the colliery tax office assisting in the make-up and distribution of miners' wages and at this time, food parcels were delivered to the colliery for distribution.
My father was invalided out of the mines due to Miner's Nystagmus (eye disease) in the early 30's and he always maintained that it would take a war for him to gain employment at the colliery again. He was subsequently employed on the surface together with other ex-miners because the industry was so desperate for experienced men to replace the younger men who had been called up. Unskilled surface workers were not in a reserved occupation.
I am now in my advancing years but still have vivid recollections of listening with my family to Lord Haw Haw (an Englishman living in Germany) on the wireless and to his nightly vitriolic propaganda broadcasts telling us of instances of local bombing targets e.g. Bankfoot coke ovens "have been raised to the ground" and the terrible fears engendered which we later realised to be false.