Working at Banwen Colliery

By George Evans, Neath

I started at Banwen Colliery when I was 14 years of age in 1940 and I worked there until France fell later that year, which affected the demand for anthracite coal. A lot of men were out of work, and many of them joined the forces.

I was too young to be sent away so I was sent to a new colliery that was opening, a drift. Me and my friend were sent there as, how shall I say, dog's bodies.

The food was very short and after a while they gave miners an extra couple of ounces of cheese I think. When you're shovelling for seven and a half hours a day, it's a very physical job. Then they brought in colliery canteens to boost the food rations to give us extra food. When a man works very hard he doesn't have time for a lot of food.

I went away in 1943 when I was 18 and joined the armed forces and I came back in 1947 when Nationalisation had come into force.

At Banwen there were 1,300 men and 90 horses working. The stables were as good as anything you would see at Newmarket. They were immaculate. The horses were washed, and because it was a drift mine the horses came out everyday and were hosed down with the water used in the engine houses.

I worked until 1961 at Banwen, when I knocked my eye out. We were changing the timber that had been squeezed out by the weight of the rock and someone had used a piece of ordinary wire to tie up the cables. When we moved it, the wire sprung out. It took my eye out. Eventually they had to remove my eye in hospital.

Afterwards I was sent to a Government training centre on Western Avenue in Cardiff. In those days you couldn't loaf about. If you had an accident you still had to go and train. There was a place that trained people who had chopped their leg off or knocked their eye out on Western Avenue.

I had a claim to fame there. The Royal Mint was being built and they were training disabled men to work there. They were bringing guys down from the Tower Of London where the Royal Mint was. I used to weigh the blank coins in the morning and take them to the machines. After the lads had printed the coins I would pick them up and they were bagged ready to be taken to London. These were the first half penny and penny coins to be used and they were made in Western Avenue.

I finished my training and worked in a hospital for a bit. Although the people I worked with were lovely people, after you have been in industry for a long time it is very difficult to work anywhere else. I don't ever remember being unhappy at the colliery.

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