to attend classes at the College one day a week when the new session
started, to get his certificates.
The next few years passed in a blur as he progressed both at work
and the College. He started at the pit bottom where full hutches
were gathered prior to being raised to surface in the cages while
the empties rolled off to disappear down the endless rope haulage
to the working sections miles away. He progressed further away from
the shafts to work on these same haulages, the arteries of the pit,
where the flows of coal, supplies and men in never ending streams
had to be maintained. He worked on the clipping, the creepers, the
snibbling and the coupling. He learned about the subtle differences
between direct and endless ropes and how the new main belt conveyors
were revolutionising the transport of coal. He got to know the pit
worthies by their nicknames, Raggy, Davie Doddle, Shagger, the Crab
and Big Eddie who beat the drum in the Salvation Army Band. Getting
even closer to the coal face he became one of the "wood laddies"
taking the props and supplies right up to the men at the face. Though
it was against the rules they crept fearfully into the face to watch
the strippers manfully shovelling coal onto the belt and hear the
thumps of the explosives as the shotfirer exploded another shot
to break up the coal. These were the "real miners" at last, men
he could admire, covered in sweat and black grime from the dust.
Then there were also the elite, the mine drivers, who advanced the
tunnels into new areas of the pit, men who proudly showed off their
work in the roads named after them, Hastie's mine or Donald's drift.
So much to see, so much to learn both underground and at the College
where he moved on to pass his first certificate in mining. He was
on his way.
He served his time in every part of the underground world below
the shores and waters of the Forth. He worked on the haulages in
12 east as a supplies workman in 12 west. He completed his face
training in no 4 mine then finally became a faceman working the
upper leaf of the great seam in 14 west. Experience in working at
the face was essential for his future progress. He went through
it all, from undercutting the coal with the machinemen on the night
shift, boring the holes for blasting, filling the coal on to the
moving belt and setting roof supports on the day shift and the brushing
and advancing the gate roads on the back shift. At last he could
call himself a miner.
Then there was the union. He learned a deep respect for the solidarity
of working men against real or imagined grievances. About "them
and us", and "unity and strength" and "scabs" and "blacklegs" and
"how we had to stick together", all forged in the black days of
the thirties amid hunger