Phil Williams - The Canari Project

Items in this story

Phil Williams

  • 365
  • login to save

Phil Williams - Oral History Interview

  • 349
  • login to save

Interviewer – Michele Kordell

Interviewee – Phil Williams

Date of interview – 24/05/2018

Location – Fleur de Lys Institute

Transcriber – Heather Payne

MC – Phil, could you tell me a little bit about yourself and your background please?

PW – Yes, my name is Phil Williams, I work for the Coal Industry’s social welfare organisation, which is abbreviated to CISWO. I’m 59 years of age, I live in Pontlottyn which is roughly 6 miles from where we are today; I am married to a Scottish girl Caroline, I have 2 children;  Hugh 24, and Isla 20, and I am hoping to retire next year!  But going onto my work history, especially the heavy industry part, I started off in Bargoed as an apprentice electrician.  The pit was due to close, so we were transferred to over to Taf Merthyr which is in the Merthyr Valley near Bedllinog.  I spent the next 17 years there before it actually closed and then I moved on into other industries.

MC – Were you aware of people with disabilities where you worked?

PW – Yes, we were talking about it the other day actually, I was up in Big Pit – there was always a job for anybody with any ability or disability to a certain extent obviously.  We had people there who may have had slight learning difficulties, and they weren’t – I don’t think any job is menial because it has got to be done whatever it is – but perhaps not too much of a task that  - well, well within their capabilities, and you know, nothing too stressful.  What we found lately is that with a lot of factories, there is quite a bit of computer work.  I’m no computer buff myself, so you can understand!  But there was always something there perhaps a bit more physical than there is today.  

MC – and how were people with disabilities treated?  Were they treated the same as people without disabilities?

PW - Yes, there was never…  they didn’t have a disability.  The disability wasn’t seen, they were just a part of a team, an important part of a team and they were just treated exactly the same way as anybody else in the pit.

MC – Was your health affected during your work?

PW – Yes, I did suffer, I would have thought that like most miners, our backs, wear and tear and old age had a lot to do with it.  A lot of people had trouble with their knees because the industry was a lot that you’d be on your knees.  I was an electrician actually, but that’s a sore subject that Ron might pick up on later!  We were – I’ll point to the tables – if you can imagine the table height – we crawled underneath there for a few hundred yards on stony ground, so it did take its toll over the years.

MC – How did it affect your family life?

PW – I don’t think it really affected it.  The money was good, so in that way we had a comfortable living.  We weren’t rich by any means, but we were comfortable.  I was one of the lucky ones, my health didn’t suffer too badly after 18 years.  Some people, my father for example – he died when I was six.  I have very few recollections of him, because he was full of pneumocoliosis??? which is from the dust, and he was up in the rest room at Talgarth for quite a while and I very rarely saw him before he passed away.  In that way I suppose we could bring in the disability – in the 40’s and the 50’s or perhaps even earlier, the conditions were a lot worse than I worked in later on. 

MC – I was going to ask how things had changed?

PW – Obviously when the likes of my father – he would be about 104 now, he was quite late having me, the conditions were horrendous really.  If you can imagine not being able to see across the table because of the dust, and that is obviously going into the lungs.  We did have that sometimes to a certain extent but it was normally cleared up; and later on we were given safety goggles and dust masks so we were pampered a bit towards the end!

MC – Were you working at a time where there were any accidents?

PW – Yes, unfortunately I saw quite a few.  There was one occasion, and this will lead into the disability of the gentleman, if you can imagine…. Its hard to explain.  If you can imagine a chain, with links, what would happen is that the coal would fall onto the link and it would be moving so it would take the coal away from the face.  Well, one of these, they were called flights in between and they were missing, and a steel rope caught around the missing flight and his foot….it was terrible bad timing, his foot  got into the loop of the rope and he couldn’t get out of it and it took his foot off – well it was hanging by a thread but it actually took his foot, he had to have it amputated within the next few days.  Leading from that, we had different levels if you like - the NUM were the labouring side of it, then you had the Nacods?? who were the supervisors, and then you had backem?? who were the management side.  The gentleman who lost his foot was for nacod, so he went from being a supervisor down, he went on top pit, so he worked then giving out clothes there.  Whether or not they kept his rate on I don’t know but they may have because it was an industrial accident so they may have kept him on a level pay, but if not his pay would have been kept by at least a third, but I don’t know the circumstances, obviously that was personal to him. 

MC – Did you find that if there were accidents that the mine bosses would try to keep staff on who were injured?

PW – yes, as  I say, with the gentleman concerned,  they kept him on then -  they found a job for him which was lucky and in fact there were a couple of people working where this gentleman who had a similar incident where another gentleman had his foot off as well, but at the end of the day some of the accidents were, unfortunately…  I have been at the colliery where someone has been killed, when their sons have been working there as well so… it was a unique industry, don’t get me wrong, all industries have accidents but if you had an accident it was probably more severe than a paper cut!  Everything was so heavy because it had to be encased in heavy metal so that it wasn’t damaged, but if you had an accident, it tended to be off for a couple of weeks at least, you know?

MC – Do you know if there was any compensation?

PW – There would have been.  Again, they would contest it so if there was a fault on the management side they would look to make sure, the unions and the health and safety and the manager would look into the accident, and they would look to see whose fault it was and if it was the fault of the management then they would be compensated for the injury.

MC – What if it was the fault of the person who had the accident?

PW – Well of course then, it would be individual cases, but if it was negligence they may not, it would be doubtful if they did get any payment for it; this was why we had to be so careful you know, you had to be vigilant all the time about your conditions in case something fell from the roof.  We used to have,  you probably saw this in Big Pit, it was like a railway – we used to put the drams on the railroad, and they would be taken in and then they’d be called a journey,  so the journey would take the coal, well not so much the coal as they went out on belts, but the supplies we needed to supply the coal face.  Some areas were quite tight so you’d have to get out of the way, we used to have manholes where you’d have to get in there but you know we’d have to be very careful all of the time when you were working there, especially if there was a lot of noise on; you may not be able to see the journey you know?

MC – Was there much health and safety training?

PW – When you first started, because it was such a heavy industry you were taught to look after yourself.  You’d normally have someone to guide you, so you’d be doing the training but you’d have someone who would take you under close supervision, almost shoulder to shoulder and they’d look after you.  Then you’d go on health and safety courses as and when required. 

MC – So were there any people with physical disabilities working down the mine?

PW – Yes and no really.  Obviously they couldn’t be too disabled simply because of the conditions – it wouldn’t allow for people with too serious a disability because of the conditions, but mostly, anybody with disabilities would work on the top pit, on the surface.

MC – So looking back on your experiences in work, how do you feel about the mine work now?

PW – I have to be honest, I spent 18 years and I enjoyed most of it – in fact some days I couldn’t wait to go to work believe it or not! It was the camaraderie and the fun we used to have with the banter and the different things.  It was an experience I’m glad I experienced – people say “I would go back down there tomorrow”, but… I’m a bit old now!  If I was younger though, I suppose I would, because I’ve worked outside for nearly 20 years since, and  its not the same, you don’t have the same camaraderie and you had to watch your back all the time in case there were any problems, but you don’t find that to the same extent where we were working underground. 

MC – So there was a lot of team work?

PW – Oh yes – well you had to work as a team.  In fact they were called teams in the coal face, Ron will tell you this – Ron was actually captain of a team, and if you didn’t work as a team it just wouldn’t work you know, so team work was very important.  Of course, the camaraderie and the down times and it was good.  I enjoyed it, yes, looking back I did enjoy it. 

MC – Do you know of  anyone with say, a visual impairment or a hearing impairment?

PW – There would be people, more with hearing impairment… visually again, unfortunately… I’m trying to think if there was anyone with a visual impairment, but I can’t think.  Again that was one of the problems we faced because everything was so loud there, a lot of miners their hearing was quite bad and that’s one of the legacies of the pits, you know?

MC – How do you think things have changed?

PW – In terms of what?

MC – Working conditions?

PW – I finished in ’93, which is 25 years ago.  There weren’t many then, just one which is Tower.  The conditions really, turned from the late ‘50’s/early ‘60’s until we finished in the ‘90’s, they did improve dramatically in that time.  But obviously with the mines being closed, there isn’t a lot to gauge it against really.

MC – Any more questions anybody?

*Unknown speaker* - Did the coal board have to employ a certain percentage of disabled people?

PW -  I don’t know to be honest – Ron would probably be able to tell you that because he was a Union rep.  I don’t think there was at the time – I think that has come on leaps and bounds in the last 10, 20 years.  I think people who were employed, people with disabilities, were employed naturally if you like; they were part of the work force.  I don’t think there was anything, apart from people who may have had accidents at the mine, I don’t think there was any sort of provision or legislation to say for every 20 people you had to employ a disabled person.  I wouldn’t know, but I wouldn’t have thought so in those days.  Things have changed dramatically in terms of conditions, and in terms of people with disabilities.

*Unknown speaker* - Did you have relatives like father, grandfather who worked at the mines?

PW – Yes, like I said, my father worked there, my brother worked there all my uncles apart from a few, yes that was the life.  You either worked there in the ‘50’s, or you went to the forces.  One uncle of mine was in the RAF, another was in the Navy, but the majority of the family were underground, so it was a natural progression for me to go underground and I didn’t have any qualms about it.  Yes, it was just a way of life, especially around this area because obviously it is full of mining history, that’s how the valleys were brought up, just built around coal, steel and iron. Yes, quite a few of the family worked underground.

*Unknown speaker – Do you have any stories about any of the light duties above ground, any descriptions of the kinds of jobs you were talking about earlier?

PW – Obviously with a coal mine you were going to have coal dust.  Everything had to be kept clean.  That wasn’t just for people with disabilities, that was for everyone.  But they were the kind of tasks, or maybe working in the lamp room, I don’t know if you remember the lamp room – people worked in there, they would have to strip down and clean the lamps when they came up from the pit, which was again a very important job.  They weren’t menial tasks at all.  Within capabilities, we all have our own capabilities, and it was a bit like horses for courses if you like.

MC – I think that’s all the questions, thank you very much Phil.  

Comments (0)

You must be logged in to leave a comment