Author: South Wales Miners Library, Swansea University

Provider: South Wales Miners' Library

Rights: Copyrighted

Interview of Arthur, Will by Egan, David and Jones, Merfyn on 21st May 1973.
The interview forms part of Swansea University’s South Wales Miners’ Library collection.

1 audio file (15 min. 30 sec.)

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Transcription

Arthur, Will: And of course I'm standing on the corner, on what they call point duty, on top of City Road, and down the road a little way there's the school, Allensbank Road School, here the wounded and the cripples were coming, and sometime every day when you would be on that morning shift, 9 to 5 was the shift, not a morning shift, 9 to 5, nine in the morning five in the afternoon, they would be passing you on their crutches, one arm, and all that type of thing. I used to feel like running away, but when you are on point, you don't move, you've only got that yard or four feet you see, because the traffic is coming. You've got City Road, and then you've got Crwys Road, then you've got Richmond Road, then you've got Allensbank Road, you've got the five roads you see. And I used to go home and tell the wife, I can't stick this, I can't stick this. So anyway I went before the Watch Committee, and I said I was going to leave, I said I was going to join the Army. Oh they said, that there was a batch of men going, young men, single men, and that men of my kind should stop there and you know, help out and all that kind of thing. So anyway they turned my application down, because what I had in mind then was, I couldn't foresee the future, perhaps I would want to come back and they were paying so much for a wounded policeman and all that to his wife, and I was thinking that if anything happened then the wife would have fifteen bob, or a quid a week, whatever it was, do you follow what I mean, I would put that right before I go and all that see. Anyhow I only stuck it for a couple of months, and I went back in again and told the Chief that I was leaving. So at this time now, they were, I went back up now, the wife now had gone to live with her mother at Cilfynydd. I went up to Cilfynydd and on the Saturday afternoon I went down to Ponty, and I was wondering if I could get a job back in the colliery now, but the wife was telling me when I bent and got up it was still, you know, not so quick but still going around. I heard a fellow make this speech, he was a Miners' Agent, Gill, they had given him the rank of Captain, to canvass for miners to join what they call a tunnelling company. And this tunnelling company was going to be formed as a section of the army, you follow, to tunnel under the German trenches, and blow them up you see, perhaps they would have to tunnel say, a hundred yards, 120, 130 yards, you see, and then blow them up. Ammanol was the ammunition they used. I walked in and I joined. I was in France in a month, because they were not training the miners like, they were miners for a mining job see. Well anyhow I had been trained for three months in all kinds of arms drill in the police. So anyway when I got out now, I had to take a little party in the corner by there and tell them you know what slope arms meant, and all this kind of thing see. And one little fellow, he and I got very friendly, he was a sinker from Rhymney, Bill Brewer, and when Bill would go to attention, he'd open his legs and put his arms down by his side, if you say, Stand at Ease, he would close his legs and... Oh this sergeant came over to me and asked me, How’s this fellow getting on, Oh, I said, Very good. Anyway they put me up in orders now, so there was a Sergeant Major there who thought that all miners, this Sergeant Major was a regular see, he had twelve years, he had been to India and what you call, and he thought all miners were the scum of the earth see. He was a fellow from the other side of Lincoln, he used to talk a lot about it, and he used the wrong word one day, he used the word b, of course, that was that. So it was fourteen days pay stopped, up the line. But anyway, there was a big bombardment on, and I caught a packet. My elbow was shattered, and a piece of shrapnel in my abdomen, and a piece of shrapnel smashed a bone in my leg. Oh, I mean, that was that you see. So I was down in Rouen for 5, 6 weeks. They told me on a Monday that my arm would have to come off, because my shoulder was up over my ear, here, you know, like a balloon you see. That was on a Monday, and this is when I've got to be {on the} careful side, eighty see, its not eighteen eighty, see, and I was {unclear} top bed but one, fourteen that side, fourteen this side, half of them had died within a week, it was a bad ward. A little chap in the next bed was nineteen years of age, a Scottie, and he had lost an arm and an eye. And I was lying on my back, there was no other way, my arm was up on the, and my leg was up on a pulley, my arm was strapped down to my side and this thing around here. And he said, Taffy, he said, what do you call the Council, the War Office come in, I looked down towards the door, and there were four or five of them coming, and this one had gold braid. And I said, it’s a good job he's not in the army I said, he'd have to cut his hair, because his hair was down on his shoulders, snow white hair, and I had a shock, he came straight to my bed, and I thought well by damn, so anyway, he didn't bother with my tummy, he didn’t bother with my leg, he didn't even take it from the pulley, he just went for the arm. The old man examined the arm, asked a lot of questions, and you see, when I had it, you can imagine the size of it, it was almost from there to there you see, went in there and come out there. So in there, there's supposed to be eleven bits of gut, that old man put in. You know at that time, I mean, it looks small now see, but it shrinks, see {unclear} see, and in a twelve month my arm had withered, it had withered, no doubt about it. So anyway, I was told after, the old man had gone out about an hour, left the ward, two of the R.A.M.C. men come in, they said, Taff, you're for the knife, you know always polite {like} in the army, they don't say for the op, see, you for the knife. Oh, I said, who’s going to do the job. Oh the old man. Who is he? Sir Adam something, I caught Sir Adam. Well, anyway they took me in, they say I was there four and a half hours, and I came around, I suppose I came around somewhere about eight or nine o'clock, because at that time mind, it is not like they are now, you had to take these heavy doses, and after you come around you were about two hours and vomiting and all that kind of thing. And I'll tell you the truth, it took me half an hour to pluck up enough guts to feel for the stump, because they had bound my hand back see. And all my mind was, wife and kid back home, one armed miner, left arm, what job could I do? I was going around the colliery surface and thinking you see, by damn I don't know what job I can do and all that, you know, how your mind runs see. And of course the effect of the gas was still there, till anyway, I had guts enough now, and started feeling, and I called this nurse, she was a youngster about 55 to 60, so I found after, V.A.D. she was. And I asked her, no, no, she said, you haven't lost your arm she said, you've got your arm, you've got your arm, she said, you can feel it, feel it, she said. Oh thanks, that was all right. So I came back to England, I was in four London hospitals, I was in Cheltenham, and then one day an old man walked into the hospital, the London hospital, and as soon as I saw the old man from a distance I thought, Sir Adam, I hadn't seen him, I hadn't seen him since the, so I thought, Damn if he comes to my bed now, I'll be thanking him you know, although it is no damn good, I've still got it. I was using it then, you know, you know, rising it, and all that type of thing, but um, I couldn’t grip an empty cup, I had no grip at all you see. So anyway, he came to two or three beds and then he came to me. Took the sheet at bottom of the bed, and just looked at it, I was sitting on the bed, I was a walking patient. Ah, he said, all right young man he said, let me have a look at that arm. So I said, you did this job, sir. He said, did I, he said, hmm, hmm, it couldn't have been better then, he said, and I thought Willie, least said, soonest mended. Because I couldn't tell him it’s no damn good to me, could I, because he had saved my arm, so you can't tell a man that's saved your arm that it's no damn good anyway. So, he said, I'm sending you to Epsom. Now down in Epsom there was an electrical school, that had only been opened for about eight or nine months, for cases like this. How many men do you think there were receiving treatment, twenty seven thousand, behind the racecourse, behind the grandstand. They had used an old golf course and an old plain there, put all this huge, how can I put, zinc and all the rest of it up you see, and I was told after a week or two, there were fourteen doctors there, and sixty one nurses, and about 20 odd sisters. I was there for twenty seven weeks, and on the twenty fourth week, I was lifting a pint of water in a bucket. And the sister got so excited, I always remember her name, Latham, she was a gem, I got so excited that she went to fetch the doctor. And he came, and he had lost his hand, he was a Scots boy, and how much is in that bucket? A pint . Oh, he said, put another pint in, right, another pint of water in. He said, come on Taffy, he said, come on, he said, you can lift that, and I lifted it. By damn, he said, I'll have you out of here within a month. And I was too. So well, I mean, you know, I hadn't been able to lift a cup. Anyways, I had to go back now, where to anyway, to a colliery, I went to Glynneath. And I went to top of Aberpergwm colliery, and outside the office, the under-manager, old Dewi Thomas. Oh, he said, glad to see you back my boy, glad to see you back, and all that type of thing. And I said, is Mr Howells there. And he said, do you want to see him. I said, I'm looking for a job. He said, you know we lost Horace. Oh no, I said. His son had been killed in France six weeks before. And he was one of the explosive kind you know, you know, not heard about it and all that see. So he said, I’ll go in first see son. So Dai Thomas went in, and he said, come in Willie, and I went in. Hello William, you are discharged then. I said yes. What's the trouble, so I told him, arm. Oh, oh. Well he said, what can we do for him David, and no doubt the death of his son, you see, although he felt that now, here's a fellow that's come back. Now what do you think he told me to do? Go to Harrett's, Ironmongers in Glynneath and get a little shovel, a little hand shovel that they are using for the grates, a one hand shovel, and go to old Alf Walker, who was the gunny you know, the chap that was giving the ammunition out, for a little sack. And I used to come on the night shift, and clean the dust off the main roadways you know, going in from the bottom to drift into the working faces, and that was my job for a couple of months, filling this sack up.