Since mining began, men have been killed working on the face and also on the surface of a mine, each one bringing pain and despair to their families. Also it must be remembered that many boys also lost their lives. Here is the story of one boy, John Newton, known as Jack. He was fifteen years old when he was killed. He was working in the winding house at Chatterley Whitfield Colliery.
It happened on 10th of September 1943, and even today his family still grieve for him. His sister, Mrs June Cartlidge, feels strongly that a new memorial for Jack and other miners lost there should be included in the plans for the regeneration at Chatterley Whitfield. She has agreed that Jack’s story should be told. The inquest into Jack’s death was held on Saturday 11th of September 1943 and she has given us a copy of the coroner’s report printed in the Evening Sentinel on Monday 13th September 1943.
PIT FATALITY AT TUNSTALL
First of its kind in fifty years
An inquest was held by the Stoke on Trent City Coroner, (Mr G.W. Huntbach) in Hanley on Saturday on John Newton, aged fifteen, of 16 William terrace, Fegg Hayes, Tunstall who was fatally injured in the Middle Pit at Chatterley Whitfield Colliery, Tunstall, yesterday morning.
The boy, it was stated, had been employed in the pit since October last year, latterly as a winding engine cleaner and oiler.
Alfred Rhodes of Park lane, Knypersley, winding engine man, in the Middle Pit, with whom the boy was working, said that on receiving the signal – a bell which the boy himself would hear – to start the engine, he shouted to Newton, who was out of his sight, “Are you all right Jack?”
Newton replied clearly “Right” and on hearing this, witness started the engine. This was the usual procedure. Then, hearing a bumping noise, he stopped the engine, and saw the boy carried out. The boy had been taught never to cross the fence round the engine without permission. He had always been careful and reliable.
Claude William Winter, of 7 Hesketh Avenue, Norton, foreman fitter in the Middle Pit, said the boy was out of his sight as well as Rhodes’ when the accident happened. He heard Rhodes shout, before the engine was started, and the boys reply “Right”. This was the recognised signal. After the engine had been in motion for a few seconds, he heard a noise as if someone had fallen. The engine was stopped at once, and he found Newton lying near the inside edge of the engine, with severe head injuries and apparently dead.
It was possible the boy had been leaning over the fence, with a wiper in his hand, and that he was picked up by the crank and dropped into the position in which he was found. Medical evidence was that death, due to head injuries, must have been instantaneous.
No one to blame
Finding that death was due to an accidental cause, the Coroner said that no one was to blame. Even if the boy himself was leaning over the fence and misjudged the distance, he could not be blamed: he would lean over in a natural anxiety to examine what had attracted his attention, just as the engine started.
Mr H.J.Crofts, Managing Director of Chatterley Whitfield Colliery, said it was the first such accident there in fifty years. As the result, still further warning signal precautions were to be taken before engines were started. They would not be started without the boy being in sight of the engine man.
Joining the Coroner in an expression of sympathy with the relatives, Mr Crofts said the boy’s father – who gave evidence of identification – and his grandfather before him, worked in the Chatterley Whitfield Collieries. The company deeply regretted the accident.
Jack’s Sister’s Story
On the morning of September 12th 1943 my brother Jack overslept. Mum said “Don’t go to work today” and he replied “I must go; they said to me even if I was late, I must turn in”. So off he went. After a few minutes he returned home. “What’s wrong, Jack?” asked my mum. “I forgot to give you a kiss” he said.
A few hours later a knock came on the door. It was a Whitfield bobby (as we called them in those days). He came to tell mum that Jack had been fatally injured at work. Needless to say, mum collapsed on the kitchen floor.
At that time my sister Doreen was thirteen and I was two years old. Christmas would never be the same again, no decorations, no Christmas tree. It was just a normal weekend in our house without Jack.
Jack was a very popular guy who loved dancing at Tunstall town hall. He was also in the Boy’s Brigade. Chell church was packed for the funeral service.
Mum seemed to lose her zest in life. However mum and dad decided they would like another child and in June 1948 Linda Elizabeth was born. When she was a day old she was rushed into hospital and was diagnosed as a Downs Syndrome baby. Doctors told my parents not to get attached to the baby, as you won’t rear her. Mum said “Oh yes we will”
It was a hard struggle as Linda was always ill. On August 1960 my dear mum passed away aged 54 years through cancer. I was eighteen at that time and it was left to me to look after dad and Linda. Four years later Linda died in dad’ arms aged fifteen years.
In 1966 I lost my dad aged sixty four years. He had worked at Whitfield from the age of thirteen. Last July I lost my only sister Doreen aged seventy two. I still miss her so very much but with the love and support of my dear husband Alan of forty four years and my three sons, Steven, Carl and Gary, who contact us almost every day. Life is still sweet and I’ll cherish my family memories always.
Rest in peace Jack.
The People of Chatterley Whitfield – John Newton