Pit Villages at War

Local people who lived through the Second World War can clearly remember the day it began: one young man, himself not far off calling-up age, was sat in the corner of a house on Wales Road. His father told the family to be quiet so he could hear what was being said on the wire: it was Chamberlain’s famous declaration that Britain was at war with Germany. See Paul Burke in the People’s Museum with a newspaper from the very first day of the war, which he has just been found in his family’s loft in Kiveton. Kiveton Park and Wales men served in the forces, several of whom can be heard in our oral history section.

For example, Roger Wigmore served in the RAF and then Army, stationed in the Far East when the war ended. Malcolm ‘Mac’ Holden was on destroyers for five years, serving in almost all the theatres of the naval war.

Joseph Checkley manned an anti-aircraft battery in London throughout the Blitz, stationed in Hyde Park. On one occasion he rescued a woman from a house in Wimbledon just as her house was collapsing. Many men were lost during the war, their names recorded on the Wales War Memorial. More about their experiences can be found in the relevant section of this website.

Unlike in the First World War, miners were in a protected industry: coal was vital to the war effort and it would have been nonsensical to allow trained men to fight on fronts starved of materials because the nation had no coal. Several Kiveton miners tried to join up but, whether in Sheffield or even on their way to first postings, were told firmly to get back to the pit.

‘Bevin Boys’ were sent to Kiveton Park Colliery, young men from across Britain who by choice or chance served in the pits rather than the armed forces. Tom Batty remembers showing these lads around the village and to their new lodgings when they arrived here for the first time. This photo shows some of the pit’s Bevin Boys during training at a nearby pit. Our thanks to the National Bevin Boys Association for their support and information about Bevin Boys’ experiences. Few realised at the time that the pits could be just as dangerous as the armed forces. In 1941, Kiveton experienced its worst ever accident, when an explosion took the lives of five men. There were a number of casualties and increased accident rates during war time, as the rush to produce coal became paramount. It is little known but there were also discussions of strike action during the war. There was anger about new demands made on the men and Kiveton's miners gathered in the Regal Cinema to discuss the possibility of industrial action.

Presumably because of their economic importance if there had been an invasion, Britain’s pits were never subjected to an intensive bombing campaign. There was only one raid of any note on Kiveton Pit, when several bombs landed around the shaft, offices and tips. Luckily, for men were in the pit at the time, none of these bombs exploded. It’s hard to imagine what might have happened, for one of the bombs was very close indeed to the Barnsley shaft. As at least three contemporaries have told us, if the bombs had gone off then there wouldn’t have been a pit any longer.

Bomb disposal officers, rather happy-go-lucky socialisers and drinkers by all accounts (and who could blame them), spent several days at the pit defusing the bombs. Local witnesses, including Johnny Wells who dived into one of the craters, remember the blue tape stretched out by the disposal teams over the pit top. One bomb was taken apart and left at the pit, where it was used to collect money in later years.

The pit top was the base for the Kiveton Home Guard, a majestic photograph of whom is shown on this page, lined up in front of the east wall of the Colliery Offices – look closely and it is possible to recognise the distinctive 1870s brickwork around the windows. We have heard many stories about the Home Guard, or LDV Local Defence Volunteers, and their antics during the war.

The men at the pit had advance warning of when bombers were on the way, a sophisticated three-light system presumably installed in all Britain’s pits, each light coming on as a raid became more likely. Checkweighman Mr. Blackwell told his family all about the system. It must have been in use a great deal because Kiveton was directly on the flight-path of German bombers making their way to Sheffield.

All local people who lived through the blitz can remember the drone of enemy bombers overhead. Roy Staniforth even remembers seeing a doodlebug rocket flying over in the later years of the war. A decoy system was installed in the fields to the north of Kiveton and Wales. Local volunteers set out lights to make the bombers think they’d arrived in Sheffield. Incendiary bombs were dropped on these fields dozens at a time and were collected by enthusiastic young lads, including Lance Wilks, who took them back to the Primitive Methodist Chapel.

There were several anti-aircraft batteries in this area. There was a 40mm battery at the bottom of Manor Road. Over in a quarry at Treeton, large naval guns sent heavy calibre shells up into the night sky: the shrapnel could be heard coming down on the rooftops of Kiveton and Wales. Many residents were down in cellars, basements and air-raid shelters. Two of the shelters still survive here in Kiveton: a sophisticated underground bunker and a more famous Anderson shelter.