First Day – Monday 10 August 1964

On this day fifty four years ago I started my working life as a fresh faced fifteen year old employed as an Apprentice Electrician with the National Coal Board at Silverwood Colliery.

For those of a certain age the National Coal Board was a major industrial nationalised industry who supplied coal – mainly from deep long wall mines – for both commercial, industrial and domestic use.

And yes back in 1964 you could leave school at 15 and go out to work.

I was the product of a school system in which Secondary Modern Schools were – where the ‘Modern’ came from I have no idea – for post war baby boomer children from the age of eleven to sixteen.

The ‘Secondary’ to be replaced by ‘Comprehensive’ in due course.

The purpose of Secondary Schools was effectively to prepare boys to go to work in the industrial sector or to carry out manual non-skilled labour or join the armed services – as other ranks of course – with those who successfully took their General Certificate of Education (GCE) – the forerunner to the GCSE (General Certificate in Secondary Education) – going on to the Grammar Schools to take ‘A’ Levels and to University or into clerical administration.

It was a time of full employment opportunities and nowhere more so than in Rotherham where we lived which along with neighbouring Sheffield was a major industrial centre  of steel and coal production.

I’m sure or at least as sure as I can be that everyone remembers the first day of their first full time job so August 10th 1964 is certainly one I will always remember.

I had to arrive at Silverwood Colliery for 7am where I had to take with me a document signed by my father – note it had to be your father not your mother (if father was deceased it had to be your male guardian) – to confirm that I was to be an “indentured apprentice” for four years.

Strange in these days of apprenticeships that can be as short as three months that we were committed to a four year term.

I remember the excitement and anticipation of setting off at 6am to walk the two miles to catch the “trolley bus” that was to take me to the Colliery for the princely ticket price of 4 old pence the equivalent today of 1.5 new pence.

Does anyone still use the term ‘new pence’ anymore?

Incidentally top of the hit parade was Manfred Mann singing Do Wha Diddy Diddy, Sir Alex Douglas Home was the Prime Minister of Great Britain – yes we still called it Great Britain back then – and Lyndon B. Johnson was the President of the USA.

For obvious and patently clear reasons those working in a coal mine always talked of ‘working down the pit’.

Day one really I suppose was something of a non-event in terms of actual work consisting of being collected at Silverwood in a van and taken to the Coal Board area workshops to start a week of induction.

Later followed by weeks of learning how to use bench tools in the workshops, electrical and mechanical theory and mine safety.

I was also required every Thursday to attend Rotherham Technical College on day release.

My first day in full-time employment was completed at 5pm.

Looking back it wasn’t as exciting a day I suppose – but for a very young fifteen year old it was the start of a working life that was to last fifty years and involved a number of career choices and plenty of future first days of which I’ll write more in future blogs.