THE EARLY LIFE of William James Hunt #3
The door will open if you do not walk away from it. God will not quit on you
When I first left school I worked in a shop, behind the counter and delivering groceries. The money wasn't very good. I was paid a very poorly, only five shilling per week. I used to give my mother most of that, and it did help her. I didn't have much spending money. On a Saturday night, a few of us school friends would go up to the miners billiard hall to spend the night playing a game of "pot black." This was a game that we invented ourselves and we played it nearly all night. We had six coloured balls and the black. We would start off by picking a colour each, and then the black would be put on the spot. We would then pick a number to see who would go first, second, and so on. Wherever the black stopped, each one in turn would try to pot it. When one of us did pot the black, each one of the boys would have to give the boy that won, a penny. It was not as easy as one thinks. If one thinks he has no chance of potting the black, naturally he will play safe.
Most of the time I would only have five or six pennies, to start with. If I lost all my pennies, I would have to sit out. My school friend Thum would give me a few pennies to play on. One time, I asked them how much wage they were getting as they all worked in the coal-mines. Thum told me how much money he got. I was amazed. He explained the way things work for the boys in the mines. You went to work with an experienced miner who would give you the wage from the company that was one pound, five shilling a week. But if you worked well with the man, and had good production, he would give you extra money. My friend Thum told me that the man he worked with gave him one extra pound at first. Then a few months later he gave him two pounds. He still gave him two pounds extra, all the time he work with him. When I heard that I wanted to work in the coal-mines.
I went home and when my Dad came in I told him what Thum had told me. I asked him again if I could work there. His answer was the same, "It is too dangerous Son." I was back working with the man that went round the villages selling fruit. I was getting 7 shilling and sixpence, which was more than I got in the shop. I gave my Mam 5 shilling and I had the rest. (1/2 a crown = 2 shilling and sixpence). After a few weeks of asking and then begging my Dad to let me go to the mines, I was quite discouraged. His answer was always the same "NO!" My Dad was only looking after my safety but I still wanted to go to the mines to get more money. My family had some bad news during this period, I knew something was upsetting my Mam, she told me that my Uncle and Aunty had decided to go back to London to live. When I asked why my Mam said to me they do not like living in the village any more. My next question was, "Are all the family going back," my Mam said, "No only Doris and Bill (Doris was the same age as I was), Bill was the second of the oldest boys, the rest of family was staying, I did not understand why this happened when my mother first told me. I just didn't understand why my Aunt and Uncle never said goodbye.
Two weeks later when I was up playing pot black with the boys, my friend Thum said to me. "I see your Aunty and Uncle have gone back to London to live" I told him, "I know they don't like living here any more."
"Who told you that?" he said.
"My mother did."
"That is not right, it's because Bill is changing sex. They are ashamed of it and gone back to London."
I was shocked with his answer. I did not do very well that night because in our days it was a bad thing, when I went home I told my Mam what they had told me that Saturday night, at first my Mam did not want to tell me, then I said to her that Thum had said it was all over the village. In the end my Mam told me that it was true.
"I did not want to tell you," as they had told my Mam no one knew. My mother was very up set as they had always been so close, I was a little disappointed with them not coming to say goodbye. I would have liked them to tell us they were leaving because we were so friendly and especially at Christmas time.
Then, one Saturday night, I did not have any pennies to go out. A man called to see my Dad. I got my Dad from the garden to see him. I found out that he had come to pay my Dad for the job he had done for him. I had no idea who this man was. My Dad said to him, "I'll get ready and take you for a drink in our pub." While my Dad was getting ready this man started talking to me. He said, "Are you not going out with the boys tonight?" I was upset and told him the entire tale about my friends. I told him about the money they got working in the mines, by, this time I was crying. I told him how much I got from that man selling fruit. Now my Dad was back ready to go out.
I did not know that this man was a miner. He asked my Dad, "How about your son coming to work with me?" My Dad said no at first, but with a little more persuasion he began to give in. This man said to my Dad, "George, I will take good care of him." Eventually my Dad said, "Okay, you better look after him." I was 15 years old at this time. That turns out later to be God's guiding my life to get me in the mines. FOR ANY ONE WHO WOULD DOUBT GOD'S HELPING HAND, just think! Why was I broke that Saturday night, and this man turning up to pay my Dad for a job my Dad had done for him and him getting me into the mines. Believe me it was the work of our Lord God. He had answered my prayers. Ones again I still have never forgot that time and thank the Lord for guiding me to where I wanted to be, as it is absolutely true. Believe in Jesus Christ and your prayers will be answered! Read on and see what a good life I received, believing in God - Jesus Christ.
Glyn got me in the mines a week later. I started on Monday the 21st October 1935. I was very happy and I told my friend Thum that I was starting in the "Seven Sisters pit" the following Monday, because that's where Glyn worked.
My life changed after that. I got two pounds extra from him that first week! That went on for six months! He became ill soon after that with a serious complaint the miners get by working in the mines. (Silicosis). In my last week of work with him, this man, being a good person, asked me if I would be willing to work with his friend, Emlyn. He assured me that he was a very nice person and a very long time friend of his. I said, "Sure I will go with him." He arranged for Emlyn to meet me on the top of the pit, the following week. I was very sorry for Glyn that last Friday he paid me. He never got well enough to work any more. I found out that Emlyn and Glyn still sang in the choir together and he always asked Emlyn if I was still working there as time went on.
I soon found how nice Emlyn was to work with. He asked me how much extra Glyn had given me, after the first week. I told the truth, it was two pounds. To my delight he gave me Three pounds extra and said, "If we are on the coal all week I will give you more." The reason for that is every so often we have to bring the stone top down to bring the tram closer to the coalface. That week he would not have as much bonus.
When I went home I told my Mam what Emlyn had told me, In the six months with Glyn I gave my Mam the extra two pounds and I had the wage from the firm, (one pound five shillings). My Mam did not want it that way at first but I insisted that I had enough, and if I needed any more I would ask her for some. It was getting better and better with Emlyn giving me three pounds, I still passed
it on to my Mam, later he gave me four pounds every week for the first two years of my working life in the mines with him.
When I went back to work with Emlyn in the New Year 1937 he told me that when we had a full week on the coal he would give me Five pounds, he said that I was the best boy he ever had working with him. I still gave my Mam the five pounds.
When I first started working with Emlyn one day we were having our dinner and waiting for the firer man to arrive to fire a shot in the coal. This went on for a full year. The company wage went up at the end of that year and we got five shilling extra, now one pound, ten shillings a week. My mother said, "You keep that." I was now like a millionaire! I got a brand new bike with three speeds! I even went to work on my bike in the summer. I just loved that time and sure kept me fit. There was a lot of up hill to go to the pit and coming home it did not take me long. Now I was able to play "pot black" all night long win or loose. The funny thing was, I was winning a lot of times.
I must say the time I worked in the pit they had built what was called a "pit-head bath" they did not have them where my friends worked. I could go to work in my everyday clothes and did not have to have a bath at home like all my friends had to bath at home. And remember in those days we did not have homes with a bathroom, we had a big bathtub brought to the kitchen and had to boil the water on an open fire. Just think, how God kept me out of the coal-mines in our village and when the time was right, herding no money to go out that Saturday night, and he brought Glyn to get me into the coal-mines when it was the right time.
After working a long time with Emlyn, he was off for three weeks with the flu. I had to go and work with another man where we were working. I had only been with him a week and he asked me, "Would I stay with him?" He would give me a pound more than Emlyn did, if I would! I said to him, "I have promised Emlyn I would never leave him." I worked another two weeks with Jack, then, Emlyn came back to work. Emlyn came straight up to the "stall" where I was working, he said to Jack, "I want my boy back tomorrow." Jack said, "He is staying with me as I have told him I will give him one more pound than you." I said, "Oh no! I told you that I promised I would never leave Emlyn." I went back the next day and I said to Emlyn, "Why are they all trying to get me to work with them?" This was the second time I was asked to leave Emlyn he said! "You are the best one for racing a tram; there is no boy like you. That way we end up with a bigger bonus and I always give you more then anyone, I appreciate what a good boy you are. You know when you are off I will never take on another boy."
When I started working in the mines with Glyn I was not told about putting more than two lumps on top of a tram. But I guess I got this from my Dad, I would save the biggest pieces to put on first then the next size and to top it. I would place small ones and filled the centre with small coal dust that cleared the top from touching the roof. Emlyn said, "The way you pile the tram puts more coal in a tram and hence more bonuses. I will give you six pounds extra and if we have a good week I will give you more." A lot of people will not believe I got so much, but read on you will find out later in the story how much I was offered later.
When I first started with Emlyn, we had one hour break for lunch. We had to take our own lunch and "flask" (drink container) with us. If we were waiting for the fireman to come and we were ready for him to fire the "shot" and he came while the men were having their lunch, he had to wait until they finished. He would not sit with them because he was a Christian. He would sit with us three boys. He asked us if we went to church. I was the only one to answer him. I said, "Yes, I went every Sunday afternoon when I was small. My Mam always sent us. Then as we were growing up we started going to the 11:00 a.m. service. Now I am working, I go with my village friends to the evening service." I never missed going at night and if Edith came home unexpected she knew I was in evening church on Sunday night and would wait for me at the top of the crescent where she knew in time I would come from church, then we would go for our usual walk.
Then another time he was sitting with us, he asked me, "Do you want to do this job all your life?"
"Oh no," I said, "But there is no other work in the village! I was working in a shop first, and then travelling around with a man selling fruit. However, the money was so small and with this work we get good money. What else can I do?" I found out that we could not go into a training centre unless one is disabled. That is the way it was in my time, otherwise I would have applied to get on a carpentry course.
The next time he came, he said, "Do you say your prayers?"
'Yes," I told him, "But I do forget some nights."
"Well," he said, "Ask God to help you to get out."
"Oh," I said, "I don't want to get out right now, the money is so good."
Then he said to me, "God may take a few years to answer your prayers but when you do say them, keep asking, and one day he will answer your prayers."
Right through the time I worked there he taught me a lot and I have never forgotten what he told me, he was a very nice Christian believe me. I always thank God in my prayers for bringing him into my life. He taught me how to be a real Christian and told me many other things to look out for as I was growing up. Every one that God brought into my life was always a Christian. There is a lot more times to come believe me, read on you will find that this is the way God guided me to better life right to this present day.
I did not keep anything from my mother. When I told her what Emlyn had told me, that he was going to give me six pounds every week, my Mam said that I could keep the extra pound for myself. I said, "Mam, leave it as it is, and any time I want more, or if I want to buy something, I will ask you." Don't forget the company wage had gone up. I had all I wanted. I even bought my own clothes, saving out of what I had. I did not know at that time, though, that my mother was saving the money I gave her. I must tell you once again how our Lord God was guiding me to do better things all my life. How did I get in the mines? That was the work of God! Just think, why was I in, when that man (Glyn) came down to pay my Dad? He got my Dad to change his mind. There is a lot more about the Lord's guidance throughout my life to come, as I go through my life story and it is all absolutely the truth, our Lord God Jesus Christ knows everything.
It was now 1937 and we were going down to our town on a Saturday night (we had stopped playing "pot black"), and going for better things as we were now going on to 17 years old. We went dancing in our little town (Neath) and looking for fun with the girls. During the first year we caught our train back at 10-p.m. we three boys enjoyed singing; all the way to our station in Crynant, the carriages could only seat eight people and we had three girls, they loved coming in our carriage and would sing with us. I was the leader as usual. We could sing in harmony, on my own I was quite good, I got told many a time what a good singing voice I had. Edith was still in my life. Our last train from town was 10 p.m. The dancing did not finish until 11 p.m. We decided after doing this for a few months that we would stay to the end even though buses stopped running at 10p.m. We still enjoyed singing all the way home in those days; we knew a lot of songs as I used to listen to dance music on the radio every Saturday night and it was a six miles from Neath to our village Crynant; we also had the girls with us walking home, they were lucky some times when a car came along and they had a lift to Crynant, of course there was no room for us boys.
Then, later on we had a couple of older boys in the village that started what we called a sixpenny hop on Saturday nights in our Church hall, (in the hall where we once had our soup kitchen's during the big strike). One of our boys, who lived at the top of our street, could play the piano, his name was David and the other boy was from the far end of our village, he could play the drums. They were four years older then we were, I guess they were the same age as my brother George. We soon enjoyed the boys playing for us and it was something so nice and it got bigger as kids came from other places close to us, and everyone enjoyed themselves. They were exceptionally good and played non-stop from 7p.m. to 11p.m. when the dance finished, they only had one break for ten minutes the whole night. It was much better then having to go down town to the dance hall in Neath; then the best thing of all was we did not have to walk the six miles back home.
We sure missed our singing lessons. We still started singing with the group while dancing and it turned out that we three had our own way of dancing. Then six months later we had another man with two boys when his family came to live in our village, he could play the Trumpet. We had a very nice time that went on for two years. Some of the mothers came to sit in to watch us, and to keep an eye on their daughters, but we all had a wonderful time believe me. This carried on until the war broke out in September 1939. This was one of the best things to happen in our little village.
We were really having a very good night, Edith's mother came long to watch us, I think, she came along to keep an eye on me, during the break she came to talk to me to let me know Edith was still asking about me. And that she wanted me to write to her. I said I would when I had the time, and in the end I did write a few lines to send to her and let her know I still missed her very much.
When the war started, that put an end to our dance nights, the boys that played for us were called up straight away. They were in the home Nursing so they were needed. Thankfully I had started my first year in home Nursing, so I missed being called up. Once again did not realize at that time this was the work of our Lord. I was so happy in the years I had worked in the pit, I had a very good Mam and I was happy I could give her some help.
In those days money was very tight, except in the mines, depending where in the mines you worked. My Dad only had seven pounds for working on top of the mines. He only gave my Mam five pounds that was all he could manage. He used to do some extra work in the village at night, building walls etc. He was a stonemason before he came to Wales, so he earned himself a bit of pocket money, and saved a little to give us a very good Christmas; he would always buy us toys when we were very small right up to the time we left school, we did not realize then how good he was to his children, in them days our mothers did not go to work, that only came into being during the 1939 war, and it is still very common to this day. Now through all these years it as never stopped, also before the war woman were not allowed in the pubs, that all change too, and believe me there were lots of changes in pubs and other things that never went on in the village before the war started, I think life improved after the war.
I worked down the mines from fifteen to nineteen years old, and did I ever feel rich indeed. I got a new bike, and lots of other things, I could have kept the extra money to buy what I always wanted, to learn to play the drums from my early days, but my mother came first with me, what my Mam and Dad could not gave me in those days, which previously they couldn't afford. That was a very good four years in my teens, and the four years I worked with Emlyn were the very best years of my young life.
You know the tale about the fireman, when I first started in the pit and how he said to ask God in my prayers to help me to get out of the mines. Of course I was not ready at the time, but I did what he told me, I prayed, but I never thought it would happen the way that it did. I hope that the young children will keep reading my life story and believe in Jesus Christ, and I still enjoyed my time like every other child has done; if I found out later that it was not nice what I did, then I would ask our Lord God to forgive me when I said my prayers at night and I would never do it again. You will see what a good life I had by staying with the way my mother brought me up as a Christian, not to hurt, but to help every one else when I possible could, and that is the way of my life to please God's dream he had for me and to share it with others, when the opportunity is facing me, and that is my purpose in my life. God has a purpose for each one of us when He brings us into his world. If you really believe in Jesus Christ like I have been brought up by my Mother to ask God for help, and you will have read how eventually, God got me in the coal mines. I did not know then the main purpose God had for me.
Unfortunately I started getting dermatitis on my hands after two years. It's a bad rash and it made my fingers split open. It was so bad I had to have some time off work, and attended the doctor. I was off work for twelve weeks altogether the first time. When that cleared up, I went back to work with Emlyn. He hadn't taken on another boy while I was off. I was very happy working with Emlyn, and so was he. The only thing was, I had to wear gloves all the time hoping that would help me but it turned out that it made it worse.
It was now 1938. In the spring of that year my hands started to get bad again. Wearing gloves did not help me in anyway, and I had to have another eight weeks off work. By the end of June, when I visited my doctor, to get my signing off paper, he told me I should not be working in the mines. I told my Mam what the doctor had old me. She said, "I wish you would give it up."
I said, "Don't tell my Dad, you know what would happen and I like having all this money."
She said, "I worry about you every day until you get home."
I told my Mam I would come out if I could find a job, I would have to leave the village to get out of working in the mines. At that time I did not want to leave my village.
I once again went back to work with Emlyn. He had not taken any one else on to work with him, and waited for me to return. The rest of that year was a very good one for us as we had very good production and Emlyn had increased my extra money to six pounds. And on December 23rd the last payday before Christmas 1938 he gave me ten pounds for my extra pay.
We had a week off that year in the mines. I enjoyed that week, previously we only had two days for our Christinas holidays. My Dad always had my Uncle Tom and his family over for the Christmas period, that is one thing my Dad made sure of when we were small, that he gave us a wonderful time. I really enjoyed those times, then it all ended as we grow up and went our own ways. But my Dad still had our home open to his friends. Later as we got older Edith always came home and I also had some good nights out with her. She only had a week for holidays; we enjoyed that Christmas week and again she returned to Halifax. I also had my good nights out but no one came between Edith and I.
I'm back working in the mines with Emlyn. It was January 1939. We did not know at that time it would be my last year working the coal-mines. After three months Emlyn increased my extra money to seven pounds, but only four weeks later my hands got very bad once again. Emlyn was very disappointed and he tried to keep me working with some strong gloves but it did not work, so I had time off again. In the end I could not bend my fingers and eventually had to visit my doctor. I was off to the end of June. My Mam still wanted me to stop working, but she still let me go back without telling my Dad.
When I went back this time to pick up my singing off paper my doctor refused to give me one. I said, "I would like to get back, as the money was so good." The Doctor said, "I will have to see your Dad and tell him."
I got up and walked out, as I knew if he had a word with my Dad that would definitely be the end of my life in the mines (in those days you had to be 21 before you could tell your Dad to get lost). When I got home I told my Mam, she cried for me, because she knew how I liked the job, and I also liked the fact that I was earning a good wage, and could help my Mam. Just think why I was like I was to my Mam, when the rest of the family all left home to get jobs, I believed that was the way our Lord God gave her a child of God. I was so pleased with the help that I gave to my Mother, I had no idea that I was so good to her, I realized much later on this was the work of our Lord guiding my life the way He wanted me to be.
Then she told me she was relieved because she used to worry about me being down working in the pit, simply because there were a lot of accidents and a few deaths in our village. Although the whole time I worked in Seven Sister pit we never had one accident. The accidents in our village were from the drift mines. She understood how upset I was and even now I have tears in my eyes just writing this. I can remember it like it was yesterday. I was one of the best to her while living at home, I now know that God give me that love to gave to my Mother. Some of the other things that happened during those years that I worked underground were basically nice things that took place in our village.
I would just like to go back a little bit, to the last days working under ground witht Emlyn. When the doctor told me that I couldn't go back under ground to work, I had to go to the next village, Seven Sisters, which was three miles away from where I lived, to tell Emlyn that I couldn't work down below any more. He tried all ways to get me to change my mind, he even promised to share his full bonus with me, but I couldn't go against the doctor's orders, It was very hard to say goodbye to such a good man. I had tears in my eyes and still have, while writing this. He was so very good to me. I eventually left my hometown later.
But every opportunity I had I went back to see him. Some years later, when I left home, after the war, I went up to see him and his wife, she gave me the sad news that he had passed away. Apparently, he suffered with the disease (Silicosis.) The same disease Glyn and other miners got working down below, from the coal and stone dust. I guess if I had stayed working in the coal-mines I might have ended in the same way as Glyn and Emlym. God knew I had to get out - believe me.
Now I have said how our good Lord God guided me all my life to better things. The first how did I get into the coal-mines - with the help of God! Through that miner that came to pay my Dad for the work he had done at his home in his spare time. Especially that day I did not have the money to go to play Pot Black with my friends, the second was when I asked God to get me out of the coal-mines although I was not ready at the time. Remember the Fireman telling me to keep asking God as it may take a while for God to answer my prayers. I did as he told me and just think how God worked on my hands to eventually get me out of the coal-mines, though I was not ready at the time, when God knew it was time to 'get out' he worked on my hands to get me out. This is just how God works to guide me where He wanted me to be, it's all in the preceding paragraphs, and he will guide you through your life for — better things if you believe in God. If it's going to be, then it's up to me to do what is right, when you finish reading this story you will see all the people God has brought into my life were all very good Christians.
I was without a job from June 1939, when my doctor stopped me working in the coal-mines. My only chance now was getting into a training centre with having a green card. Fortunately, my Dad's best drinking friend, was the manager of the labour Exchange at our town Neath. He told my Dad to send me down to see him personally. I did go, on the following Monday, he had me in his office, he asked me what kind of work I would like to go in for: my first preference was carpentry. He knew about my hands, he said "I don't have that at the moment, I will in the next few weeks, check and see what work courses are going. I will tell your Dad when I have something for you." After a month he sent for me again, the only thing going in Wales was for a bricklayer. He said, "Would you give it a try?" I never turn anything down I told him "Yes I'll try it," I said.
I had to travel to the Centre and started in school learning all about the different types of bricks. Then I learned how to build doorways and windows, and other things. We were also making drawings of walls. I still have my drawing book with me to this day and I can show you how good my work was. I have shown it to my friends in England and a few in Canada, to give them the proof, that what I have said is absolutely true.
The second month we went outside to practice building, and that was the start of my hands getting very bad once more with handling wet mortar. God obviously did not want me to be a Bricklayer. I was back in the labour exchange to see the manager. He said, would I be willing to leave Wales? Because that was the only chance he had to get me into a dry job. I said, "If I have to leave Wales to get in a Training Centre, so be it." What else could I do? I'm not one to stay without a job.
As I've said already, I was without a job from June 1939. I was still running around on my bike every day after helping my Mam when she had something for me to do, and we still went riding to the seaside with my friends some weekends. Then one Sunday morning there came the biggest announcement of the decade. I remember the announcement that came over the radio early morning that our Prime Minister had a very important message at 11 a.m. My Dad and I were working in the garden as my Dad had asked me to help him as it was a lovely day, while we were busy I told my Mother to call us in to listen to it. I told my Dad as he was already in the garden working. It was Sunday morning the 3rd of September 1939. My Mother called us in to listen to this important message from our Prime Minister. The message of course was:
We are Now at War with Germany.
We did not do any more in our garden the rest of the day, as you can imagine. After that time, I was on with a First Aid course with the St. Johns Ambulance, which I had joined a year before. A lot on that training was called up to the service's straight away, as I had not finished my training, I was not called up. I did not get into the training centre until a lot later the next year. God was not ready for me to go into the service, remember He had a purpose already for me. I had no idea what our Lord God had for me but I just believed that what ever He had would be the right thing, I just carried on believing the words my Mother had told me, keep God and Jesus Christ in your heart and you will never regret it. I still did not know the purpose God had for me, I knew one day God would guide me to it.
I have lots of memories of growing up in Wales. I eventually left at twenty years old, I loved my growing up days in Crynant, the little village; it would take me too long to mention all the outstanding experiences I've had. When I now think back I was so glad my Dad and my uncle Tom came out of London city and settled in this lovely village. The memories I have of those young days are embedded in my mind are as clear today as they were then.
TO BE CONTINUED