My name is Ernest James and I have been a miner all my working life. I worked at Renishaw Park Colliery for 12 months from March 1935 to March 1936, from then I was employed at Oxcroft Colliery from March 1935 - November 1946.
I passed my shot firing and Deputies ticket in 1945, I had done most of the underground jobs which youngsters were supposed to do. I started on the hand pumps on the coal face pumping the water away from the coal gutters. I then had a spell on the haulage, after that I was put on the pony driving. At that time it had roughly 80 ponies at Oxcroft Number 1, Shuttlewood, Nr Bolsover and I enjoyed every minute of it. We treated our pony just like a human being.
I started at Clowne Technical College in 1937, a lad called Henry Clifford and myself were first to start day mining from Oxcroft Collier. At that time I was a very keen local footballer, but with wanting and hoping to become a professional footballer it interfered with my mining career. I did have trials with Sheffield Wednesday when I was 21 years of age but hard work on the coal face stood in it's path. When I was 26 years of age I played for Scunthorpe United which was the time I started work at the Mines Rescue Station at Infirmary Road, Chesterfield. There were 9 of us employed there at that time. We also had a night watchman who we called Joe. This was an important job as he was responsible for taking all incoming calls from the Collieries which came under us. There was 20 Collieries at that time, and when the calls came through he was responsible for getting the correct message and making sure it was either underground or surface emergencies.
Mr Joe Ford was a real gentleman, well respected with everyone he came into contact with. He always came to work well dressed with a collar and tie. He had some good friends including 1st Officer Alan Gent, Wilf Whetton and the rest of our staff. Joe was about 5'3" tall and weighed roughly 11 stone, he was bald headed at that time just the same as I am now. When calls came in during the night you could hear the alarm bells from 100 yards away. He would switch the alarm bell off and then put our house bells in. Within 2 minutes we got our instructions and were in the Rescue Van ready for action. All our pit clothes were on the van ready. Sometimes we had trouble with each other treading on a trouser leg whilst we struggled to keep our balance. It was Joe Ford's responsibility to see that two canaries were on the van to take underground with the team.
He was responsible for sending us out to the pits including Bolsover Colliery fire, Mansfield Colliery (Crown Farm) Rufford Colliery (3 times) and Cresswell Colliery on 21 September 1950 when 80 miners lost their lives due to a fire underground were just a few of his call outs. Joe was there when I started work in 1946, and I can remember him retiring in 1953, his son was at that time Ambassador to the United States.
All I can say is he was a very fine man respected by all he came into contact with. I believe he lived on a housing estate off Gloucester Road New Whittington.
Joe's position was taken by Mr Fred Jones of Bolsover, I trained him to do Joe's job.
Chesterfield Mines Rescue has now been taken over by the Red Cross.