Johnson-John Baptiste worked in Nottinghamshire mines for 26 years. A National Lottery funded project helped him to reunite with his former colleagues and celebrate his achievements, and those of other Afro-Caribbean miners.
Now 79 years old, Johnson arrived in the UK from the Commonwealth of Dominica in 1961. He eventually ended up working in Ollerton Colliery, Nottinghamshire, which was his first experience of coal mining.
He says: “My brother was working in the mine and he introduced me. At the time, the miners would get coal. In the winter time, a miner’s house was always warm.”
Working in the mines
Johnson, who later moved to Gedling Colliery Nottinghamshire, said working in the mines was ‘dirty and dark’ but it was the sense of camaraderie that made it worthwhile.
“The good thing about the mining, regardless of how difficult it was or dangerous, was the friendship, it was the togetherness.
“You have to do the job right, because the chap who’s coming in on the next shift, he’s got a wife and children… If one of your colleagues is hurt, you’re hurt. That is the way it is: working together, caring together.”
The 'Pit of Nations'
Known as ‘the Pit of Nations’, Gedling Colliery had workers hailing from all over the world. He remembers colleagues from Poland, Jamaica, Ukraine, St Lucia, and, of course, Nottingham.
“What was wonderful was the different cultures. You respect them and you learn.”
One Jamaican miner working at Gedling was Vernon Gregory, relative of historian Norma Gregory. After discovering a special commendation certificate for Vernon from the Coal Board, Norma applied for National Lottery funding for the ‘Digging Deep’ project. She wanted to document the under-recorded narratives of Afro-Caribbean miners and to share with the public their important contributions to the UK’s industrial and social history.
She says: “Little is presented in museums or publications about the experiences of miners of African Caribbean heritage in the UK. By making a start unearthing this rich source of history, the project aims to interpret a more realistic, inclusive discourse. The black miner in the UK should and must be acknowledged.”
A chance meeting with Norma at Nottingham Carnival in August 2016 inspired Johnson to get involved.
He says: “Until this project came along, nobody had asked me before about my mining experiences. I was really interested in sharing my personal narrative.”
Overall Johnson says taking part in Digging Deep has been ‘moving and memorable’ and feels proud of his contribution.
“It has changed my life for the better and it has encouraged me to continue helping others by offering support as best as I can.
“Thank you to the National Lottery players for making the Digging Deep project possible.”