Ilkeston man recalls days working in mine rescue team

Eric Minard, of Charles Close, Ilkeston.
Eric Minard, of Charles Close, Ilkeston.

An Ilkeston man who used to rescue miners from Derbyshire’s coal pits in the event of a fire has shared his story with the Advertiser.

Eric Minard, 84, of Charles Close, left school at the age of 14 and started work as a bricklayer’s apprentice in the town. He was then encouraged to join the Army but instead opted to become a coal miner at Ripley pit, eventually becoming a mine rescue man for Ilkeston Mine Rescue.

Eric Minard in his younger days

Eric Minard in his younger days

He said: “All pits had mine rescue men. If there were fires or an explosion down the pit we would get the men out. I saw some awful things. It’s different having a fire down a mine - I saw quite a few. We would take the men up and then go down with breathing apparatus and seal the area off.

“Ninety eight people were blown up at a disaster in Creswell but I wasn’t allowed to go because of my age.”

Eric lived in a miners cottage at the time on Manners Avenue in Ilkeston, close to what used to be a miners rescue station containing fire engines and ambulances. He lived next door to Phillip Healey ,who has had a website set up in his name about his mining days called healeyhero.co.uk which has photos of the Ilkeston rescue team.

Eric would have just one and a half days off a week. His day off would be from 8am until 10pm when he would have to sign back in.

He said: “The rest of the time I was on duty or on call. I couldn’t go anywhere because I had a bell in my bedroom that would go off. I used to put my trousers on the floor so I could jump into them.”

Though Eric was part of the Ilkeston Miners Rescue they were attached to three others: Chesterfield, Mansfield and Ashfield. They would cover each others areas when they got a call out.

Eric remained in the job for more than ten years and earned himself a silver medal for ten years’ service. He was aged 32 when he left and took on a position at Gedling Colliery as a fire officer. Fifteen years later he made the decision to finish his mining carrer and went back to being a bricklayer.He started up his own firm in Ilkeston but then gave it up after deciding that he wanted to work with his wife Stephanie, who he met when he was 18 and working in Belper.

He said: “We moved to Ilfracombe and bought a 17-bedroom hotel. We loved it but it was very hard work. Stephanie became ill so we put it up for sale and it sold straight away.”

The couple, who have been together for 63 years, lived in Devon for 38 years before deciding to move back to Ilkeston in the summer to be closer to their family.

Eric remembers fondly when he and Stephanie used to walk by each other when they both worked in Belper. He said: “She worked at Bretalls factory and I was a builder. I used to get paid 14 shillings and seven pence a week. Me and Stephanie used to eye each other up as she we walked past each other after getting off the bus. They used to have a dance on a Saturday night at the assembly rooms in Belper and we saw each other there. We have been together ever since”

The couple have two children, a son and a daughter, two grandchildren and four great grandchildren. They are enjoying being back in Ilkeston but do miss their friends.

Reminiscing about his mining days, Eric said: “I can remember once when I was at Gedling, the manager was a tall man and was very direct, a real manager. He came in to the office one day and threw three pairs of overalls on the table and told me to go down the mine with them.

“Princess Anne was coming to visit and he didn’t want anyone to be seen with torn trousers. He said ‘Princess Ann is coming, I want you to go and see if anyone has anything hanging out that shouldn’t be hanging out and give them the overalls.”