Shortly after completing what I thought was the final edit of my film about Argyll Colliery, The Road to Drumleman, a missing piece of the jigsaw fell into place for me when I read a letter in the Campbeltown Courier – it was from Ronnie Gay, the nephew of James Woodcock, one of two fatalities Argyll Colliery (the other was Duncan McKinven, who was killed in an accident on the surface). Jimmy, aged 22, was killed on the 12th February, 1951, when a lump of coal weighing a ton, fell on top of him. Another collier, Bobby Hamilton, had a very narrow escape, and although hospitalised, made a full recovery. The accident, which killed Jimmy instantly, was described to me in interviews with Willie McKinlay and Davy Anderson, both now deceased. Both men still had vivid memories of the day of the accident and were still clearly emotionally affected by the experience, all those years before. Willie was one of the men who carried Jimmy to the surface. When I was making the film, I was led to understand that at the time he was killed young Jimmy Woodcock had been married but that he had no children. Jimmy’s father, originally from Yorkshire, had been one of the first to be employed at the colliery, where he started work in 1946. The family lived in the “miners’ houses” in Crosshill Avenue, Campbeltown.
I wasn’t able to find a photo of Jimmy for the film and it bothered me not being able to put a face to the name of that tragic story – when I was researching the film there was often a scarcity of information and sometimes the trails simply went cold.
We screened the film at the Picture House in Campbeltown in 2008 and thanks to subsequent publicity in the local paper, The Campbltown Courier, Ronnie Gay, Jimmy’s nephew, wrote a letter to the newspaper. I talked to Ronnie and he explained that his Auntie Cathy, Jimmy’s wife, had been 7 months pregnant at the time when his Uncle Jimmy was killed and that that she had had a son, also called Jim.
During my visit to see Ronnie in Dunoon and I scanned some scan family photos. I edited two of them into the film – one of them was a lovely photo of Jimmy with his young wife, Cathy. Once they had been included in the edit we sent a copy to Jimmy’s son, Jim, in Australia – here is his response:
I’m writing to thank you very much for sending me a copy of the Road to Drumleman DVD, received via my cousin in Scotland.
A short history:
My Dad was Jim Woodcock who was killed in the Machrihanish mining disaster in 1951. My mum, Cathy, was 7 months pregnant with me when my Dad was killed and so I never knew my Dad. I’ve always had an interest in finding out more about what actually happened. My grandfather, James Woodcock died when I was 5 and I can remember him quite vividly.
He was one of the first to be employed at the mine. His wife, my Gran, Isabel Woodcock, lived until the 1990’s and as she got older she gave me all the newspaper cuttings, death certificate and a few photos. After my Dad died, my mother moved back to Paisley to be with her own mother, however we always kept in touch with Campbeltown through Gran. My cousin, Ron Gay, lived in Campbeltown until a few years ago when he moved to Dunoon and we’ve always kept in touch.
After 7 years my mother re-married and moved to South Africa with me and my step-brother, Mitchell. We lived there for 9 years, before returning to Paisley. In 1980 my wife, Anne and I moved to Australia. We’ve now got two daughters and two granddaughters who live close by. In December/January 2001/2 we went home to Scotland for a holiday and drove down to Campbeltown to visit some of the Woodcock family. We actually went to Janey and Peter Hall who still live in Davaar Avenue (mentioned in your DVD) and my Dad’s cousins, Sheena and Lachie, took us into the Campbeltown Historical Museum. (Campbeltown Heritage Centre). They had a little information on the mine and when we got back to Australia, we copied the information Gran had given us and sent it to Sheena to be used in the Museum as she thought fit.
My cousin hadn’t mentioned his contact with you and so the DVD arrived quite unexpectedly. I got home from work and put it on. It brought back some memories from the Campbeltown I remember (late 1950’s/60’s) I was quite taken with the history, of which I knew a little, but the pictures and interviews really meant something. When Willie McKinley started talking about ‘young Jimmy Woodcock’, I really sat up and then saw the picture of my parents and my Dad’s grave which I’ve visited several times. I was quite taken aback and promised myself to try and get in touch with Willie until the end when I read he had since died. I really did appreciate hearing from someone who knew my Dad and was in the mine at the time of the accident, and wanted you to know how much that meant. For your information I received £700 and my mother received £2,000 in compensation from the Coal Board. They then asked my mother to recompense them for the back-pay of rent.
My Mum died at the beginning of 2009, however I know she would have been appy to think that something had actually been recorded. I’ve already shown the DVD to both my daughters and granddaughters and it’s given them some insight to their background. The DVD will become part of the Woodcock ancestry. Here in Australia, it’s quite the ‘in thing’ to research the family and I want to thank you sincerely for taking the time to research the Argyll Mine. I will turn 60 in April next year and had a major heart attack in 2001, so take each day at a time but am absolutely delighted to think that my ‘heritage’ has been so well documented. I’ve attached a couple of newspaper cuttings which might interest you.
Thank you very much – your work has meant a lot to me.
I was able to put Jim in contact with Davy Anderson in Campbeltown and the two corresponded and spoke on the phone. I know that this was something which meant a lot to Jim.
The whole process of making The Road to Drumleman was an emotional one – I was grieving for my father, Neil, who had once worked at Argyll Colliery. I was also moved by meeting all the people who contributed to the film. The documentary also stirred up a lot of memories and emotions for other families both in South Kintyre and in the wider diaspora. It’s important that we keep making connections like the one between Jim and Davy. This current project is an opportunity to mark mining as a significant part of the popular cultural identity of the area. We will remember and document the lives of the men and women who worked at the mine, even if it’s only by naming them, but hopefully we can build on the information gathered for the documentary and find more stories and images which will help us preserve Kintyre’s mining heritage and serve as a legacy for those to come.
Jan Nimmo ©