Jim Martin – Mechanical Engineer Apprentice


Jim Martin, third from the left – “Al Jolson, the joker in the pack”, on repair work at the coal conveyor system at the pier, Campbeltown. “This was where the coal was shipped to Ballycastle and other customers to bring in the much needed revenue. It also served as a tourist attraction for the visitors!” Photo courtesy of Jim Martin ©

1947 was the year I left school. It was also the year that school leaving was raised from 14 to 15 years and the coal industry was nationalised and classified as a reserve occupation – this meant you were exempt from National Service.

I had an interview as an apprentice mechanical engineer with Mr Tague at Machrihanish. He explained the basic technical and craft training involved and that I would be reporting to Mr Tom Webster, who was the mechanical/electrical engineer at the time.


Workshop shift changeover. Standing – Willie Morris, Tom McCall and Jim Martin. Kneeling David Stephenson, Alex McMillan, Ian McMillan, Sitting – Alex McLaughlan. Photo courtesy of Jim Martin ©

In addition, as a result of nationalisation, major government legislation and procedures were introduced, and I would be elected to attend further education and training classes to qualify as a mechanical engineer. This resulted in night classes then day release  at Campbeltown Grammar School and thereafter at Burnbank School of Engineering in affiliation with the Royal Technical College of Glasgow and the NCB School of Engineering at the West Bar in Sheffield.

I have to tell you, I could not have wished for a better opportunity and it opened doors to a very happy and successful career in the engineering and management field.

During the time I was at the technical college I was seconded to Cardowan Colliery, at Stepps near Glasgow, during term time, and then I was back to the Machrihanish mine (Argyll Colliery) from May to September – not bad especially when all expenses were paid by the National Coal Board.

This was generally in the sequence of events until I took up a permanent position at Cardowan Colliery where I lasted till 1960.


Jimmy West and Jim Martin in Main Street, Campbeltown. “Caught in the lens of a street photographer”. Jimmy West also worked at Argyll Colliery. Photo courtesy of Jim Martin ©

A couple of  anecdotes:

A local character you know as “Setterday Sannie” – one of his jobs was to empty the underground chemical toilets. On one occasion he reported to the store that he had required a replacement toilet. The storeman was a big red-faced man by the name of Bob Hill.”Setterday Sannie” was given a penny lecture on the costs of the replacement parts and that in the future he should really provide evidence that replacements were required. A few days later when the coast was clear, he returned to the stores with a “fully loaded toilet”, with a note stating “In need of repair”. All Hell broke loose and it was reported to the manager. “Setterday Sannie” was the hero of the day and was still employed long after Bob Hill was gone!

On another occasion while doing my rounds I stopped off at a conveyor change over point underground where Charlie Farmer, Feeny, worked. His task was to clean up the spillage or report any problems. There was a cast iron, military style telephone with a flexible earpiece and wind up handle. To call any other station you rang the appropriate number of times. While I was talking to him, he excused himself to make a call. In a loud voice he cried “Gather around, me hearties, it’s your old friend on Workers’ Playtime and you know what that means”, then he produced a mouth organ and gave a rendering of the theme tune from the radio show, “Workers Playtime“.  I couldn’t stop laughing and I asked him “What was that all about?” and he said, “Jim, me lad, it’s 10 o’clock – it’s me brektime!”.

These are just two of the many happy and memorable occasions that outweighed difficult times and made working at the Machrihanish mine a pleasure to be involved in.

Jim Martin, Sutton Coldfield


The miners and partners “Social Night” at the White Hart Hotel, Campbeltown. People identified are: Charlie Duffy, Kenny McCall, Rab McKinven, Jim Steele, Jim Martin, Donnie McShannon, Billie Mason, Jock Strang, Kenny McMillan, Alex Colville, Jimmy Grant, Jock McShannon, Joe Currie and John Gillies. Photo courtesy of Jim Martin ©

Jim has kindly provided us with some more photos and other interesting documents which we will post separately.


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