Jock Purdon (
November 16, 1925- 1998), a poet and songwriter, was born George Purdon in the village of Nitshillnear Glasgow. Although Nitshill had been a coal miningvillage, the mine had closed before Jock grew up and it was a strange twist of fate that saw him spend most of his life as a coal minerin a pit in Chester-le-Street, County Durhamin the North East of England.Fact|date=February 2007 It was that occupation that shaped his poems and songs and made him the "miners' poet."
Jock was 14 years old when
World War IIbegan and he saw his older brother, Robert, enlist in the Royal Scotsregiment and serve as a Commandofor several yearsFact|date=February 2007. Robert was eventually killed in France after the Normandy Landingsin 1944. When it was his turn to be drafted, Jock's conscription number ended in 0, which meant that he would not be joining his brother in the army. He was bound for the pits (coal mines). Because of the labour shortage in 1943, 1 man in 10 was conscripted to make up the manpower needs of the coal mining industry and Jock was one of the very first contingent designated for the mines on 14 December 1943, becoming a so-called "Bevin Boy". Ernest Bevinwas the Minister for Labour and National Service in the war time cabinet.
Jock married, stayed in
Chester-le-Streetafter the war and worked in the pits digging coal in three foot seams with water up to his knees at times. He saw and shared the hardship of the miners; many of his songs reflect the sense of community that an embattled people develop. But it was not all doom and gloom. While the "Easington Explosion" laments the deaths of eighty one miners in one accident, "Hally's Piebald Gallowa" laments the loss of a pit banner, eaten by a Gallowaypony. These ponies were used to haul coal carts underground.
Mining and politics are inseparable and Jock's verses capture his contempt for those who put profit before people. He coined the word "Pitracide", meaning "to murder a pit for economic reasons". His commitment to his ideals and the mining community saw him performing his songs for the benefit of striking miners in the 1984-85 miners' strike and appearing at the
Royal Albert Hallin the "Concert for Heroes" in 1985. He is reported to have said "For me there's three great generals - Geronimo, Alexander the Greatand Arthur Scargill". Scargill was secretary general of the National Union of Mineworkersand led the miners' strike.
Jock was featured on the
Channel 4"Everyman" TV series; six of his songs appear in Bert Lloyd's definitive collection of pit poems and songs, "Come All Ye Bold Miners" and he published a radical album of poems and songs entitled "Pitworks, Politics & Poetry."
In 2004, the Cotia banner (subject of one of Jock's songs) was remade and carried to the
Durham Miners' Galawith pictures of Jock and fellow miner and folksinger Jack Elliot of Birtleyon the back. The banner was unfurled by Tony Benn, who is an admirer of Jock's poetry and songs.
Further reading and reference
"Songs of the Durham Coalfield by Jock Purdon," Pit Lamp Press, Chester-le-Street, 1977
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