Celebrating 70 years of the NHS: musical tribute in the mining village of Edlington to be re-enacted

Edlington Yorkshire main ambulance
Edlington Yorkshire main ambulance

The NHS was born on July 5, 1948, when GP surgeries, hospitals, doctors, nurses and numerous other workers came together to form a giant health organisation funded from taxes and free at point of need.

On that historic day, health minister Aneurin ‘Nye’ Bevan went into what’s now called Trafford Hospital, Manchester to meet patients and announce the launch of the NHS.

Former Edlington mayor, Frank Arrowsmith with National Health papers

Former Edlington mayor, Frank Arrowsmith with National Health papers

As he was doing so, 70 miles away in the mining village of Edlington, Doncaster, the village was also heralding the birth of free healthcare for all with its own musical tribute. The brass band from Yorkshire Main Colliery triumphantly marched down the road to the village’s GP surgery – then based in a large detached house opposite the cemetery -and played a number of celebratory tunes. Dr James O’Donnell – affectionately known as Dr Jimmy - hung a Union Jack from his window and gave them all a drink – the NHS had arrived.

And nearly 70 years to the day, Edlington will be remembering this historic milestone by re-enacting the historic parade made by the pit bandsmen. Yorkshire Main closed in 1986 and Dr Jimmy’s surgery is now a private home. But Sunday 8 July, 2018, the acclaimed Sheffield Pipe Band will march from Edlington Hilltop Centre the few hundred yards to the Martinwells Centre – the village’s £7m ‘super surgery’ which opened nine years ago.

They will be greeted by Dr Ravindra Nayar - an Edlington GP for more than 30 years, who will hold up a flag and hand out celebratory soft drinks while the band plays on. In the band will be piper Robbie Conroy, who moved from Scotland to be a fitter at Yorkshire Main and settled in the village, where he also grows prize-winning vegetables at his local allotment.

The public is invited along to take part in the parade on Sunday July 8. Meet at Edlington Hilltop Centre at 9am, with the parade starting at 9.30am, arriving at Martinwells Centre at 9.45am.

Fomer Edlington mayor Frank Arrowsmith remembering Edlington colliery visit by Aneurin Nye Bevin

Fomer Edlington mayor Frank Arrowsmith remembering Edlington colliery visit by Aneurin Nye Bevin

It includes a band, refreshments and short presentation by pupils from Sir Thomas Wharton Academy at 10am.

Proudly walking behind the band to the Martinwells Centre will be Edlington’s former Mayor, Frank Arrowsmith, who at 70 years old was born just two months before the birth of the NHS.

Frank will uphold the village’s eight decades long mining links by marching with a recently produced reproduction of the miners’ union banner that would have been in service on July 5, 1948. Produced with design help from pupils at Edlington’s Thomas Wharton Academy, the banner was paid for with lottery funding and normally hangs in Edlington’s Grainger Centre.

A former pitman and son of a miner who cycled down from Durham to find work at Yorkshire Main, Frank says the NHS has been a big part of his and his family’s life.

City of Sheffield Pipe Band remembering NHS 70th year

City of Sheffield Pipe Band remembering NHS 70th year

He said: Dad was a soldier in the Royal Scots Greys in the Second World War and survived a U-boat torpedo which sunk the ship he was on off the Irish coast. My uncle was a prisoner of war and very poorly when he came home. He was treated at a specialist military centre, which was later taken over by the NHS.” The youngest of six children, Frank followed in dad’s footsteps and at aged 15 started at Yorkshire Main, where he spent 22 years as coalface worker and union branch official.

One of the biggest pits in the country at the time, at Yorkshire Main’s peak it employed around 2,500 men, many of whom needed the NHS following accidents sustained in the dangerous underground working conditions.

Injuries and deaths were so frequent that the pit had its own ambulance, which Frank remembers as being nothing more than a black van. When the pit closed in 1986, Frank tried a few different jobs before his wife, Brenda – a nurse at Balby’s Tickhill Road Hospital – encouraged him to apply for a nursing assistant’s post in the acute psychiatry unit at Doncaster Royal Infirmary.

“The advert said they were looking for people with good communication skills and, as a former union official, Brenda thought that would be right up my street,” he laughed.

He was successful and held various posts in the local mental health service over the following 23 years – latterly as an assessment officer at Intake’s East Dene Centre – before retiring five years ago to continue his voluntary work in the community.

A keen local historian, he researched details of all the 144 men killed at Yorkshire Main.

Their names are now commemorated on the wall of the Grainger Centre.

He said: “As a youngster I remember the village doctor coming to our house and the mystery that surrounded the brown bag that he brought with him.”