Born on 25th April 1931 in Railway Street, Seaham, Derek Bland has spent all his life in this former mining town, apart from a few foreign adventures here and there!
Like many people at the time, Derek leftschool at 14 on the 4th May 1945 and started working at Dawden Pit just three days later. He worked one day and was given the next day off as the country just
happened to be marking VE (Victory in Europe) Day on the 8th.
Derek remembers many a time having to run into an Anderson Shelter with his family during regular German bombing raids on the North East coast. On one occasion, the council offices just 400
yards away from his home were flattened by a bomb.
But given his age, Derek remembers that time as being very exciting, the innocence of youth hiding him from the misery of war. However, he did experience a great tragedy when his brother Joseph, a miner before the war, was killed in an air raid, ironically after being called back from the front-line in
Europe to help keep up the productivity of coal.
Derek’s first job at the Pit involved picking stones out of the coal as it came up to the surface. It’s hard to imagine today’s 14-year-old’s doing such a mundane, but important job, but Derek did it without complaint for two years.
Derek didn’t enjoy mining life so he went to a work in a saw mill for a while, before he was called up for his two year’s national service at the age of 18. He had never been out of Seaham before so it was quite a shock to his system when he got on a train to Manchester and ended up in places such as Oswestry, Gravesend and Woolwich as he trained to be a Gunner.
It was an even bigger shock when he was then posted to Egypt. Derek has fond memories of his time in
Egypt, where his regiment would be woken at 6am every morning and spend the day on a mobile patrol. He even remembers it snowing on Christmas Day 1950, which is very unusual for the country.
Derek completed his national service in 1951 (luckily missing out on the Korean War and Suez) and he returned to work at the Pit in Dawdon. It was here, in the staff canteen, that he met a lovely woman
called Mary. The couple began courting and were soon married.
Derek worked at the Pit until 1964 where, restless, he sought other employment. Over the next few years he did a number of different jobs ranging from digging graves for the local council through to driving a taxi. He eventually settled into a career as a tyre fitter, working for in the workshop at Seaham Council and then Easington Council, before a back injury led to an early retirement in 1989.
By that time Derek and Mary, who has sadly since passed away, had six children and this had led to numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Not one to sit at home all day, Derek became an active member of the British Legion and Fellowship of Services, serving in various capacities.
Derek is also a member of DAMHA’s Scrutiny Panel, which he says he enjoys very much.