Arno Wolff (1931)

The life of Arno Wolff, like that of so many European working men, was shaped by the Second World War. He was born in East Prussia. His father served in the Germany army and was killed on the Eastern Front. With his mother he fled from his home as the Russian army advanced in 1944, and his home subsequently became part of Poland.

The family settled in Neumunster near Hamburg, where work was scarce, and at the age of 18 he began to train as a coal miner and worked for three years at the Concordia Mine, Oberhausen. Three years later he joined a German company, Schachtbau Thyssen, that specialised in sinking shafts for coal mines, and which had a series of contracts with the National Coal Board in South Wales. Initially the labour force was entirely German, working shifts of eight hours, usually on seven days a week. Accommodation was provided in Nissen Huts, in whichfour men shared each room. The company gradually recruited more Welsh miners, and the Germans began to integrate with local communities.

In 1956 he began to work on a contract at Brynlliw Colliery at Grovesend near Gorseinon. He lodged with an elderly widow of a miner who filled a tin bath with water prior to his return from his first day’s work, and was surprised to learn that since the death of her late husband, every colliery had gained a pithead baths.

He married a Welsh woman in 1963 and settled at Llangennech, where, unlike some of his German co-workers, he became involved in the local community. Nevertheless he was amongst those who enthusiastically celebrated an annual German carnival at a club at Cynheidre. His sons played Rugby, and he began to study the history of local Nonconformist chapels and miners’ institutes.

The closure of many pits in South Wales meant that contracting firms like Schactbau Thyssen were no longer needed, and Arno Wolff transferred to employment with the National Coal Board from 1981.He worked at Cynheidre pit where he discovered a hundred-year old working where the stables for the pit ponies were still intact. He retired in 1988. An account of his life is retained at the Big Pit mining museum.