Unsung Volunteer Hero: May Justice
Our volunteers have voted for who was most deserving of our “Volunteers' Unsung Hero Award” and the results are in! We picked from a list of extraordinary people who worked in the mining industry or contributed pit communities.
Our winner is May Justice, former head of the medical service at Kellingley Colliery. Her many years of dedication to nursing and support for miners and their families in the most difficult of times is inspirational and resonates now more than ever.
Coal mining has always been a dangerous industry despite advances in technology and improvements in health and safety. The underlying risk to human life is constant so medical staff play a vital role at the pit.
May Justice was the head of the medical service at Kellingley Colliery and regularly went underground. She travelled over fifty miles a day to get to the colliery and did this for over fifteen years.
In November 2010, there was a fire underground at Kellingley. Everyone was safely evacuated but all the rescue personnel had to be examined by her afterwards. The weather was bad and for three weeks she travelled to work past vehicles abandoned in the snow, staying in Knottingley one night because it was too difficult to get home. UK Coal wrote to thank her for her dedication.
She describes the pit as quiet, eerie and sad following a death. After the last fatality, May went underground to see the men who were trapped and to help escort the body out. She considers miners to be a unique breed and sees it as a privilege to have worked with them for so many years.
Quote from May Justice
Q: What is it about mining that makes you want to work in the industry?
A: Miners are a rare breed, and a unique breed of people. They just want to come to work, do the job, earn some money to take care of their families. They work in hazardous conditions, in heat and humidity, in dust and with massive equipment: coal-cutting machines and … and they really are a breed on their own. They are quite … I’m just trying to think of the word, how to describe it now … macho in their approach. They don’t want namby-pambering, they don’t like taking tablets unless it’s absolutely necessary. It’s quite a battle at times to get them to go to the doctor for antibiotics or other things because they just think “Oh, I’ll get better, it’ll get better by itself, I’m strong and I’m macho”. But it’s actually been a privilege to work with miners all these years and I’ve really thought it’s been a privilege and a pleasure to look after them, and I hope that I have done my best for all of them.
As part of our tribute to May, our volunteer, Paula, has created an activity inspired by our unsung heroes:
Hi my name is Paula and I am a volunteer at the museum.
I bring skills from my background in graphic design to help makes resources for use by activity volunteers at the museum.
Today I have designed this medal for you to colour in and wear on behalf of an unsung hero.
It might be the hero we have chosen or one of your own choice.
Just write the name of your hero in the centre of the medal and wear it with pride!
I hope you enjoy colouring it in and wearing it as much as I enjoyed drawing it.