William Coleman

This is the only photo I know of which shows my paternal Grandfather William Coleman, he is at the front centre of the main group, he has his foot on the support timber and his hands on the brake rope.

Group of manual labourers on a cable pulling job

I never knew my Grandfather, he died in 1941, before I was born, my Father never spoke of him and my Mother never met him.

In the 1939 Register his occupation was given as ‘General Labourer & French Digger’. I Googled French Digger and it is somebody who specialises in digging trenches, that would follow as the cable looks to be going into a trench.

30 years or so after this picture was taken I was part of a gang doing the same job, excepting the cable we pulled in went up and across a roof in a steel mill in Scunthorpe.

30 years on again I was once again involved in a cable pulling job, but this time I had commissioned the job and I stood and watched, much better.

These lads wouldn’t win any prizes for sartorial elegance, but I wasn’t dressed any better when I was involved in my cable pulling experience.

I was wondering if this cable was a new feeder for the upcoming electric welding, it would need a cable of that size for such a job.

My Father started work as an apprentice riveter in the shipyard in 1939 and moved into steel erecting in the early 1960s as the need for riveters waned.

Photo and details courtesy of Bruce Coleman

8 thoughts on “William Coleman

    • An interesting thought, my first idea was that it may have been related to the trenches dug during World War 1, but it appears it isn’t, the phrase is well documented and appears to refer to the digging of trenches, ditches, gullies and possibly foundations.

      The French Canadians use the term but for slightly different actions.

      An interesting aside is that A French Digger is one of hundreds of jobs that no longer exist, I can think of many more, usually to do with manual work.


    • …indeed it could… or a mistake when originally recorded, or a misread of the handwriting, or a mistake when transcribing the records. There’s not much difference between “Tr” & “Fr” especially when handwritten. A Trench Digger seems like a much more suitable term for someone who digs cable, pipe or drainage trenches. Unless you are describing someone who does the job and happens to be French 🙂


  1. Where was the photo taken?
    In which shipyard did your father work as a riveter? My father did the same job a Haverton Hill shipyard during WW2.


    • I believe the picture was taken at the Furness yard in the late 1930s, my original caption did mention this, my Grandfather, Father and Mother all worked at Furness.

      My father was always known as Rax or Raxy.


        • I’m sorry I can’t help, my Father never ever talked about his work, or anything else for that matter, it was my Mother who told me he was a riveter, she met him in the shipyard when she used to heat the rivets in a brazier and throw them up to somebody to catch in a bucket and then put them into the hole for riveting.

          I did once go to a launch somewhere around 1953, but I have no idea of the name of the ship.

          My mother was in the shipyard from 1943 until 1945 when my parents married.


  2. Wonderful examples of health and safety here. But the working man thought nothing of it. It was just the jobs expected of them.

    French digging also refers to a system of drainage on land. I have two such drains in my garden to take surface water away from my lawn. It is merely a bedding of small rocks below the top soil to drain the water to lower ground.


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