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A Question From Patricia Kawar
Bentley Colliery Disaster, 20th November, 1931 - Page 2
My father was working in the mine at that time - Those Who Died

In the North East District workings at the time of the explosion there were 85 men working. Of these 2 were deputies, Harry Hartley and James Hughes, 49 colliers, 11 byeworkers, 2 bricklayers, and 21 connected with the haulage. The 140’s new crossgate had cut off the rib-side gate, the 140’s Old Gate, and as was customary seals were being put in at the inbye and outbye ends of that old gate. All the supports had been withdrawn from the old gate and a seal at each end had been made during the day. Men were engaged in reinforcing these seals by packs at the time of the explosion.

At 4.20 p.m. the outgoing deputy Edward Gold Swift completed his second inspection. The deputy in charge of the district, James Hughes, after conferring with Swift, left the meeting station at the outbye end of the 140’s new crossgate at 4.30 p.m. on his first round of inspection. Hughes had been informed by Swift that a little gas was being given off at the seal at the outbye end of the 140’s Old Gate and he went to this place first. He found J.H. Rowe and W. Brockenhurst at work there finishing off the third pack of the seal. He made a test for gas and found a trace just as Swift had. This was the only indication of gas that he found during his inspection which he had completed by 5.40p.m. and with the exception of a fall in the 149’s left bank, which did not impede the ventilation, everything was in good order. As Hughes described it as ‘Everything seemed beautiful’.

Having finished his inspection, Hughes went down 140’s crossgate to it’s junction with the main road, 148’s, and when he was there about 5.45 p.m., to quote his own words, "there was a regular flash of wind and dust". Hughes telephoned to the pit bottom office explaining that something was very serious that had happened and that the management should be notified. A telephone message was sent at once from that office to Mr. Cook the undermanager at his house, Mr. Cook telephoned the Manager, Mr. Longdon who in turn telephoned the Agent’s house and went to the colliery office where he found Cook waiting for him. Further information was then available and Longdon sent Cook underground, summoned members of the Colliery Rescue Teams, telephoned local doctors, H.M. Inspector of Mines, the Central Rescue Station and sent a message to the house of the local representative of the workmen Mr. W.J. Ballham.

Cook, on getting down the pit, found that William Fisher, the overman in charge of the shift, had already summoned rescue men and ambulance men at work in several districts of the mine to collect stretchers in their districts and bring them to the pit bottom. After telling Fisher to send these men with others into the North East District to render assistance, Mr. Cook went inbye.

Deputy Hughes was at the 140’s crossgate junction. Soon after he had felt the rush of wind and dust, and before the dust had settled, Dan Maloney, who had been at work in the 142’s stall, came down 144’s new crossgate. He was badly burned. He was followed by Arthur Kirkland from 143’s stall. Kirkland, although badly burned had lifted a tub off a boy, Thomas Hannon, whose foot was trapped near the 143’s junction and Hannon followed him out. Hannon was followed by a collier Horace Windle who had been at work in the 140’s stall. He to was badly burned. These four men were assisted by some of those in the district who had not been injured and taken to the pit bottom where they received first aid. Only one other man, Harry Roberts, came out of the face.

He was helped by a driver John Ward, who at the moment of the explosion was at the outbye end of the passbye and had heard someone trying to get outbye past the tubs. He went at once to help Roberts and took him to the 140’s new crossgate junction. Roberts, aided by a contractor, George Bailey, walked to the pit bottom where he also received first aid.

In the meantime one of the stallmen, Harry Clarke, had come out to the main road from 150’s stall by way of 149’s stall and the junction of 150’s crossgate with the main road and saw Hughes, who finding that Clarke was from 149’s and 150’s were uninjured, told Clarke to bring then out to give assistance. Other uninjured men led by a corporal, Frank Sykes, had gone up 140’s new crossgate as a far as the door just beyond 142’s junction, they looked through the door but did not go further because it was too hot.

A gob fire deputy, Harry Hartley, who was supervising work on the main road about three quarters of a mile outbye felt the ventilation change which stirred up a great cloud of dust. At first he thought that a compressed air pipe had burst and went 200 yards outbye with one of his workmen, found nothing and returned inbye, followed by two haulage hands. Some of these together with the uninjured men already in the district under the direction of Hughes went to the face starting at 148’s and moved some of the injured men from 148’s , 147’s and 146’s stalls into the gates. They could do this since the ventilation had been retired and the dust had cleared. While they were taking these men out, the undermanager, Mr. Cook arrived.

A few minutes later the Agent, M.R McGregor came in with William Brown, the night overman an after visiting the 148’s stall and 146’s crossgates telephoned Mr. Longdon whom McGregor had instructed to remain at the surface to wait for H.M. Inspectors. To organise a dressing station, to get blankets, stretchers, dressings and to ask the neighbouring collieries to send their motor ambulances. From this time onwards the work of recovering the injured and the dead was carried on until 11 p.m. when as far as was known at the time all the bodies had been recovered. Later it was found out from deputy Hughes that some of the men had been working in 141’s return, outbye of the junction of 140’s new crossgate and an attempt was then made to rescue these men by getting into the return via 140’s old crossgate but owing to intense heat and smoke this attempt had to be abandoned and the bodies of five men,

  • J.W. Rowe
  • W. Brocklehurst
  • S. Mason
  • J.H. Smith
  • T. Dove

were not recovered.

The work done to recover those who had been enveloped by the explosion divides itself into two parts, namely, the work done immediately following the explosion and that done later. Immediately following the explosion there were at or near the outbye end of 140’s new crossgate the following persons:- James Hughes, deputy, Frank Sykes, Corporal, Richard Edward Darker, road contractor, Norman McMullen and Norman Moult, drivers and Henry Oalkland, road contractor. On the main haulage road (148’s ) between 140’s new and 140’s old crossgates were Oliver Soulsby and William Follows, haulage hands Phillip William Yates, haulage engine driver and William Heath, pony driver, were on 148’s road between the doors across that road at the outbye end oft 150’s crossgate.

John Ward, pony driver was at the outbye end of the face passbye in 148’s gate and Ernest March, corporal, was in the same gate some eight yards on the outbye side of Ward. In 149’s stall there were Alfred Stringfellow, Leonard Yeomans, Albert Taylor, Charles Rooke and Arthur Eveson, colliers, in 150’s stall, Harry Clarke, Percy Devey, Frederick Franklin, Clarence Harding and Irvine Spencer, colliers near the outbye end of 150’s gate Arthur and George Bailey, contractors.

Harry Hartley, deputy, George Rollinson and Thomas Holloway, bricklayers J, Glancy and Richard William Booth, byeworkers were at the junction of the old North East and new North East haulage roads and at or near the same junction were Sydney Walter Waddoups, Arthur Wakelan and James William Beardsley, haulage hands.

All these men and youths gave help in one way or another after the explosion and details of some of their work are as follows:-

Frank Sykes, Corporal, who was standing on the main haulage road (148’s ) opposite 140’s new crossgate at the time of the explosion, felt a sudden rush of wind outbye along 148’s followed by a very thick cloud of dust. He was blown over and could hardly see the light of his lamp. Before the dust had settled, he and Norman McMullen, pony driver, went inbye on 140’s new crossgate and at the travelling road (147’s), met Daniel Maloney who had been working in 142’s gate, walking out by himself. They took him to the main road junction and put some clothing on him and then started up 140’s new crossgate and met Arthur Kirkland, who had been working in 143’s gate just inbye of the travelling road. Kirkland told Sykes that there was a lad under some full tubs who had asked for help but he could not do so as he was much burnt. Kirkland was taken to the main road junction by Sykes and McMullen and they then went inbye again and near the door just beyond the travelling road, met Thomas Hannon, pony driver, the lad whom Kirkland had said was under some full tubs and had not been able to help because he was burnt. As a fact, Kirkland had liberated Hannon. Hannon was taken to the main road junction and Sykes and McMullen again went inbye and on this occasion near 144’s gate they met Horace Windle, who had walked out from the fast end of 140’s stall.

Further work by Frank Sykes will be referred to later. Norman McMullen and George Bailey were on their way outbye with Windle and Hannon when they met Harry Hartley, deputy, and his four men on their way inbye. One of the latter, Thomas Holloway, turned back and helped to take Windle first to the ambulance office at the pit bottom and thence to the surface ambulance room were doctors Young, Erskine and Lind Walker attended to him. Holloway, as will be found later, returned underground to give further assistance.

Arthur Bailey started outbye from 140’s junction with Daniel Maloney but more assistance being required, George Rollinson joined them and they got as far as the junction of the old North East and new North East haulage roads where a stretcher was improvised and Maloney was carried to the pit bottom on it by Bailey, Rollinson and two haulage hands, Arthur Wakelan and James William Beardsley. Kirkland was accompanied outbye by the two driver lads, Norman Moult and William Heath.

Maloney and Windle died the following day and Kirkland five days later. Happily, the boy Hannon, survived.

John Ward, the pony driver, at the moment of the explosion was standing in 148’s gate some 20 yards from the face with his back to it. He was thrown forward on to his face, and his pony which was facing him, on it’s hind legs and then falling just missed him. Ward saw no flame but the dust was choking - it was so thick he could not see the light of his lamp which was on his belt. He called out to Ernest Marsh, corporal, who was some eight yards further out and Marsh replied that he was all right. He (Ward) heard the men in 148’s face shouting, so, guiding himself by the rails and the tubs, he went towards the face. He met and helped out a man, Harold Roberts who had his right arm broken and was burned down to below the waist but who happily recovered although he suffered with his arm for the rest of his life as it was not placed in a plaster cast because he was so badly burned that he was not expected to survive the night. He could not see Roberts because of the dust but feeling his way out by the rails, helped him out to 140’s new crossgate end where he saw the deputy, James Hughes and others, including the injured collier, Daniel Maloney and the injured driver boy, Thomas Hannon. He told the deputy that the men were fast in 148’s stall and taking up his drinking flask, he returned to that stall and there found W. Middleton on the flat sheets with a leg fast under two full tubs and one of them broken. Ward moved the lumps of coal and then a collier, G. Bentley, came out of the right bank and Ward assisted him as far as the middle of the full set of rubs in the passbye, but could get no further because the empty set blocked the way. He tried to push out the empties but could not do so, so he went outbye for help. On his way outbye he met the deputy, James Hughes, who told him to go into 150’s face and tell the men there to hurry out. He, however, saw a haulage hand, Sydney Walter Waddoups who had come inbye from the junction of the old and new East haulage roads, and asked him to come into 148’s face to help him and then was on his way to hurry 150’s men when he met them coming put, gave them the deputy’s message and returned to 184’s face. The men from 149’s and 150’s then came and with Ward and Waddoups, shoved the empty tubs outbye to the haulage rope end, whence a pony driver, Richard Edward Darker drew them out on the haulage engine.

Atkinson, Bentley and Middleton were carried a short distance outbye by 1549’s and 150’s men, who, after going into the other stalls and recovering injured men from them, later acted as stretcher bearers to the surface ambulance room, and some of whom namely, A. Stringfellow, L. Yeomans, A. Taylor, C, Rook and F. Franklin, returned underground to give further help. After Atkinson, Bentley and Middleton had been moved from the face, Ward went to 140’s new crossgate junction, passing Samuel Cook, deputy, on the way, where he saw Frank Sykes, corporal and Oliver Soulsby, driver. Wards’s further work is interwoven with that of Sykes and Soulsby, and is referred to later. Of those at or near the outbye end of 140’s new crossgate when the explosion occurred, Richard Edward Darker, pony driver, was blown on to his face on the main haulage road (148’s). He walked a short way outbye and then joined Oliver Soulsby and William Follows, haulage hands. The three then went, via 140’s old crossgate, from the haulage road (148’s ) to the travelling road (147’s ) and then turning inbye came to 140’s new crossgate, where they saw Frank Sykes.