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Gresford Colliery Wrexham - Denbighshire - 22nd September, 1934

Those Who Died
Page 2 - The Explosion Occurred At 02:08am


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On Saturday there were 480 men at work. News of the disaster became known only early on Saturday morning and relatives of the night shift men rushed to the colliery. Rescue men from Gresford and Llay Main Collieries rushed to the colliery to fight the fire and doctors, nurses, St John Ambulance men and Wrexham Fire Brigade were quickly on the scene. A party went down the mine Including Mr. T. Boydell, the Divisional Inspector and District Inspector when it was found that the location of the explosion was about three quarters of a mile from the pit bottom and that fire and smoke were intense.

Within a short time seven bodies had been recovered and brought to surface and Rescue parties under Mr. H. Herbert, superintendent of the Rescue Station at Wrexham, equipped with gas masks and apparatus, were working underground.

There was continual activity at pit head with cages being raised and lowered at frequent intervals containing the rescuers and large quantities of sand in paper bags, then in sacks, then loads of stone dust and dozens of fire extinguishers. One of the rescuers described the scene underground as 'a blazing wall of fire' . Rescue appliances were rushed from Lancashire and batches of men arrived from various parts of the county to offer their help.

Lorries loaded with sand continually drove into the pit yards and were unloaded at the pit head into sacks by a host of volunteers including the Vicar of Rhosddu, The Rev. G.R. Davies. Dozens of these sacks were taken underground but the bulk of them remained at the surface to underline the seriousness of the situation. The pile of sacks led to rumours that the mine was to be sealed but this was denied by management.

Relays of rescue workers were going down the pit in teams of four and grim realisation of what had happened came to hundreds of silent men, women and children on the pit banks when the bodies of two of the rescue men were brought to the surface. They were taken to the ambulance room where artificial respiration was tried for half an hour before they were pronounced dead and removed to the temporary mortuary.

They were Daniel Hughes, Second Avenue, Llay and William Hughes, Jackson's Cottages, New Rhosrobin, both members of Llay Main Rescue Team and were in the first party to descend after the explosion. To add to the bitterness, news came that a member of the same party, John Lewis of Railway Terrace, Cefnybedd, was missing and had not been recovered.

The ' Leader' reported of the scenes at the temporary mortuary:-
"What a tragic sight a scene which brought tears to the eyes of many while a comrade sat silently weeping in the rescue station."

Writing about the rescue men the ' Leader' reporter said:-
"I was standing near the ambulance room not far from the pit head on Saturday morning just at the time when the ambulance men and doctors were trying to revive the two rescue party who had been overcome whilst engaged below. Dr. J.E.H. Davies of Wrexham, the veteran St. John officer was in charge and the men were working for all they were worth, trying to revive them. News soon came out, however that they were dead. They had sacrificed their lives for their friends. There was scarcely time to realise the tragic nature of the announcement before another party of rescuers with their masks and apparatus could be seen coming along on their way to the pit bottom again, there to continue to fight for the men entrapped below. Few who saw these things will forget the courage of these rescue parties returning to the scene of death and passing near the building in which the dead bodies of their comrades in the Rescue Brigades were lying."

The rescuers shook their heads when asked for news of any progress. All they would say was, 'Things are pretty bad.' The state below was reflected by the strain that showed in their faces.

Very little information was available apart from the fact that an explosion had occurred in the Dennis District and parts of the Main Dennis Road were on fire. Rumours were rife and it was not until 10 a.m. that colliery management issued an official statement:-
"The managing director, Mr. H. Dyke Dennis wishes to state that it is feared there has been an explosion at Gresford Colliery near Wrexham in the main district. As far as can be ascertained the number of men involved is approximately 100 and the Inspectors of mines and colliery officials are present underground."

Almost immediately after the explosion it became known that about half of the men who were not working in the district where the explosion occurred, had reached the surface safely but there was great uncertainty as to the number trapped in the mine. At an early stage, the number given was 102 but it was not until Sunday evening that an official figure of 261 was announced.

Mr. H. Dyke Dennis, the managing director of the colliery explained how the original estimate of 102 men missing came to be made. He said:-
"In the early confusion many lamps were missing, but it was discovered later that some of the men to whom they belonged were safe, having thrown the lamps away in the rush to escape. It was because of this that the first estimate of about 100 had perished. This estimate was made in good faith, and in the honest belief that it was accurate."

Men women and children were waiting in the drenching rain. The men, many of whom knew better than others the prospects which confronted their comrades, and in some cases their own fathers, sons and brothers bravely consoled the women. Time passed slowly and anxiety increased but hope remained and a ceaseless vigil was kept.

Mr. William Jones, a rescue worker and one of the most experience miners at the pit said:-
"I have just come back from facing a wall of flame through which we can not break. At the moment there are 100 men in the fire fighting party near the main shaft. We made little progress. We attacked the fire with fire extinguishers and by throwing sand against the flames. We were able to advance about twenty yards but we could go no further. We came across a number of bodies and sent them up."

 

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