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Gresford Colliery Wrexham - Denbighshire - 22nd September, 1934

Those Who Died
Page 8 - The Sewer Rat Survived 10 Seconds

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Stopping 'F' In The 'Dennis Dip'

The fist stopping to be built was the one so reported in the Press. Stopping 'F' to be built just inbye of the 'slant' in the 'Dennis Deep'. It was a three block stopping, wood blocks 3ft long and 1ft square being used. Each block weighed about 25 lbs. and about 800 would be needed as the roadway at this point was 18ft high and 13ft wide and to get these blocks of wood meant that we had to carry them 300 yards.

This would prove a very slow job and it was decided to clear a road, lay rails and transport the blocks on flat trolleys part of the way and an aerial rope was fixed up and the blocks slung on chains to this rope. This was indeed a considerable help.

The Pressmen were reporting day after day "Rescue Men Build Stopping Off". It had many other names before it was finished. Each team had only two hours supply of oxygen, and they must do their work and get back to the surface before the time expired, and after going down, and receiving the trolley of blocks to take it along the aerial rope, unload and put each block on the aerial, put each block in position on the stopping and allow time to come back to the surface, we found that our two hours were up.

If any team was a few seconds overdue the responsible people on the surface were in a bad way. They were wondering if something had happened and one does not wonder when it is considered that various species of insects and birds, in fact all manner of creatures that could walk, crawl or jump, had been tried in the airlock to see how long they would live in the atmosphere.

I remember one Doctor who brought a rat into the airlock (he of course was wearing apparatus). He was anxious to know how long the rat would exist, but before he could turn his wrist to look at his watch, the poor old rat had "gone west".

One gentleman remarked that it was probably half dead when it was taken into the airlock, so it was decided to get a special sewer rat, one that was used to foul and poisonous gases. Give this one his due, he survived 10 seconds and he was 'gone'. A saucer full of all kinds of crawlers was next tried, but they were all dead before they had been on the job a second. Strange to relate the small 'ladybird' was the best of them all. She walked about for 6 hours before she gave up the ghost.

Wood lice seemed to thrive in the atmosphere, but the Black beetle showed his legs instantly.

Now if all these creatures were dying in such a short time what of the team who were working 11,00 yards from the airlock? If the least thing went wrong with the apparatus what chance had they? There was no back door here. No wonder the officials were anxious if a team was late getting back to the surface.

To get to the stopping, every piece that was put on had to be 'solid' every joint 'crossed' and levelled up with sand. The work was so slow that it became notorious, and I am sure the public were tired of reading about the building of 'F' stopping. However, the thing that matters most is that the responsible people were satisfied that the job was being made a good one. Many days were spent before it completed, and many of us were most anxious to get on to other work, and other parts of the pit. The spark of curiosity was being kindled and although there was nothing but wreckage, we wanted to see how other parts were affected. Although going to the same place of work day after day, the authorities on the surface were most anxious and worried for our safety. Every hour, day, every minute was counted, and valued whilst we were down below.

Our task and danger was exactly the same. No man of the team was likely to forget where he was, and everything was going along smoothly and successfully. Teams were working hand in hand. No spirit of competition. The work handed over to the next team. A true report of what was needed next, and how the job was left. All this helped the work on considerably. Good comradeship and fellowship is essential on this kind of work. However one might neglect this spirit in ordinary daily life. It was only the spirit, and that alone which enabled us to reopen the Gresford Colliery. I am proud to say that the same spirit prevailed until we finished. It was left in the hands of the teams to carry the work through. It was out of the question for this work to be delegated to others, so we needed harmony, and the true spirit of fellowship.

Many and varied were the digressions when we were 'standing by'. On one occasion I asked a prominent Director of the Colliery Company if he could tell us the winner of the Lincoln Handicap. He replied that if he knew the winner of the Lincoln Handicap we could have Gresford Colliery, but I pointed out to him that we, as the Rescue Men, thought that the Colliery already belonged to us as nobody else seemed to want to go down the pit. To this he smilingly agreed, but I don't think any of us would accept it as a gift. Indeed I know that I personally would not. There was always a good joke going and these repaid us for the continued monotony down below. So many different personalities visited us, listening to our experiences and the 'waiting period' simply flew on wings. It was time for the working team to come back almost before one thought they had gone down. Our turn next, and although the time seemed to be short, that 'waiting period' was always worse than the actual 'getting down' to it. Most of us were only colliers and it was an honour to be in the company of such eminent people. Medical Men, Research Doctors, University Professors, Chief Inspector of Mines, Senior and Junior Inspectors, Representatives of the Owners, Mining Engineers, Rescue Station Superintendent and also our own local celebrities, the Vicar of Gresford, and the lady of the land whom I mentioned previously. Mother of all indeed, the Ruth of old. We have never heard of such a lady and all round sport always a perfect Christian who lives up to her profession. Let us not forget the Pressmen, and a lot of chaps, but don't let them hear too much.

All these people had something new to tell us each and every day; all were from different parts of the Country. All had different occupations and modes of living. It was highly educating to us to listen to some very interesting discussions, some of them becoming very heated at times, each man upholding his own country, or defending his own profession. But when all their high standings and professions had been taken into consideration, they had to admit that we lowly Rescue Men, held the key of success on this particular occasion. We were supreme at this period and at this class of work, and they all had to bow to us, as we now have to do to them now we have returned back to normal life and occupation. This world is not to be a selfish world or a one man's property. It proves to us that each and every one is dependent on the other. It matters not what position a person may hold, he is at all times dependent on someone else. It is a great pity that people do not realise this, it would be better for all classes.

All this of course is not building 'F' stopping. Day after day. Team after team. The same old work on the same old stopping. If other stoppings were to take so long, what were the chances of ever opening Gresford Colliery? But this was the main one, and the largest. It was down this road that the fire was actually seen, and we know that even now, by the samples of air taken from behind the stopping, that there is still 'heating' and the importance making it as near airtight as possible. The work progressed well up to the last foot to be built, here all shapes of blocks were required, and wedges to tighten up. Every team knew that it was useless to attempt any 'scamped' work and that last foot took as long to complete as the whole remainder of the stopping had done. One good thing about the work, no one was hurrying the job on, and after completion and fresh air was put into the pit the Mining Engineers, Inspectors, and all concerned, had a word of praise on the way the work had been down. All were agreed, that the work could not have been done better even in daylight and fresh air if the stopping had been built on the surface and by men not encumbered by the apparatus.