Hi Fionn, I’m Lennie. I was looking through your site today and was particularly interested in the article about the Michael Colliery. The disaster of 9th September 1967 was not just the loss of one of Britain’s greatest collieries and the life of a small village but it ended the association of one particular family who were involved at all levels from the time of the first sinking’s, Nos 1 and 2 shafts in the mid / late 1890s through the 1925 / 27 sinking of Nos 2 & 3 of the " Big Michael ", and the deepening of No 2 pit after the war to the 430 fathom level.
I have often wondered if any family in Britain have ever been so involved in a single colliery and should be interested to hear others stories if they have such involvement but it must be remembered that Michael was no ordinary pit !
My great, great grandfather David LINTON worked at Michael from the beginning, as did his 2 sons David & John. My g. g . grandfather was killed in the Michael on 27th Jan 1909. His daughter married my g. grandfather, John Cairns who started as a boy in Rosie Colliery then moved to Michael when the pit opened. My grandmother Marjory Cairns (b. 23rd Dec 1905) was a weaver to trade but later worked in the pit canteen and did office cleaning. Her brothers Alex, David, and John all worked at Michael although Alex and John spent the war years in the army.
In 1925 with the sinking of Big Michael, a young man called Leonard Smith (aged 23) was sent by his employers Doncaster Cementation to take charge of the sinking and appointed master sinker for the job. With him he brought his 4 brothers Frederick (my grandfather), Headley (spider), George and Allister (killed Normandy 1944). Len was master sinker, Spider shotfirer, Fred foreman in the sinking shaft (not bad for a 19 year old), George did the bookwork and Allister looked after the cementation side of things. Len hand picked the sinkers himself, mostly Irish, and the families of Raffertys, Devines, McHales and such, still living in the area, are there thanks to the Michael and Lens choice of workers. My grandmother Marjory married Fred in 1927 and their son Victor (my father) served an apprenticeship in Michael starting in Wemyss Coal Company as it was then. An interesting point is that my mother Rita met my father on the first day at work. They left school on the Friday and were sent to the pit (directed labour) met each other and here I am. My father was a foreman fitter in Michael at the time of the disaster, my great grandfather John Cairns (d.10 Dec 1964) was awarded a merit for 64 years service and I have the merit hanging proudly on my wall at home in East Wemyss. (Can’t be many men with that length of mine working service).
I decided not to follow in the family tradition but joined the Merchant Navy where I am at the moment. I had just returned from Japan and was with my grandmother on the night of 8th 9th September 1967 when the disaster happened. We arrived at the pithead at an early hour and stayed all day. We witnessed it together, joined from time to time by all the living members of the extended family. Devastation at the realisation that we were losing the Big Michael, had lost 9 men and what the pit had meant to our family over 5 generations. My great grandfather’s nephew Andrew Cairns was a manager there at one time so that completes the circle, from manager to canteen worker. All involved in the life and work of a great colliery. I may one day count the number of family members who worked there but it’s a lot. More than 3000 men and women were employed at one moment at Michael. The village of East Wemyss has a population of 1881 or thereabouts. What a pit!
Date: Sun, 27 Dec 2009
Fionn, good morning. I noticed the message placed by Seonaid Mc Kenzie regarding her mother Etta who was a nurse at Michael at the time of the disaster.
I have enquired of my father regarding this and he says yes he remembers her. Further enquiries will be made with the old miners still living and in time I may well be able to give greater detail as to the particular part she played on 9th Sept. 1967.
My grandmother was alerted by the convoy of vehicles travelling up the pit road early on that Sunday morning, mines rescue, ambulances, police etc, and woke me. We went immediately to the pithead and stood there at the check box but as casualties began to be brought up the local police constable Willie Fowler moved us away.
Willie died a few years back but I well remember the conversation my father and I had with him over a few drams regarding that morning. Willie was the police officer who attended the men declared dead and was present throughout the matter of identification and such like. I have no doubt that he worked closely with Seonaid’s mother at that time as he did mention about the doctor and nurse (s).
Please forward this on and I have no objection to you passing my e-mail address to her that she my contact me if she so wished.