One Sunday night we were called out to Mansfield Colliery (Crown Farm), Mansfield Rescue Station team were down the mine when we arrived. We were briefed about the situation, and it appeared that 3 deputies had not arrived from their duties underground after doing a pre-shift examination. The pre-shift examination meant that the deputies were directed by the management to examine the districts for gases, methane mainly (fire damp) at least two hours before the oncoming shift got to their place of work. The oil lamp or flame safety lamp as it was named was the way these gases were found.
We got to the fresh air base made by Mansfield Rescue Team, there was one of their team members Ivor Biggins by name at the base, he was a big fellow 17 stone in weight. We noticed at the bottom of the main gate that there were 3 flame lamps hung side by side on a girder, all lit. The Superintendent Mr A Bonsor and G Wilson told us to stay where we were, and told us that Mr J Rice, an area production manager had gone up to the main gate taking his oil lamp with him, it appears that he was overcome by gases. We never saw the team bring him down the gate because our Superintendent came back with G Wilson and told us to get our apparatus filled up and go round to the left hand return gate and go through the left hand side face unit, as these 3 deputies had not been located.
This was the High Hazel seam at Oxcroft Colliery in the 1940's, so I had a good idea what the conditions would be like, but they were far worse than I imaged it would be. For a start it was a big effort to get on to the coal face, the pit had been on holiday for 14 days and the coal had been undercut ready for the men to go back to their stints that morning. The face had not been cleaned up, there were coal gummings, rolls of belting, conveyor belt structure hindering us right through the 100 yards length of the face. At that period in 1940-1950 there were no steel supports or hydraulic supports, it was just 6 ft wooden boards and wood props supporting the roof. Most of the wood bars were broke in the middle. We had the 3 stone weight of the rescue apparatus on our backs and there were not many bars that we didn't get fast on. On top of this we had our emergency equipment with us which consisted of the stretcher, oxygen reviver and the utility apparatus. Albert Smith was captain but he was at least 10 years older than us, he was pulling the empty stretcher with him with the assistance of Sid Evans, Ivor Biggin was the middle man and he was struggling to get through with the reviver. He kept getting fast on the broken wood bars due to his size. I came next Ern James, with Eddie Dawson the last man. Between us we pulled and shoved the utility apparatus under these broken wood bars and clawing our way over the coal slack and the belt structure. The captain in the front was feeling the pressure and he stopped for a couple of minutes and we heard him mutter "I could stay here and die", we told him as best we could to get moving. We eventually got into the Main Gate with arms out by the coal slack when crawling through. None of us had any trousers on when we stood up and they were full of coal slack. We had a hard job getting off the coal face due to broken bars under, what the miners knew as the ripping. Myself and Sid Evans did look up the right hand side of the face and it just looked as bad as what we had come through. The captain had had enough we saw a light coming up the Main Gate, it turned out to be one of the rescue men, he said the 3 deputies had not been located and the order was for us to go through the right hand side. The Captain had had enough and said he would not go through, after about 5 minutes we were able to talk him round. He went first with the rest of us picking up our equipment again, we had to struggle to get on to the coal face due to broken timber, we went in about 10 yards and the Captain signalled to stop. We took over from him and tried with no avail to get through. After checking the face conditions we could see no sign of anyone going through the coal face, and we eventually got back off the coal face. Four of us struggled out and we looked round for Ivor, he was laying face down under the ripping lip. We pulled him out and we found he had broken a feed tube on his apparatus and he was breathing gas in. We took the utility apparatus out of it's container and I coupled the tube from the utility apparatus onto Sid Evans exhaust tube. The exhausted air was pure air coming from Sid's apparatus. We put him on the stretcher - 17 stone of him plus the 3 stone weight of his apparatus, which we arranged evenly on him. We then set off with him on the stretcher. Every 20 yards we had to stop and change round to even the weight. About half way down the road way we were met by colliers who relieved us of the burden. Ivor was no worse for wear but I don' think he will ever forget the episode in his life. The 3 deputies were found together at the right hand side face and were recovered by Mansfield Rescue Team. Ivor eventually later on in his life became the Chairman of Derbyshire County 'Council. Albert Smith never went on a turnout again knowing at his age it was just too much.
We were once called out to Ireland Colliery Staveley one Sunday morning at 11.45 am, it appeared that a pony driver had not arrived at his place of work up to that time. Five of us plus one of Ireland's team members went in, we had filled our apparatus on the surface taking with us our oxygen reviver, stretcher and a spare apparatus which we called the utility apparatus. It appeared that the pony had knocked down a barrier and had gone up an old roadway the pony driver went after him where there was no oxygen, we found them laid side by side.
We put the oxygen on him but to no avail and tried different methods of artificial resuscitation on him but could not bring him round. We had a drop of oxygen left in the cylinder so we put the tube up the pony's nostril, we saw him shake his head and move but could not get up, so we fastened our belts together and stood him on his feet. We let him rest a while and then walked him into the fresh air. He walked out but the poor unfortunate driver went out on the stretcher, we never brought him round.