The Big Bang
27th November 1944

Les Calladine - Ilkeston Mines Rescue

The following relates to a personal account of the aftermath of the explosion at Fauld near Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire by Les Calladine, one of the Ilkeston Mines Rescue Men asked to assist with the recovery of the living and dead.

Received a call at about 13.30, on the 27th November 1944, from Ashby de la Zouch Station reporting that an explosion had taken place within their area. The call was put through to Mr. Brown who put us all on standby. We finally got the call to go at 16.25 and duly arrived at 17.15 to what we imagined to be a pit but which in fact turned out to be an ammunition storage depot within an old mine workings. The explosion had taken place approximately half a mile into the pit and had taken everything in the vicinity up with it including a farm and two cottages on the surface - not even a brick could be found that resembled coming from a building. The only things visible were dead horses, cattle and the odd mattress, all of which was covered in falling debris.

The crater left by the explosion was about 250ft deep, 300yds wide and a quarter of a mile long - reports state that 12 football pitches could be swallowed up in the hole! In later reports it was stated that the nearby village was almost raised to the ground and damage was caused to buildings in Tutbury (4 miles away) and as far away as Burton (6 miles). A local cement works was also severely damaged causing the loss of some 31 people. The blast even registered in Switzerland on a Seismograph.

On our arrival it was explained to us that whilst our skills in dealing with such disasters was very much needed, due to it being a non civilian site and as such very hazardous then we were not under any obligation to continue. Most of the assembled team members chose to assist.

There had already been attempts to gain access which subsequently delivered 6 or 7 bodies from within but it was not known how many more were trapped the other side of the explosion. It later became obvious that the task to reach the other side was impossible as the explosion had taken the roadway with it and caused the rest of the pit to cave in.

As Perrys Rescue Team had been on site first they had been in with Proto Apparatus on to fetch workers out but only managed to find one dead RAF Sergeant. They placed him on the stretcher and proceeded to bring him out. Unfortunately one of their Team suffered exhaustion and collapsed so the deceased was laid down to allow the rescue man to be tended to. He had taken his mouthpiece out and been overcome by C.O. fumes from the blast. His colleagues put a reviver on him, made him comfortable and as their oxygen was getting low left him to die if he hadn't already.

Once arrived on the surface several other Teams using apparatus on Proto were sent in to find him but none did. Operations then ceased whilst a fan was installed at the entrance to ventilate the mine more. When sited it ran for about half an hour then we were allowed to fill up and go in.

With other Teams failing to find the Rescue Man we were sent in with a member of the mans Team as a lead. Progress was very slow but eventually we found him in the same position and place as he had been left in some six to eight hours earlier. He was dead and mortification had set in. The reviver was still in his mouth and his apparatus was still in place although both cylinders were empty. We placed him on the stretcher and began back to the surface although the journey was not an easy one as the floor was strewed with live ammunition ranging from bullets, Mills bombs, land mines, anti-personnel mines, detonators, small parachute incendiaries and even 4,000lb bombs. We tried not to walk on anything but it was impossible not to and we endlessly stood upon them. We eventually reached the surface with no further incident and were met by several RAF personnel who took the body from us and delivered it to the morgue.

We had noticed that two other bodies had been close to the Rescue Man, one was the RAF Sergeant from the original Rescue Team and the other was a civilian. Other Teams were sent in to recover these bodies but failed to locate them. Eventually Mansfield Team went in and returned with one without any problem apart from him being about 15 stone that is!

Whilst we were on the surface getting a well deserved cuppa a RAF officer approached us and informed us that we should get ourselves some rubber boots before going into the mine. We told him that we had already been in wearing our normal pit boots (complete with metal studs in the sole) and he went mad saying that a single spark from one of our boots could cause the whole site to go up again. He walked away in disbelief.

After all this we returned to the mine to explore all the districts to ensure all bodies had been removed and could find no more besides the RAF Sergeant who we found with no problem! The rest of the mine had caved in so we could not proceed any deeper and so we tried other routes but still found nothing except piles of live ammunition. It was possible that bodies lay under these heaps but we needed orders to remove this stuff from RAF officials and so we returned to base.

The RAF chap was eventually recovered but it took two different teams. The first one sent in placed him on a stretcher, got half way back then abandoned him as one of the team felt unwell so a second team was sent in to finish the job. He was the last person to be removed from the mine. Many others must have either been blow to bits in the explosion or buried under the tons of ammunition.

The Ilkeston Mines Rescue Team spent almost twenty hours working at Fauld which I have been told is the site of the largest ever explosion recorded in Great Britain.

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