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Gresford Colliery Wrexham - Denbighshire - 22nd September, 1934

Those Who Died
Page 3 - The Explosion Occurred At 02:08am

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As the morning wore on the work went on but the fire was burning fiercely with timber at the sides of the roads ablaze. It was hoped that three firemen with the trapped men could have gathered them where the air was breathable. Volunteers came forward in increasing numbers and men went down the pit in relays. During Saturday afternoon Sir Henry Walker, H.M. Chief Inspector of Mines arrived at the colliery and at 6 p.m. the following official statement was issued:-

"The fire on the main road which is preventing exploration of the mine has been fought throughout the day and the latest report is that it is being overcome. It may be that beyond the fire men may be found alive and it is with this hope that no effort is being spared but in any event the death toll will be heavy."

Work went on all through the night and when Sunday arrived there were reports that good progress had been made and it was hoped that the men in 29 district would be reached by 3.30 p.m. Prospects appeared brighter and it was reported that the rescue workers had progressed three quarters of a mile and that the road to the dip had been cleared to allow a pony to work clearing debris. The body of George Roberts of Glanavon, Maesydre was recovered and brought to the surface but soon afterwards, cage loads of sand were seen to be carried down the pit. It was thought it was just a change of shift but the news came that a door had been reached, the fire was getting worse, more explosions had occurred and conditions had become so dangerous that it had been decided to withdraw all the men from the mine.

The last men to leave the pit were Edward Williams, E. Povah, A Alderman Cyril O. Jones and Edward Jones, miners' agent for North Wales, Sir Henry Walker, T. Boydell, P.G. Doniny, Percy Heyes and John McGurk. At this time only 10 bodies, including two of the rescue men, had been recovered. This meant that 258 men remained entombed and all hope of their rescue had to be abandoned.

Mr. John McGurk, President of the Lancashire and Cheshire Miners' Association described the scene underground:-
"It is hell let loose and it is not at all safe for anyone to be near where the fire is raging. There were three explosions when I was down this afternoon. They may become more frequent because of the fire and the fumes. That is the risk, and therefore all safety men must be withdrawn from the mine. There is no chance of any man in the pit being left alive.

I have been at about ten explosions in different parts of the country, but I have never seen anything like this. There is a point where the fire is raging for twenty yards and the stones are red hot."

A conference was held between H.M. Inspectors and representatives of the colliery management and at 8 a.m. came the fateful official statement signed by Mr. H. Dyke Dennis, managing director, Edward Jones, miners' agent for North Wales and Sir Henry Walker:-
"The attempt to overcome the fire in the main road has gone on continuously since yesterday. In spite of very strenuous efforts and although some progress had been made in the road, the fire has got a further hold in a road to the right, through which it was hoped at first to reach any possible survivors.

Today several explosions inbye of the fire on the main road have occurred. This afternoon they became more frequent and closer to where the men were working on the fire. The return airway in both the main returns is carrying carbon monoxide in dangerous quantities, and it is with great reluctance that all parties ? the management, representatives of the miners and H.M. Inspectors - have come to the conclusion that no person can possible be alive in the workings.

In these circumstances, and in view of the increasingly grave risk to the men engaged in combating the fire and on the main road, it had been decided that it would not be right to continue to expose these workers to such serious risk, and all persons have been withdrawn from the mine."

The number of dead and missing was put at about 260 and hope gave way to despair. In the darkness of the night weeping women and mourning men left the scene of the disaster with sad hearts and bodies weary from the long hours of waiting.

No further statements were issued and on Monday morning work on sealing the pit was commenced. Iron girders and timber were placed over the downcast shaft and sand and cement were used to seal the upcast shaft.

Work was suspended at the neighbouring Bersham and Hafod Collieries as a mark of sympathy and to assist in any work that was required at the stricken colliery.

Dramatic stories came from the eyewitnesses to the explosion who had got out of the mine alive. Cyril Challoner of Windsor Road, New Broughton told the local press:-
"There were about six of us having our 'snapping' on the wicket road at about five past two. We were about 300 yards from the clutch and we were laughing and talking. Suddenly there was a gust of wind. It scattered our snapping tins and out clothes and covered our bread with dirt. We thought it was a burst air pipe. Suddenly an elderly fellow came running up and said, "You had better get your clothes and get out of here. Try the wind road." (This was the return air road where the bad air passes).

We knew something was up now. We did not bother with our clothes, and about twenty other fellows joined us. We started making our way to the pit bottom in just our shirts and working knickers. Taking off our shirts, we began fanning to keep the air clear. We got to the end of the wind road and then we began to meet the gas. All of us fanned hard. The gas was getting in our eyes and we could taste it. We took turns in leading so that everyone would have the same risk. We now began to meet falls and we had to scramble over them. I thought the other twenty fellows who had joined us where we were having our snapping, were following us. I looked round but I could not see them. I don't know what happened to them.

The gas was getting thicker but we kept fanning with out shirts and we got through to the pit bottom where we met the rescue party. They brought the six of us to the pit top. We wanted to go back when we learned there had been an explosion but they would not let us and they sent the six of us home."

Challoner came from a mining family and his three brothers were among those who volunteered for work with the rescue teams.