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Gresford Colliery Wrexham - Denbighshire - 22nd September, 1934

Those Who Died
Page 4 - Everything Was Burning, Props, Coal Dust, Brattice And All

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Robert Edward Andrews was also one of those who got out of the mine.

He told the press:-
"We heard an explosion at 1.55 a.m. it deafened us. There were about 30 to 40 of us working on the coal face in No.22 district. The bang was followed by a cloud of white dust. Then a young fellow, a haulage man named John E. Jones, exclaimed, "Good God, something terrible has happened." Our faces were covered with dust. A fireman named David Jones came up and cried, "Hurry from here." We all rushed into the road. I heard someone groaning. We picked him up and got him out. His name was Walley.

We were one and half miles from the shaft. Six of us decided to make a dash for it, David Jones, Bert Samuels and Jack Samuels, brothers, a man named Fisher, Cyril Challoner and myself. We got hold of pieces of cloth and waved then to make air, then we fought our way through the bad air - afterdamp - to where the air was good.

It took half an hour to fight our way through. There was fire in the main road. We saw a man lying in the road. We turned him over and found he was dead. Then we came to the main road, the girders were twisted and the rails turned over. It sounded to me as if there was some machinery going, but I don't know what it was.

We crawled over the top of the falls. We had three lights between us. We came to a dead end but there was a small hole to get through. We got thorough one at a time, afraid that something would drop on us. Two hundred yards further on we met the undermanager, Mr. Andrew Williams; he was the first of the rescuers. He and others helped us out. Fisher had a slight injury to his leg.

The other 30 who had been with us at the coal face could, I think, have got away had they come with us as soon as we did."

Two members of the Llay Main rescue parties, Mr. Parry Davies of Llay Green and Mr. H. Povah of Second Avenue, Llay spoke to the local press.

Parry Davies said:-
"As a rescue team, we were called to Gresford at 5 a.m. on Saturday. We stood by until 9.30, No.1 team in charge of the captain, Mr. John Charles Williams, having gone down at 7.45 a.m. In response to a call for two more rescue men, T.P. Jones and R. Harrison went down. Ten minutes later another call came through for all available rescue men and four of us went down, myself Povah, Emlyn Jones and Peter Hughes. When we got to the pit bottom, we heard that three of the first rescue team had gone under so we went through the return airway. I, T.P. Jones, Price Beard and Dick Harrison helped to get J. C. Williams, the captain of the first team and Dan Hughes to safety after being gassed. Hughes was dead at the time, but there was a doctor at the pit bottom in the fresh air, waiting to receive the men out.

We went for another rescue member, W. Hughes of Rhosrobin, a memeber of the Gresford rescue team who had gone down with the Llay Main party. On reaching him we dragged him to safety but after artificial respiration had been applied he was found to be dead.

We then volunteered to fetch John Lewis of Cefynbedd. We could see his lamp burning 100 yards ahead but he was certainly dead because he was further in than the other rescuers' bodies we had recovered. The heat was terrific and some of our men were feeling the effects of it and Mr. Boydell, the Mines Inspector, refused to allow us to go for Lewis.

Our team was called down at 5 o'clock on Sunday morning and we went through the intake way. After encountering several falls, on which voluntary workers were engaged, we got to the doors behind which some men were supposed to be but the doors were all burnt away. The fire was still raging and we went in relays one every five minutes, but after getting through a fall we found fire - everything was burning, props, coal dust, brattice and all, and the more fresh air released on it made the fire a great deal worse. It was like hell. That is all you can call it."

There was another explosion on Tuesday afternoon about 1 o'clock when people near the shaft heard a dull thud. Upon investigation it was found that the upcast shaft was not damaged but the sides of the fan drift had caught fire and the Wrexham and Chester Fire Brigade were summoned to fight the fire. George Brown of Birkett Street, Rohostyllen was at work on the surface near the downcast shaft and was injured by flying material. He was attended on the spot by Dr. Harrison of Gresford and taken to hospital where he died from his injuries.

Several men had near escapes when the second explosion took place. Mr. Baird, the engineer and other members of the technical staff of the colliery who were on duty, escaped just before the blast having been warned by Dr. T. David Jones, of Birmingham University who was making analytical tests was able to give the alarm.

A third explosion took place at 1.45 a.m. on Wednesday when the fan drift was blown out and considerable damaged done at the pit head. There were no injuries due to this explosion and afterwards men worked under the direction of Mr. Bonsall, the manager, emptying lorry loads of sand and other material into the space between the walls of the fan drift. Smoke and fumes continued to come from the shaft during Wednesday. The pit head was roped off and notices were posted warning everyone not to enter the pit yards because of the very great danger.

The inquiry Was Opened At Wrexham On The 25th October, 1934

The inquiry was conducted by Sir Henry Walker, C.B.E., LL.D., H.M. Chief Inspector of Mines as the Commissioner and Mr. John Brass and Mr. Joseph Jones as assessors.

As the whole of the mine was sealed off at that time it was realised that an investigation into the actual causes of the explosion was remote and it was decided that evidence should be taken on the state of the mine prior to the disaster, the events leading up to the explosion and to take such evidence as was available as to the cause as was available. The air measurements were said to have been made monthly and were entered in the Report Book but at the inquiry it emerged that there were practices at the colliery which were contrary to the Coal Mines Regulation Act.

In the report of the disaster, Sir Henry Walker stated:-
"I do not believe that many of the measurements recorded even in the prescribed book were ever made. I have in my possession, Mr. Cuffin's notebook in which were entered for the velocities and areas at the various measuring points for November 1933, January, April and June, 1934. but for November, 1933, there is only one entry in the notebook referring to the Dennis Section, namely a measurement at M1 in January, and again in April there are only two such entries, namely measurements at M2 and M5 and in June there are five entries, namely, measurements at M1, M2, M3, M4, and M5.

On 8th June, 1936 during the sitting when he confess that the figures for July and August were fictitious, Mr. Cuffin was asked by me where the calculations not appearing in the notebook where. He replied that he did not always use a notebook but used foolscap.

I do not accept this explanation. I think Mr. Cuffin was given more work than he could overtake and that in consequence he scamped the work of measurement."

Of the figures that were in the notebook, Sir Henry found that many of the calculations were inaccurate.

Counsel for the North Wales Miners' Association produced detailed evidence that there were serious and progressive reductions in the quantity of air reaching the furthest workings inbye which could only be accounted for by massive leakage due to the deterioration of the airways and lack of repair. Sir Henry thought the basic evidence was sound but that the figures presented were unreliable as they did not give the actual state of the ventilation or of the return airways.

Some of the deputies report books from the start of 1934 could not be produced and copies of them had not been kept according to the Coal Mines Act, 1911. The missing books were said to be in a cabin at the bottom of the Martin shaft and some books were recovered when the cabin was entered during recovery operations and put in evidence on 31st March, 1936. The books covered the period 1st January to 21st March, 1834 and no gas was reported. None of the workmen who gave evidence, had seen gas in the district.

The ventilation of the district was reported to be in good order by the officials and some of the workmen said it was good, others, not so good and others said it was poor.