"As a Captain of one of the Rescue Teams which were employed directly after the explosion, and later in the recovery of parts of the mine which possibly could be worked, I have often been requested to put into writing my actual experiences during the time that work was being carried out. "
Recovery Operations Started
Now the big day has arrived, all men are re-examined by the Doctors, and all have to pass a practical test with the apparatus, and to prove his knowledge and functions of the various parts. The airlock at the top of the shaft is completed and the trained men with the equipment are needed to take off the seal. It is realised that when this is done, the poisonous gases which have been put up in the pit by the sand stopping, will rise and soon fill the airlock just as soon as the seal was removed. There, no one could possibly live without the apparatus. On examination, it was found that the winding ropes, and the chains from the rope to the cage, after being stood 20 weeks, was not in a condition to think of riding men down the pit, and it was decided that the ropes must be re-capped, but how was this to be done?
Only men trained with the apparatus could enter the airlock, and none of them had experience of this kind of work! Then they must adapt themselves to a new profession and get down to being a temporary blacksmith. Take the chains off the cage and detach the rope from the chains, so that the rope could be newly capped.
This was done successfully in a minimum of time, put back again, and the job is as sound as ever. All this work done by rescue men wearing the apparatus and breathing oxygen all the time, and this just goes to show how in cases of difficulty an inexperienced man may be taught to carry out other very important work to which he had never been accustomed.
Still other difficulties make themselves apparent, how are the rescue men to be lowered down the pit and no means of signalling? Can we use a microphone? We try it, no use, different ideas are discussed, but none are satisfactory. Everyone connected with pits know of the gong and hammer which the shaftsman carries in the cage when he is inspecting the shaft. The sound will carry a long way, but what of the water that is pouring down the shaft from the water lodge? A stream at the rate of 25,000 gallons per minute is falling down the shaft and this would deafen the sound of the gong.
Well then, we shall have to stop the water from going down the pit and turn it so it falls down the 'Dennis Pit' instead of the 'Martin Pit'. It only means going as far as the pump house in the shaft, a matter of only 200 yards down, and so the ordinary pitman's gong will do. Now the work of turning the water to the 'Dennis Pit' was a tricky piece of work, and the pump house a very difficult place, the entrance being not directly in front of the cage but at the side, with a distance of over half a yard to step from the cage to a foothold at the pump house entrance, and 500 yards of a drop if you missed your footing. That space looked more like two yards than half a yard.
We were required to take measurement of the opening at the entrance so that shoring timbers could be sawn and taken to fix across the opening, and afterwards special clay in bricks could be put behind the timbers and so form a dam to a higher level than the opening in the side of the 'Dennis Pit', where the water naturally would go to the lower level. The noise of the falling water was terrific, each man holding on to his life by a mere thread, feet slipping and everything touched wet and 'slimy'. Every man giving half his attention on the job in hand and the other listening to the 'click, click' of the valves in his equipment. This was a very sever trial of nerve and endurance, every men wet through to the skin.
Standing in a cage with an open top in the middle of the pit, and not knowing what may fall from above. Rust and slime everywhere above. It was possible to make a thorough examination to say that everything was safe. However, the dam was completed by two teams on Monday March 1 st and the pit left to drain itself until March 7 th when the first descent was attempted. The weather was similar to that on that fateful morning of the explosion. The March air was nippy although not quite as much a rain falling.
The First Descent
Now what is going to be the fate of the first team? Doom. Are they going to return alive? The reporters present called it the 'Death Trap', the 'Pit of Death' also many other titles were given to the pit. A Special Emergency Rescue Station had been erected at the Colliery where the equipment could be cleaned and refilled with oxygen, also testing and repairing of all equipment.
As the Captain of the team detailed to make the first descent I received a copy of typewritten instructions of which I give in detail.
Gresford Colliery Instructions To Captains Of The Rescue Teams
The Captain is responsible for his team, and all his members shall obey his instructions.
The Captain and at least one other member of his team must carry watches, and before going underground he must see that the watches are set at exactly the same time as the watches of Mr Abbott and Mr Fairhurst or Roberts or Joshua Jones, whichever is at the entrance to the airlock.
The Captain shall ascertain the pressure of oxygen in the cylinders carried by himself and each member of the team at the start, and shall read the gauges every 20 minutes during the first hour, and every ten minutes afterwards, and the chart provided. He shall withdraw the whole of the team if any one of the gauges records only 35 atmospheres.
The code of signals recorded on the back of the Pressure Gauge Chart must be observer:-
- 'Distress" or 'Help wanted' - 1 hoot
- 'Halt' - 2 hoots
- 'Retire' - 3 hoots
- 'Advance' - 4 hoots
- 'To call attention' - 5 hoots
The Captain shall obtain clear instructions, of what he and his team have to do before proceeding underground, and on no account shall he attempt to carry out any part of such instructions which in his judgement might cause risk of life to any member of his team.
The Captain must see that his team keeps together, and every member of the team must come out with the Captain when the work is completed, or the time limit is reached, or the oxygen supply is getting near 36 atmospheres, or for any other reason.
The Captain must see that his team gets back to fresh air that is outside the airlock, with not less than 30 atmospheres of oxygen, and under no circumstances, must the team be taken away from fresh air for more than 1 hour 40 minutes. The Captain must have with him the necessary small tools for the 'Proto' apparatus. He must carry one spare nose clip, he must be careful and warn the members of his team to be careful on entering and leaving the cage.
Don't forget the frequent shaking of the breathing bags to keep the CO2 absorbent free, this is particularly important with Soda Coke.
Don't forget note book, pencil, chalk, 33ft tape measure and two foot rule.
The Captain must make a written report of the work done, and to report any remarks made by members of his team concerning the apparatus, in the book provided.
Cages to be run up and down the shaft several times to clear pipes, and engine cylinders of water, and to make sure that the winding gear and signals are in order.
Engineer will enter airlock with two members of the team which are to remain to act as banksman and give signals. The engineer will examine the cages, bridle chains, detaching hooks and rope cappings. Also see that the gates on the cages are secure, hang shaft lamp on bridle chains, and when satisfied that everything in order he will leave the airlock and the first team must then be ready to descend.
- Hammer and Gong on the cage, these must remain there.
- Hammer and gong to be hung at the bottom of the pit and remain there.
- Tools comprising, picks, shovels, hammers, handsaws and axes.
- Stretchers and ambulance requisites.
- Oxygen reviving set and cylinder of Di-Carbox gas.
- Spare cylinder of oxygen with fittings and shoulder straps.
- Materials for stoppings - Scantlings, Boards, 4" and 6" wire nails, Brattice cloth and nails, also a quantity of wedges, hand hammers, wooden blocks, and bags of sand.
- 1" pipes, 4 feet long, with tapered wooden plugs to be fixed through each stopping near the top so that samples of pent up gas can be taken.
- 12 electric hand lamps.
Shaft Signals To Be Used
Men descending or ascending - Signal 3
To lower cage - Signal 2.
To lower cage slowly - Signal 5.
To raise the cage - Signal 1.
To raise cage slowly - Signal 4.
To stop the cage when in motion - Signal 1.
When the cage reaches the stopping place signal '1' and if materials are required from the surface signal '1' for the cage to be raised to the surface. Await the return of the cage, signal '1' to stop it where required.
Take materials from the cage, then signal '4' to raise the bottom deck out of the sump. Signal '1' to stop it, and leave it there until required.
Signal '2' to lower it when required, then the usual '3' and '1' to ascend.
If materials are sent down on a tram or in tubs on the cage, be very careful to fasten the tram or tubs securely with wedges Also when sending the empty tram or tub up on the cage.
Messages to be placed in the leather bag hanging on the cage hand rail.