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Gresford Colliery Wrexham - Denbighshire - 22nd September, 1934

Those Who Died
Page 6 - A First-Hand Account Of The Recovery Of The Gresford Colliery After The Explosion By Mr. Parry Davies

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On Returning To The Surface

After leaving the airlock, take off nose clops, and mouthpieces, close main valves

On entering Rescue Room each member of the team to deposit his apparatus in the position marked for the same, and report to the Captain on the conditions.

Each member of the team to carefully dismantle his own apparatus, empty and clean the breathing bag. also wash out the mouthpieces and air cooler.

When finished deposit the parts at the appointed place, except the breathing tubes which are to be hung up to drain.

It was most important that the breathing bags should be washed out thoroughly before recharging and the gauges must also be cleaned.

As instructions these were to be observed throughout the whole of the recovery operations, and every one of the team had to be thoroughly convergent with them.

All of us realised that they had been carefully thought out, and arranged by practical men, and that the instructions were sound common sense, but there was still a lot to do before we could apply some of them.

After the Engineer had made his inspection of the rope cappings, chains, etc. my team was ready to descend with instructions to ascertain that the dam which had previously been put at the entrance of the Pump House, was holding good, and that there was no danger of it giving way, for if this was to happen after the cage was below this level then it was fairly obvious that whichever team was below would be drowned by the sudden inrush of 25,000 gallons of water per minute. Then we were to return to the surface and report to the Inspectors, Directors, and Mr. Abbott who was directing the recovery operations. After reporting we then had to descend again, and ride down to the 'meetings', that is where the ascending cage passes the descending cage in the shaft. The object being to satisfy ourselves, and the people responsible that the cages would pass without catching each other. We were then to again return to surface and report, leaving the remainder of the shaft to be examined by the next team.

These instructions were pretty clear and easily remembered, and after being examined still once more, this time by two Doctors, and all the apparatus fully tested and passed we are ready for the 'Death Trap' so freely spoken of. No persons were allowed in the Pit Yard except those holding permits, but it appeared to us that all the Pressmen, Photographers and B.B.C. representatives in the British Isles, had received these permits. Cameras were on the tops of cars, on legs and held in the hands and one could hardly get through the throng to reach the pit.

Along the Chester-Wrexham Road outside the Colliery Yard were lines of cars and hundreds of people. Why were they all there? Curiosity? No, many of them praying to God, that we should return and that the roll would not be greater. Every precaution had been taken, and the arrangements made with the winding engineman regarding the signals etc. It was arranged that he should lower us down to the point where we had been on the Monday (the Pump House), and then every 20 yards below this point he was to stop without a signal, and then if he did not receive a signal to lower no further, he must bring us back up. If he continued to receive a signal then all was well. If he did not receive a signal, probably the cause would be that the sound of the gong was not reaching the rescue man acting as Banksman, or probably another cause I need not mention. Sound and definite instructions had been given, we were to go so far, and no further, and prior to entering the airlock, watches were compared, pipes coupled to the mouthpieces, and with all good wishes from the Coal Owners, Doctors, Engineers and Inspectors, we were once more inside and on the cage, each one of us absolutely confident that the apparatus we were wearing would not fail us, and that the precautions that had been taken gave us an even chance of coming back up again.

"Down So Far So Good"

What at the time? What a thrill? What anxious moments for everyone concerned? Those on the surface seeing those wheels revolving so slowly. Every minute an eternity, every time the wheels stopped an anxiety. Are they all right? Is the dam holding? We could imagine all this from the responsible officials. These were the most anxious moments of the re-opening of the Gresford Colliery after being closed for 6 months. We are now down to the Pumping House entrance, and examining the dam. Thank God it is holding, and doing all that is needed. There is very little water coming through, but what was falling down the shaft was making a din as it dropped into the water 500 yards below. Anyway the dam is holding and our instructions are to return to the surface to report our findings to those eager anxious waiting people. Up to now this trip had been quite easy. What was in store for us on the second descent when we were to go 150 yards further down to the 'meetings'? Each member of the Team realised, that in going below the Pump House level, that he was dependent on his own examination of the dam having been of a minute character, and that if his judgement had been at fault then his life was the toll that would be taken, but we were thoroughly satisfied that the dam was doing it's work and that given ordinary conditions it would continue to do so.

Now we were passing the Pump House on the second descent, stopping as arranged every 20 yards. Signalling '2' to lower us further, the noise of the falling water into the bottom is now getting louder and as we are passing one of the garlands, (a cast iron recessed ring built in the shaft bricking in the water bearing strata) we find that a good deal of water is falling from this, but the noise below is far greater than the quantity. Lower and lower, still very slowly. Stopping as arranged, then going down and down till we see the chains of the ascending cage.

Will it pass without catching our cage or will it catch and upset us, throwing us out of the cage into the water 350 yards below? Every inch it moved nearer, all eyes on the chain and ears listening to the valves in the apparatus. It is a real funny time which one can hardly describe. No fear, still anxiety. Seconds seemed ages. We moving down so slow, the ascending cage coming up to meet us just as slow.

By now the anxiety is over. The up-going cage is passing well clear of ours, and as we watch it, it comes into line with us and we signal "stop" later signalling '7' to indicate to the winder the fact that the cages are dead level, so that he could mark his indicator on the engines, the point of the 'meetings' in the shaft, It is then necessary that we should go just a little lower to be able to see the underside of the ascending cage and make certain that there was nothing loose hanging from it which was likely to fall down the shaft as the next team descending was to go below the point we had marked, After making the examination was signalled to be drawn back to the surface and reported our findings.

Down To The Pit Bottom. 1

After the next team for duty had passed through the same searching examination as we had been subjected to, they were given their instructions. The same method as before to be adopted, get down to the 'meetings' and then every 20 yards the engineman to stop and signal to be given from those on the cage to lower a further 20 yards. They were to proceed to the pit bottom and make an examination of the 'landing'. Would they be able to reach the landing? How about the water we had heard? They were descending on what was known as the 'Gresford Cage'. The nearest side to the Gresford Village. The one nearest Wrexham was called the 'Wrexham Cage and all went well with the descent until they reached the supposed 'landing'. The lower deck of the cage would not lower into the sump, below the landing. What a sensation when they could hear the chains on the cage slackening and banging on top of the cage and they not sure that their signal could be heard on the surface. Providence was once more kind to them. Their signal to be raised back to the surface was heard, and then answered, and soon they were on the surface reporting their eerie experience. Well if that cage will not lower into the sump then they must go down the Wrexham cage and down they went to see if that cage would lower sufficiently far enough to enable them to get off at the landing.

It will be readily understood that nerves would be all shaken after their first experience, but without a murmur and no hesitation they were back and going down. There was no difficulty this time. The descending cage was lowered to the 'Landing Level' and as the bottom deck of the cage was being lowered in the sump one can imagine the feelings of those men. One yard of a mistake by either signals or winding engineman and they would be lowered into the water to be drowned like rats in a trap drain.

After they had examined the condition of the landing they returned to the surface, reported on it's condition and also the condition of the lower part of the shaft. The first part of our venture had been completed successfully.