Great credit was due to the manufacturers of the 'Proto' apparatus Messrs. Siebe Gorman of London. Their representative was present during the whole time seeing that all the apparatus was kept up to standard and generally given sound advice on the care and use of their equipment.
It was the 8th April when after a most careful examination of all the stoppings, the men wearing 'Proto' apparatus returned to the surface, and the seal was taken off the 'Dennis Pit'. All the Heads of Departments, Chief and Divisional Inspectors, Superintendent of the Recovery Work, Mr Abbott, Mining Engineers and Directors of the Colliery all were able to go and look round the area up to the various stoppings. I am sure that a moment of consideration on that first trip round of theirs would convince them that there had been no exaggeration in the reports by the captains of the Rescue Teams. To say the least they were amazed at the damage and far worse than they had expected. Not only the force of the latter explosions, but the fact that 25,000 gallons of water per minute had been pouring down the shaft for 7 months and everyone knows the effect of water in a pit. The floor is lifted up until the roadways are not even half the size that they were originally. Everyone knows equally the effect water had when put on lime. How the lime will crumble to a powder, and the water had a similar effect on the limestone that formed the strata. Destruction everywhere, played by two agents, 'Explosion' and 'Water'. It is difficult to imagine what were the thoughts of those gentlemen who were the Directors of the Colliery. Their thoughts must have run on these lines.
Can any sort of order be restored out of this kind of chaos?
Will ever we be able to get any more coal along these roadways?
On one thing I feel sure, that the gentleman who had previously been asked for the winner of the 'Lincoln' and had replied that if he had known he would give us the Gresford Pit, I am sure that on looking round he must have wished that he had known the Lincoln winner, and so got rid of what seemed am impossible commercial proposition, a coal pit which looked and was a shambles.
The reporters of the Press were allowed to accompany the Officials down the pit and many were the photographs which were taken, one I believe of which now hangs in the Ministry of Mines Offices. It is one of a place that was known as the 'Big Junction' where coal tubs had been piled one on top of the other in endless confusion and on one of the tubs was written in chalk:-
"Same Way Back - Can't Get This Way Parry Davies - Capt. 11.3.35."
And on this message hangs a tale that I think I had better relate.
It would appear that on his first visit down the pit after taking off the seals, the Chief Inspector of Mines, Sir Henry Walker had seen this message, and I was sent for to appear at the General Offices and told that they considered that I had accomplished an impossible feat in climbing up these tubs with the equipment on, as they themselves had tried and failed. "How on earth did you get the team there?" was their query. The thoughts running through my mind was that I was in for a 'slating', a real good 'telling off'. But no. After the explanation which after all was very simple, everything was all right. I explained, that with the Agent, Mr Charlton, accompanying, the Team had waded through water which came up to our waists. The Agent and myself intended going a few yards further to see if we could get measurements for another stopping. As Captain, and not being able to speak to the Team, this was the way I conveyed to them my intentions. That was, to return the same way, and they being fully trained men knew that I intended them to remain there until the Agent and myself got back to those piled tubs. The Chief Inspector made it pretty clear to me that had he known that the Teams were taking these additional risks, he would not have let the Teams go down the mine.
Each Team was doing the same; taking risks. Indeed, what was the whole job, but one huge risk? Each team went down to find out exactly what was the position, so that an accurate report could be given. Who would have dreamed that photographers would be allowed down the pit and so be able to put on record out transgressions of 'Safety First'. No doubt the other teams committed similar acts; only they were either 'lucky' or 'unlucky' whichever way the question is looked at.
Let me here record, that we all did a good deal 'off our own bat' some jobs that those in authority could not possibly have instructed us on. We also did one or two jobs on instructions and, dare I say it, regretted it afterwards, and were ready to throw the tools at each other afterwards. I remember on one of the occasions we were told to take two of the four cover plates off the top of the cage, so that the team following us could go down and do some repairs to the scaffolding in the shaft bottom. The cage we were to operate on was brought to the pit top and we took into the airlock sledge hammers, sets, cold chisels, etc. to beak off the heads of the bolts holding these two plates in position. Now swinging a sledge is a man's job, even with 40 lbs. of equipment and in an atmosphere which is irrespirable and we had worked and slaved for the first hour and had 'knocked off' only 12 of the 40 bolt heads. Each member of the team was getting done up, and tired and progress seemed definitely slow. We were carrying out the instructions of the 'heads' which had been very particular, even to showing us how to hold the 'set' on the bolt head, and if progress is slow then they will have to put up with it.
All the time we could be observed through a glass window in the airlock, and now and again, one or other of the authorities came to the window to see how we were going on. Slow? I should say we were, and not by any stretch of the imagination could we be expected to go faster as our two hours neared the end. Just then a stranger to us beckoned to me to go outside the airlock. He told me, that the two plates were held by two clips and that if they were loosened, the plates would lift off the top of the cage. Back I went on to the job, and sure enough, there were two clips and in two minutes we had the plates off, and we had done the job that every man of the team had been hammering his brains out for more than an hour. Still we had been busy carrying the instructions and had never dreamed of doing any other, or that those two plates were fixed differently from the other two.
This never happened again, we always looked over the job ourselves after this, and the easiest was our way in the future. We found on several occasions, that if we had carried out our instructions on how to do the job, we would have worked hard and accomplished nothing. This is where a good Captain is important. It will be realised by now that conversation is impossible and therefore, there is no 'discussion' down below, on the best way to do a job. The Captain will convey to the men what he wants them to do, by motions or writing, to tackle the job in the way he thinks, and he holds firm to that way. If he does not, then each individual member of the Team adopts his own methods, each one different, and the team finishes with the job partly done, and badly at that.
I don't suppose any Captain had trouble in this respect. All men knew that the captain was responsible, and the way, any particular job was done did not concern them.