I was still left wondering when the Rescue Operations would be restarted when on a certain evening at 6 p.m. a call came to my house with the instructions to proceed to Gresford Colliery, and report at 9.30pm. The messenger did not know what for, and I was left to think what may be the reason. I accordingly went along and reported to the Agent. He informed me that the Inspectors intended to try to get to the body of the Rescue Man who had been left in the 'Return Airway' on September 22 nd 1934. I was to be Captain of the Team made up of two Inspectors and the Ministry of Mines Doctor. I had to look round the pit top to find any old clothes I could to change into, and then donned the old No.13 apparatus, seeing that every one's equipment was in order we proceeded to the 'Dennis Pit', taking stretcher, brattice cloth and other necessities. Everything had been kept a dead secret to avoid any crowd of sightseers or photographers. This was the first time I had gone down the 'Dennis Pit' since 23 rd September and I was astonished at the change which had taken place and the extent of the damage done. If anything it was worse that the 'Martin Pit'. In fact the water, after being turned to the Dennis Pit had done more damage. There was 4 feet of a 'dinting' being taken up from the cage in the pit bottom where the water lifted the floor. We had a job on hand, and as the only person in the Team who was aware of the position of the body, and it will be remembered I had seen the lamp shining down the road when on the 22 nd September we had fetched the other dead Rescue Man out. This apparently was the reason I had been sent for to accompany the Doctor and Inspectors. We proceeded to '20's Airway' and coupled up our apparatus in exactly the same place we had done the same thing on September 22 nd. Our feelings were not the same on this occasion. We knew now that we were going in to fetch one who was past human aid, and we had no anxiety that there may be someone alive down there.
The roadway had stood wonderfully well. One or two small falls here and there and the floor lifted a little with the water running down. These made it difficult to get along. Measurements of the roadway were taken; loose stones pulled down and falls levelled as best we could.
We reached the body and the Doctor made an examination taking myself as a witness, In appearance the condition of the body was none the worse. Not a stone had fallen near it; he lay with his arm under his head and face downwards. Often the question is asked "What state would the bodies be in after three months down the pit?". I can truthfully say, that I would have been able to identify his body even if I had not known he was there. I had, as a boy, attended the same school, and later we worked together in the pit. His features, his hands were without a blemish and very little decomposition had taken place. We did not move the body. It had taken us an hour to get there and make the examination, and it was too great a risk that we should bring him back now, in view of the short time at our disposal and the fact that there were those two small falls to level.
This was the second time I had been compelled to leave a comrade where he had given his life in attempting to save others. Although I had to give the decision to leave him for the present. As Captain of that Team I am proud of that decision and I knew that the chances would be greater after the road had further been cleared.
The Inspectors and the Doctor were good and fully trained in the use of the apparatus, but there was hard and heavy work to be done to get the body to the surface. Our time was limited and I could see that the supply of oxygen was not likely to last out. The road was rough and stony and my knees, through crawling along, were very sore, and I expect those of my team mates were in a worse plight as, of course, they were not accustomed to this kind of travelling. They were all agreed that it was better to have the road repaired and levelled at the earliest possible moment. It was the first time in my life that I had to work with Mines Inspectors or at least have them working for me, and the highest tribute that could be given I would give to them for that night's work. They worked under the Captaincy of their inferior in ordinary pit life and they gladly submitted to every instruction given to them. The Doctor, as I have said earlier was the life and soul of my party. First he would grouse, next he would praise, and finally he would groan.
He kept this Special Team in good spirits on the homeward journey, till he felt his knees giving in to all the torture they had been subjected to, by his crawling over those sharp stones. The temperature in the return was 100'F, and all this, coupled with the size of the Doctor, gave him something to think about. The perspiration was pouring from him and I didn't think he could have a dry switch of clothing on him. I guess he was pleased to get back into fresh air.
If we attempted to carry out that body on that occasion what would have become of the Doctor? He could have been no help with all the bruises and sore knees, and I could see we should require every little bit of help possible. Hence my decision to leave the body on that occasion with the view of a near recovery. We returned to the surface somewhat disappointed, but on the whole, satisfied. We had seen the body, and knew that it was in a good state and that neither falls of roof or the water that had gone past him had decomposed the body.
On the following Saturday, my original complete Team was summoned to the Colliery to go in and this time bring the body back. All other Rescue Teams 'standing by' in case of need. Again the whole operation was kept secret. At 9.30 p.m. after the usual examination of men and equipment we went down. A team of 5 accompanied by the Doctor and two Inspectors and the Agent of the Colliery. The apparatus was not needed on this occasion, as fresh air had in the meantime been forced down the airway. Some distance down, we took off the apparatus and proceeded to the body. Oh what a change. Something had happened. The Doctor again making an examination found that one arm and one leg was broken.
A big stone had fallen since our previous visit to the body and had disturbed the remains. What a pity, I felt it more because I had seen the corpse perfect and felt guilty because I had decided to leave him there only the previous Thursday. It was unfortunate that had happened and there is no doubt that the fresh air, being turned down that airway, had caused the disturbance in the roof and the quick decomposition of the body. The Team was most anxious to get away from there before any further fall came, and the Doctor carefully wrapped the body in cloth after stones had been lifted from it and the Doctor removed the apparatus which was required to be tested. We carried the body out on a stretcher after eight long months of waiting for an opportunity to get our fellow Rescue Man out of the bowels of the earth. The Team had felt it was an insult and a mark on the reputation of all Rescue Workers to have surrendered to any conditions, and leave a comrade buried in the unknown grave. We all felt that whatever state he is in, we must know that he is buried in a proper grave, so that we can go along and pay our deepest respects. He is now buried in Gwersyllt Cemetery and his funeral was one of the largest ever witnessed at that burial ground, All classes, all professions, the highest and the lowest in the district attended and paid a last tribute to our fellow comrade. What more could a man have done than to sacrifice his life in attempting to save others? He was the last of three rescue men who lost their lives to be recovered. All three had died heroes and their names will never be forgotten in the Mining World, we raise our hats to their memory.
To their Captain, the same applies. He was the only man of that Team who went into the Airway and came out alive. He is living and working today. By a mere thread was his life saved. He was helped from the pit in an exhausted condition. I saw him that morning, his eyes appearing to be coming out of his head and practically helpless. He had struggled with each one of these mates, trying to pull them back to fresh air and he exhausted himself. Only 20 more yards and he knows there is a chance of life but the struggle is too much and he has to leave them one by one, and he himself staggers back into fresh air. His unselfish attempt to save his mates whilst endangering his own life is worthy of the highest recognition.
Bunkum And Bravado.
In giving this story of the Rescue Operations at Gresford, I have given the truth which I challenge anyone to refute. There were several reports given to the Press which were sheer bravado and bunkum. One report given by one man, how he had burnt his shoes in the fire at '29's Junction' on Sunday 23rd. September. Well, he must have taken them off and thrown them into the fire. The rescue Teams were the furthest advanced and nearest the fire and none of us burnt our shoes, or even singed our clothes. Anyone who bunt themselves did it purposely.
Later opinions are expounded that the victims died of starvation. A statement that is certainly without foundation. The same person gave it out publicly that his opinion was based on the fact that he believed they died of starvation because their lamps were lit. Is he not aware that lamps will burn in CO and that less than 1% of CO is fatal to life? Personally, I don't attach much importance to what was said by those men who were fortunate to escape. Their report of seeing 70 men following them out. How far? Isn't it too much to expect them to know much of those who are following behind, when their own life was in jeopardy? It had often been said that there are 70 men in the airway near the 'clutch'. I cannot at the moment contradict this, but I have my doubts. We were told that if the teams get down to '29's Junction' on Sunday 23 rd September that there will be 100 bodies there. We got there all right but no bodies were found and we will have to wait and see if the other report is correct of 70 men near the 'clutch' in that 'Return Airway'.
There are lots of reports I could mention, but seeing that one can not prove or deny, and that operations are indefinitely held up, why not let them stand over till, if ever, they are proved or disproved.