The Sneyd rescue team were the first to go down after the 1942 disaster.
The first man on the left is Harry Baskerfield, but who are the others?
I believe my grandad Joseph Bourne is the first on the right of you photo, (see photo on right)
Rescue work began immediately, and four of the victims, two of whom died in hospital later, were found close to the pit bottom. The other three bodies were recovered as rescue workers forced their way through the debris. The trapped men were working in the Seven Feet Banbury Seam of No. 4 pit. There were two faces in the district concerned, 21s and 22s, one being 1,000 yards from the pit bottom and the other 600 yards. One road was clear and an investigation being made along it, but the other road was blocked by falls of roof.There had simply been an explosion but there was no exact idea as to where it had occurred. The explosion had not affected any other part of the pit, so immediately after the occurrence all workers were withdrawn from No. 4 and No. 2 pits. Assistance was readily available from other colliery managers in the district and from rescue teams, the cream of the industry, from other pits, Chatterley Whitfield, Black Bull, Hanley Deep and Shelton. Three of the Shelton team had survived when their team was caught up in successive explosions at Holditch Colliery in 1937. Representatives of the men and officials arrived, as did H.M.I. of Mines, Mr. E. H. Frazer, the Rev. H.H. Treacher, rector of Hanley, and other clergymen. The Lord Mayor of Stoke-on-Trent, Ald. M. W. McBride, was at the pit head and was kept informed of the progress.
Sadly, later on in the day all hope had been abandoned of recovering alive anyone left in the pit.
Mr. I. W. Cumberbatch, director and general manager of the Sneyd Collieries, made the following statement at 1 pm. on January 1st:-
"An accident happened in the Seven Feet Banbury Coal Seam in No.4 Pit at Sneyd Colliery at about 7.50 this morning. Rescue teams have been sent down and have made an examination; and further teams have been sent down to continue investigations up to the coal face. The cause of the accident is at the present time unknown. There were 53 men in the area affected, and immediately after the occurrence all other workers were withdrawn from No. 4 pit and also from No. 2 pit.The pits will remain idle until the trouble has been decided. The district where the accident happened is about 800 yards below, and there are two faces, one a 1,000 yards from the pit bottom, and the other about 600yards. One road is clear and an investigation is being made along it; but the other road is definitely blocked by roof falls. So far as it is known, there is no fire. We are making another check of the men known to be in the affected district and who, unfortunately, are still trapped. Details will be issued as soon as possible."
Rescue work went ahead unceasing with all possible speed, but by 6 pm. the rescue workers were still 200 yards from the coalface. Another official statement was issued on Friday morning:-
"It is agreed by the workmen's representatives, H.M. Inspectors of Mines and management that there is no hope of any of the unfortunate men being alive. Rescue operations are being carried out continuously by the men in fresh air. Two teams of rescue men with self-contained breathing apparatus are standing by, in case any emergency or necessity for their use arises. Sixteen bodies so far have been recovered today. To reach the remainder of the bodies two large falls have to be cleared. To do this, recovery work is proceeding in an orderly manner, and by a carefully prepared plan, having due regard to the safety of the men at work in the rescue operations. It is expected the pit will resume coal drawing on Monday morning next."
Seventy nine per cent of the under-ground workers employed on the day shift reported for duty on Monday when work was resumed at the colliery. High appreciation of the workers' response was expressed by Mr. Cumberbatch, who in a statement said:-
"The spirit shown by the men in making this wholehearted response to the back to work call is absolutely marvellous. It is really wonderful that 79% of the normal day-shift should report for duty to-day and the percentage would undoubtedly have been higher if news of the official decision to resume work in the pits had reached all the men concerned. I am deeply appreciative of the workers' support and co-operation in the vital national service of coal production."
On Tuesday morning, 94% of the day shift workers in No. 4 pit, reported for duty and there was a 100% attendance in respect of No 2 pit. By January 9th, the bodies of every man and boy had been recovered. This represented a marvellous achievement, recognised by anyone having knowledge of the dangerous conditions that prevail following an explosion.
Mr. Cumberbatch expressed the greatest admiration of the rescue efforts: -
"They were simply magnificent in all that they did, and they cannot receive too much praise".
At a later date, the coroner made reference to the chief lady telephone operator at the colliery, Mrs. Mable Cain, who had remained on almost continuous duty for five days and nights, with practically no relief because she was more conversant with her duties than were her assistants. Mr. Ellis Smith, M.P. for Stoke, speaking at the Hanley town hall, after referring to the disaster said: -
"We might not be able to prevent some explosions in the future, but we could minimise them by taking all precautions. There have been several royal commissions in recent years, many investigations and committees. We want action now, the miners were entitled to such promises, one of which should be a five day week with a six hour day after the war."
Its strange that the coal industry is now advocating a twelve hour day. As in all disasters of this kind, a fund was immediately set up to help the dependants of those killed, many of whom were the breadwinners. The Lord Mayor of Stoke-on-Trent opened this relief fund. Among the earliest contributors were the following: -
- Sneyd Collieries Ltd., £5.000,
- I.C.I. Ltd. £500,
- Shelton Iron Steel and Coal Co. £262 10s,
- Staffordshire Sentinel Newspapers Ltd. £200
- And the Nat. Ass. Of Local Gov. Officers S.O.T. Branch £52.10s.
It was also announced that Sneyd Collieries Ltd would pay the funeral expenses of the victims. By Jan. 9th, the fund had reached a total of £12,278 and it was decided to make an immediate payment to the families, the amount based on the number of dependants and circumstances of the various homes. In order to find the cause of the explosion there was a most searching investigation, with the services of experts in mining, electricity, and under-ground ventilation being enlisted from all parts of the country. Evidence showed that at the top of the Banbury Crut Jig (a haulage roadway) the force of the explosion was inbye (towards the coal face) and from the bottom it was out bye (towards the shaft). The inference is that the explosion originated somewhere in the jig.Two questions at once arise, namely,
(1) What was there and what happened in the Banbury Crut Jig by which an explosion could be caused?
(2) By what means could the explosion be propagated in-bye into the two faces and over all the roads in the Banbury Seam and out-bye towards the downcast shaft?