The article you featured re the medals presented to Mr Schofield (as we had to address him), George Bywater and Henry Joiner, brought back memories of that tragic night for me. I was 18 at the time and a maintenance fitter. It was my week to cover the night shift.
As I came to work and made my way to the bike shed, I noticed dozens of cars parked around the pit head baths. I asked a colleague what was going on and was informed of the accident. I was told to ignore my boss’s job instructions for the night, and go to the Charles Coal seam where the accident had occurred. We all had to muck in and do any task required by the head of the rescue team.
My first job was to go back to the surface and fetch two dozen hacksaw blades. I was then sent back with a mate to bring a full tea urn to refresh the rescue team. I was then sent back to the pit bottom to fetch a new cap lamp for the head of the rescue operation who I believe was a Mr Wight. This lamp caused one of the most embarrassing moments of my life.
Officials lamps differed from ours, in that they had a beam more akin to a spotlight, while ours was dimmer and spread out. We could always see a gaffer coming from miles away by the piercing beam. If we were loafing around the cry would go up, ‘Aye up there’s a spot coming’, and we would be gainfully employed by the time the spot reached us.
So as a mischievous 18 year old, I was heading down the main road inwards with this gaffers lamp, when I saw lights in the distance coming towards me. I immediately nipped in a manhole at the side of the road, and as the miners drew level, turned my own light off, held the spot under my chin, shone the beam up under my face, and jumped out looking some ghostly apparition from hell.
To my horror I saw that it was a stretcher party bringing out the first of the recovered bodies. If ever I needed a hole to swallow me up it was then.
I never mentioned the incident to anybody till fifty years later, when at the memorial service in Walsall Wood church, Graham Cresswell, who was one of the stretcher bearers, bought the matter up. He told me that all the lads smiled at my discomfort and apportioned no blame, as it was just a pit prank that had gone wrong, and could have happened to anybody. He finished up by saying ‘Your face was a bloody picture Bri.’
I’d like to thank Brian for his touching and very honest account. It’s always wonderful to receive first hand accounts of such momentous events, and I realise that must stir some bad memories. Cheers, Brian, you’re a gentleman and a true friend of the blog.