Friday, 14 October 2016

Senghenydd Mining disaster: lest we forget

One hundred and three years ago at 6.00 a.m this morning 14 October 1913, a series of terrible explosions ripped through the Universal Coal Pit in the village of Senghenydd,  a town in the Aber Valley, four miles north west of the town of Caerphilly, in South Wales ( U.K).
The cause of the disaster was thought to have been a 'firedamp', when a spark ignites methane gas, and then explodes, this explosion sucks coal dust on the floor into the air and causes a huge explosion. In Senghenyd this spread even further underground of the mines, and was followed by 'afterdamp', where deadly poisonous gases  replaced the missing air and oxygen.
The result was 439 miners and 1 rescuer  being killed and it is now considered to be the worst mining accident in the U.K  and  the most serious in the terms of loss of life.It followed an earlier disaster in May 1901, three underground explosions at the colliery killed 81 miners. The rescue operation in 1913 lasted for 3 weeks, although by then the chance of finding anyone left alive had long faded.Fires in the workings hampered rescue efforts, and it took several days before they were under control. It took six weeks for most of the bodies to be recovered and the fire to be extinguished. The subsequent enquiry pointed to errors made by the company and its management leading to charges of negligence against Edward Shaw, the colliery manager, and the owners.The report was critical of many aspects of the management's practices, and considered it had breached the mining regulations in respect of measuring and maintaining the air quality in the workings, and in the removal of coal dust from the tracks and walkways.The report pointed out that because the management had not implemented the changes needed to the ventilation fans as demanded by the Coal Mines Act 1911, the fans were unable to reverse the direction of the airflow, which would have blown the smoke out through the Lancaster shaft, although Redmayne and his colleagues held differing opinions on the advisability of reversing or stopping the airflow.Further criticism was directed toward the emergency procedures. The lack of respirators at the mine was deemed to have cost lives.The lack of an adequate water supply for fire fighting was also criticised, as it would have been thought that the fact the colliery was such a gassy one, and it had already been devastated by an explosion previously, that the management would have made arrangements for a supply of water adequate to meet an emergency of the kind that actually occurred Shaw was fined £24 while the company was fined £10; newspapers calculated the cost of each miner lost was just 51 pence.
It would send shockwaves throughout the world, reminding people of the terrible cost of coal,the deaths of of 440 men on a small community had a devastating effect; 60 victims were younger than 20, of whom 8 were 14 years old; 542 children had lost their fathers and 205 women were widowed. The impact on individual households was great: 12 homes lost both a father and son, 10 homes lost two sons each, while the death of one father and son left an 18-year-old daughter to raise her 6 siblings alone; another woman lost her husband, 2 sons, a brother and her lodger
According the Carwyn Jones the Welsh first minister at the time of the 100th anniversary ' The Senghenydd tragedy has come to symbolise the dangers and sacrifices made by those who went underground in search of coal but never returned home. It is fitting that this should be the location for a memorial dedicated to all the miners that have died in mining disasters across our nations.'
In 1981 a memorial to the men who died in the disaster was unveiled by the National Coal Board  followed by a second in 2006, to honor the dead of both the 1901 and 1913 explosions. In October 2013, on the centenary of the tragedy, a Welsh national memorial to those killed in all Wales's mining disasters was unveiled at the former pithead, depicting a rescue worker coming to the aid of one of the survivors of the explosion.The memorial and gardens will not only provide a priceless and fitting tribute to all the colliery workers who lost their lives in the mines, but will act as a suitable and prominent reminder of the rich mining heritage that is ingrained into our communities.
I have written about this disaster previously because since I started this blog about 7 years ago I have always made it a point to remember my peoples history.On a personal note I can never forget the tales my own grandad told me, who himself was a miner's boy  in the valleys in the 1930's assisting  his father , many of his relatives were too, he taught me never to forget the long list of tragedy, human grief and loss in our history, and the sorrow of communities like Senghenyd who have lost their loved ones.I never forget too, how some peoples lives are  expendable in the pursuit of profit.

 The statue, designed by sculptor Les Johnson, depicting a rescue worker coming to the aid of a survivor after a mining disaster, situated at Senghenydd..

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