By Mervyn Edwards (For the Sentinel’s The Way We Were, January 7, 2017)

Over the years, I have been very grateful for readers’ willingness to contribute something valuable to my history archive.
The recent 75th anniversary of the Sneyd Colliery Pit Disaster on New Year’s Day, 1942 prompts me to reproduce extracts from a letter I received some years ago from a Bucknall man who was employed there at the time.
Ernest Taylor became an apprentice at Sneyd Colliery in 1939 and worked as a mechanical engineer at Sneyd and other collieries.
His personal recollection of the Sneyd pit disaster illustrates the worth of oral testimony when considered alongside documents, reports and photographs relating to the tragedy.
The news of the explosion in the Seven Feet Banbury seam in No. 4 Pit at 7.50 a.m., sent shock waves around the Burslem district, as recalled by Ernest: 
“Scores of relatives began to gather at the Sneyd Hill entrance, and a smaller gathering near to the pit head baths.
 “There was many an emotional meeting as miner met wife, mother or father met son.  There was no joy, only relief.
 “Almost everyone turned to their neighbour to say, ‘Your man will be in the next cage.’  Many of those relieved at seeing their loved ones remained to comfort those who still waited.”

 Men started to come to the surface from the unaffected districts in number four and from number two pits.  Ernest continued:
“About fifty or sixty who had gathered in the pit bottom were quickly brought to the surface, many to be greeted by relatives of friends who worked in all parts of the surface.
 “Gradually, groups of miners who had walked considerable distances up very steep gradients arrived at the surface, some totally exhausted from their efforts.
 “For instance, the bottom level in the south Cockshead is 1,000 yards long, the south slant is 500 yards and the main dip is 1,000 yards.  
These were difficult journeys, very warm and without ventilation.”

Rescue teams from Sneyd and other collieries were assisted by volunteers, as crowds of anxious relatives were joined by clergymen from various denominations and civic dignitaries. With confusion and anxiety at fever-pitch, it is no wonder that in the clamour for news, there was some mis-reporting.

 “A team of surveyors and another inspector descended to plot the position of the fatalities and other relevant details,” wrote Ernest.

 “Later, a rumour swept around the surface that the rescue teams had travelled almost around the North Banbury district and had
found no-one alive.  
“This was later denied, as teams going in from the return gate were within 100 yards of the team travelling in from the main
gate, but could not examine the roadway area in between.
 “Around this time, it was believed that 68 men were missing, and slowly during the day this guess was reduced to 59.”

 History records that 57 men and boys lost their lives in the disaster, and over the last few years, splendid efforts have been
made to remember the tragedy. However, Ernest informed me that there were tentative efforts in this direction as long ago as the 1960s.
 “In 1966,” he scribed, “an appeal was made for any person involved in any way in the disaster 1942 to compile rough notes of
their recollections to enable a small booklet to be published to commemorate the 24th anniversary of the event.
 “Sadly, due to the fact that so many of the men involved were no longer living, the response was limited.”
 Ernest’s full recollection of the disaster was reproduced in my 2007 book on the tragedy, and I am privileged to have received it.

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