This is not a subject that I, or any other author, enjoys writing about. Yet I believe that it is important to stress to future generations the pain and suffering that our forefathers, and indeed, some living today, have suffered. And I believe that that pain and heartbreak should be acknowledged and that the heroism of those involved in the rescue attempts should be recognised, and, as John Buchan put it; “The study of it (History) is the best guarantee against repeating it.”
The era of ‘King Coal’ and of the South Wales Coalfield is now long gone, the collieries that once provided work for hundreds of thousands of men and boys have been levelled and the land made into housing estates, supermarkets and industrial estates. No more the shrill of the pit hooter and the spinning headgear wheels and the clanking of trams, and no more death upon death upon death in this the most dangerous Coalfield in the UK., ‘where the dangers are many and the fortunes are few’ .
Yet this era still evokes feelings in the last of that breed of men called miners. There was no pleasure in working underground, of seeing ‘butties’ killed or maimed for life, or of seeing close relatives sucking in oxygen from a bottle due to dust. Very few mining fathers wanted their sons to follow them down the pit. The cold, the darkness, the sheer physical challenge of it all is something that outsiders find it difficult to imagine. So what was good about working in a pit then. Nothing, absolutely nothing, and if successive Governments had built factories on the pit-tops the miners would have cheered. The good times were a spin-off of this most arduous of jobs, true you have tremendous satisfaction seeing a conveyor belt full of coal hurtling its way to pit-bottom. You could feel real satisfaction in doing a ‘real’ job that achieved something, and that first fag that you lit after coming up the pit tasted better than any gourmet meal, but the good times came despite the job, despite the twin attacks of Mother Nature trying to kill you and the owners trying to rob you. These very two factors forced the miners to unite and from this union came the comradeship that is remembered with fondness. There was nothing good about working in a pit, yet there was everything good about being a miner amongst miners. A strange breed of men is miners, compassionate towards the less privileged in society, but never realising that such are they. Contemptuous towards ‘mere’ factory workers to the point of arrogance, yet envious of theie pay and conditions. Abusive to their workmates, it is weakness to show affection, but they will claw with their bare hands to rescue him risking their own lives when mother earth is hungry. These are the real ‘hard men.’ Men who look after their own kind, in the company of these men you felt comfortable, either in work or socializing, your back was watched. If you had a problem, no matter what it was, you could always turn to your union for help and advice and in return the miner gave their union an intense loyalty difficult for others to comprehend. Individually there were some ‘bad uns.’ and collectively they could be awkward devils, but if this country was now populated by the miners of yesterday it would be a far better place to live in.
This book is part of their story, in ten selected disasters you can get a feel of what it was like ‘Way down in the dark lonely deep’