The photos were taken by W Benton, a photographer from Glasgow, in the days following the explosion.
Welsh Pit Disaster. Salvationist Pitman's Coffin (Colour Sergeant E. Gilbert)
On October 25, 1913 The Salvation Army’s newspaper The War Cry reported on the church and charity’s rescue and relief efforts in the aftermath of the tragedy. Here are some extracts from the publication: The Great Pit Disaster A week ago sunshine and peace hovered over the little Welsh mining village of Senghenydd, embosomed in the Aber Valley. Today the October sunshine beams upon the green‐pastured mountains with their heather‐clad peaks, upon the wooded surroundings of the Universal Colliery, and upon the blackened sheds, frames, and coaltip of the pit‐head. But peace is not. Grief, as poignant perhaps as when the great cry arose after the Destroying Angel had at midnight passed over Egypt and left one dead in every house, or when Rachel wept for the children of Bethlehem slain by Herod, now broods over Senghenydd. This is why. On Tuesday morning, October 14th, the long straggling street resounded with the footfalls of over 900 men who were on their way to the coalpit to work for their daily bread as they had done for a dozen years past. An hour later Senghenydd heard another sound – a thunderous roar that shook the hills and brought the inhabitants, anxious for the safety of fathers, husbands, brothers and sons, in mad haste to the pit‐head. From the shaft issued a dense cloud of black smoke and all around lay wreckage showing the force of the explosion. Men and women, shrieking
hysterically or dumb with despair, were overwhelmed with the immensity of the disaster – the greatest in the history of British coal‐mining. Of those 900 men, 435 are dead, and the greater number are entombed in the ways and galleries of the blazing mine. They leave nearly a thousand widows and orphans. One woman is bereft of a husband, four sons, and three brothers, while one victim leaves twelve fatherless children to the mercy of the world. But there are other bereavements. Here is the story of one as told in The Express: “The ranks of The Salvation Army itself have been thinned by the disaster. At least 10 of its members have lost their lives, and the death of one of them, Emrys Williams, makes one of the saddest stories of the great tragedy. “His mother is a nurse – a strong, kindly‐faced woman who, despite her own anxiety for her son’s fate, has been working night and day among the injured, facing horrible sights in the mortuary, and comforting bereaved wives and mothers. “I was talking to a Salvation Army Officer this afternoon when a stretcher, its burden hidden by a blanket, was carried past us. Only the dead man’s boots stuck out beyond the covering and when he saw them the officer said: ‘That is Mrs Williams’ boy. She told me about the curious suds on his heel‐less boots. I must go and tell her.’ “I saw him by her side as she went bravely into the mortuary. It was indeed her son’s body, and at the sight her fortitude was broken down at last. The woman who had done so much to comfort others could find no comfort for herself, and many heads were bared in sympathy as she went weeping down the hill. As she wept she met a coffin – her son’s coffin – coming up on the shoulders of two men.” That is why grief, appalling, dignified, and silent, broods over Senghenydd. Sunshine floods the face of the earth but a fiery inferno rages beneath and in it are 373 men for whom all hope is abandoned. A great deal has been said of the heroism of the rescuing parties. One of the first to go down after the explosion was Young People’s Sergeant‐ Major A. Coram, of Ebbw Vale, an experienced member of the St John Ambulance Corps and also a local instructor. ‘Some of the dead men we came across in the workings,’ he said, ‘lay just as if sleeping peacefully. Having ascertained that their spirits had fled, we hurried forward in search of any who might be alive. The worst we have to contend with at the moment are the heavy roof falls and the fire, which is so dangerous. But if only we can save a few lives!’ This comrade had then been on constant duty at the pit for 22 hours. Another ambulance man with whom we chatted for a few moments in the mortuary – a guard on the railway – had not slept or left his post of duty for over 40 consecutive hours. He has helped to place 50 of
the bodies in the coffins. Band Sergeant Sands and Brothers Bellis and O. Jones, who were in the pit at the time of the explosion, are among the Salvationists who have several times been down the mine with rescue parties. The General Sends Help Immediately, news of the appalling nature of the catastrophe reached the General who was at Bristol, conducting the Field Officers’ Council, he dispatched Brigadier Thomas Greenaway, the Divisional Commander for South Wales Division, with Mrs Greenaway, Major Russell, and a number of officers from the Council, to the pit‐head to render what assistance they could. This Party was augmented on Thursday by Staff‐Captain Colbourne, Adjutants Townsend and Paterson, with 10 Cadet‐Sergeants from the Clapton Training College. The service rendered by these comrades has been magnificent and greatly appreciated by the sorrowing ones. Its character may be gathered from the following references which have been gathered in the daily papers:‐ Four poor women from Cardiff tramped all the way to the mine yesterday to learn if they had lost their husbands. There was no news for them and they waited all day and all night at the pit‐head without food or without sleep. It was not until this morning that a woman Officer of The Salvation Army could persuade them to go to The Army Quarters to eat and rest. Women’s Heroic Work
Welsh Pit Disaster. Salvation Army Workers amongst the poor waiting women
The band of 12 young Salvation Army lasses dispatched by General Booth has
arrived at Senghenydd from the Headquarters at Clapton, and in twos they are systematically calling at the stricken homes. They have encountered numerous instances where mothers, prostrate under the shadow of death are unable to attend to their household duties, unable even to prepare food for the clamouring children. The lasses, divesting themselves of their bonnets, have tidied these unfortunate houses, swept up the littered floors, washed the dirty youngsters, reâ€?inspired the mothers, and served the first good meal that the family has known since the awful catastrophe. Divisional Commanderâ€™s Report
THE SAlVATION ARMY AND THE SORROWING ONES AT SENGHENYDD This photograph - which may be regarded as symbolical of The Army's attitude towards Welsh widows and orphans - shows our Officer, Adjutant Lennard, of Pentre and the wife of one of the victims. when the photograph was taken the woman's husband and two sons were down in the mine also who boarded with the family. The sons have been brought up alive, but the husband and the boarder are among the entombed. The officers visit the woman regularly and she is full of gratitude for the help and sympathy afforded her. The scene in the background shows the pit-head and the crowd.
Brigadier Greenaway says our workers are doing well and the Training College Brigade is nobly assisting. The people turn to us for comfort and
solace, and everywhere look upon us as “ministering angels”. The press representatives here are delighted with our work, and say: “The Army has not only done its duty but more than its duty.”
Meanwhile a police official said to me yesterday: “The Salvation Army work will ever be remembered in this district. We know what you are doing, and the hard, self‐denying toil you are putting in.” There are also some splendid Church workers here, among whom is the Lord Bishop of Llandaff. I am given to understand that yesterday he spoke highly of our efforts at the Church Congress in Cardiff. Mr T C Richards MP has given me a substantial sum for the relief of distressed cases. Our workers are engaged at Senghenydd. Caerphilly, and Ahertridwr. I have sent you this information so that our comrades may know what we are doing for the sorrow‐stricken people. From Staff-Capt. Colbourne
The following letter front Staff‐Captain Colbourne is interesting:‐ We have been at the pit‐head and visited houses wherever there are dead or missing. Crowds stand about in dull, hopeless silence that is broken occasionally by a woman’s weeping. Some of the cases are so pitiful that it is impassible to describe them adequately. I have just come from a home where the mother, an old frail woman, is awaiting news of her four sons. She is a widow, and the boys are her all. Another woman has her husband, three sons, father, two brothers, and brother‐in‐law all down the mine, while another, in a house close by, awaits for her husband and her eldest boy – a lad of 15 — with her three‐day‐old baby in her arms, and 10 other children round her crying for father, and too young to be of any help. She is in poor circumstances also. (Since then, we regret to say, the mother has died of shock, caused by the news of the disaster, which could not be kept from her – Ed) It’s awful to see them and not be able to say “Hope” for it’s fairly certain now that no more can be got out alive.
Welsh Pit Dosaster. The Salvation Army Pitman's Funeral passing through Senghenydd
The scene at the pit‐head is beyond description. We have been helping wherever we see a chance to assist by comforting, feeding, and above all, praying with the people. They seem to crave for the last, and with all the army of nurses and helpers of every kind, The Army is alone in the praying. The people hang on our words, they say: “No you can’t help me, no one can, but oh, do pray with me!” God is helping us, the girls are acting in a real Soldierly way. They are forgetting themselves, controlling their feelings, and acting as they ought. We work in pairs. Brigadier Greenaway and a host of Officers are here working night and day.
The pit is still burning and there are few chances of the nearly four hundred men being brought up, even dead. The smell is dreadful. I am keeping the girls supplied with eucalyptus. The police recommend this to be used on our handkerchiefs so as to counteract the smell etc. We had one conversion while visiting this morning. A Sergeant found one woman hysterical and her baby in convulsions. She treated the lady according to Home Nursing instructions, with success.â€™ Mrs Sands, Wife of the Band Sergeant, has, with other local Salvationists, done splendid service among the neighbouring families. So far she has washed and laid out the body of every local Salvationist brought to the surface. We had a prosperous Corps at Senghenydd, but in common with other denominations, The Army has suffered terribly.
Published on Oct 11, 2013