Four Colliery Fatalities and How They Affected Me by Wyndham Jones. Chapter I I left school when I was sixteen and went to work in the collieries in 1951. After finishing my colliery training , three months in Wattstown Colliery, I went to work in the Britannic colliery in Gilfach Goch. After a further 6 weeks training in the Britannic, I was sent to a coal face to work, I was put to work with David Lawrence, I was his boy [butty], we have been good friends since then. After about six months of working with David, I had an accident to my hand, I cut it with a hatchet. We were working night shift at the time and I was taken home, to Fairview where I lived at the time. I got home by about 5.30 am, by 6.30, Dr. Dyfrig Jones had put 5 stitches in the wound in my hand. The colliery first aid man had phoned him and the doctor was in my house within minutes of my arriving there, no going to hospital for a "minor injury" in those days. While I was off work, a fatal accident took place in the colliery, Reggie Aymes, a lad only a few months older than me had been killed by a horse, it seems that he had tried to get past the horse and it leaned against him and crushed him against a tunnel wall. Some of the horses were not just ponies but were very big ones indeed. On returning to work I was called in to Mr Sid Lewis' office, he was the colliery undermanager and was asked by him if I would like to have Reggie Aymes job, I said that I would. In those days, most of the work on the coal faces, tunnels [headings]and repairs to the tunnels,etc. were done on piece work. Reggie had been a measuring clerk [boy] and was required to measure the amount of work done by the colliers each day and also to assist the deputy [fireman] and overman in running the coal faces, hence we were know as "Junior Oficials" but whenever a collier wanted us in the face for some reason or other, the shout always came down as "Get the measuring boy up here". There were four coal faces at that time, so there were four measuring boys. We hated being called "measuring boys". After a few months of working in the coal face doing this job which I really enjoyed, I was on night shift when at about 5am. a phone call came from another coal face that there had been a rockfall and a man was buried and help was needed, so my overman, Glanwr Williams and deputy, Will Bowen, rounded up about 10 to 15 of our face workers and went to the district where the man was buried, about 2 miles away, I was left in charge of the men that remained. Night shifts finished at 6am. I went home and bathed when my shift was ended, it was the tin bath in front of the fire in those days. After my breakfast I went up to bed. We lived on the top end of Fairview, my bedroom was in the front and I had a clear view of the colliery surface. I sat in my bedroom window watching and waiting, at about 7.30am, men appeared from the colliery shaft carrying a stretcher. I could see that Guto Griffiths had lost his life because there was a blanket covering the whole of the stretcher.
On Fridays, the face overman or colliery undermanager would come with me through the coal face and I would have my "measuring book" with me, there was a page for each collier detailing the work they had done during the week. Each collier would check my book with the overman that I had correctly recorded the work they had done and would ask for money for extra work they may have done, such as clearing a minor roof fall, I would have details of all this written down. We would start the "measuring" at about 11a.m and it would take about an hour and a half. When it was finished, I would go up to the colliery surface to the timekeepers' office to start totalling the work done by each collier for the week. This would take several hours, so we had to work Saturday mornings to complete it. One Friday a while after Guto was killed, my overman, Glanwr Williams was late coming to meet me so I set out to search for him. I was told he had gone back in the "timber road". There were two kinds of roads or tunnels, the main road in which the cut coal was delivered in trains or journeys of trams [drams] to the pit bottom to be sent up the colliery shaft, the journeys were pulled by steel ropes by massive electric or compressed air driven engines and then there were smaller roads in which supplies such as wooden roof supports were taken to the faces, usually in single drams right to the coal face. These were the timber or supply roads, They were mostly single tracks except for the "partings", short double roads where ingoing drams could pass outgoing drams. The drams were pulled by small engines or horses. I went back along the timber road for about a half a mile looking for Glanwr when I met two men, George Compton and Idris Hopkins both men were in their 50s, they were at a parting, Idris was shackling a horse to a dram. I stood to one side talking to George asking if he had seen the overman, when the horse suddenly bolted with Idris running up the parting stuck between the horse and the dram. George and I ran after him and found him him lying on the ground at the top end of the parting, we could see that he was in a serious way, so George ran off to get help. I waited with Idris, he died while I was there, he had been laying very still when he drew in what was the proverbial last breath and he was gone. I was about 18 at the time but I was still expected , and I did, to complete the measuring with the fireman Will Bowen even though I had just seen a man being killed. A day or two later, on the following Monday, I think, I was approached by the colliery Police Sergeant who took a statement from me about the accident. Towards the end of the week, I was called into the managers office, in those days, a colliery manager was next to god, they seemed to have the same power as a ship's captain, the only thing they couldn't do in a colliery was to marry people and they probably would have done that if women were allowed underground. His name was Tom Williams, Twm Cwm as we called him. I went in thinking to have a bit of sympathy from him for witnessing the death of a fellow worker, not so, he shouted and wiped the floor with me because I had spoken to the colliery sergeant before I spoke to him. What did I know? I had never witnessed such an accident before and I wasn't aware there was a procedure to talk about it. I never respected that man again and was glad when he retired. I have said that we measuring boys or clerks as we liked to be know were also called junior officials but we wern't the only ones to come under this heading there were some others eventually, two were the same age as us, we measuring clerks , their jobs was to
ensure on behalf of the management that safety regulations were carried out and then there was another two. To help the economy of the colliery, steel posts were introduced into the coal faces to suppliment the wooden posts to hold the rooves of the faces up, while the wooden posts were eventually expendable, the steel ones were not, being quite expensive. Two men were given the job of keeping track and ensuring the recovery of the posts to be used again and again. One of the men, Edmond Smith, had been a face worker but was no longer able to do so because of chest problems [THE DUST] and the other was Eddie Rogers, he had previously been a deputy [fireman] but was too old to continue that job and so became a steel checker, a junior official like me. One morning when I was on day shift, I went to my place of work and was told that Eddie, who had started work very early that morning had been killed by a steel rope which pulls the coal journeys. This was very surprising for a man like that to be killed in such a way, he had been a deputy and a deputy's main role was safety, safety and above all safety they were called deputies because they deputized for the colliery manager while underground. He had ignored the main rule that was drummed into me from the time I started work in the colliery. If walking along a heading or road and a rope so much as twitched to take shelter in a manhole at the side of the road and stay there for at least 15 minutes before proceeding if the rope didn't move again. When a slack rope takes up tension between the engine and the jouney of drams there is a "whiplash" and the rope can swing from one side of the road to the other with tremendous force, this is what caught Eddie and killed him. Of the four men that were killed in the Brit while I was there, it was Eddie that I knew best, we both played cricket for Gilfach Goch. That concludes the story of the four men who were killed in the Britannic while I was there. I worked in the Cwm Colliery, Beddau for two years after the Britannic closed down. After that, I worked for nearly 40 years in factories. Never once in those 40 years was any one seriously injured let alone killed as when I worked in the colliery. However, the time I worked in the Brit. was the happiest period of work for me in almost 50 years of employment. ps, I have never had nightmares or dreamed about Id Hopkin's accident but in all those years since it happened, almost every 4 or 5 weeks something happens or will be said that will trigger the memory of it and I will go over and over it in my mind. To me, it is as if it only happened only a couple of weeks ago. I suppose if anything like this happened in these days, I would be allowed to have weeks or months off work and "trauma experts" would have field days with me. Probably would be in line for a large compensation. In those days, as I said, we were expected to get on with the job, it was what we were paid for. Hence, the manager's attitude towards me. Who can say which is the better way? perhaps if I had had some kind of help, the memories of the accident wouldn't be so vivid and frequent.