Ten nights trapped in hell

Families across the district have links with the mining industry, but for many in the Braes those memories are tinged with sadness.

The Redding Pit disaster of 1923 was one of the worst in the history of the Scottish coalfield when 40 miners lost their lives.

Its effect on the small mining community was devastating with some families having to wait two and a half months before the bodies of their loved ones were returned to the surface.

Yet just weeks later work began again in Pit No.23 symbolising the resilience of the men who risked their lives on a daily basis to dig for coal.

But mine tragedies are not confined to the history books and last month five miners lost their lives, four in Wales and one in South Yorkshire.

These events made one Maddiston former miner highlight the risks those working in the industry endured and continue to face.

Robert Jack (65) grew up hearing how his grandfather James Jack was one of those trapped for 10 nights in the Redding Pit following the horrific events of September 25. Fortunately for his family, he was among the last five to be brought to the surface alive on October 4, but he lost many of his friends and colleagues when an inrush of water flooded much of the mine.

Robert said: “I wonder if the pupils at the Braes High are aware of the horror that unfolded just a few hundred yards from the school. I think children should be reminded of the hardships our ancestors endured for us.”

James Jack was 38 and a veteran of the trenches when the disaster occurred. He lived in Canal Road, Redding, with his wife and six children. His seventh child, Robert’s father James, was born just months after the mine rescue.

Like many of those who survived the disaster, James snr went back down the pit and was followed by James jnr, who worked at Redding, then later Kinneil. Three of his five sons, including Robert, continued the family tradition and worked in mining.

Robert said: “We now live in an entirely different world. But at that time there was no greater honour than working at the coalface with your father.

“I never wanted to do anything else and thought it was the greatest thing in the world. But things change and when my first daughter came along, my view changed.”

He left mining and went to work at ICI, but has never forgotten the trials and sacrifices made by his forefathers and their mining colleagues.

Days after being rescued, James Jack, along with two others from the Redding Pit, attended a fundraising evening in aid of the disaster fund held in Armadale.

James addressed the audience to thank them for coming along. This is a copy of his speech as reported in the Lothian Gazette on October 12, 1923.

“Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of my two friends and myself, thank you very much for your reception. You will wonder how we spent nine days and 10 nights in that ill-fated pit when the water broke in on us.

“Acting on instructions, we proceeded to the pit bottom, we picked up our coats and ran but found that we were soon up to the neck in water.

“What a roaring of water, I never heard such an awe inspiring noise in my life before.

“Three hours after the water broke in on us we were in utter darkness owing to black damp.

“Two of the five comrades at once lost heart because they could not conceive how a rescue party could reach them, the oldest one of the party aged between 50 and 60 years said that they would be all right if they could reach the ‘Gutterhole’.

“We kept together and advanced in the direction of the Gutterhole, which from section three where they had been, meant three quarters of an hour walk under ordinary conditions, but situations as they were, it meant a longer trek.

“We walked on until we were up to the neck in water; all the time there was the roaring of raging water, one of them said the gates of hell have opened.

“It was an awful position finding we could proceed no further in the direction of the Gutterhole. We retraced our steps to where we had congregated when the first rush of water was encountered.

“Then wonders of wonders, we felt fresh air blowing and dispelling the black damp, we could not locate where the fresh air was coming from. We remained in this place until we heard the welcoming sounds of shot being fired reaching us, we knew then we would be saved from this dangerous plight.

“We spent the days and nights telling stories, cracking jokes, chewing bits of stick and sooking coal, all to keep us from wearying. Two things that helped us to keep our hopes up were the fresh air and we could now get plenty of water to drink. The oldest member of our party was pessimistic at first but we cheered him up by telling him that our mates would be working hard to reach us and that God was with us.

“The feeling we all had that our mates would be working hard to reach us kept us all in good spirits. We had great amusement wondering what day of the week it was by the growth of hair on our faces. When it was decided by a majority that Saturday had passed, we wondered if Falkirk FC had won.

“We had a large stone on the pavement and Andrew Thomson knocked on it from time to time to notify there were human beings near. It was in answer to Andrew knocking that we got the return signals that they were ready for the shot firing which almost immediately preceded our rescue.

“When we heard the shots being fired near us, one of the men said: ‘Boys we are all right, I prayed to God the first morning that he would look after us and the prayer has been answered’.

“Half an hour after our knocks were answered, compressed air reached us and nearly suffocated us. Rescue was still a little away and we were swapping chat.

‘‘Andrew Thomson told of his courting days, then Robert Ure, a veteran, unmarried who lived with his mother, said his mother had often said to him ‘Robert will ye never stop taking a wee drap’

‘‘He said if he got out of this damp hole he would give up taking any more. It was chat such as this that passed the time because we had no comfortable place to rest.

“Well, we were rescued and deeply grateful to all who had helped in our rescue and equally grateful to the people helping the dependants of those who had lost their lives.”