Mines Rescue Men Die in Foul Air Disaster

One hundred years ago this month a tragic set of events unfolded at the Duchy Colliery, Pontyrhyl.

March 2nd  1917

It started with what was to be a quarterly training exercise for the men of the Duchy Colliery Mines Rescue Team, at the colliery a request had been made to the colliery manager, Mr. Eli Pugh, to make available some of the old workings at about 500 feet from the mouth of the drift, these workings had been last used in the early 1880’s.
There were 6 men in the Duchy Rescue team. (Captain) James Morgan; John Evans; Bert Churchill; David John Williams; Thomas Williams; and William James Beer.

Instructor, Mr Edward Thorne, from the Brynmenyn Mines Rescue Station was in attendance, to supervise the operation.

At about 3.30pm they entered the the disused workings and commenced the practice, at 5.pm the alarm was raised, word came that some members of the team were in trouble. It was thought at first that John Evans had got into a pocket of ‘foul air’ and had been overcome.  Mr Thorne, the Instructor had gone immediately to Evans’ aid and in doing so had got into difficulties himself, despite several desperate attempts by the others to rescue them both men were now dead.
The manager of the Glenavon/Garw Colliery who was driving past, stopped and was informed of the problem, he then proceeded straight on to Brynmenyn Mines Rescue Station to fetch more gas helmets. Once equipped with these, further efforts were made to reach the two men. Two members of the Ffaldau Rescue Team, Robert Roberts and Herbert Jones, were on hand by now and with the help of Mr, Dryborough, had already succeeded in bringing out the body of Edward Thorne into the colliery roadway, whereupon Dr. Pennant pronounced him dead.

Other rescue teams arrived on the scene from, Maesteg, Brynmenyn to assist and rescue operations carried on throughout the night to retrieve the body of John Evan’s

Extra police were brought in from Bridgend and Maesteg were drafted in to keep back crowds of people who were gathering around the mine entrance.

At the inquest on the 2nd of April: Sensational evidence was given by Dr. John Scott Haldane of Oxford,who had been hired by the Home Office to investigate this case. His evidence showed that it was the ‘Draeger’ breathing apparatus which was used by both of the deceased men that was responsible for their deaths.

He had tested this apparatus on himself, and found that if he stood still or walked very slowly he was perfectly safe, but when he walked at a rate of over 3 m.p.h. He quickly became breathless. This apparatus did not supply sufficient pure air when the wearer exerted himself, and therefore was highly dangerous.

He had also paid a visit to the workings at the Duchy, and, in his opinion both men had not been killed by the ‘foul air’ of the mine, but by the breathing in the Carbon Dioxide contents of their apparatus re-breathing bags.

Summation: Both men had died of asphixiation due to faulty breathing equipment. But there must now be an official enquiry into the Draeger equipment which was the standard equipment throughout the mining industry.
Coroners verdict:  Accidental Death
John Evans was a Master haulier at the Duchy colliery. His widow, Winifred was left with 4 children, two of whom were already working at the Duchy Colliery. His remains are buried in Pontycymmer cemetery.

Edward Thorne was also married but without children. He had been in the job of Inspector at Brynmenyn for the previous 18 months, he also had two brothers who were in charge of the Mines Rescue station at Dinas, Porth. His remains were conveyed by train to his home in Chappletown, Sheffield.

Mrs Thorne was given an oak framed certificate of bravery for the attempts of her husband to rescue John Evans, and awarded 12s (£30)  per week for one year, (subject to examination on a yearly basis).

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