Of the 147 miners who went down Combs Pit, Thornhill, on July 4, 1893, the day of one of the worst colliery disasters in history, only eight came out alive – and one of those died shortly afterwards.
Within days of being rescued, most of them were talking to journalists about their ordeal, including young Willie Lightowler, a youth of 18, who lived at Thornhill Edge.
He had been employed at the pit since he was 11 years old and thought it remarkable he had managed to keep up his spirits during the 30 hours he was entombed.
He said: “I went down the shaft that morning with Charlie Brook, and we were soon joined by Joshua Ashton, John Haywood, Harry Lightowler, Bill Wood, Tom Ellis, Harry Wilcock, William Goldthorpe, Ezra Field and Joe Coates.
“At about 12 o’clock, we smelled a lot of smoke which got worse and worse, and we soon knew that something was wrong.
“One or two of the men went out into the main roads but crawled back soon after, much the worse.
“I heard no explosion, and nothing seemed wrong, but the gas got so thick we could hardly breathe.
“We didn’t talk much, and most of us just laid down.
“Charlie Brook was one of the first to die, and the others, excepting Haywood and Ashton, didn’t last long afterwards. I never lost consciousness.
“I believe some of the others would have lived if they had not tried to find a way out.
“Every time they attempted to get into the main way, they came back a lot the worse.
“The gas got stronger. It was so bad, none of us could keep our safety lamps on, and we were left in darkness nearly 30 hours. It was horrible.
“It was between nine and ten o’clock on Wednesday night when I heard the voice of somebody rattling the wall, and I shouted.
“In a few minutes, Fisher Ledgard and two other men came to me and helped me to walk to the pit eye. I was weak and at one time, I felt as if I were going to choke, there was so little air in the mine.
“When I got up to the top, the people were very kind to me. They gave me some arrowroot and beef tea, and I felt much better for it.”
There were other stories from survivors, who had feared they would never get out alive, like Richard Wood, aged 48, who had been given up for dead by his wife and family.
He said: “Working with me were Squire Shires and Ben Ramsden, and although we heard no explosion, we soon felt the gas.
“Ramsden died in about an hour, but Wood and Shires managed to retain consciousness. I never thought I would come out again. I thought it was all over.
“As to the condition of the mine, I have worked at the pit for 30 years and have never known any gas before. It was always thought to be free of it.
Squire Shires recalled that when his light went out, instead of going forward, he had turned back and laid down on the heap of coal he had just got out.
He had fallen asleep but two hours later had awoken and began to shake another miner, Richard Wood, who was lying nearby. “If I hadn’t done this several times to keep him awake, in all probability, he too would have been numbered amongst the dead.”
On Wednesday afternoon they heard the exploring party and so struck the trams with their hammers to attract their attention. It was three hours before they were found.
When the scale of the disaster reached the world outside, an appeal was immediately started and donations came in from rich and poor alike, including £500 from Queen Victoria.
The total raised was £30,000.
All the cases were extremely sad, foremost among them was the family of Eli Firth, of Thornhill Edge, who had perished alongside his two sons Sam and George. He left a wife and seven children, none of whom were able to work.
Another case, even more distressing, was that of Sire Roberts, whose wife had only recently died and had left a family of six children, the eldest of whom was but 16 years and the youngest only 12 months old.
All were left orphans.
But for being given an allowance from a trust fund to pay someone to take care of them, all six would have been sent to the workhouse.
This year is the 126th anniversary of the disaster and on Saturday July 13 a memorial concert to remember all those killed, is being held in Dewsbury Town Hall.
The world famous brass band, Grimethorpe Colliery Band, and Skelmenthorpe Male Voice Choir, will be taking part.
It is being presented by St John’s Masonic Lodge and all proceeds are in aid of local charities.
Tickets (£20) can be obtained from the reception desk at Dewsbury Town Hall, or by ringing 01484 225755, or online at www.kirkleestownhalls.co.uk
Any ex-miner who would like to attend will receive complimentary tickets for themselves and family, if they ring any of the following numbers: Lorraine Gledhill, 01274 852200, or Keith Shaw, 01924 401928 or Eric Firth 07870 219290.