Eye Witness Stories


Sheffield Daily Telegraph

1912 Disaster -Survivors Stories

Dead bodies lying all around

Horace Dokinfield, miner, aged 21, who lives in Tickhill Road, Denaby, told me he was one of the first four to go down the pit with stretchers.

‘I got down to the scene of the disaster about 10 minutes past six. I saw huge falls of rubbish and dead bodies lying all around. The sight down there was terrible. Some of the bodies were shattered all to pieces. You could hardly tell they had been men. From that until now (3.30) I have been bringing out the dead and I have had enough. I can stand no more of it.

It looked as if most of the men had been killed instantly – just snuffed out. I should not think there was a single one of them living two minutes after the explosion took place. Six or seven horses were lying about too.

I was in the main plane making for some more bodies when I heard a loud report and a gust of wind swept up the plane, and the roof came tumbling down. I ran back in time and I believe that all the ambulance men were as lucky as myself. This second explosion took place at exactly the same spot as the first. It had done them all – Government inspectors, company officials, rescuers, and miners alike had been stamped out. ‘

Survivors thrilling story

The man who last saw Mr. Pickering and the company with him alive was Percy Murgatroyd, a young married miner. It was with difficulty he told me of his awful experience for he was on the verge of collapse. This is what he told me;

I was one of the first rescuers to go down the mine. There were three other men in our party. We got to the point where the explosion had taken place, and never shall I forget the horrible sight which met my eyes. The bodies were shattered most awfully. I cannot bear to talk about it. Of course we wore respirators and we worked hard for many hours.

I should think it was about 11 o´clock. At that time 28 bodies had been got out and I joined an little exploring party, assisted by Mr. Bury, general manager of the mine, Mr Pickering Government inspector and two or three other gentlemen of mining fame, but I don´t know who they were. We were trying to find out what was the cause of the explosion. There is the rather important point. I was the only man who wore a respirator. The air was very good and there really seemed to be no need for one, but it was business to penetrate into any part of the workings that they might instruct me to, and so it was advisable that I should wear one. There might be places where it would be dangerous to be without. A rescue party consisting, I should think of about 30 men passed quite close to us and were busy about their work.

The Air Trembled

Murgatroyd went on: We were talking quite casually when all at once there was a trembling of the air. We had no time to seek a place of safety. The explosion was upon us. I am rather misty as to details but I can remember a fearful roar, and then clouds of dust and smoke were surging all around. I have a very confused recollection of what happened; I think I must have been stunned for the moment.

When I came to myself the air was so thick that, although I had a powerful electric lantern in my hand, I could not see more than a few inches in front of my face. I used my respirator and my head got a little clearer, but I still suffered from the shock, and I hardly realised what was happening.

I remember seeing Mr. Pickering and Mr. Bury lying on the ground as if asleep. I do not think they could have lived more than a few minutes in that awful atmosphere.

I staggered about in the thick darkness and tried to find my way out by wandering first in one direction and then another and suddenly I realised with horror that I was lost – utterly lost. I walked on and on until I came to a great fall. I was too exhausted to attempt to pass it and I collapsed.

Utterly Exhausted

After a minute or two it occurred to me that I might find a telephone. There are a large number scattered around the mine – about 30 I should think. I got up and eventually I found one and rang up the pit head again and again, but there was no reply. I realised that the telephone must have been damaged and I was plunged into despair.

I had not the slightest idea of my whereabouts and I reflected that it might be days before I was discovered. I sat down utterly exhausted and was trying to make up some plan of escape when I heard footsteps approaching. A moment later two rescuers came up to me. They dragged me to the pit bottom.

Perhaps some people might accuse me of cowardice for saving myself when all the others were killed but I could do nothing to help them and I think that anyone else would have acted as I did had they been in my circumstances.

Buried with a corpse

Another hairsbreadth escape was that which fell to the lot of Joseph Pearson, a middle age miner, who formed one of the ill-fated rescue party. Pearson was in the act of putting a corpse into a waggon when the second explosion occurred. He was thrown for several yards, and for some time lay insensible. When he came to himself he was upon the ground with the corpse beside him. Both he and the corpse were buried in the suffocating dust. Eventually he managed to struggle free and crawl to the pit bottom. He was badly cut about the body, but after treatment he was able to return home.

Well known local boxer as Ambulance man

“My heart´s been bleeding all day long.” Said Tommy Stokes, the well-known Mexborough boxer. Stokes, the hero of battles in London, Ireland, Scotland and Paris, to say nothing of his native town here, for 120 fights in all and has only lost 11, has a very tender heart and his voice was often husky as he told of scenes amongst the dying and the dead. For many hours on Tuesday he carried victims of the disaster from the pit head to the ambulance or the mortuary. He did the work of two men – did it literally, for the stretcher which he helped to carry went one man short all afternoon. It was a little tribute to his strength.

Before adopting the profession of a boxer, Stokes worked for several years in the mine and one of the corpses that he carried out on Tuesday evening was that of his old deputy. Among the dead is his cousin William Humphreys, the captain of the rescue party, who recently gave an exhibition before the King at Windsor.

One man I helped to carry out suddenly began to moan, “Give me a drink! Give me a drink!” said the boxer. “I gave him a drink but he died before he could swallow it. Another man was still living, though insensible, had had the wooden parts of one of his clogs blown away and the nails were hammered right into his foot. I managed to wrench them out. Some of the sights I saw were too terrible for words.”

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