Tragic circumstances on the evening of Saturday 21st March 1936 occurred when a pit accident in Blantyre claimed the lives of five men. Exceptional bravery was demonstrated as rescue parties worked unceasingly for about 15 hours in imminent peril from a dangerous roof to recover the bodies from the debris.
The accident occurred in a section of Bardykes Colliery owned by Summerlee Iron Company Ltd, which lay between Blantyre and Cambuslang. Reported in the Times the next day, the account is as follows “Seven brushers were engaged in a section, which is 9 ft high and about 12 ft broad, preparing it for the miners, when part of the roof collapsed, practically without warning. Five of the men were entombed, and the other two had amazing escapes. A rescue party was at once organised, and the body of one of the victims was recovered almost immediately, but the remainder were not found until this morning. The accident occurred about 7.30 last night, but it was almost noon today before the body of the last victim was recovered, and only after the rescue party itself had been almost entombed by another heavy fall from the roof.
The victims are: –
George Kirk of Church Street [another report says Park St], Cambuslang, married, with a family of four
Thomas Coulter, Bothwell Street, Cambuslang, married, with four children
James Conlin, Glasgow Road Blantyre, married, with four children
Robert Dawson, Church Street, Cambuslang, married, with five children
Gilbert Roy, Hamilton Road, Flemington, married, with three children
Dawson’s wife is expecting another baby very soon. “It’s just the life of a miner’s wife,” she said, when she was told of her loss. “You see them go out in the morning in their pit clothes and you never know if they will come back alive.”
News of the accident quickly spread round the district and large crowds gathered at the pit head, including women relatives of the entombed men. Regardless of the risk to themselves miners in the rescue party worked gallantly all through the night to free their mates from the pile of debris that enveloped them. About 2.15 this morning another heavy fall threatened to involve several of the rescue party, and it took them fully seven hours to regain the ground they had lost.
Mr John Stewart, manager of the colliery, and other officials, were summoned, and with at least 200 of the men who were off duty, they hurried to assist in the rescue efforts. Within a short time workmen from other sections, and those from the pithead, formed themselves into rescue parties, and they toiled through the night. From the extent of the fall it was obvious that there was little hope of finding any of the men alive. Many tons of material had fallen on the squad, and the road was completely blocked. Two pit ponies were also buried in the debris and killed. Meanwhile friends and relatives hurried to the pithead, and the crowd grew until it numbered about 2000.
About 4 hours elapsed before the first body was recovered. It was that of George Kirk. Long intervals occurred before the others could be reached, the rescuers having to exercise the utmost care to prevent further falls. In the early hours of Sunday morning, when the rescuers had partly uncovered the body of Dawson, there was an ominous rumble from above, and they had barely time to scramble clear before many tons of debris again filled up the road. It was 7 hours later before Dawson’s body could be extricated. Roy’s body was the last to be found, and it was conveyed to the surface about midday.
Campbell Hawthorn of Loanend Cottages was one of two men who escaped, who was working at the very edge of the fall, said: –
“Suddenly there was a crack. I sensed what was happening, and threw myself to the side of the road. I was struck by a piece of wood or rock which knocked me out for a while. When I recovered consciousness everything was pitch dark, but I could hear stuff falling all round me. Some of it fell on top of me. I crawled forward as well as I could and ultimately got clear. All I could hear in the darkness was the groaning of the horse, which was injured. Evans, though injured, rushed down the road and returned with a lamp. By this time we could hear some of the men who had been caught in the fall. Evans shouted “Where are you, lads?” and Coulter replied, “I am here. I am on the left side” I shouted “Can you see us or our lights ?” and he replied “My face is covered.” His voice became weaker, and finally he said “I am done for.” I was practically powerless on account of the knock I had received on my back, and it was maddening to be so near my pals and yet to be so helpless. Evans made a frantic effort to clear the way to Coulter, but such a huge quantity of debris had fallen that he was able to make very little progress. In about five minutes the first party of rescuers came along and took charge.”
The Hamilton Advertiser also reported that the second man who escaped was William Evans, Church Street, Cambuslang who had jumped aside as the fall took place and was unhurt. He hurried to the lamp section a considerable distance away, and raised the alarm.
Funeral of the Victims – The funeral of four of the victims took place on the Tuesday. George Kirk and Robert Dawson were buried privately in the afternoon in Westburn Cemetery, Cambuslang. A service for Thomas Coulter was held in St Bride’s Roman Catholic Church, Cambuslang. Later the cortege passed down the main street of Cambuslang, fully 100 mourners walking bareheaded to the interment in Dalbeth Cemetery. James Conlin, the Blantyre victim of the disaster, was buried in High Blantyre Cemetery after a requiem mass service in St Joseph’s R C Church. The funeral of the last victim, Gabriel Roy, Hamilton Road, Cambuslang, took place on Wednesday afternoon to Westburn Cemetery. [Hamilton Advertiser 28 March 1936]