THIS stunning new book documents the disastrous explosion at the William Pit, Whitehaven, in August 1947, in which 104 Men lost their lives.
Each man is remembered, many with photographs and personal memoirs of family members and friends. The exact circumstances of the disaster for each man are also included, as are some general letters from people who witnessed the events of 60 years ago.
With a foreword by Cumbria County Councillor Ronnie Calvin, the son of one of the miners killed, and Frank Hewer's very special Sunset on the William, this book is a must for anyone interested in mining and Cumbrian history.
Author Amanda Margaret Garraway was born in Whitehaven, Cumbria, in 1965. The discovery of her own ancestral ties to the coal trade explained a life-long fascination with the collieries and pitmen of her hometown. She resides in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada with her husband David and three children. 104 Men is her first book.
1) We never had Miners in our family. Nobody I knew was killed in the Pits. But this book brings an emotional lump to my throat when I think of the tragic loss the deaths of these 104 Local Men (and those thousands who died in the 300 tear-stained years before) visited on their families and the whole Community. This illustrated 200 page book, compiled and put together over many months and vast distances including Canada, England and Europe is a love story. For me, it is quite possibly the greatest Whitehaven Love Story ever put on paper.
Whitehaven folks may move away, as changing patterns of work take them to far flung places with strange sounding names. Memories may dim with age and the passing years, but love never dies. The true test of immortality is simply this: No one is truly forgotten who is remembered by their Friends. May they all rest in peace. Michael Moon.
At Michael Moon's bookshop in Whitehaven people queued for five hours to meet author Amanda Roberts on the day the book was launched, the 60th anniversary of the disaster.
2) A memorial of stone is powerful enough to make passers-by pause and reflect, but a paper memorial such as 104 Men is even more powerful. Amanda M Garraway, and the families and friends of so many of those men, have produced an emotional and colourful tribute which paints a vivid portrait of a strong mining community, the humour and the hardship of their working lives, and ultimately the horror of that fateful day in 1947. Above all it honours the memory of 104 men who were as deeply rooted in the earth of Cumberland as the coal they hewed and carried. This book has done them proud. Colin Edgar, Editor, Whitehaven News.
3) On August 15, 1947, at approximately 5.40pm, an explosion occurred in the William Pit, Whitehaven. Of one hundred and seven men trapped behind roof falls, one hundred and four lost their lives within twenty minutes. Memories of that day 60 years ago are still present in the town.
In this moving book, a Canadian woman, Amanda Garraway, who spent the first years of her life in Whitehaven, has assembled pictures and brief details of the 104 men who were killed. Their children and other surviving relatives have written about their memories. Their words are sufficient:
“The day of the explosion I was on the golden sands beach at Whitehaven. I remember hearing a loud explosion and seeing a cloud of smoke. I remember someone telling us to go home and wait. We found out later what had happened.”
She was told to go home but she went to the pit top where she found Mam. They stayed there for days till they gave up hope of any more survivors.
“Usually Granda Jack and his two sons Harry and Norman didn’t work together, they used to take a shift each. Unfortunately on August 15, my grandfather asked Dad to give him a hand. When eventually we found out the result of this horrific day, my mother was put to bed and we had to be very careful with her.”
She said that John later told the family that when he identified his Dad he only had one slight mark on his face where he had fallen and was otherwise unmarked from the explosion.
His brother William James died from injuries sustained in a pit accident at Bolton, and his younger brother Joe died the previous year from yet another accident at the William Pit. Another brother, Robert, died in a railway accident.
“I had called round for John Ennis and then went for Billy Brannon. We were going to the pictures. We walked down to the bottom of Bransty Brow and saw all the activity and asked what was going on. We were told there had been an explosion at William Pit. Billy said to me, ‘My Dad’s down today’.
“Never for a moment did we think my Dad wouldn’t be coming home. Everyone was making their way to the pit but Mam stopped to clean the house from top to bottom. She stripped their bed, putting white sheets and clean covers on. She was crying all the time. She said we must have the bed nice when they bring him home wounded.
“Then we waited, and waited, and waited. I was seven and the apple of my Dad’s eye. I was nine weeks old before my Dad saw me. He was at Dunkirk in the war. He was one of the men who made it home from the beaches of Dunkirk.
“I knew Dick Cartmell quite well, we often met in town. Tall, thin, with a cheery apple-cheeked face, always smiling, nearly everyone called him Juicy.
“We used to meet him in town at the weekend, he always stopped for a chat, the main topic: if he had a chance of getting a coal hewer’s job.
“Apparently Susan (as young as she was) would walk a few houses up the street to meet the bus every time he came off shift and continued to do it even after his death until one day she rushed up to another miner shouting ‘Daddy! Daddy!’ then realised it wasn’t Daddy. Mam said that the miner was so upset that from then on he got off the bus at a different stop.”
According to an article that appeared in The People newspaper of August 17, 1947, William Crofts had been scarred in three previous mining disasters.
His wife asked him to stay off work and take her and their son to St Bees beach. He said no as they were in the middle of a heat wave and the sun and the beach would still be there at the weekend.
“One thing I can always remember is the day Dad took me to William Pit to show me where he worked. I don’t know how this was arranged, but I was allowed to ride the cage down to the bottom of the shaft, and without getting off we went back to the surface.
“He said to me ‘never get a job down the mines’. He took me to the canteen where I was treated to a meat and potato pie and chips.
“My father and uncle and granddad were killed in the William Pit explosion. I was four years old when the explosion happened so I remember very little about it. I was sitting on the street when my uncle, Mr Samuel Curry, picked me up and took me to my grandmother’s house and said, ‘Yes, you’re stopping there!’ “
Only three men survived the disaster. They are pictured at the end of the book, in their best suits, sitting on the grass, in the sunlight. Cumberland News, September 2007
I just don't know what to say. I was completely overwhelmed and can't possibly put it into words. Thank you so much for 104 Men - it's awesome.... You have definitely outdone all my expectations. It is wonderful (mind you I did read it with the tears streaming). I just wish my dad could have read it. He would have been so proud... I must have read it about 25 times. I absolutely love reading it...
I keep having to go back to your book. It is not a book I can sit down and read from cover to cover . I read a chapter on one of the men then I have to put it away and go back later to read another chapter. Then I go back again to read what I have already read.
So many stories, to me one that stands out was the little girl waiting at the bus stop for her Daddy, who would never come home, and the miner so distressed he had to get off at another stop. This evoked memories of waiting for my Dad, running to the bus stop and the sad feeling when had missed the bus and the joy when he was on the next one...
I bought this book on Saturday; I was passing Mr. Moon's shop and saw it and went in and bought it. The funny thing was, when I got home and opened the book, guess which page I had opened it on? Yes it was my grandad's. I thought how strange is that? I have read quite a lot of it already and it's marvellous, it really is. It's a credit to the author for all her hard work and determination...
I could not believe the public response to the launch, with people queuing outside, chatting to each other and inside patiently waiting to have a word with the author, in one continuous line right around the shop. And the queue went on for hour after hour... In a strange way it was a kind of silent witness, re-enacting the wait on Bransty top overlooking the mine all those years ago. Time compressed - sixty years ago, as if it was but yesterday...
I've had time now to read the book, and had to tell you how compelling I found it. You've made it a lovely dignified and fitting tribute to all 104 Men...
Do you realise the enormity of what you have done? You have taken the group of 104 miners who died and through your efforts you have made each one of them unique to the reader. You have made each one come alive again in the pages of your book. These men will never be forgotten by their families and descendants and by the still united and powerful mining community here in Whitehaven...
The book arrived today - many thanks. I've read it all and it's a heartache on every page, and brings back so many memories to an old Whitehaven lad...
We, and all other relatives of the victims, plus the whole town of Whitehaven, now have probably the first complete compilation of events surrounding this disaster and will be for ever grateful to you for this...