60 YEARS ON – REMEMBERING THE SIX BELLS COLLIERY DISASTER
Written by Alicia Murphy on 28/06/2020
On Tuesday 28th June 1960, at around 10:45 am, an explosion took place in the West District of the Old Coal Seam of Six Bells Colliery. The explosion that had occurred was ruled to be caused by firedamp, killing 45 out of the 48 men who worked in that district of the mine.
48 men were trapped under the ground by the explosion which was deemed to be one of the UK’s worst post-war mining disasters.
As the rescue began to take place the volunteers were divided into two teams, one team ensuring that the roof was safe while the other team began trying to break through the wall of rock which imprisoned the men who had been working there at the time of the explosion.
The explosion was confirmed to have happened in an older part of the colliery.
Hundreds of men, women and children had all come from their homes and had stood outside the colliery, desperately waiting for news on their loved ones.
An official from the colliery had told a reporter from the newspaper, The Argus, who was on the scene at the time: “It’s not rock (falls) that are worrying me – it’s carbon monoxide from the explosion.”
A miner who had been at the scene as part of the rescue said “I don’t think there is any hope for the men at all. There has been a big fall of roof and it may be a long job getting them out.”
Out of the 48 people trapped underground by the explosion, 45 of those were pronounced dead.
The steel girders, which supported the roof in the colliery were knocked sideways and had been twisted due to the explosion.
One of the three survivors, Michael Purnell, was sat with another miner Dennis Lane while having something to eat.
Suddenly everything had become pitch black and Mr Lane went to investigate to see why the lights had gone out. As soon as he did so the explosion hit him and he was thrown on top of Mr Purnell, shielding Mr Purnell from the full force of the blast. Mr Purnell stated that he believed that when Mr Lane was killed by the blast he saved Mr Purnell’s own life in the process.
On the 50th Anniversary of the Disaster, a memorial was erected to commemorate the lives lost in the explosion.
The steel statue, designed by Sebastien Boyesen, is placed on the Ebbw Fach Trail above the former Six Bells Colliery site.
The memorial is of a 12.6-metre high statue of a miner from around the era of the disaster standing on a 7.4-metre high plinth, on the plinth itself are the names, ages and home towns of each of the 45 victims of the disaster which are engraved into a steel band wrapping around the middle section of the plinth.
Blaenau Gwent MP Nick Smith has suggested that a minute’s silence is to be held to mark the 60th anniversary of the disaster. Mr Smith said: “It has been 60 years since that dreadful morning when 45 men and boys went to work and never came home.”
“The reverberations of this accident are still felt very strongly in Blaenau Gwent, by those who remember that day vividly, by those whose family members were working at the pit and by those who lost loved ones.”
“On Sunday at 10.45 am, I will be taking a minute’s silence to remember those fathers, sons, brothers and uncles who lost their lives.”
Even 60 years on, People still remember and reflect on the disaster that struck that sunny Tuesday morning, The Guardian has become a pinnacle point of Blaenau Gwent and an outstanding memorial to the 45 men who lost their lives in the disaster.