FIFTY years ago, a Valleys village was left in shock when a gas explosion ripped through the Six Bells colliery claiming the lives of 45 miners.
Today as the anniversary is commemorated, Ruth Mansfield talks to some of the families who lost relatives in the major mining disaster.
THE MORNING of June 28, 1960 is a day many Valleys residents will never forget.
At around 10.45am on that fateful day, an explosion ripped through the Six Bells colliery, then known as Arreal Griffin, killing 45 of the 48 men working in the ‘W’ district of the Old Coal Seam.
The tragedy, which an inquiry found was caused after a falling rock was thought to have ignited gas and coal dust, left families, friends and the whole Valleys community in shock as the extent of the major mining disaster was slowly revealed throughout the day.
Fifty years on, many can still remember the tragic event as if it was yesterday especially those who had to go through the agony of hearing they had lost their loved ones in the disaster.
Kenneth Morgan lost his father and his brother in the explosion at the colliery which employed more than 1,400 men and produced 1,800 tonnes of saleable coal every day.
Mr Morgan, 63, of The Rise, Nantyglo, was a schoolboy at the time when his father Roy Martin Morgan, 45 and his brother Colin Reginald Morgan 22, were both killed.
The pair were both working as repairers in the mine and were doing overtime after already working the previous night shift.
Their hard-working attitude meant they became victims, leaving behind Mr Morgan’s mother Amy Margaret, aged 41 at the time as well as his two brothers and two sisters. Mrs Morgan died in 2000.
For Mr Morgan, he did not realise the full extent as to how the disaster had affected his family until the day after the event.
He said: “I didn’t hear anything on the morning of the explosion and I remember coming home from school for lunch and nothing was said.
“It was only when I was going back to school at about 1.30pm that day that someone said there had been an explosion at the colliery but even then I didn’t know if my father or brother had been killed.”
Even when Mr Morgan arrived home from school that day to a house full of his family, nothing was said.
It was only the next day that he was told by a family member that his father, who had worked down the mines for 30 years, and his brother, who had done the job for five years, had both been killed.
He said: “I didn’t really know the full extent at 13 years old but I did really miss them.
“We were a close family and they were both enjoying life. My father was into motorbikes and used to take me out for rides all the time.”
His brother had also married Val only the year before who had given birth to their son Jeffrey just three months before the tragedy.
Mr Morgan, who followed in the family tradition working as a repairer himself at Llanhilleth colliery from 1962 to 1968, said: “It was a real shock for everyone. It was talked about a lot and there was always family in the house. The whole community was left in shock. I will never forget it.”
George Crandon, 75 of Richmond Road, Six Bells, also lost his father on the fateful day.
Mr Crandon’s father Thomas George Crandon was 46 and working at the colliery moving machinery up to the surface of the mine. He had been working down the mines since the age of 14.
Mr Crandon, aged 25 at the time, was working as a lorry driver delivering tinplate at Newport Docks when his boss arrived to tell him there had been an explosion at the colliery.
He said: “I had the feeling all day then that something wasn’t right but when I returned home after lunch my mother Pearl said someone had seen my father and he was OK.
“That was obviously a mistake as we found out later.”
Mr Crandon’s brother Don, now 68, was also working at the colliery but was in another pit so had escaped the explosion.
Mr Crandon said: “I went to the colliery where a huge crowd was gathering and it was then I was told my father wouldn’t be coming back up. I then had to go and tell my mother. She was devastated.”
“It affected everyone in the Valleys though whether they had families in the mines or not.”
He added: “My dad was a fabulous man who was constantly hard-working and always helping everyone. He never did a bad turn.
“It was hard to adjust and to get used to life after.”
For Margaret Smith, 78 of Hillcrest, Brynmawr, it was her then then-husband Walter Thomas Davies, known as Wally, who she lost in the explosion when he was just 34 years old.
Mr Davies was working as a borer, a job which he had only had for about nine months after working at the Big Pit in Blaenavon since he was a young boy.
On the day Mrs Smith was at work when she was told there had been an explosion at the mine.
After a family member went down to the colliery the news was broken.
Mrs Smith said: “Wally was known as ‘smiler’. I was so shocked and heartbroken when I heard the news. It shocked the whole community though and affected everyone.”
Hundreds like Mrs Smith are now expected to gather at the former Six Bells colliery site today to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of the disaster.
A 20-metre high “Guardian” statue will be officially unveiled during a service being led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams.
The corten steel statue designed by Sebastien Boyesen will consist of a miner standing on a plinth. The name, age and home town of the 45 victims will be engraved on a steel band surrounding the plinth.
Relatives of the 45 victims, survivors of the disaster and people involved in the rescue teams during the tragic event will be among those attending the service.
* See tomorrow's Argus for more memories of those effected by the Six Bells disaster.
Roll call of the victims
Ivor James Baiton, 48