On the 60th anniversary of the Six Bells colliery disaster, DAN BARNES looked back on the last mining disaster in Gwent - with one MP calling for a minute’s silence to honour the 45 miners lost.

AT 10.45am on the morning of June 28, 1960, 45 miners were killed when an explosion tore through the Arael Griffin colliery.

Around 40 men were trapped underground by what was one of the UK’s worst post-war mining disasters.

Rescuers divided into two teams, one making the roof safe and the other attempting to break through the wall of rock which imprisoned the men.


Hundreds of men, women and children stood outside the colliery waiting for news on their loved ones.

An official from the colliery told the Argus at the time: “It’s not rock [falls] that are worrying me - it’s carbon monoxide from the explosion.”

The explosion was reported to have happened in an older part of the colliery.

South Wales Argus:

Rescue workers wearing breathing apparatus walk down to the Six Bells pit.

A miner who had returned from the scene 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.”

Fears were to be realised when the death toll climbed to 45.

The grim trade which was South Wales’ lifeblood had claimed more lives.

A rescue worker told how some of the men were so badly burned that it was difficult to identify the bodies.

South Wales Argus:

Miners heading to Six Bells Pit

The steel girders, which supported the roof, had been twisted and knocked sideways in the explosion.

One survivor, Michael Purnell, was sitting having something to eat with another miner Dennis Lane.

The lights went out and Mr Lane went to see what had happened.

As he did so the blast hit him and he was thrown on top of Mr Purnell.

He later said that he believed that, by saving his life, Mr Lane was killed himself.

The fathers, sons, relatives and friends of those killed were told by the coroner, at the inquest which was opened just two days later, that “the whole nation feels for the relatives of the victims in this moment of tragic sadness.”

An appeal to help the victims’ families of the disaster with donations included £2,500 given by the News of the World, while Marks and Spencers had given £500.

The site is now the home of the Six Bells Guardian statue, erected for the 50th anniversary of the tragedy.

South Wales Argus:

The Guardian of the valleys at Six Bells. Picture: christinsleyphotography.co.uk

The figure is of a miner and towers above Six Bells on a plinth upon which the names of the dead are inscribed.

Now, Blaenau Gwent MP Nick Smith has suggested a minute’s silence to mark the 60th anniversary of the disaster this weekend.

Mr Smith said: “It has been 60 years since that dreadful morning when 45 men and boys went to work and never came home.

South Wales Argus:

Nick Smith

“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 10.45am, I will be taking a minute’s silence to remember those fathers, sons, brothers and uncles who lost their lives.”

Mr Smith, who comes from a mining family, said: “We must not forget how dangerous working down the pits was. It was a perilous and punishing job at the best of times.

“Many of those who left the job with no obvious physical injuries have gone on to suffer terribly with respiratory issues in later life.

“I will always campaign to do right by ex-miners in Parliament, including my ongoing work to ensure a better share of the mineworkers’ pension scheme.”