Retro: S Yorks pit tragedy heroes

Silverwood Colliery'Silverwood Colliery Disaster  shocked and injured miners 3  Feb 1966
Silverwood Colliery'Silverwood Colliery Disaster shocked and injured miners 3 Feb 1966
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Often during great tragedies, one person or a group of individuals will find inhuman strength and courage to help and comfort those who are badly suffering.

This was the case when a runaway materials train, substantially overloaded with girders and empty mine cars, crashed with considerable force into the rear of a man-riding ‘paddy’ train at Silverwood colliery on February 3, 1966.

Silverwood Colliery'L to r nurses Kathleen Payne Diane Adsetts and Mary Parton  at the Silverwood Collier7 Disaster - 3rd February 1966

Silverwood Colliery'L to r nurses Kathleen Payne Diane Adsetts and Mary Parton at the Silverwood Collier7 Disaster - 3rd February 1966

The 8.15am train, which had slowed down, was carrying 48 day shift men to the coal face 2,550 feet underground.

Ten miners sitting towards the rear of the train were killed and many more were injured in the crash.

The men had only another 500 yards to go to the end of the journey. They would have walked from there to the coal face, a mile further on.

Two Coal Board doctors Dr W D Smith, the Doncaster area medical officer, and Dr Alan Wright, medical officer for Worksop area, went underground to aid the victims.

Three other Coal Board doctors were on the surface in the medical room attending to the injured as they were brought up.

Also helping were the colliery’s three nursing staff, Sisters Adsetts, Parton and Payne. Two of them went down the mine.

The pit produced about 20,000 tons of coal a week and employed 2,000 miners.

The first nurse to go down the pit was Sister Diane Adsetts, aged 38, of Hollings Lane, Ravenfield, who had been working 13 years in colliery medical services.

Sister Adsetts, who was on call 24 hours a day, organised medical assistance on the surface before going underground.

She said: “When I got to the scene the trucks of the paddy train were piled around and men were all over the place but there was no screaming. Everything seemed quiet. Some men were still trapped.

“One of the men who had his feet amputated was still conscious and cried out when I saw him. He asked for morphine.

“I lost my helmet lamp on the way down and miners gathered round to train their lamps on the injured. I had to scramble over the wreckage to get to some of the men.”

The nurse spent three-and-a-half hours underground and later told reporters: “I am nothing out of the ordinary. I was just doing my job.”

The disaster was a tremendous shock for all who worked at the colliery, the wider mining community and the nation as a whole.

A scathing attack on Silverwood’s transport rules was made by Sheffield and District Coroner, Dr H H Pilling, at an inquest into the disaster on March 10, 1966 at Rotherham.

He said that they should be redrafted “in shorter sentences and in simple English”.

He continued: “As I read these rules I get the impression that their primary function is to exonerate the management when something goes wrong, rather than instruct the workmen on how to avoid something going wrong.”

Earlier, he had told the jury that the evidence of the legal experts said there had been no criminal negligence.

But there may have been ignorance of rules and errors of judgement, said the coroner, adding that he thought the evidence had shown the driver of the materials train had been trained to do his job, that he had been tested and passed his test.

“I think events have proved that he was somewhat inexperienced but this is something that cannot be laid at his door.

“The events have proved that the system of training needs looking into. It is possible a more experienced driver might well have coped with this emergency,” he commented.

The driver of the materials train had been a certified driver for one week before the tragedy. He had been a trainee driver for 10 weeks and eight of these were two-and-a-half years ago and the other two weeks immediately preceding the granting of his certificate of competence.

During his training he had not been given any instruction as to the action to take if he came across a fault.

Moving on to the execution of the rules, Dr Pillin said: “I think it would help if various responsibilities were allocated to people who would see the rules were carried out.”

The materials train was overloaded as far as the transport rules were concerned. This overload was within the capabilities of the braking system, said Dr Pilling.

“I think the transport rules were not generally known or referred to and that no instructions in the rules or testing upon them were incorporated in the training of the driver.”

The coroner said copies of the rules were available at various points but no-one seemed to have made any attempt to ensure that they were known or implemented.

Another possible contributory factor in the malaise underground was that the headlamp of the diesel hauling the materials train was faulty and was “going in and out”.

It was laid down in the transport rules that every locomotive should have a headlamp with a beam of 200ft.

The driver had reported the fault to an electrician, who at the time was on his way to a breakdown and said he couldn’t do anything immediately, but would do it later on.

Dr Pilling said that this was relative only to the extent that there would be evidence of the headlamp not shining immediately before the impact.

The men who died, therefore, had no visual warning of the pending collision.

The jury returned a verdict of accidental death in all cases.

An appeal fund for the 10 widows of the Silverwood miners was opened by the Mayor of Rotherham, Ald. Bill Beevers, and the chairmen of Rotherham Rural and Maltby Urban Councils, Councillors George Downing and Bob Tose, and raised a total of £12,512 1s 2d.

A special comprehensive scheme for the full training of pit locomotive drivers was recommended in the report on the disaster by Tom McGee, the Yorkshire Miners’ Safety Engineer.

On July 1, 1966 it was a little surprising to learn that colliery officials at Rotherham decided not to make any recommendations for individual bravery awards following the Silverwood disaster.

This was announced by Bernard Hemingway, chairman of the Silverwood Joint Committee, who said there was no justification for singling out individuals.

He said: “The whole matter has been considered very carefully and the fact which cannot be overlooked is that numerous people played invaluable parts at the time of the emergency.

“Under these circumstances we do not feel there would be any justification to single anyone out. This is not to say, however, that we are not very much aware of what the various individuals did.”

Another attempt to gain recognition for Sister Adsetts had failed. The move, made through Rotherham Labour Party, was defeated when no member of the party’s general management committee would second a motion recommending her for an award.

Coun George Moores, a former NUM Secretary at Silverwood, told the committee, perhaps a little insensitively, that although the part played by the Sister was “immediately recognised”, they must also remember that much of the emergency work, including first aid, had been completed before she could have reached the spot.

The last shift was worked at Silverwood colliery on December 23, 1994.