In the summer of 1960, the 0.10 coal face in ‘W’ district of Six Bells Colliery was around a mile and a quarter distant from the bottom of the mine shafts – more than 1,000 below’ below ground.
The coal face, in the Old Coal Seam, was advancing in a northerly direction towards the old workings of the nearby Marine Colliery in Cwm.
Marine colliery was the scene of a mining disaster 33 years earlier when, on the night shift of 1st march 1927, an underground gas and coal dust explosion claimed the lives of 52 men.
By late June, the 0.10 coal face had advanced to within 55 yds of these disused workings at Marine Colliery.
At around 10.45am on the morning of Tuesday 28th June 1960, an underground explosion suddenly blasted through the confined roadways of ‘W’ district where 48 men were at work.
‘As the colliery hooter sounded and word of the explosion spread, crowds gathered quickly – as they had at every disaster since mining began.
Wives, parents, children waited desperately for news. Some kept vigil without break for more than twelve hours.
While rescuers tunnelled through tons of fallen rock more than a thousand feet beneath them, people supported one another as best they could: they wept together, prayed together. The Salvation Army poured cups of tea, and ministers of various denominations led a service in Bethany, where many of the men still underground had been in Sunday School as children.
Soon they would be back again – but only because the schoolroom behind the chapel had now been turned into an overflow mortuary...’
‘As those away from the blast area were brought to the surface, rescue workers with breathing masks hurried below.
They carried canaries, still the surest method of testing for the deadly pit gas. But hopes for the men faded as all canaries died as soon as the men reached pit bottom.
A huge fall of rock blocked the roadway. Relays of men tore at it, as others tried to shore up the weakened roof.
Then, as the sun was sinking on the hillside 1,000 feet above them, they burst through.
The light from lamps clamped to their safety helmets picked out the tragedy in all its grim detail...’
Daily Herald 29th June 1960
All hope fades...the pithead crowds go to pray
‘The words everyone feared came tonight as the setting sun cast its shadows down the valley...”They are dead.”
Forty-five men were killed as a searing blast of exploding gas ripped through the pit here.
A Coal Board spokesman said seven bodies have been identified and brought to the surface. Thirty more victims have been found but not yet identified. The spokesman said: “There is not much hope for the eight others.”
Now men, with doffed caps, are walking through the tiny villages of this Valley of Sorrow, breaking the news.
And at each house, as they leave, the curtains are drawn...’
Daily Herald 29th June 1960
‘With only the sound of their echoing footsteps breaking the sorrowful silence, thousands of miners marched at Six Bells today in a vast demonstration of the brotherhood of the men of the pit.
For a mile they stretched down the roadway, cut like a ledge in the mountain-side from the New Cemetery, Brynithel, to Six Bells.
For this was the miner’s day. Here was the comradeship of the colliers being displayed to the world. This was the way with dignity and courage they buried their dead.
With downcast eyes the minister prayed: “for the whole of the sorrowing valley and the little ones left behind”
On and on the funerals went while the men of the mines stood and watched and thought and remembered.
They will not forget...’
South Wales Echo, July 2nd 1960
The Inquiry into the Disaster
Following the disaster at Six Bells Colliery, an investigation was conducted into the cause of the explosion.
Initial observations failed to identify an obvious cause of ignition and resulted in lengthy examinations being carried out to determine the point of origin of the explosion.
A public inquiry into the disaster heard that the explosion was caused by an ignition of gas and coal dust.
The exact source of the ignition could not be established but was thought to have been a spark generated from a falling rock striking against metalwork near the 0.10 face in ‘W’ district.
Of the 48 men at work in ‘W’ district of the Old Coal Seam, 45 were killed in the explosion – the worst post-war colliery disaster in British coal mining history.