Accidents & Rescues.
Arthur & Edward Colliery Flooding.
On the 30th June, 1949 early in the morning as some of the day shift were still clattering along the road at the bottom of the shaft of the Arthur & Edward Colliery towards the coal face, an incident occurred. Next door to and above the Arthur & Edward Colliery tunnels were some old workings of the East Slad Colliery which, over time, had filled with water.
A breach was accidentally made into these old workings but the only indications of any trouble were an increase in the amount of muck, dirt and shale dropping from the roof and some deep rumbling sounds. Immediately, however, experience told the workers what was happenning and the order was given for everyone to about face and get out as quickly as possible. Within less than a minute from the order to evacuate having been given there was a thunderous crash and water burst from the flooded mine next door and into the sharply up-sloping road of the Arthur & Edward.
There was a fierce struggle to get back to the main shaft where the lift cage could raise them to the surface. The rise of the water quickly filled the lower levels and then was still so swift and strong that it was soon more than head-height in the upward sloping road. Half pushed, half swimming and struggling fiercely against the water the men fought their way up towards the safety of the main shaft. Some of those at the back of the struggling mass of men had to plunge under the water whenever the roof beams got in the way of their flight.
For those that reached the shaft they found that the cage had now become submerged under the rising flood of dirty water. To add to their problems the signal key which was used to communicate with the winding engineman at the top of the shaft, giving instructions to raise, stop or lower the cage, no longer worked as it was underwater. Without signals from the cage the winding engineman would not know what actions to take.
This desperate problem was solved by Harry Toomer who climbed onto the cage and used the emergency signal system mounted there to raise it a little. This let the trapped men scramble up onto a row of of carts full of coal that they had pushed right to the edge of the shaft and from their clamber into the now only half submerged cage.
Once the cage was full of escaping men, Harry Toomer signalled to the winding engineman at the surface to raise the cage. Hanging tightly onto the top ironwork of the cage, Harry Toomer rode on top of the cage to the surface some 250 feet above. Upon reaching the surface the rescued men in the cage were released and Harry Toomer rode the now empty cage back down into the depths to effect a rescue of another load. For these repeated dangerous trips up out of the flooded mine and down again, clinging all the while to the top of the lift-cage, for raising a total of 177 trapped miners, Harry Toomer was later awarded the British Empire Medal.
Once at the surface the rescued men were identified and accounted for. Eventually, at 11.00 am of that same morning, when they had got all the men up by using the cage, a roll call revealed that there were five men unaccounted for. Harry Toomer once more rode down on top of the cage so that a search could be mounted for the missing five. By this time, however, the workings were full of water and nothing could be done.
But the five men by now had linked up underground as a tight-knit survival party which fought their way to a still-working telephone and contacted the pit-head and reported their condition. Trapped and with their way out to the surface irrevocably blocked by deep water !
Fortunately and unbeknownst to them a possible solution was at hand. Some several months earlier the old Pluds Colliery shaft had been re-opened to provide extra ventilation for Arther & Edward. So the trapped-five were told to head for this new ventilation shaft whilst those on the surface would work on a plan to get them up using that shaft.
Working furiously, while the five men underground made their slow way towards the lifeline of the old Plud Colliery shaft, on the surface the rescue team built an A-frame of sheerlegs and fixed a winch with lifting gear. Some four hours later two volunteers were lowered down the 400-foot shaft and the two parties - rescuers and the trapped met and a few minutes later, at 3.15 in the afternoon, the long and arduous task of winching the five men and the two volunteers back to the surface was under way. All the men that had been underground when the Albert & Edward flooded were now safely rescued !