In the year 1897 at 9 o'clock on the 20th December there was an accident at the Wimberry Colliery, deep in the heart of the Forest of Dean. The barrier of stone and timber separating a disused mine next door broke. This released a sudden torrent of icy water into the shaft and tunnels which sent the 40 men and boys who were working underground stumbling frantically towards the surface.
Six miners, however, were cut off by the swiftly rising waters and were trapped underground - unable to reach the shaft or any way to the safety of the surface.
John Joynes realised what had happened and immediately called out to the fleeing miners for someone to come and help him get to the trapped men. Several men immediately volunteered and John chose three of them, John Davis, Philip Watson and Samuel Mansfield to help in a rescue attempt. The rest continued with the evacuation of the tunnel.
Quickly they organised themselves and started back down into the mine depths using a steeply sloped travelling way. The downward slope was 1 in 2 so that for every two feet they forced in the firecely incoming water so they went a further foot downwards into the black depths. The swirling, near freezing, water inundating the mine was already a chest-high foaming mixture of black water, rock and wooden debris that roared fiercely into the depths from which they were hoping to rescue the men.
Making their way as best they could by clinging to the timber framing on the sides and the roof of the tunnel, they managed to get some distance further down towards the trapped men. Yard by yard they struggled down the steep slope towards the distant men. Sometimes they were swept off their feet by the raging torrent until, one by one, they lost their lights or the lamps were doused by the torrent leaving them - struggling in mid-water in pitch darkness.
Unable to see or hear anything from the trapped miners they called several times as loudly as they could until they heard their muffled shouts further below. Reassured that the men were still alive they pushed onwards and eventually found them in a huddle at the edge of the road. So strong, even this far below the surface, was the raging river of water that the trapped men were clinging together, their backs to the stream with water boiling and splashing over them - quite unable to face forward as a hail of debris and waves of bubbling water washed against and over them.
After checking as best they could that all the men being rescued were more or less uninjured the two Johns, together with Philip and Samuel, formed a supporting sandwich with the rescued men between them and they all attempted to battle back to the surface.
It was all very difficult and there was a constant danger of being swept away or of being hit by down-surging timbers but they managed to battle their way back through the water to the relative safety of the shaft. Willing hands grasped them and raised them up to the surfact where, some two hours after the water had burst in, the last of the rescued men was welcomed to safety.
Finally, exhausted - all the men from underground, all 40 of them, were safe.
Later, for his part in the hazardous rescue, John Joynes was awarded the Silver Medal of the Royal Humane Society and a Bronze Medal was awarded to each of the other three participants in the rescue - John Davis, Samuel Mansfield and Philip Watson.