Very early in the morning, at about four-thirty on the 1st March 1900, the supporting timbers of one of the roadways underground at Trafalgar Colliery in Drybrook in the Forest of Dean burst into flames. This was a most unusual event as the collieries in the Forest of Dean were the only mines in the land where there was no explosive gas and naked flames were allowed underground. To make it worse the fire broke out in timbers that were approximately a mile away from the bottom of the shaft leading to the surface.
The smoke quickly overpowered two miners, Jones and Knight, who were working there. The night inspector on duty, Charles Black, attempted to rescue them but was beaten back by the fumes from the fire before he could reach the unconscious men.
The Under Manager of Trafalgar Colliery, Joseph Hale, immediately went to where the roadway branched off and down which was the fire. About 200 yards along the roadway he could see the two men laying, inert and unmoving. He could not carry them by himself and so he returned to get more men. He chose four men - Frederick Bennett, Joseph Powell, William Wall and Llewellyn Whittington -
to assist him. They set off together on the return journey along with a horse and empty tram, or coal cart, to carry out the men overcome by the fumes.
The thick and poisonous smoke from the fire greatly hindered them and they were all in danger of being overcome by the noxious fumes. Because he had made the journey to the men twice Joseph Hale was, on his second return, almost overcome and needed help himself. By the time they had got the two victims to safety they were all very much in need of breathable air.
Later, for his part in the rescue, Joseph Hale was awarded the Silver Medal of the Royal Humane Society and a Bronze Medal was awarded to each of the other five participants in the rescue - Frederick Bennett, Charles Black, Joseph Powell, William Wall and Llewellyn Whittington.