HUNDREDS of people gathered for a service yesterday to remember the men who died in a mining disaster 60 years ago.
Descendants of two of the victims unveiled a plaque at the pit wheel that carried men down Eppleton Colliery on the former Durham coalfield – now a memorial at Hetton Lyons Country Park, Hetton-le-Hole, County Durham.
The Eppleton Colliery disaster happened on the morning of Wednesday, July 6, 1951, when seven men were killed in an explosion and two, who were badly burned, were carried out on stretchers and later died.
Yesterday’s gathering, attended by civic dignitaries and representatives of several local schools, was addressed by the former secretary of the Eppleton Colliery Lodge, Jack Hockridge, who recalled how, in 1951, there were four members of his family working in the mine – his father, two brothers and himself.
He said: “On Thursday, July 5, 1951, I finished my shift underground at 10pm, went home and retired for the evening. I was only 16 and, therefore, could not work the night shift.
“Later, I was awakened by my mother. She sounded really concerned. There was a commotion. People were gathered in the street and the pit was mentioned.
“Everyone was fearing the worst, because we were still in shock as the Easington Colliery disaster happened just five weeks previously.”
He added: “Later in the day, the disaster was confirmed. It was announced that at 1.50am there had been an explosion in the South Busty and that seven men had been killed and two badly injured – we know now that those two men did not survive. It could have been worse, as there were 349 men in the East Busty and 39 in the South Busty – still underground – when the explosion occurred.
“The community was devastated. To think that two explosions could happen in five weeks.”
Anne Philips, 60, of Hetton, whose father, Richard Parkin, died in the tragedy, said: “I was six months old. He was always spoken about in the family.
And we had a lot of support from the community when it happened.
“Today has been very emotional.”
Dorothy Robinson, 54, whose grandfather, James Walker, died before she was born, said: “He never saw any of his children married or any grandchildren. He missed all that.”
Dave Guy, president of the Durham Miners’ Association, said: “I think the committee and Hetton Town Council have got to be congratulated for involving the school children in the memorial event.
“It is very important that the youth today understand the sacrifices that were made in the past to ensure that we can live in the type of society we are in today.
“There have been many gains since 1951 in terms of education and health and also in health and safety in working practices.
“These people were the pioneers, who laid the foundation for this to be achieved.”