RELATIVES of miners who died in one of the North-East’s worst pit disasters have thanked two men who have ensured they have not been forgotten.

Amateur historians Jack Hair and Bob Drake have worked hard to honour the pitmen involved in the West Stanley Pit Disaster of 1909.

Former miner Mr Drake, 69, of Bell Street, Stanley, County Durham, researched the backgrounds of the 168 men and boys who died and identified where they are buried.

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Descendants of those who died and survived have built up close relationships with the men over the years while researching family history.

Yvonne Soares, from New Zealand, lost her great uncle, John, in the tragedy, but her grandfather, Lewis, survived.

She said: “What Bob has done to help me regarding my family has been wonderful.

“He has sent me so much information with both old and recent photos of the area, I feel like I know it without ever having been there.

“We have this lovely friendship going, all because I sent a random email asking if there was anyone who could help me find where my dad used to live. What he has done is beyond the call of duty and he is exceptional.”

Albert Cowen’s great grandfather, Mark Cowen, died in the explosion, aged 66.

Mr Cowen, an 87-year-old, former miner living in Doncaster, said: “Living down here, it would hard to get to the Durham records office, but I have been sent so much stuff free of charge that has helped with my research.

“They have done an awful lot for me and I am very, very grateful.”

Mr Hair and Mr Drake, who went to school together, have spent the past year organising a centenary service at St Andrew’s Church, in Stanley, at noon today. Mr Drake said: “It is very humbling, but I am very proud that people are saying thank you to us. As long as people are benefiting from the research, then I am thrilled.”

Mr Hair, who lost great uncle James Lambert in the disaster along with other more distant relatives, has written books, produced DVDs, uploads to his website – stanley-codurham-jackhair.

com – and gives talks to schools, WI groups, workingmen’s clubs and old people’s homes. Mr Hair, also 69, of Mandela Close, Stanley, said: “I am enjoying talking and writing about history, and part of the satisfaction is being able to help people.”

■ The Northern Echo also wishes to thank Mr Hair and Mr Drake for their help writing a series of articles about the disaster.