Hundreds mark 100th anniversary of disaster

The Northern Echo: STANDING ROOM ONLY: Some of the 350 people who filled the church for the service Buy this photo » STANDING ROOM ONLY: Some of the 350 people who filled the church for the service

THE dangers of the region’s industrial past were remembered at the weekend as hundreds of people gathered to mark the centenary of one of the North-East’s worst mining disasters.

Relatives of the pitmen and children involved in the tragedy at West Stanley Colliery, in County Durham, came to the town on Saturday.

They joined townsfolk to fill St Andrew’s Parish Church, in Stanley, to remember the 168 men who died in the disaster on February 16, 1909, and those who risked their lives to save the survivors.

There was a sombre atmosphere as people remembered the tragedy that consumed the region that day, but there were also smiles of appreciation as people realised the event meant so much to so many from far and wide.

The service was organised by local historians Bob Drake and Jack Hair.

Mr Hair, a 69, of Stanley, who lost family in the explosion, said: “We pay tribute to these men and boys, and to all other miners in our region, in fact our county who have been killed or injured in the coal mining industry.

“If you worked in the coal industry, this service is for you and your families.”

Annfield Plain Gleemen Male Voice Choir and Craghead Colliery Band performed at the service.

The hymns included Lead Kindly Light, which the miners sang as they were trapped underground.

The service drew about 350 people, including people of the town keen to mark the 100th anniversary of its darkest hour.

The Right Reverend Mark Bryant, Bishop of Jarrow, said: “We want to remember our past. Our past is important.

The past is something of who we are and what we are today.

“There are fewer and fewer occasions where the community is able to come together and we are part of a community and part of one another.”

Dave Hopper, of Durham Miners’ Association, thanked the organisers of the service.

He said: “I would also like to pay tribute to the people of Stanley.

“It is difficult for us to comprehend the scale of the tragedy, where so many men were wiped out in one fell swoop and so many families were affected.”

Jack Thirlaway, 84, from Great Lumley, near Chester-le- Street, attended because his grandfather was awarded a medal for his part in rescuing survivors.

He had just finished his shift, but went straight back down the pit to see if he could help his fallen comrades, leaving his wife fearing she had been widowed.

Mr Thirlaway said: “It is good to have this kind of memorial so the younger generation, who have never seen a pit, knew what happened.

“It was marvellous service and very touching.

“The lady in front of me was crying.”

■ The church bells will today toll 168 times to mark the anniversary after a service 100 years to the moment after the explosion.

Derwentside District Council has organised the service, at 3.15pm, next to the pit wheel memorial in Chester Road, Stanley.

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