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Thursday, 18 September 2014

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King honours the rescuers who risked their own lives

A STAGGERING 64 bravery medals were awarded by the King to those who took part in rescue work in the aftermath of the disaster.

John Thorne and James Littlewood, experienced mine rescuers of the Sheffield Mining Company, were the first to go down, fitted with breathing apparatus. They got within 150 yards of the fire, but were driven back by the intense heat and gases. The others got to within about 300 yards of the fire, working in the smoke backing from the fire.

It was impossible to penetrate to the scene of the fire or to rescue any of the entombed miners. Had an explosion occurred (not unlikely given the presence of gases) they would have all been killed.

The Edward Medal is known as the miners’ VC and recognised the efforts of those in the rescue parties. On July 22, 1910, the King announced the recipients.

Special gallantry was shown by John Henry Thorne and a bar was added to the Edward Medal of the First Class he already held. James Littlewood also received a First Class medal.

Other recipients of the Edward Medal, Second Class, were: Richard Walker Moore, mining engineer (Lord Lonsdale’s agent); Robert Richmond Blair, engineer and assistant general manager; Robert Steel, manager (Wellington Pit); Samuel Turner, manager (William Pit); James Henry, under-manager (Wellington); George Henry, pitman (Wellington); Daniel Benn, rope splicer (Wellington); John Whillans, deputy (Wellington); James Dunlop, master wasteman (Wellington); William John Henry, master shifter (Wellington);

John Fearon, shiftman (Wellington); Matthew Walsh, shiftman (Wellington); John Graham, overman (Wellington); Thomas Graham, overman (Wellington); William Campbell, deputy (Wellington); Thomas Swinburne, deputy (Wellington); James Coulthard, deputy (Wellington); David Devine, deputy (Wellington); John Wilson, deputy (Wellington); Matthew Wilson, deputy (Wellington); John Pearson, deputy (Wellington);

John Quayle, deputy (Wellington); James Knox, shiftman (Wellington); William Ball, shiftman (Wellington); James Wren, rope splicer (Wellington); Charles Gibson, driftman (Wellington); William Hoskin, driftman (Wellington); Christopher Gregory, fireman (Wellington); Robert McDonald, fireman (Wellington);

John Henry Parker, under-manager (Ladysmith Pit); Ernest William Oswald, shiftman (William); John Batty, overman (Ladysmith); John Smith, overman (Ladysmith); John Rothery, under-manager (William); John Rothery, overman (William); Wilson Graham, overman (William); Thomas Cannon, deputy (William); James McKenzie, deputy (William);

Samuel Birnie, deputy (William); Isaac Graham, shiftman (William); Adam McKee, deputy (William); John Hanlon, miners’ agent; John Thomas Mather, collier and Wellington Pit delegate; Archibald Thom Jnr, manager (Moresby Colliery); Thomas Banks, under-manager (Moresby Colliery); Andrew Millar, manager (Lowca Colliery); Dr Charles Joshua Joseph Harris (Colliery Doctor); John Graham, deputy (William).

On August 5, 1910, additional names were added for gallant conduct in connection with the disaster: William James Mullholland, hewer (Wellington); Joseph Lucas, hewer (William); James Taylor, deputy (Ladysmith)

The following year, on February 14, 1911, it was announced that the medal was to be awarded to the workmen Fletcher Young, Edward McKenzie Snr, George Henry, James Scawcroft, John McAllister, William Ginbey, Thomas Birkett, Thomas Donald, Joseph Cowan, Hugh McKenzie, Allinson Mathers, John Hamson and Thomas Ferryman, “for their conspicuous bravery in connection with the attempt made to rescue their fellow workmen.’’

The medal awarded to John Quayle was given by the family to Whitehaven Museum and is currently held by the Beacon.

“We were all very proud of my grandfather’s medal and we all thought it should be in a collection as part of the town’s mining history,’’ said Jean Hughes of Monkwray.

Jean’s mother was Hannah Quayle, one of John Quayle’s 10 children – John, James, Hester, Wilfred, Florence, Harold, Frederick, Joseph and William.

Edward Medals are quite rare. The Beacon holds a couple and Haig Mining Museum also has one, which was awarded to Robert Steele, mine manager.

The medal was introduced in July 1907, to recognise the bravery of miners and quarrymen in endangering their lives to rescue their fellow workers. It has the sovereign’s profile on the obverse while the reverse shows a collier rescuing a stricken miner, with the text For Courage across the top. It is engraved with the recipient’s name and is now only awarded posthumously.

In the auction rooms they fetch considerable sums and are highly collectable.

SIX years ago The Whitehaven News helped John Campbell, now of Hythe in Kent, track down the whereabouts of his grandfather William Campbell’s Edward medal.

William Campbell (see picture), a mine deputy, had died in 1925 and John recalled being given a glimpse of the treasured medal as a child in 1941 during the time he spent in Whitehaven as a wartime evacuee from Coventry.

John’s cousin, Gertie McWilliams of Hensingham, had possession of it. It had been handed down the family by the recipient to his eldest son John (Gertie’s father) and then in turn to his eldest son, William. William was Gertie’s brother and he left it with her for safekeeping as he was leaving the area.

Another of the recipients, Thomas Henry Cannon, had been a member of the volunteer rescue party in the aftermath of the disaster. He also took part in the rescue operations at Haig during two disasters. He died at his Bransty Road home in 1936, aged 70. In his prime he had been a famous local sprinter and captained Whitehaven RU Club. He never completely recovered from a spinal injury he sustained in a fall of stone at William Pit in 1930.

Robert Curwen Richmond Blair was also a medal recipient. Six years later, he was to die at the Somme. The son of John and Nina Blair, he was born around 1880 to a family which had strong business links to Whitehaven.

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