It’s dark as a dungeon and damp as the dew,
Where danger is doubled and pleasures are few,
Where the rain never falls and the sun never shines
It’s dark as a dungeon way down in the mine.
On 21 October 1966 in the Welsh village of Aberfan people were going about their business until a sudden thunderous noise alerted them to the collapse of the colliery tip caused by a build-up of water in the accumulated rock and shale. Over 40,000 cubic metres of debris suddenly slid downhill and engulfed the Pantglas Junior School and about 20 houses in the village before coming to rest.
Rescue efforts, which were hampered by more debris coming down the mountain, lasted for a week.The catastrophe claimed the lives of 116 children and 28 adults who died from impact or suffocation. The official inquiry blamed the National Coal Board for extreme negligence, and parliament passed new legislation about public safety in relation to mines and quarries.
Stone memorials were erected in Aberfan Cemetery for the majority of the victims after the disaster.
The worst coal mining disaster in history occurred on 26 April 1942 in the coal mine, located near Benxi in the Liaoning province of China. It was caused by a mixture of gas and coal dust which created a fatal explosion underground shooting fire out of the mine shaft entrance. To deprive the fire of oxygen, the ventilation system was shut off and the pit head was sealed. An electric fence was erected around the pit to prevent relatives of the miners from entering. The catastrophe claimed 1,549 lives. It took workers ten days to remove all the corpses and rubble from the shaft. The dead were buried in a mass grave nearby. Later, the Japanese erected a monument to the dead which stated the number of dead to be 1327.
The second deadliest coal mining disaster in history occurred in France. The catastrophe occurred on 10 March 1906 due to a massive explosion sparked by an underground fire in one of the pits of the Courrieres Colliery.
The underground fire was detected the day before the explosion and ground openings were closed to starve the fire of oxygen. The following morning a huge underground explosion caused a blast on the surface that killed 1,099 comprised of miners as well as people on the surface.
The disaster led to strikes demonstrating against the mining company who continued to operate when the fire had been discovered, and the managers who stop searching for survivors after only three days.
Fraterville, TN, USA
On May 19, 1902 at 7:30am near Fraterville, Tennessee, an oil lamp sparked a methane explosion which killed 216 men (until that point there had been a total of 219 men in the town.) Hundreds of women were widowed, and approximately a thousand children were left fatherless.
A large monument containing the names of 184 identified miners killed in the explosion is encircled by concentric circles of 89 graves. It is known as the Fraterville Miners’ Circle and is located at Leach Cemetery in the nearby town of Coal Creek.
The bodies of 30 unidentified miners were buried in a mass grave not far from the mine. It is marked with a historical plaque on Slatestone Road in Briceville.
Route 116 which connects Fraterville and Briceville has been renamed “Fraterville Miners Memorial Highway” in honor of the victims of the mine explosion.
Madeley, Shropshire, England
Nine miners were killed when the chain attached to the winding apparatus gave away during their ascension from the Lane Pit. They died at the end of their shift on 27 September 1864. Four of the dead were boys under the age of 16.
Monongah, WV, USA
The Monongah Coal Mine Disaster which occurred on 6 December 1907 was caused by a firedamp and coal dust explosion in two mines at the Monogah mine facility operated by Fairmont Coal Company. The explosion devastated the ventilation system, boiler-house, fan and the openings of an additional mine. Italian immigrants were the majority of the 362 victims.
Durham, Northumberland, England
A memorial to Thomas Hepburn, miners’ champion and trade union leader. He worked as a minor from the age of 8 and later intiated the first great union of Northern Miners in 1831 and conducted the strike of 1832. With great forbearance and ability his life was spent in advocating shorter hours of labour and extended education for miners.
Plymouth, PA, USA
On September 6, 1869, a massive fire at the Avondale Colliery started when the wooden lining of the mine shaft caught fire and ignited the coal processing plant built directly overhead. The fire trapped and suffocated 108 of the workers. Two rescuers also died bringing the death toll to 110.
Pretoria, Lancashire, England
The Hulton Colliery, known locally as Pretoria Pit, employed 2500 local men and boys, many from the same family. The day before the disaster occurred, a large fall of roof caused a build-up of gas and miners had complained of gas in the mine and also sparking on a conveyor switch.
On 21st of December 1910, 900 men clocked on for the morning shift. A tremendous explosion that travelled a mile underground killed 344 men and boys who were comprised of miners and colliery employees.
Wakefield, Nottinghamshire, England
A national pit strike in 1984 drew miners from around the country to the picket lines. David Jones, a Wakefield miner, was picketing at Ollerton colliery when he was hit by a brick on March 15th 1984. He died from chest injuries several hours later.
Whitesville, WV, USA
The Upper Big Branch Mine disaster occurred on April 5, 2010 as a result of a high methane levels causing a coal dust explosion in Montcoal, West Virginia. 29 men were killed.
The Upper Big Branch Miners Memorial in Whitesville, WV which was dedicated in 2012 consists of a 48-foot black granite monument with life-size etched silhouettes of twenty-nine miners. The names of all twenty-nine miners killed and the two survivors are listed on the reverse side of the monument which also gives a brief summary of the coal industry in West Virginia. The memorial also includes a bronze sculpture and plaque recognizing the local first responders and mine rescue teams from West Virginia and neighboring states that aided in recovery efforts.
A miner stood at the Golden Gate
His head was bent and low.
He meekly asked the man of fate
The way that he should go.
“What have you done,” Saint Peter said,
“To gain admission here?”
“I merely mined for coal,” he said,
“For many and many a year.”
St. Peter opened wide the gate,
And softly tolled the bell.
“Come and choose your harp,” he said
“You’ve had your share of hell.”