"What the Papers Said" - from Shropshire Caving & Mining Club Archives
Wellington Journal & Shrewsbury News, March 17,
A colliery disaster which beats all previous records so far as the death-roll is concerned occurred on Saturday in the Courrieres Mine, near Lens, in the Pas de Calais district, and resulted in a loss of over 1,200 lives. The disas-ter is attributed to a great fall of coal being immediately followed by a tremendous explosion of gas, a fearful burst of fire, and the usual spread of deadly afterdamp.
The day shift of about 1,800 men descended the mine at six o'clock, and it was a little before seven o'clock, or shortly after the men had begun work, that the explosion occurred. The dull subterranean thunder of the explosion was plainly heard throughout the little mining town of Courrieres, which has a population of rather more than 4,000, chiefly composed of miners' families. For a long time, owing to the fact that the great tongues of flame shot upward from the pit shafts, and that subsequently the whole pit was permeated with the suffocating after-damp, it was quite impossible to take any steps to ascertain the extent of the catastrophe, to say nothing of forming rescue par-ties.
The difficult and dangerous work of recovering the bodies of the dead and searching for any men still alive was continued through-out Saturday night. A crowd of about 20,000 people, many of them wives and children of the men who were at work when the disaster occurred, watched the operations. The re-turn of each party of searchers was awaited with the most intense anxiety, and when it was seen that there were none of
the living amongst those brought from the pit there were heartrending cries of grief and disap-pointment. The searchers were greatly hindered by the intense heat in the pits. One of the rescuers who went down the shaft said that the scene recalled one of the battle-fields of 1870. Dead and wounded were everywhere. The scenes below were of the most awful de-scription. Bodies were found lying in heaps, and the groans issuing from these ghastly mounds showed that living men wore there. The working parties did their best to rescue those survivors, but in many cases they could not reach them, and had to leave them to their fate. By G p.m. 400 men had been res-cued. It was then found impossible to proceed further, the galleries having fallen in, and the work of rescue was reluctantly abandoned.
Reuter's Lille correspondent, telegraphing on Sunday evening, says:—The cause of the disaster is difficult to state. The theory is advanced now that it was caused by a mixture of explosive gases coming into contact with an open miner's light, resulting in an explosion which set fire to the coal dust. Some, however, are of opinion that fire-damp was the real cause, or possibly the collapse of some of the barriers created to cope with the fire which broke out recently in the Cour-rieres mine, where the men have always worked with naked lights.
It is officially stated that the victims of the disaster number 1,219.
Submitted by Steve Dewhirst