Page last updated at 08:02 GMT, Friday, 18 September 2009 09:02 UK

'Lost lives must never be forgotten'

By Suzanne Allan
BBC Scotland reporter

Auchengeich Colliery
The tragic fire started when a fan belt at the pit overheated

The day began like any other. Just after 6am on 18 September 1959, 48 men climbed into a cage to make the mile-long, eight-minute ride to the coal face.

They could not possibly know they were heading to their deaths.

Ahead of them a fan belt had overheated. Within minutes a fire was raging. Smoke and gas from the flames engulfed them.

Ex-miner Ian Low was working the next shift at the Auchengeich Colliery near Moodiesburn in Lanarkshire that day, and was just behind the men.

"I went down the pit at 7 o'clock that morning, " he said.

"Then all this smoke came out, with no warning. You couldn't see a thing. We had to move to get fresh air.

"We left the area we were working in and walked to another area to get fresh air and stood there."

"At that time we were not aware of what was going on. It was plenty confusing, " he recalled.

As my writing was so illegible my father was left the jobs of writing 47 death certificates
Dr George Jamieson

"We were up above the ground and the other men were down. No-one really knew what was happening."

George Jamieson, 82, a young doctor at the time, was summoned by a phone call at 6.30am.

Pulling a jumper and trousers over his pyjamas he hurried to the pit.

"There was a great assembly of ambulances, salvation army and WRVS, " he said.

"The most difficult thing was identification of the bodies.

"People were recognised by their Rangers scarves or Celtic scarves, their identity numbers, and things like that."

Dr Jamieson was just 30 years old at the time and was in practice with his father.

The two of them worked side-by-side for three days. But when it came to the unpleasant but necessary paperwork, Dr Jamieson junior was excluded.

"Eventually everyone was identified and named," he said.

"As my writing was so illegible my father was left the jobs of writing 47 death certificates."

Newspaper photograph
Annie Fleming became the face of the women of Auchengeich

Brothers, husbands, sons and fathers died in the disaster.

Just one miner on that shift survived the fire.

Worried wives and mothers gathered at the pit awaiting news.

Annie Fleming was among them. Her husband was not working that day but her two uncles perished in the disaster.

"There was no dogs barking, no birds flying about," she recalled.

"It was as if you were in a dome. Everything was quiet. There was no sound. You didn't even hear the traffic going back and forward."

She added: "When you went over to the pit head, the crowd was just standing, waiting. There was no talk or anything."

Pit flooded

The next day Annie Fleming's picture appeared in a national newspaper. She became the face of Auchengeich's worried women folk.

Looking back on the photo now she doesn't recognise herself.

"I think people forget that it was me that was in the photo to be honest, because I don't think I look like that now.

"The article described my hairstyle as like the Queen, " she laughed.

"Which was a load of nonsense."

Attempts to rescue the men trapped underground failed due to the severity of the fire.

Later that day Ronald Parker, Scottish chairman of the National Coal Board, told the waiting crowd of 1,200 people that a decision had been made to flood the pit to extinguish the fire.

I think for the sake of the men who lost their lives you must remember it
Annie Fleming

The women and children wept, the men were stoic and life went on.

"It was the families, the wives and the kids, that really felt the impact, " said Ian Lowe.

"I think the men could put a harder face on it. They felt it, don't get me wrong. But for the women and the children it was terrible, terrible."

On Sunday a special service will take place close to the site of the former colliery and a new memorial will be unveiled.

Annie Fleming believes it is important that the 47 men killed in Scotland's worst mining disaster of the last century will never be forgotten.

"I think it is very important because the village has disappeared, the pit is away, actually there are no pits left.

"I think for the sake of the men who lost their lives you must remember it, especially because, in Scotland anyway, it is a career that has disappeared."

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