Page last updated at 15:22 GMT, Monday, 26 October 2009
Remembering the Darran disaster
Darran pit explosion 1909
Miners wait anxiously for news of their colleagues following the explosion

A series of exhibitions, talks and concerts are being staged to mark the centenary of a mining disaster in the south Wales valleys.

27 people died following an explosion at the Darran pit at Deri near Bargoed on 29 October 1909, including five members of the first rescue teams.

Around 20 miners escaped by crawling through three miles of tunnels.

A week of special events will culminate in the unveiling of commemorative stone near the site at Parc Cwm Darran.

Fay Swain of the Darran Valley History Group tells the story of the disaster:

At 4.30am on Friday 29 October 1909, an explosion occurred at the Darran Pit in Deri, where 45 men were working at the end of the night shift.

The blast brought down the cage within the downcast shaft, destroying the most immediate means of escape from the Darran end.

Miraculously, some 20 miners found a way to safety through three miles of underground tunnels, which connected the pit to Gilfach Colliery (Bargoed).

Others were so badly injured that they were trapped underground, while deadly carbon monoxide (afterdamp) swept through the mine workings.

Telephone calls were made to the nearest official pit rescue team, but this was in Aberaman, almost 20 miles away, and it was to be a full eight hours after the explosion before the team finally reached the Darran.

The immediate rescue operations were therefore organised by brave local volunteers, working together with little regard for their own safety and with only very basic rescue equipment.

Funeral hearse following the Darran pit disaster 1909
The funeral of Ambrose Jones, one of 27 people who died in the disaster

The whole episode abounds with tales of selfless courage, such as the story of William Evans, head carpenter at the pit.

The only way left of reaching the trapped men from the Darran end was to use the upcast shift but this had to be descended by rope ladders.

Evans was the first to attempt this. Five times that morning, he climbed 350 feet up and down a ladder to try and help those below, until he finally collapsed with exhaustion.

Other volunteers quickly followed him at the Darran, while similar rescue attempts were made from the Gilfach end too. For some, they ended in tragedy, as the rescuers themselves were overcome by afterdamp and collapsed.

The final death toll from the accident was 27. Of those who died, five were members of those early rescue parties at Darran and Gilfach. Six were miners who stayed below in an attempt to get their dying friends out.

Those eleven men were each posthumously recognised by the Carnegie Hero Trust Fund and their names are inscribed in the Roll of Honour in Dunfermline.

Four other rescuers who survived - Edmund Davies, William Evans, Evan Owen and Dr WW Turner, the village doctor - received the Edward Medal from King George V.

A local newspaper reporter applauded their valour when he described the episode as "one of the most heroic undertakings that the Welsh coalfield, with all its splendid records of heroism, has ever known."

The Darran Pit Disaster centenary events take place from 29 October to 4 November 2009 - see for full details.

Audio: Remembering the Darran disaster
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