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Montagu pit disaster: How 38 men and boys died in a Tyneside tragedy - this week in 1925; Ninety years ago, 38 men and boys lost their lives in the Montagu pit disaster. Andrew Jehring recalls the tragedy.

Byline: David Morton

In this week 90 years ago a pair of miners, on duty because two colleagues had slept in, charged and fired three shots to straighten the Montagu View pit face in Scotswood. It was 9.30am on March 30.

But soon, water trickled through accompanied by a foul smell and one of the pair, Matthew Errington, feared he had "holed".

Suddenly a bang rang out, followed by screams of "run!"

Methane extinguished the lamps, plunging the 148 men and boys into darkness, and millions ofgallons of water crashed through the pit.

As miners emerged into the light, it slowly dawned on them that 38 of their mates had not made it.

Alma Wheeler of Parmontley Street, Scotswood, recalls her father Bill's experience: "He never ran so fast in his life as when he smelt the gas coming through the pit that morning.

"He was grabbing young lads as he went, and everyone tried to hold on to pit ponies in the darkness.

"Pit ponies can sense the fresh air and so got them to safety.

"But when they emerged they began to realise their mates hadn't got out -- they stayed on for days waiting."

In terms of numbers, this was a smaller disaster than others across the country, but with 22 of the victims coming from Scotswood it devastated the little village.

For months bodies were left in the mine as pumps were unable to clear the water.

The last body was not recovered until January the next year.

Mothers and wives identified their loved ones from odd buttons or distinctive sewn patches on their trousers, but a few were never able to be identified.

As if by some cruel fate, the mass funerals were characterised by heavy rain.

Sid Smith, a fellow miner and poet, described the funerals in the poem Montague Pit:

"For it was in a flooded mine their lives they gave,

Interred to the sodden earth half filled watery grave,

And as the rain clouds banked slowly to the West,

Those miners of Tyneside were at last laid to rest."

Chronicle clippings from the time tell of heroics from Rev Charles Hudson of St Margarets' Church, Scotswood, who was down the pit helping out at every opportunity.

Another who stands out from Chronicle reports is Nurse Walker, known as 'The Lady with the Lamp', who was first to the pit and begged to go down on the day of the flood.

Novelist AJ Cronin loosely based his 1935 novel, The Stars Look Down, on the Montagu disaster.

The 1940 film of the same name, starred two major stars of the era, Michael Redgrave and Margaret Lockwood.

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Publication:The Chronicle (Newscastle upon Tyne, England)
Date:Mar 31, 2015
Words:443
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