Below is a conjecture of what may have been the thoughts of Thomas Michael on his last day on earth. Some of the names and actions of the people mentioned are fictitious, though I have tried to be accurate whenever possible. The purpose of this "story" is to try to portray the humanity of the people who died, so that we may perhaps glimpse at the extent of the horror and tragedy of what happened that fateful morning.
Sigh. Its dark. What a time to have to get up. I mustn't wake Lucy. She's sleeping soundly now, but she's had a restless night. I didn't know that being pregnant was so uncomfortable. Still, not long now and we'll have our first child. I hope it's a boy!
I must get up. Mustn't make a sound, Lucy needs her sleep. Heaven, its cold outside the blankets, where is the chair with my clothes? The sooner I get dressed, the sooner I'll warm up. Brrr, I hate winters. You get up in the dark, spend all your working day underground in the dark and then go to bed in the dark. Thank God for Sundays, then at least I get to see some daylight, even if it is only for a few short hours.
I must be quiet, Lucy is stirring. I'll put my boots on downstairs, then I can light a candle and see what I'm doing. What time is it now? Do I have time for a quick bite to eat before I have to leave the house? I'm not hungry, just tired. Still, if I don't have some bread and cheese before I start work, I'll be sorry in about an hours time. Can't work on an empty stomach!
Brrr, this waters cold. Still, it wakes you up. Don't know why I bother washing, in about an hours time, I'll be black as the pit itself, covered in coal dust. What a life. I can't believe that this was all I was born for. I've been working down the pit since I was 12. I'm 25 now and I already have an annoying cough. So do my brothers and most of the menfolk around here. Still, its work. Have to work. Have to look after my lovely Lucy. Its nearly a year now since we married. I wonder if our baby will be born on our anniversary! That would be good.
If it's a boy, he should be called Tomos, after his father and my father and his father before him. If it's a girl, I suppose she should be called Lucy after her lovely mother, or maybe Anne after my own dear Mam. Lucys parents are called Mari and Dafydd. They are good people but a bit too forthright maybe, a bit too obsessed with that chapel. Still, each to their own. My son won't be like that. I'll make sure that he's brought up strong and independent. He will be his own man. He won't be a poor miner like me. He will not have to suffer the harshness of my life. I will get him an education and a trade. He will make us proud.
I wish I had had the chance of a trade. Anything would be better than going down that pit every day. Still, Dad and Mam were poor and couldn't afford to give William a trade either. As the first son, he would have been the first in line for any education that could be had and only if there was enough money left, would I have even had a look in. What a tragedy that was. William was only 21 when he died. Strong as an ox he was, even though he'd been in the pit since he was 12, just like I have.
old was I then? Was I three or four when he died? I can barely remember him. I
do have some faint memories though. I remember Dad and him coming home from the
pit, black from head to foot. I remember running over to them as they came in
through the door and getting scolded by Mam, for getting dirty when I hugged his
trouser leg! He was always good to me. He used to tease me.
I remember the tears when he died. Mam was beside herself; even though she was his stepmother, she'd looked after him as if he was her own. Dad just sat there, quiet as anything, as if he was afraid to open his mouth in case he showed any weakness. He wasn't one to show his feelings. He would share a smile with anyone, but wouldn't give anything away. He wasn't giving anything away on that day, the day that William died. Still, that's the way things are in this world. The good lord gives us life and takes it away on a whim.
Look at Tomos Morgan now, poor soul. I can't believe his wife has died. Ann was a good woman, from a good family. They'd only been married a few weeks. Life is cruel. I couldn't imagine how I'd cope if anything happened to my Lucy.
Must be off, have to be in work early so that I can finish the same time as the rest of the men and go and pay my respects to poor Tom at the funeral. I suppose at least they didn't have any children. It would have been even worse if Tom had been left with children to care for, which is what happened to my own dad before I was born. His first wife died, leaving him with two young children to care for and if it wasn't for Mamgu Sara, he would never have been able to manage. Families are important and so are good neighbours. It's good that we all look out for each other.
I must close the door quietly. Mustn't wake Lucy. Brrr, its cold outside this morning, but at least its dry. I'll do my coat up. Here's John coming along the road. We usually walk to work together, but not as early as this! About quarter past three on a January morning. What a time to have to go to work. Still, we must go to that funeral. It is the very least we can do.
"Good Morning John!" I hear him murmur
a half awake greeting in return. Seems that I'm not the only one struggling a
bit this morning.
"Its going to be a dry one by the look of it", he says. I grunt in agreement as he reaches my side. We set off up the valley road towards the pit. There aren't many houses along the road, only the odd terrace here and there.
It's a long walk to the pit. About a mile and a half. Before I got married to Lucy, I lived with Mam and Dad and my brothers William and David. We lived on a small holding at the top of Bryncethin road and the four of us men used to cut across the fields to the pit, which was only about a quarter of a mile away. I miss walking to work with Dad and my brothers.
Dad died about a year ago, so now it'll be only William and David who will be walking across those fields this morning. William was named after that dear brother who died when I was little. They're nothing alike mind you! Chalk and cheese.
William is five years younger than me and I was about eight when David was born. Those two used to argue like anything when they were small. David was always doing anything he could to annoy William. Poor William. Still, they've both grown into fine young men now and are close as anything. Now that Dads gone, they keep Mam going. I don't know what Mam will do when they both get married and leave home.
"What time do you think it is now John? I'm guessing its probably about twenty five to four.We should be there by about quarter to four now. I'm glad that it's a moonlit morning so that it's light enough for us to see where we're going."
We turn up the small lane beside the river. Not far now, only about 200 yards up the hill and we'll be there. I feel my breath quickening as I head up the hill. Blasted coal dust, makes you short of breath.
I now see the lights from the engine room and there are several of my workmates standing by the east cage waiting to go down. I can't see my brothers. Perhaps they've gone down already, but that's unlikely, they're usually one of the last to arrive. Mam always has to almost boot them up the backsides to get them out of the door in the mornings!
The overman doesn't seem to be here yet. We agreed to start at four o clock, but we're all keen to get on with it, so many of the men are already underground. Even the horse has gone below. Poor creature. His working life is as wretched as ours!
That horse door that they put on the cage was a bad idea though. The men have been complaining about it since it was put there. Every now and again, the keeps' fangs don't open wide enough and the horse door catches on them. It's very worrying when you feel the hinge of the horse door hitting the fangs and the loud scraping noise as the metal fangs rub against the cage as it passes through. It's an accident waiting to happen, but do the bosses listen to us? Do they care? All they care about is getting the coal up. Money, money, money, that's all that's important. Mens lives are two a penny. We should all refuse to go down until they do something about those fangs, but we need the work and the money. They would probably give us all the sack and then how would we feed our families?
Where is Dafydd Jenkins, the banksman? Is that Tomos Michael standing next to the lever? He's my cousin and he has the exactly the same name as me. I bet that'll cause some confusion, heh heh. He's only been working here about a week but he's fitted in alright with the men. Ah, Jenkins the day banksman must be working the keeps on the west cage. The men aren't supposed to go down in that cage at the moment; they've found a fault with the rope. The overman can't have arrived yet otherwise they wouldn't dare to use it. We're all keen to get down and working as soon as we can today, but I'm not going down in that cage. I'm not risking my life when my wife's got a baby on the way!
"Make sure you push that lever back all the way Tomos" I hear one of the men say. I see Tomos nod his head and give a half smile. He's just a labourer like us but when the banksman isn't at hand to work the lever, whoever is standing nearest the lever lets the cage down. There's nothing unusual about that. There's no saying who will be operating the keeps. All the men do it.
I can hear the cage coming up the shaft. Here it is now, at the top again. In we go, another eight men who won't see the light of day for at least nine hours.
"Stop shoving boys!"
heh. They're full of fun, those Roberts brothers. Evan is sixteen and Thomas is
fourteen. They've grabbed Daniel by the arms and pushed past him so they can squeeze
in before him. They're good friends with two other boys who are in here with me.
They're only fourteen years old too.
It's pretty crowded in here now. The men are laughing and I hear one of them say "you're lucky you didn't try that with me or I'd have given you both a clip round the ear!"
"Don't worry Dan, there's still room for you", says one of the lads. Someone tuts.
"Dan, would you be willing if I took your place in this top spin, I need to get to that funeral today."
I know that voice, it's David James. "It's not my day today", says Dan lightheartedly, "The way it's going I'm never going to start work this morning."
I hear the cage door slamming shut and Tomos, who's working the keeps is looking towards the engine room, ready to signal to the engine man to start the winch.
He must have had the signal now, because he's pushing the lever to open the keeps. I hear the fangs retracting and feel the jolt as the cage starts to go down into the black pit. Its about 225 feet deep but it takes us less than half a minute to reach the bottom; you always leave your stomach behind when it starts down, then it'll be into the tunnel and a short walk to the coal face.
I hope Lucy's sleeping properly, she's b
Is that the fangs? Whats going on now? The cage is stopping. Why is it shuddering? Someone is shouting something above us. I can't hear them proper.....
......................... . FALLING . !!!!!!"