Auchengeich pit disaster witness James (95): ‘The pit manager phoned and asked if I could help’
A 95-year-old former mechanic is one of the last surviving members of the community to witness the Auchengeich Colliery disaster.
Today (Wednesday) marks the 60th anniversary of the tragedy on September 18, 1959, which claimed the lives of lives of 47 men – leaving 41 wives without husbands and 76 children without fathers,
James Ritchie will never forget the catastrophy after being drafted in to help create a makeshift morgue for the victims’ bodies.
He was a foreman mechanic for the National Coal Board at the time, based in a garage near an entrance to the colliery.
During a previous interview with the Herald, he said: “It’s just like it happened yesterday.
“I started work at about 7am that morning. The bus from Kirkintilloch used to draw into my garage and I always went out to wave good morning to the miners on their way to work.
“I was sitting outside and an engineer walked past and told me there was a fire in the pit. Until then I had no idea as there was always smoke and steam coming out of the mine.
“Then the pit manager phoned and told me they were in trouble and needed help.”
At first James, who was a police special inspector for 20 years, assisted by getting sand to help with the fight against the fire. But later, when bodies began to be recovered, he got another call.
James said: “I was asked if I could supply a van to transport the bodies.
“I said ok and went down to start taking the corpses to a makeshift mortuary we set up in one of my garages.
“We went up and down with the bodies for the next few days, working through the night.
“The men had to be identified by their metal discs.”
He added: “It really affected the community for a long time. I knew several fathers who died afterwards, because their sons had been killed. It just broke their hearts.”
A special service was held on Sunday near the miners’ club and a poignant tribute to commemorate the 60th anniversary runs until tomorrow (Thursday) at the Auld Kirk Museum, Kirkintilloch, organised by East Dunbartonshire Council worker Harry Lycett-Nutt, who lost his great uncle in the horror accident.