muirkirk in the hills of ayrshire - from the muirkirk enterprise group


Kames Colliery Disaster Audio Project

Dick Boland's Story

Hearing the news

I was up at Rowe's garage and it was quite late at night and it was dark. Garaged the van, came out and met Tam Gibb; I was just going to walk home. "Oh Dick" he says "You better come down to the pit, I was up at your house a while ago and you were away". "Your mam says you were at Mauchline and you hadn't come home yet" He says "There's something terribly wrong at the Kames" and he'd been sent round looking for people; you better get down right away. So I went back in and got the van. I went down, just jumped into the van and went s home and said to my mam and Wull Shaw was just a couple of doors away. So I says I'll get Wull, so I went down and Bid,his wife said he was visiting Tam, his brother. So I popped up and got Wull, got my wife to phone Father Conway to alert him. Then we shot to the pit and Terence Moreland from Kilmarnock rescue brigade station, and there were other officials there. But Terry was there and we were the only ones. He said "Have you got any of the rest Dick". I says "No, I've just got word Terry, but I've got the van there if you want me to go back and get them" " The word I got from Tam Gibb was you better get down right away, since its been a long while since I was at your door" So we waited  and waited and there were only Wull and me. Finally Terence said "They'll be other people taking the word out, so we'll get down" So we went down. I can't remember the 1st of the rest of them that came in. We went in, the horse road, the intake, as far as we could and there was a screen but we couldn't go through it and we set up the fresh air base their and the men started coming in, the rescue men and Terry said " Right, do you know where you're going in here Dick" I said "No, I haven't been in this section for a few years" He said to Wull " What about you Wull" and he said "I work in their: I know it" and Terry said " Right your captain for the night and our job is to go in and look for bodies"

Going into the West Mine Section

If I remember rightly, the first two we got were Sugar McKean and Jimmy Marshall. Wull says "We better go in this scraper heading and we went in and that's where the bulk of the men were, and as we went in; It was a scraper heading but there was a hutch road for taking supplies in and we got the men.
Some of them were on the scraper, crawling. But they must have died like that they were still upright, other were lying on the other side of the scraper. But they were blackened. blackened. It was difficult to recognise them. Wull recognised quite a few. I recognised Johnnie Walker. But it was just our job to get the bodies. So we kept looking and searching and eventually we got 17.  But everything and all the dead fellows were and we just hoped at the time that it would have been sudden. I think probably it was, because even if the blast had not killed them, I think the carbon monoxide, hopefully, killed them quickly because some of them were in a position of crawling. So we went on. You know how there are airbags go into some sections. The fan blows it in through the airbags and it comes out the return. This airbag was lying on the ground and there was a wee glow in it. Well the oxygen had been cut off by screens, directed away from that, because if any more oxygen had got in the explosions stops when it runs out of oxygen. If there had been any oxygen got in, that would have been enough to trigger further explosions, if there was damp left, methane. So Wull says "Right boys" and we all gather round and urinated on it and put it out completely. We went on, we eventually got 16 men and got back to the fresh air base, and there was none that wasn't accounted for.

Everything was blackened

The next lot that went in, they may have been the full-time rescue men. But we had been directed to come down where all the work was, but the went through screens to go uphill: up towards the main haulage and when they went through the screen they got the last body. He must have been quite near it and ran through trying to escape, but it killed him. It was Jock Dalziel, I didn't see him. But they had been the identifying other bodies. We didn't attempt to take any of them out; We were just locating them. If there had been anybody alive, of course we would have hurried out with them, but they were all dead. Then they found Jock and that was all the men left accounted for. We knew the bulk of the men had got away. We knew there were men trapped, but we didn't know the number. Somebody must have brought the information out. They would have been checking all the tokens on the pit bottom, you know how each man had a token and they would be able to say the number of tokens that were missing. I couldnae say damage, it must just have roared its way through so quickly and burned everything black. It didn't bring down falls but everything was black. I didn't recognise some of the faces, but usually somebody else did. I think that's wee Johnnie Walker or Wullie Hendry or Poops Samson. We discovered who they all were when we came out. But finding the bodies was quite a shock, it really was; that bit is burnt into your mind..

Staying down the pit

The explosion I suppose would go through so quickly, it must have been a terribly fierce heat and it would blacken everything. But I think would pass through so quickly that it didn't start things burning like the airbags and props and suchlike. They were blackened but they weren't burning. That was the only thing and it was a wee glow. No much, like a cigarette end, a wee bit longer. But then that was all that would be needed, if it had got oxygen it would have came into a flame and maybe have started something else. We just went in with our equipment fully on and we weren't going to check for gas; we were going to get the bodies. That would have taken up time, checking. We knew it wasn't safe without our equipment fully on. We never carried one body as by this time there were lots of miners without equipment, volunteers, men who had been sent for and the came in and it was a long road to carry them and they were taking the bodies out in relays. So they took them out over e period of time and the time just went in. I think it must have been really quite early the next morning we were told we could up the pit.  Now for one, I had nothing to eat as I'd been out most of the day and been held up and was looking forward to getting a bite when I came home.  But we didn't have time and we went into the canteen and were given a meal. We had to bed down; we were not allowed to go home. The equipment would be recharged, ready for the next move. I couldn't tell you which day it was or anything like that. All the men were out and we were checking if there was any methane, we did check then, but really I think the management was concerned the place would overheat.

I wasn't at a funeral

That was the bit I find difficult. I can't mind the days we were there: we were just there. I wasn't at a funeral; the men were all buried by the time we were allowed to go home. We had of course to come up to get the oxygen cylinders recharged and fresh protosorb and suchlike. When we went in, we went to the stables and that was our headquarters and we sat in the stables. Every hour or two hours somebody had to go in and go right down into where it took place and take readings and to see if it was overheating or things like that. And we were there, looking back now, I can't tell you how long but we missed all the funerals. We'd come up and eat in the canteen. You were on call all the time that you were there. If you're at home and there was an emergency they'd have to gather you in again. If you were there, you're ready with your equipment to go right down.  The full time teams, the A teams, after all the men were out and all appeared to be secure: they went away. They went away and it was the local teams that were there checking all the time. I remember coming up. I remember coming up, I think it would be the 1st night but it would be early in the morning. There were a huge crowd of people, all anxious to know about their relatives. But we had been told not to discuss it, especially with newspapermen. When you went up the pit, and this applied to all teams, this would apply to the A teams. They took what information they had to a committee and they decided what was told to the press and suchlike.

Jimmy Findlay at the pithead

I came up the pit and I went to school with this fellow: Jimmy Findlay. Jimmy Findlay. Actually his cousin: Donald McGarry and his brother Andrew Findlay were both in it. He said "Dick." and I said "Jimmy, I'm not allowed to discuss it with you" He says I just want you to put me in the picture. Is there a hope for my brother and my cousin?" and I just went..... "Thanks" he said. I didn't discuss it with him, but I couldn't walk away and leave the fellow hoping, hoping and hoping. Young Donald McGarry, they were cousins. Him and our Gerard worked on opposite shifts and I think it was a week or a fortnight before: I'm not quite sure, but Donald had asked Gerard to swap. You work this week for me and I'll do your shift and we'll just keep it going like that, as it suited him better that way or Gerard would have been in it.  Young Donald: I've got his mash out in the garage. Gerard got it and I was doing dome work and I needed a mash and he says "There's Donald's".  It's got Donald McG - D McG Donald McGarry... I've still got it in the garage.

Talking about the men being killed.

I thought there was a better chance of being drowned than there was of an explosion; it came as quite a surprise. I suppose it must have done a lot of people, although I've heard of people igniting the methane, the firedamp. That's what firemen did at one time. They never let it accumulate too much, if there was a pocket of it: they just put their lamp in. But there must have been quite an accumulation of gas. Young Andrew Findlay, Donald McGarry, Wullie Hendry: I didn't run pals but I was friendly with all the men. Big Jock Dalziel, it used to be when we finished our shift, when we were dayshift, we'd get bathed and changed and a bit of dinner. We went up to Dykeside and there were two football teams played. Big Jock used to play in his pit boots. It was frightening when he went to kick with his boots on" Aye, I knew some of them like Poops Samson. I knew him and always spoke. Timmy Dillon; I knew Timmy well. But Jimmy Marshall, I was born on the Springhill Terrace and he had a big family and I knew all the Marshalls. Sugar McKean he was a neighbour, two or three doors down on the Midhouse Row: Oh I knew them. That was the thing about the Kames, it wasn't such a big pit that there were strangers: you knew practically everybody. It was like a big extended family. I mean we didn't always get on and there would be squabbles about hutches and suchlike. But that was it. It stopped there. Oh aye, it was a big extended family: I think that applied to most mining areas though.
Working in the pit was alright, the company was good and you knew everybody and were quite at ease. There were mornings that when you felt that you didn't want to get up and go anywhere near it! But it was a job and gave families a standard of living. See when the pits closed, started closing all through Scotland and in Ayrshire. Community's that had been well knit, started to get troublemakers because they had no work, they had no where to go. You know what the saying is "The Devil finds work for idle hands" and that's when these places changed. I suppose drugs got in and that caused mayhem. But I'd see them employed in the pit than get into the trouble that the do at the present moment.


Audio Memories

Dick Boland
Dick Boland Muirkirk

  1. hearing the news
  2. going in to the section
  3. finding the blackened bodies
  4. wee glow - staying down the pit
  5. wasn't at a funeral
    not to talk to the press

  6. jimmy findlay at the pithead
    gerry swapping with don mcgary
    don's mash
  7. talking about the men killed
    playing football with jock dalziel
    the extended family

Gerry Boland

Tommy Mackin

Nally Murray

Robert Lowe

Dick Boland

Peter Fyfe