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


Kames Colliery Disaster Audio Project

Tommy Mackin's story

I would say the Kames was a great pit to work in, I never, never had any second thoughts about getting up to go my work in the Kames. Even as a drawer as a faceman, we always had some good times, some good laughs. Hard work but you knew everybody, different where if you went to the Barony, we knew that you were  going to be a number, that's what you were going to be down there. Unless you got into the clique which they used to talk about, not that I knew about it, I just heard other ones saying that had went there and didn't like it all.  But I suppose it's just the pit that you're used to, but I liked the Kames.

It was always regarded as a safe pit, the only thing ever I heard from the auld yins, was if there was ever anything happened in the Kames, if there were ever a disaster, it would be water.  The auld yins always said that. But it was that safe a pit ICI did all their experimenting up there with their new explosives when they introduced Unigel and Dynafrax and all that. Before it was the John Noble stuff and that was banned in the mine, for coal blasting but used for stone, mine cutting.  But the coal they used the Unigel and Dynafrax  was introduced to give you rounder coal. These guys used to come up and in beside you and the holes were all bored on the nightshift. " We'll stem these holes for you Mr Mackin." Well I said I hope to Christ they blow, for this is my livelihood,  we were in a ton rate. I said if they don't blow its your responsibilitie. Because the were charging them light to get this round coal. It was that safe a pit that went on all the time and there were no restrictions. But as I say I always considered the Kames to be a good pit, but after the pan runs were finished they moved us to the old splitting and stooping system with a neighbour. We were in pairs and there was a fella and I ,Peter Wyper the called him and we worked for 17 years together as neighbours.

I could start from that day the 19th of November I was backshift it was just a normal day we went to our work and we went down the pit. You always met your neighbour maybe  on the pit bottom and had a chat to see what they had left you or what they hadn't left you, or what was needing done. We went in the man rider it was the old horse road and it was risen and brushed and was made into a man rider track and that taken us in. nearly enough as three quarters of a mile and we piled out there maybe fifteen carriages or just hutches, four in a hutch you piled out there at the end of the track. You went down a wee slope still on the main intake airway onto the main intake airway going into the 6 ft. That slope took you down parallel with the main haulage from the inside right out the pit bottom it took you onto the same level and there was maybe 40-50ft between them.

 So you went in the main airway till you came to the 6ft road end.  You wouldn't know it was the 6ft road end but we knew it was because when you got there that's were the air was divided there was a road went up to the right for the 6ft. You went up over the top of the section and the air went in there to supply the 9 ft, now when you were going in that mine, what always well it didn't worry me but I always found it a wee bit different.  As I told you before there were bits of floating coal.  The 1st one you got was the 6ft and the 6ft was worked into your right then we went in a couple of hundred yards to the 9ft.  But normally the 9ft would have been above the 6ft but there must have been a fault or something.  Because while they went in that airway, and then they went down into the 6ft workings. We went in there and went down a dook and into the 9ft working so there wouldn't be a great lot of difference.  But as I say went in there that day we went to our work in the 9ft and things were just normal we were down this left side, down a big dook left side of the bottom haulage and it was headings off of that. There were 8 or 10 headings but there were only about three of them getting worked at a time.

About ten past seven, Hughie Sampson be near enough that time, Hughie Sampson  was our shot firer and the wee fellow came up and he said drop everything you've got, switch off the electrical apparatus and make out for the 6ft road end and wait there for further instructions. So we did that as quickly as we could and went heading out the level and up the dook and out onto the main haulage road straight from there to the 6ft road end.

And we seen something we've never seen before and never likely to see again was the fumes. The 6ft came out onto the main haulage on a slope and the fumes were coming out of that round and onto the return. They were browny yellow fumes and it came out as if it was inside a casing there weren't here or there. It came out as smooth as a cloud in the sky sir and we were standing her dumbfounded and babbling amongst ourselves. Obviously there were no survivors nobody could survive down there, so we all feared the worst.  We were standing waiting on word and this fellow said wait to you see this Tam and he put his arm in it and you couldn't see his arm that's how thick it was. Hughie Parker he must have been Deputy or Oversman, I think he was the deputy. He was a fellow's name that was; he did a good job that night. I couldn't have told you the time but we must have left at ten past seven to get out there. I don't know how long we had been there before Hughie came out, because the activity they must have been bringing the survivors out the 6ft onto the fresh air base. He appeared and said Right boys just follow me so we went back in the haulage and into the right on the west mine and up onto the airway and them we came out and over the top of the 6ft to get to the fresh air base. Just like a flyover half the air went into the 6ft and half went into the 9ft.  So after we came out there young Reekie Smith, Archie Smith and Rab Mclaren was lying they were the two fellows who were the dookheid engineman and dookheider. They had been blattered with the blast against the wall it was bricked up and girdered so Hughie asked us to form a couple of stretcher parties. There were only two stretchers but that's all we needed at that time.

See the only body, the only thing that heard the explosion was the pit pony and it bolted. It bolted when it heard it, it heard before even  the fellow Mclaren and Reekie got battered against the wall. It went out the pony road and away out on the main haulage tae the stables and this wee fellow Jock Bennie was the pony driver and Jock was greetin and he was running to try and catch it. It belted out the road and it was going as hard as it could go. When it got outb to the stables the horse was shaking and you could see the whites of its eyes. That heard it, nobody else heard anything in the 9ft.  We never heard it.

Hughie Parker came to me  and says "Ave a wee bit bother, c'mon see if you can help us, there's big fellow Wullie Findlay in here, he's dug in he's no for moving because his brother was in there. His younger brother was in there. He says you know him you were reared beside him. I said aye I ken Wullie so I went in  and I don't know whether it was my powers of persuasion or just pure luck but I had a wee chat with him and said C'mon Wullie am needing you to be a stretcher bearer I need 8 there 4 of us. I'm needing another one. So I said if we get out you'll get up and your folks will up the top waiting to see. You van let them know you're ok, so I managed to get him away out the road, because Hughi wanted them out the road before the brigades arrived. So we carried them out the road on the two stretchers two teams of 4. We met Ben Hill and by this time Ben our gaffer was the under manager. He said what's wrong Tam and I telt him. I'll never forget the look on that mans face sir. He said on you'se go I'll just get away in; I'll never forget the look on Big Bens face. So we got out the bottom and this is what kind of mesmerised me at the time, because the wet man were waiting to get up the pit and there was always a blooming hullabaloo when they were waiting to get up because there was always somebody in front of somebody else. I got and it was Hughie Welsh was the bottomer and I telt him what had happened in there but he didn't emphasise any at all. There's been a bit of a disaster in the 6 ft. I'll leave these two fellows with you and we'll need to take the two stretchers back in.    

Archie Hunter and I took the stretcher back in and when we went Hughie Parker organised a number of us there and posted us as sentries in the airway to guide the brigade in when they came.  When they came we were instructed right boys on you go home and when you get to the pit bottom they'll be somebody there to talk to youse.  It was surveyor and he said when you go up here you're going to se a scene you've never seen in your life before. What we want you to do is go straight to the baths and talk to nobody.

And that what we done, it stopped at the laigh scaffold, we cried ground level and we came out a door there and hooked it to the baths and there hundreds of foalk there. It was main yard the old pit was here and the new pit was there and all in that were hundreds of foalk. I'll never forget that night 'cos when I came up. The fella I had worked before that. They put a machine in our place when Wyper and I was in it and put this fella Robert Lowe, Rab was killed in the disaster. He was the machine man, we worked with for a good two or three months. I was very friendly with him and we got to the surface and we were making for the baths and I heard his wife shouting at me. 

 She says "Oh there's Tommy he'll ken" and that woman and her daughter ran after me and I ran away from them and see went I went in the baths and I was absolutely bloody sick with frustration and anger. I was that disgusted. I just done what I was telt.  I couldnae face her. I didn't know if I could have faced her or not but I did what I was telt and went and ken this, Annie they cried her that women will never forgive me for the longest day she lives. There were three daughter and the three daughters survive yet. A couple of months after the disaster one of the lassies came up to the house one night and chapped the door I don't know wether it was Cathy or no.  She said Tommy could you go down and do my mum a favour.  Ken this sir, I was delighted when she said it and I went down and it was to put up a. They come up out that time with the hot bulbs. Bulbs to heat the bathroom, because you had no central heating in they days.  And it was to fix-up the bulb fitting to take one of the heater bulbs. Then we had a cup of tea. I was delighted I was that pleased. There was nothing mentioned mind ye about it, we didn't talk about it. But I was that pleased. 

Every knew everybody in the Kames I had a cousin killed in it - Wullie Hendry, Wullie was my cousin and funny enough my auntie Mary and my mother were sisters.  My Auntie Mary and us were always very thick. When we married at first my auntie Mary and Wullie, the one that was killed, they used to come over and keep Jenny company when I was bad boy on the backshift. They came over at night to keep her company. See this address were in the know, 111 Main street this was my Auntie Mary's House.  This is were her old building was. My Uncle Ben was killed in the pit twenty year before the disaster and then his son was killed in the pit. I think this house is jinxed. But as I say I knew them all. Big Bill Smith, Bill was a great pal of mine cos I was always that diplomatic, Bill was a bible puncher and I never swore when Bill came in maybe to do a bit of repairing or girdering wherever we were.  We had a great chat together but I never swore and Bill and I was great pals. Where Peter used to curse and swear. Peter was a desperado always desperate to get on if somebody came in to do something that was going to take a while. The length he used to go on. Bill used to say "See you Peter Wyper, Tommy Mackin could write a book about the coal howking. See you Peter Wyper you couldn't fill the back of a tuppeny stamp. Well old Jimmy Marshall he stayed up the row, Bill Mackay staid  down the row. Aye I kent them all

Oh it was a sad, sad, sad day. It was cauld and it was November and every occasion was a sad one.  But I've mined of auld Jimmy Marshals it was Tom McCloud was the under manager and he was the gospel hall man. I've always mind oh that funeral, he went oan and oan and oan and oan and oan and it would have bloody froze you to death.  Where the rest oh them it was all different ministers and priests and different things. Sad, sad day so it was. Muirkirk, when I telt them that when they had the meeting afore they were making the arrangements.  The disaster Muirkirk changed forever. The lot of fellow, I don't think wee Jock Bennie the pony boy; I don't think he ever came back.  After that you had an exit to the English pits. To Fort William to the pulp mills and to Corby to the steel mills.  The village just changed. The new house weren't long built and the community was quite good at the time because the foalk who were in the houses realised the benefits they had got coming from the Miners Rows into them.  

Well the thing changed completely, it immediately became a group 2 mine or a part 2 mine.  It became a safety mine before that you smoked, you had the carbide lamp.  Now see the carbide lamp, I think it was the same year as the disaster. The safety lamp, the camp lamp was introduced up to then we had the carbide lamp and see if they still had the carbide lamp, I don't think the disaster would have happened because the men knew there was gas there. If you ever read the Kames enquiry you would have seen where the used to light a bit of paper and put it to the shot holes and it went wooof!!!!  That was the thing the Deputy came in to the deputies station Right Tam right Peter on you go.  He hung his lamp up at beside his pit bag! Nobody ever tested for gas that I ever seen until once it became a Part 2 mine. Then we were all trained.  I carried a lamp for every place. Every second miner carried a lamp. I would carry the lamp and Peter would carry the studs pick blades and we both carried 5lbs of explosives apiece.  If the still had the carbide lamp there's a probability it would have never happened. They would have picked it up. It got months and months and months the build up. When you read the enquiry what was going on was absolutely ridiculous as far as safety was concerned with explosives and different things. Im not saying the men, they weren't reckless workers they were good workers a lot of good workers and they practiced safety because the Kames was like parts of the Barony the coal was very high.  You were working is seams 9 and 10 feet high, you had to have a system of working. You couldn't get up to bore the holes so we sued to side coup a hutch and stand on the top of the hutch to bore your taps. But what you generally done was when you had so much coal lying you got up and bored things for the next cut. But they worked fairly safely, I would say but the recklessness was the explosives and not testing for gas and these things and these things all happened.


Audio Memories

Tommy Mackin
Tommy Mackin

A great pit to work in

Down the West Mine on the night of the explosion

The fumes of the explosion

Jock Bennie's Pony

Carrying the survivors out

The families on the pithead

Kent them all

The village after the disaster

The pit after the explosion

More Audio Memories

Gerry Boland

Nally Murray

Robert Lowe

Dick Boland

Peter Fyfe