East Plean 13 July 1922

12 killed by explosion:

  • John Barlow, 29, single
  • Thomas Bryden, 50, widower
  • Daniel Forsyth, 17, single
  • Alexander Henderson, 19, single
  • John Hunter, 31, single
  • William Robertson Lennie, 50, married
  • James Murdoch Jarvie, 18, single
  • Bernard McCann, 30, married
  • James McGowan, 35, single
  • David Munnoch, 21, single
  • William Munnoch, 35, married (brothers)
  • James Wilson, 31, married

Newspaper Reports

Scottish Mine Explosion - 12 Lives Lost - Rescue Party's Danger
Glasgow July 13 - Twelve miners were killed and five injured as the result of a terrible explosion which occurred in No. 4 pit in Plean Colliery, Plean, near Stirling, this afternoon. Shortly before 2 o'clock the day shift were about to stop work for the day, when an explosion occurred in one of the main workings about a mile from the pit bottom. Between fifty and sixty men were in the section at the time, and many of them immediately rushed in the direction of the pit bottom. Seventeen men, however, were found to be missing. The afternoon shift was just gathering at the pithead before descending to work. In view of the fact that the scene of the explosion was so far away all they heard was a faint detonation and the sudden up-blow from the shaft.

Though the explosion was not heard in the village, the news of the disaster spread quickly, and in a very short time practically all the inhabitants of the little mining hamlet had gathered at the pithead. Volunteers for rescue work were plentiful, but on account of gas in the pit they were unable to go to the rescue of the entombed miners.

Rescue brigades were summoned from all parts of the Scottish coalfield, and several of them were quickly on the spot. Five men were discovered first of all, suffering from the shock of the explosion and gas.

Some time later rescuers, working at great personal danger on account of the gas and treacherous debris, came on five bodies. They were horribly mutilated by the force of the explosion, and the faces were burned beyond recognition.

About 7 o'clock they discovered another body, and by 10 o'clock all the others were recovered.

Names of the Killed
The majority of the men who have lost their lives belonged to the Bannockburn district. Many of them were married men with large families.

The names of the killed are:
William Munnoch, Station-road, Bannockburn.
David Munnoch, Douglas-street. Bannockburn.
James McGowan, New-road, Bannockburn.
Bernard McCann, East Murrayfield, Bannockburn.
William Lennie, Newlands-row, Bannockburn.
John Barlow, New-road, Bannockburn.
James Wilson, Dorston-crescent, St. Ninians.
Thomas Bryden, Station-road, Bannock-burn.
John Hunter, Whins of Milton.
Alexander Henderson, 29, Red-row, Plean.
James Jarvie, Denny-road. Larbert.
David Forsyth, 32, Muirale House-road, Bannockburn.

So suddenly did the disaster occur that the majority of the survivors have only a very vague idea of what happened. A man who was only three hundred yards from the place where the explosion occurred, said:- "I have never heard such an awful roar. The force of this explosion extinguished our lamps, and in the darkness those of us who could stumbled along the road to the pit bottom."

The explosion is one of the most disastrous in the history of the Stirlingshire coalfield. The No. 4 Pit was always been regarded as a very safe one, operations being carried out in some parts with naked lights.

No official statement on the cause of the disaster has yet been issued, but among the miners the opinion is held that firedamp was exploded through the fire of a shot. The man who fired the shot, which is supposed to have caused the explosion had just before been speaking to some of the survivors. It was the last shot he had to fire to-day. He left the men to whom he had been speaking, and was never seen alive again. His body was the last to be recovered.

It is reported that the pit has now been cleared of gas, ventilation having been restored. [The Times14 July 1922]

Scottish Pit Explosion - Cause Not Yet Discovered
No cause has as yet been discovered for the explosion of fire-damp at Plean Colliery, near Stirling, on Thursday afternoon, which, as announced in our later editions yesterday, resulted in the death of twelve miners, and injuries to five others.

The explosion occurred in one of the main workings, about a mile from the bottom of No. 4 Pit. Between fifty and sixty men were in the section at the time, which was just before the day shift ended work for the day.

The Chief Inspector of Mines for Scotland visited the colliery yesterday and examined the section of the pit where the explosion occurred. Mr. Bridgeman, Secretary for Mines, has telegraphed his condolences with the relatives of the victims. All the bodies, blackened and charred, have been recovered and removed to their homes. The interments will take place tomorrow and on Monday. The injured men are progressing favourably. [The Times15 July 1922]

The Plean Pit Disaster - Scenes After the Tragedy - Survivors' Narratives
Stirling, Friday Evening - The atmosphere of tragedy lay heavily over the mining communities of Bannockburn and Plean today. The terrible disaster at the Plean Colliery Company's pit with, as reported in these columns yesterday, its death-roll of twelve, is among the worst in the history of the Stirlingshire coal-field. The swiftness of the tragedy has left the people half-dazed, and though the countryside was bathed in sunshine today the shadow of bereaved homes was across the hearts of these communities. Everywhere in both places, which I visited, groups of men and women talked of the disaster. Along the three miles of road that links the two villages men sat in twos and threes, some of them in that characteristic sitting posture of the .miner, and their subject of course was the same. The note of doom was in the air. Many went up the hill behind Plean, where among trees the colliery workings stand, with a melancholy interest, knowing that some of their comrades will walk the road no more.

After last night, when there was enacted that moving nocturne of the pit-head calamity with anguished women waiting for news, there was silence today, save for the sound of the pumping operations which were proceeding:. The poignancy of of the situation was emphasised by the coming and going of the black vans which conveyed the bodies of the dead miners to their relatives. The bodies were laid overnight in the temporary mortuary, the joiner's shop at the pit-head, to which they were taken on their recovery from the mine, and this morning they were placed in coffins brought from Glasgow and removed. As the vehicles containing them passed through the villages there were touching scenes. Men stood with heads bowed and uncovered, and women and children wept.

All the deceased, whose names were given yesterday, were held in great respect They were described to me as being the best type of steady, industrious miner. Three of them were just youths. Alexander Henderson, of East Plean, was 20, James Jarvie, Larbert, 19, and Daniel Forsyth, Bannockburn, 17. William Lennie and James Bryden, who were 48 and 50 years of age respectively, were the oldest of the victims. Both resided in Bannockburn, to which nine of the men killed belonged. If there was consolation at all in the dark hour it was that the death-roll, stricken though the district has been, might have been more extensive, and that the survivors who were injured were progressing satisfactorily.

The list of the injured is as follows:- W. M'Callum (shock). Frank M'Cann and his son, Alexander M'Cann (shock), Michael Cafferty (shock), and Henry Haining (slightly injured about the head.) Bernard M'Cann, who lost his life, was another member of the family named above. He served with the Army in the war.

Messages From Miners' Leaders
In the course o£ the day the following messages were received by the local miners' organisation by telegram:-

From Mr Frank Hodges:- Officers of Miners' Federation learn with deep regret of the disaster at Plean Colliery. Please send me full particulars to Clifton House, Blackpool, and convey our deepest sympathy to the relatives of the deceased and also to the injured survivors.

From Mr Robert Smillie, president of the Lanarkshire Mine Workers' Union:—Please convey to relatives of the deceased miners our entire sympathy and condolence with them in their present terrible bereavement. Also ask injured workmen to accept our earnest wish for their speedy recovery.

Secretary For Mines' Message
Mr Masterton, HM. Inspector of Mines, received the following message from Mr Bridgeman, the Secretary for Mines:-

Have learned with deep regret of the sad loss of life at the disaster yesterday. Please convey to the relatives of the men lost my sincere sympathy and condolences. Shall be glad to know how the injured are progressing.

A Race For Life
Accounts given me of the suddenness of the disaster suggest that it was fortunate that so many of the workers succeeded in making their way to safety. It is of interest to locate more exactly the part of the workings where the explosion occurred It happened in the Carbrook section of the pit, and in a part of it known to the men as Torwood. The larger area takes its name, I understand, from a farm in the vicinity, and the extreme point of the working where the men were killed from the estate under which it lies. From the shaft bottom to the exact scene of the tragedy is a walk of something like a mile and a quarter, according to the men's estimate. The majority of the victims knew this particular place well. In most of the workings naked lights are used, but in the Carbrook section safety lamps have been employed. The tragedy occurred within a comparatively few minutes of the end of the shift which was the last but one before the holiday. It was nearly half-past one in the afternoon, and the men were due to come up at a quarter to two o'clock. Some of the men indeed are said to have begun preparing to knock off, and in this way were at an advantage when the shock of the explosion came to them. Nevertheless, some knowing the danger into which they had been plunged rushed for the pit-mouth leaving their clothing behind them.

The horror of that first moment was indicated to me. That something untoward had happened was obvious, and the position of men amid the darkness and the unknown can be better imagined than described As a result of the explosion lights were blown out. For the men nearer the scene of the disaster it became a race for life. "What I heard," said Mr William Swan, who has been ten years in the pit, "was a sudden roaring like a boiler giving of steam. I knew something had happened, and this was soon confirmed, for when I was making for safety I was overtaken by clouds of dust and reek. I felt it difficult to breathe. I found myself gasping, and my legs seemed to be getting weak. Half blinded and choking I managed to get into clearer air." This is but one experience. Mr Robert Inglis, who is a prominent union official in the district, told me that the first warning he got of the explosion was the concussion in the air. He was working a considerable distance from the occurrence and nearer the pit-mouth, but he distinctly felt the atmospheric disturbance, and he sought safety, with only a few minutes to spare. Mr Inglis, who has been in the pit since it was opened over twenty years, told me that he recalled no serious accident in it prior to this. The Carbrook section is widely scattered, and the workings go down towards the Torwood point. The last part of the subterranean dash to safety which the men made was up an incline where, in ordinary circumstances, the journey is done in hutches.

Overcome By Fumes
The M'Canns, father and son, were among the survivors working at a point nearest the fatal area, and though both were still suffering from shock, they simply but graphically related today their memorable experience. Mr Frank M'Cann, the father, said:- "I was working on the coal face with my son Bernard and Willie M'Callum when the terrible explosion took place. I knew it was something of that description, and immediately picked up my light and shouted to the two boys that it was gas. We had only about 100 feet to go to reach the level road, but on getting about half-way we were knocked down in the dark. We met the whole fumes - just clouds. We had a terrible struggle to get into the level road, and after that I could not tell any more. It was an awful explosion. I don't understand why my son Bernard did not escape. I lost him at the foot of the heading. I thought when I was rescued that he would be rescued also. If it had not been for Alec, my other boy, I don't think I would have been rescued either, as he came to my assistance along with Mick M'Cafferty. After they got in a second time I thought they might have got at Bernard. I have 35 years' experience in the pits, and have seen a good many things happening, but I never saw anything like this. No one has any idea of what it is unless he has come through it. It would not be more than five minutes after the explosion that we were overtaken by the fumes."

Shouts In The Dark
Alexander M'Cann, who went to his father's assistance along with M'Cafferty, gave the following account of his experience:- "I was coming out with a hutch when it happened, and all I heard was a terrible crash. Then the fumes knocked out my lamp. There was another drawer in front of me, and we went up together by the heading. We shouted for help, and saw two men with lamps. I got one of them to go back with me to look for my father and we went in as far as we could get. We heard moans, and M'Cafferty and I both shouted, but got no reply, so we proceeded until we came to M'Callum, who was lying with his face down. We were forced to turn back owing to the gas, but went in a second time, and were successful in getting him out to purer air. We waited there till somebody came. I went out by the main and got water for the man, but could not get in again. We then waited. When my father and the other fellow came out I went up along with my father and helped to carry him. I heard that all had been saved before I came out.

Alexander M'Cann has not slept any since the disaster. He is suffering from several bruises on the face and complains of shooting pains in the head.

The Rescue Work
The work of the rescue parties was arduous and dangerous, but it was undertaken with a will and regardless of the risks. As so often happens on these occasions, the calamity evoked a great deal of quiet heroism. More than once a call was made at the pithead for reinforcements for the rescue parties, and every time more men than required eagerly stepped forward. Rescue brigades were forward from Coatbridge and Larbert, equipped with all the precautions, which, happily, need but rarely be called into operation. They were provided with oxygen, and they took down for the purpose of testing the air both birds and white mice. The explosion has, it is said, wrought considerable havoc in that part of the workings. There were, so far as could be ascertained, three heavy falls and some minor ones, and the risks of the rescuers were-increased by the possibility of a collapse during their work. Mr James Hamilton, the manager, and Mr R. M'Alpine, the assistant manager, helped in these efforts, and both were unable to be about today, as they were suffering from the effects of the fumes. When the bodies of the men had all been brought up, Mr Hamilton, I was informed, broke down, and as a miner said feelingly, "cried like a wean."

Praise For Rescue Parties
In the course of an interview, Dr Morrison, Bannockburn, who was down the pit over eight hours, said:- "At the pit bottom the atmosphere was very thick. My partner, Dr Fleming, went forward to join the rescue party, while I took up my position at the pit bottom to see to the removal of the rescued men up the shaft to the surface. A considerable time elapsed before any news came from the Carbrook section of the pit, where the explosion had taken place; and when word did come, it was to the effect that all the men left in the section were almost certain to be dead. The rescue brigade from Coatbridge had, in the mean-time, arrived at the pit bottom, and I went forward into the workings with them. The Carbrook section of the pit is a very long way from the pit bottom, and by the time we reached there the rescue parties already at work had come on the bodies of the two Munnochs and that of M'Gowan. As the hours wore on several bodies were got out of the poisoned area, and dispatched to the surface. It was a wearying-out job for the men employed. The air was impure, and many falls had taken place from the roof and the sides of the workings, as a result of the explosion, which made the stretcher work arduous. It is difficult to single out anyone for special mention where so many were doing most heroic and dangerous work. Mr Hamilton (manager) and Mr M'Alpine (under manager) were foremost in the efforts to get to the 'face' where the bodies lay, and they suffered severely from the effect of after-damp. I was very much impressed with the eager and heroic manner in which the workers carried out their difficult and melancholy duty, and too much cannot be said in praise of them. No task seemed too difficult for them; and they faced the dangers even almost to the point of recklessness."

The Cause of the Accident
The cause of the disaster is unknown, and is the subject of conjecture. One theory is that a fuse may have caused it. Mr Masterton, HM Inspector of Mines, was at the colliery today making investigations, and Mr Wallace Thorneycroft, the managing director of the Plean Colliery Company, was again in attendance. Work, except essentials, such as pumping, was suspended entirely today. As a matter of fact, as I have said, the men's holiday begins to-day, and was to have continued till Wednesday next. The curtailed holiday was the desire of the men. Until the past two or three months they had had a slack time, and were working only two or three days a week, but in the interval the demand for coal has so greatly improved that the men have been employed the full time of eleven days per fortnight. They preferred to make up the lost time by having a short holiday and making the most of the present busy period. Their holiday has been tragically ushered in, and, instead of holiday mood, the countryside is overcast with gloom. When the part of the workings affected will be ready for reoccupation is not known meantime.

Statement in Parliament
In the House of Commons, yesterday:
The Secretary for Mines (Mr Bridgeman), in reply to Major Glyn (C.L., Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire) said he had received no official information regarding the deplorable mining accident at Plean, near Stirling, except a telegram received that morning from the Divisional Inspector who went to the colliery on receipt of the news of the disaster. That telegram reported the death of twelve persons, and stated that the accident occurred in a part of the pit-where safety lamps were used. [Scotsman 15 July 1922]

On Saturday the funerals took place to the New Cemetery, Bannockburn, of Bryden. and M'Cann, two of the men who lost their lives in the Plean Colliery explosion, and yesterday Hunter's remains were laid to rest in the parish churchyard of St Ninians. Hunter's funeral was a masonic one, and on the route of two miles from his house at Whins of Milton to the churchyard crowds congregated and paid their last tribute of respect. Torrential rain was falling as the procession reached the churchyard but, despite the discomfort, the people remained until the last rites had been performed. A large number of wreaths placed on the grave.

This afternoon the funerals of the seven Bannockburn men are to take place. [Scotsman 17 July 1922]

Plean Pit Disaster Relief Fund - A county fund opened in Stirling in aid of the sufferers through the Plean Pit Disaster amounts to £950, while the Sentinal newspaper fund for the same purpose has reached £350. [Scotsman 10 August 1922]