“Someone shouted, ‘leave what you’re doing and fetch some stretchers,” said former miner John Keyworth who was caught up in Markham pit disaster in 1973.
John, now 72, of Loundsley Green, was working on the pit bottom on that fateful day.
The 32-year-old and his colleagues were in number 4 pit when they heard an accident had happened in neighbouring number 2 pit.
Not realising the scale of the disaster they ran to help and were confronted with a terrible sight which John said, “he will never forget”.
He added: “Men were lying tangled together with shattered legs. I remember one young lad screaming in pain. He was given morphine but was still screaming.”
The brakes on the cage carrying men down the mine had failed and it had plummeted to the bottom killing 18 miners and seriously injuring 11 others.
John, who started working at the colliery in Duckmanton a year before the tragedy, helped carry several men down a steep coal drift to number 4 pit, out of the shaft and on to coal lorries to be transported to the ambulance room.
First aid nurses attempted to deal with horrendous injuries while they waited for ambulances to arrive to take the men to Chesterfield Royal Hospital.
By 9am John, was sent home. He said: “Neighbours came to my door to ask what had happened. I stayed off work for two days. I thought I’ve got to go back now or I’ll never go back but it was a day in my life I’ll never forget.”
Malc Emberton, was a 19-year-old hand compositor working in the commercial department of The Derbyshire Times and his dad Walter was a miner at Markham.
By 7am on Monday, July 30 he remembered Hady Hill was a mass of fire engines, ambulances and police cars.
He said: “One of my work colleagues came through with the news that he had heard on the radio, that the cage had gone down the shaft at Markham. He then looked at me knowing that my dad worked there, and said ‘your dad’s not on days is he Malc’? My heart was in my throat, and I felt physically sick. In those days there was no mobile phones or internet, you just relied on the scant details that was on the radio.
“All I can remember is getting home at around 2.30pm. My dad was in bed and asleep, thank goodness.”
Malc’s dad started pony driving as a 14-year-old and had seen lots of things during his time as a miner but this was one of the few occasions that Malc saw him cry.
He said: “All he could keep saying was it was all his mates that were in the cage. It really shocked my dad.
“It’s one of the very few occasions that I had actually seen my dad cry. He later told me that if he had not gone to work the following day, he would never have gone again.”
The first two figures in a memorial to miners who lost their lives at Markham were unveiled at the 40th anniversary event on Tuesday, July 30. The commemoration event at Markham Vale, the site of the former colliery, saw Ireland Colliery Brass Band played at the service and wreaths and flowers were laid.
The memorial will be made up of 106 steel figures, to mark all the miners who lost their lives in three disasters, each carrying a tag with the name of one of the miners, along with their age and job.
Cllr Walter Burrows, an ex Markham colliery miner who was working on the day of the 1973 disaster and knew all 18 of the victims, spoke before around 300 people at the memorial ceremony. He said: “It was a morning that started out no different to any other at the colliery over the years, but ended in such tragedy. There was no 24 hour news in those days and the first the relatives knew was when we knocked on the door with the bad news. I hope I never have to go through that experience again.