The Flooding of Waterloo Mine by Eric Warden-Heggie

The Flooding of Waterloo Mine - A unique opportunity to hear the recording of Harry Toomer BEM relating his heroic role in the disaster

Eric Warden-Heggie

Meeting of 12 July 2018

Many of the Toomer family were here to hear extracts from a direct copy of the original recording of the interview with Harry Toomer by Elsie Olivey in 1984 of his amazing rescue in 1949.

Harry left school at 13 and worked in the Co-op as a baker’s boy. As soon as he could get down the pits (at 14) he worked at Trafalgar Pit. He then moved on to the Waterloo Colliery at Upper Lydbrook. He was an Onsetter, working at the bottom of the cage loading on the trucks.

The trucks came roped to an endlessly moving belt. When this belt stopped moving on 30 June Harry saw the flood water. The Mine Manager appeared, he was very worried and said to Harry to get all the men out. Some of them working 2 miles away. In the recording you can hear the emotion building in Harry’s voice as he remembers.

The pumps were working, but so much water was coming in they were having no effect. Soon the double-decker cage was flooded and only one deck could be used to carry the men up out of the mine. The water then rose over the signal key so Harry had to get on top of the cage to be able to signal up to the surface. They got 177 men out this way.

As the water got deeper, men sat on top of the trucks and were pulled through the water to the cage. They had needed to duck right under the water for some distance here the cave roof dipped so low it was under the water. Five miners almost reached the shaft, then realised they could not get through. They were led out by a deputy along ‘New Road’ to a shaft that had only just been opened to bring in air, and were winched to safety three hours later two miles away. Everyone survived. Unfortunately, the five pit ponies had to be shut away so their panic did not injure the men, they died down there.

Bert Morgan, Morgan Teague and Cecil Brazington helped in the rescue. Cecil also rescued the stable cat. All four got the British Empire Medal and a special presentation evening was held at Cinderford Miner’s memorial Hall. His family say he never wore the medals until attending the unveiling of the memorial to the two brothers who died together in a mining accident.

Harry had joined the Band of Hope at 13 and remained teetotal all his life. He was an upstanding member of the community and his voluntary work included collecting for The Death Club (raising funds …). He died aged 101.

Dean Heritage Centre are currently digitising and cleaning up all of Elsie’s tapes, funded by Heritage Lottery Fund and Foresters’ Forest. Contact them for details.

Dave Tuffley at Forest of Dean Local History Society is researching the lives of lost miners, he has well over 700 now but is looking for more information.