VOLUNTEERS and visitors paid their respects on Thursday evening to commemorate the 80th anniversary of a mining disaster.

A service was held at the Lancashire Mining Museum, home of the former Astley Green Colliery, where five men lost their lives in an underground fire on June 6, 1939.

The pit manager, John Highton Hewitt, who led the firefighting operations, was one of the men that died.

Rescue attempts were made very difficult by the build-up of toxic gases below ground.

Many men risked their lives to bring the bodies of the victims to the surface.

It was the first serious incident since it was sunk in 1908.

At the time, newspaper reports quoted 25-year-old collier John Skise, 25. of Manchester Road, Tyldesley.

He said: “I didn’t hear any explosion, but there is such a racket that it would have to be tremendous for us to hear it in our seam.

"A fireman came and said 'there’s trouble in the Crombouke mine. There are men there. I want you lads to come and help me get them out.’

"When I got there it was very hot and there was smoke hanging about.”

After the explosion a call was sent to the Mines Rescue Station at Boothstown.

Ten rescue men, who had been putting on their breathing equipment as they were being driven to the pit, immediately went down.

They were met by other explosions before they had time to reach the five men.

A special art installation, No Afternoon Shift, has been created by museum volunteer Carol Parkes reflecting the tragedy.

Leigh Journal: Leigh Journal: Leigh Journal: Leigh Journal: Leigh Journal:

It is based on the message hung on the colliery gates to let workers’ families know what had happened.

Many relations of those killed in the tragedy attended the 6pm service next to the pit head conducted by Revd Martin Cox, team rector for Astley, Tyldesley and Mosley Common.

Councillors were in attendance too.

READ > 95-year-old veteran given honour of laying wreath at D-Day 75th anniversary service

Leigh Journal: Leigh Journal: Leigh Journal:

The museum’s volunteers created an exhibition about the fateful event and visited the graves of the five victims to lay a single red rose in memory of them.

Leigh Journal: Leigh Journal: Leigh Journal: Leigh Journal:

The museum area by the pit head is to become a memorial garden, with benches to provide a tranquil space for visitors.

The five men who died in the tragedy were:

John Highton Hewitt - pit manager

John Griffith -, Under-looker

Joseph Keegan - fireman

Eli Smith - collier

William Warhurst - collier