Gleision mining disaster: Mining in their blood

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Media captionManager Malcolm Fyfield, 58, and owners MNS Mining have been cleared of manslaughter charges

The industrial history of south Wales has become virtually synonymous with mining accidents and pit tragedies.

The loss of 439 miners at Senghenydd in 1913, 290 killed at the Albion mine in Cilfynydd in 1894, 45 deaths of Arael Griffin at Six Bells and, of course, the tragedy that shocked the world - 116 children and 28 adults in the Aberfan disaster of 1966. The list goes on and on.

Commemorations and remembrance services are held to mark each passing anniversary but it is generally felt that the every day dangers of mining are safely consigned to the history books

That changed on Thursday, 15 September when initial news reports of miners trapped at Gleision Colliery near the village of Cilybebyll in the Swansea Valley, were first published on the BBC news website.

Here the families of each of the four miners who died recall life before and after that ill-fated morning.

Philip Hill, 44

Image copyright SW Police
Image caption Philip Hill's father had pleaded with him to change his job

Philip Hill's niece Hayley Phillips said he carried on working in the mines in secret because her grandfather - his father Peter - did not approve and wanted him to change career.

"My grandfather worked underground from the age of 15 or 16 up until he retired at 60. He knew the conditions himself.

"When he retired he wanted Phillip to come away from the mine and take his occupation elsewhere.

"He spoke to Philip many times telling him to leave it go as there was other things out there. For some time Philip didn't even say he'd gone back."

Ms Phillips recalls that when relatives went to collect Mr Hill's belongings after the incident, among them was a letter applying for another job.

"He wrote a paragraph saying he'd always been a miner, always wanted to be a miner, it was in his blood," she says.

"He finished it with a sentence, which is something I can't really leave go of: 'I've got another 20 years to give to this mining industry if you'll give me the job'.

Image copyright (C) British Broadcasting Corporation
Image caption Specialist experts from around the UK were brought in to help with the search in September 2011

Garry Jenkins, 39

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Image caption Garry Jenkins had told his mother not to worry about his occupation

Garry Jenkins lost his previous job as a miner six months before his death. His mother Ann recalls how she tried to persuade her son not to return.

"He had been looking everywhere and he even looked at a job selling ice cream or being a postman. He would've taken anything," she said. "But the only job he could have was in the mine.

"I tried to stop him. I told him 'Don't do that Garry, I won't be able to sleep at night,' but he tapped me on the shoulder and said 'Don't you worry Mam Bach, I'll be all right'."

His father Malcolm said: "He asked me and I told him, it's up to you but the industry's finished. I couldn't have told him not to go back because he wouldn't have listened.

"I miss him a lot. As an ex-miner it's hard to accept but that's life. If it had been a fall I could accept it, but not this. It's killing me."

Mrs Jenkins spoke of how "everything" changed after his death.

"I think it's getting worse," she said. "He's on my mind all day, every day. I go to sleep, if I can sleep, and I wake up in the morning and the first thing - Garry - and I think maybe today he'll come home, but I know he won't."

Image copyright CPS
Image caption Timber props inside the Gleision drift mine where seven miners were working when it began to fill with water

Charles Breslin, 62

Image copyright S W Police
Image caption Charles Breslin loved his job, it was 'what he knew'

Mavis Breslin is another who said her husband Charles loved his job and was working in the mines when the couple met.

At times when he was out of work because of mine closures, he looked for jobs in different industries.

But, Mrs Breslin said: "It was mines he wanted to return to - it's what he knew.

"He never complained about it. He would say about some amusing incidents that happened sometimes.

"Funnily enough I did have concerns about this colliery. I don't know if I had picked up on things he was saying or what but yes there were some concerns but I can't put my finger on what exactly."

David Powell, 50

Image copyright S Wales Police
Image caption David Powell's wife had told her husband not to go into work that day

David Powell's wife Lynette has described the anger she feels at his loss because they had been so happy.

On the morning of his death, she recalled how she had told him not to go to work that day because he was upset that his mother had been diagnosed with cancer.

"It broke his heart when he found out two days before he died that she had cancer because his mother was his world," she said.

"They were so close. I did tell him to have a day off that day but he said no, he insisted, and I never saw him again."

She added: "You've got to cope but it's like the same as the day it happened. Me and my family have got to be together and have got to live day by day. We try to talk about him nearly every day.

"I feel more at ease when people talk about him because he was so funny."

Image caption Families of the miners have erected their own memorials to their loved ones in Godre'r Graig
Image caption A memorial to the four miners was unveiled near the colliery in October 2013 by the local community council

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