Tributes to Gresford Colliery disaster survivor Albert who’s died a couple of months after celebrating 100th birthday

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Tributes have been paid to a “remarkable and adventurous” man who has died just a couple of months after he celebrated his 100th birthday.

Former lamp boy Albert Rowlands was the son of one of the 266 miners killed in a major disaster at Gresford Colliery when an explosion ripped through the pit on Saturday, September 22, in 1934.

Albert, who moved to live at Pendine Park’s Gwern Alyn Home in Wrexham in 2017, passed away peacefully at Wrexham Maelor Hospital.

The family have not yet been able to confirm a date for the funeral.

Only six of the colliers climbed out through the choking smoke and dust, away from the raging underground fires that consumed their workmates at Gresford Colliery.

The victims included Albert’s dad, John Rowlands, a Royal Welch Fusilier who had won the Military Medal at the Battle of the Somme in the First World War, whose  tally or name tag was left hanging on the hook in the lamp room.

After leaving the pit, Albert went on to have a remarkable career which included a stint working at the world-famous Carlton Club in London.

It was there  where he met a domestic servant called Maire from Tipperary in Ireland who became his beloved wife and the couple went on to have six children.

During the early days of the Second World War he raced to put out a fire at the nearby home of the mega rich Guinness family after a German incendiary bombed crashed through a skylight.

After being called up, he initially joined Royal Army Services before transferring to the Military Police and for much of his time in the Red Caps he was stationed in Italy.

Following the war, Albert worked for 25 years at a factory making chloride batteries before he and Maire went to live in Johannesburg in South Africa for 10 years to be near their children John and Ann who had emigrated there.

But they went to live in Spain and later returned to Wrexham after Maire suffered ill health.

The coronavirus pandemic meant the family had been unable to see much of Albert since March.

They came together once again for a socially-distanced outdoor tea party to mark the momentous milestone of his 100th birthday.

Among those who attended was his daughter, Patricia Oldham, a retired Wrexham accountancy firm receptionist.

She said: “He was an adventurous and adaptable man who survived the trauma of the Gresford Colliery disaster and went on to live a long and remarkable life. We will have lots of very fond memories to comfort us

“I wanted him to go to Gwern Alyn because it has such a good reputation. He was very well looked after and he was very contented living there. They were very good with him and he liked it there.”

When he was interviewed about the Gresford Colliery disaster few years ago, Albert recalled: “Us boys in the lamp room had to be there as soon as the men started arriving for work.

“We were cycling to work with my dad and he told us to get on or we’d be late so we went on ahead.

“He picked up his lamp at the other window so I never saw him again. Two others of his friends were with us and they were lost as well. They’re all still down there.

“After handing out the lamps we cleaned the ones from the afternoon shift and then settled down for half an hour or so. I used to smoke, though my dad didn’t know.

“People have said there was a huge explosion and the ground shook but that’s not true. All that happened was that telephone rang and the fireman said: ‘They’re all coming up,’ and the miners were appearing and they seemed to be panicked.

“We were getting the lamps in and handing out the tallies and then it all went quiet and the fireman said to me: ‘You’d better go for the ambulanceman.’”

After making the return trip to the other side of Wrexham on his bike, Mr Rowlands witnessed the rescue attempts from the surface. Conditions down the mine were dreadful with the rescuers battling fires and further explosions.

“They were coming back up and just shaking their heads and then they brought the bodies up,” he said.

“They only found 10 and they came up covered in blankets. I saw them. But by Sunday they had given up.

“I was always hoping to see my dad. You could always tell him even when they all looked alike, covered in coal dust, because he always had a big grin and lovely white teeth.

“But he never came back and his tally (the name tag placed on a miner’s cart) was left there hanging on its hook.”

According to Cindy Clutton, the manager of Pendine Park’s Gwern Alyn and Hillbury care homes, it had been an “absolute privilege” to provide care for Albert in his twilight years.

Cindy said: “We are all deeply saddened by Albert’s passing. He was a wonderful man who had survived the trauma of the Gresford Colliery disaster and gone on to live a remarkable and very full life.

“He will be greatly missed by us all because he was a popular and much-loved resident at Gwern Alyn.

She added; “It was lovely to be able to organise his 100th birthday  party with his family, albeit socially distanced and with face masks on, so we could celebrate him reaching such a momentous milestone. It was a memorable day with a memorable man”