The 1950 gas accident

Kathleen Rymer’s Story

The opening of the memorial for the victims of the disaster at Consett Blast furnace plant in July 1950, brought back memories for me as after working in the Head office of the National Union of Blast furnacemen, Ore Miners, Coke Workers and Kindred Trades in Middlesbrough as a general clerk I transferred to the Cleveland and Durham district office in the same building in January 1950.

The district Secretary was Mr Thomas Walsh and he was contacted by our local Evening Gazette newspaper when the disaster happened. Together with our local Mayor a fund was opened for the victims dependants and I remember letters pouring into our office with cheques, postal orders and cash from all parts of the North East. One in particular remains with me, a postal order for two shillings and sixpence signed only from a widowed pensioner.

Whilst working in the Head office, circulars were sent out regularly to the branch representatives from Consett to South Wales and all iron and steel workers in Lincolnshire, the Midlands and West Coast. I remember at that time John Shanley was the delegate at Consett blast furnaces until his untimely death and the only successor I remember was John Foreman. The Coke Oven plant was represented by Alec Roberts who was the District Chairman for many years until his retirement in the 1950s.

I had the privilege of meeting some exceptional men who dedicated their lives to improving the wages and conditions of their fellow members. They were true gentlemen in every sense.

I also have something in common with the victims children as my own Father was fatally gassed on the 8th December 1940, at the Acklam Blast furnace plant. Because of the war the gas could not be burned off and the men had to rely on the wind to disperse it. One of my tasks in the Head Office was to enter death benefit claims in a ledger and industrial accidents were in red ink. Being curious I looked up the entry for my Father and also found similar tragedies had happened at other plants in the Country. These blast furnacemen died helping the war effort but I have never read of any tribute to them.

Thank you for reading this which is my contribution to the disaster.

Kathleen Rymer (nee Johnson)