‘I can still re­mem­ber their faces’

Springhill re­mem­bers the 1958 min­ing dis­as­ter with me­mo­rial hymn sing

The News (New Glasgow) - - PICTOU COUNTY - BY DAR­RELL COLE dar­rell.cole@amher­st­news.ca Twit­ter: @ADN­dar­rell

Each time the hand­bell rang, dif­fi­cult mem­o­ries came flood­ing back for Hilton McNutt.

Those haunt­ing rec­ol­lec­tions came dur­ing a hymn sing and me­mo­rial held at St. An­drew’s Wes­ley United Church in Springhill Oct. 23 mark­ing the 60th an­niver­sary of the dis­as­ter.

McNutt, 89, of Springhill, was eat­ing his lunch at the 12,500foot level when the Num­ber 2 mine bumped on Oct. 23, 1958. As the com­mu­nity gath­ered to re­mem­ber the 75 men who lost their lives, McNutt thought of ev­ery one of them.

“I knew them all. I saw them ev­ery day, they were my friends,” said McNutt, who spent countless hours in the mine in the days fol­low­ing the third and fi­nal ma­jor dis­as­ter in Springhill’s mines. “The things I saw I’ll never for­get, and days like to­day bring all those mem­o­ries back. I can still re­mem­ber their faces.”

“The things I saw I’ll never for­get, and days like to­day bring all those mem­o­ries back. I can still re­mem­ber their faces.” Hilton McNutt

McNutt, who be­lieves he sur­vived be­cause it was his turn to go for lunch, made it to the sur­face nearly three hours af­ter the bump and was im­me­di­ately sent back into its depths as a draegerman, dig­ging through the de­bris and walls to get to the min­ers still trapped.

Also at­tend­ing the cer­e­mony — which in­cluded per­for­mances by a com­mu­nity choir, so­los by Clare Can­ning and the singing of one of Mau­rice Rud­dick’s songs by his daugh­ters Leah, Va­lerie and Sylvia — was Harold Brine, the last sur­viv­ing miner who was trapped for sev­eral days at the bot­tom of what was at the time one of the world’s deep­est coal mines.

It was the first op­por­tu­nity Brine, who now lives near Fred­er­ic­ton, had to thank peo­ple like McNutt, who risked his life to bring him and the other trapped min­ers to safety.

“It all hap­pened so fast when we were res­cued, we never had the chance to say thanks,” said Brine, who also ex­pressed his grat­i­tude to Can­ning and oth­ers for the cer­e­mony. “Just think, that night that I came out alive and all those peo­ple be­tween me and Mau­rice Rud­dick and the top of the wall never sur­vived. I’ve of­ten won­dered how they died un­der all that rub­ble.”

‘Wa­ter­shed mo­ment’

The ec­u­meni­cal ser­vice saw sev­eral hun­dred peo­ple crowd into the United Church. Some were rel­a­tives of those who died and those who emerged, and at 8:06 p.m. — the time of the bump six decades ear­lier — ev­ery­one paused in a mo­ment of si­lence fol­lowed by the read­ing of the names of the min­ers who lost their lives.

Bill Kempt, whose fa­ther Gor­ley sur­vived the dis­as­ter but was haunted by its mem­o­ries un­til a heart at­tack took him at age 47, said the bump was a “wa­ter­shed mo­ment” for many in the com­mu­nity.

“I was just think­ing about the list of 75 men and I know I prob­a­bly de­liv­ered pa­pers to a lot of them and chased a lot of their daugh­ters,” said Kempt, who was 15 at the time of the dis­as­ter. “Five or six of them were guys who hunted with Dad.”

Kempt said it wasn’t un­til the 50th an­niver­sary of the bump that guilt felt by some bump sur­vivors and their chil­dren were able to have some peace about the tragedy.

“I was there when my friends found out their dads were dead and mine emerged alive,” said Kempt. “I think at the 50th, a lot of those feel­ings got worked out.”

He said it was spe­cial to see Brine once again as it was Brine and Kempt’s fa­ther that crawled through the labyrinth of rub­ble to get to the pipe to yell for help.

Lt. Stephen Toyn­ton of the Sal­va­tion Army re­flected on the night.

“This is much more than a hymn sing. It’s a beau­ti­ful evening, songs (were) beau­ti­fully cho­sen and heart­felt words, which is in sharp con­trast to what hap­pened 60 years ago al­most to the minute.”

DAVE MATHIESON/AMHERST NEWS

Hilton McNutt, left, who was a draegerman in the 1958 Springhill Bump, speaks with sur­vivor Harold Brine and Bill Kempt, whose late fa­ther sur­vived the dis­as­ter, dur­ing a hymn sing at St. An­drew’s-Wes­ley United Church in Springhill on Oct. 23. The event marked the 60th an­niver­sary of the dis­as­ter that took the lives of 75 coal min­ers.

DAVE MATHIESON/AMHERST NEWS

John Backa, left, and Edna Wil­son read the names of the 75 coal min­ers killed in the 1958 Springhill mine dis­as­ter while Clare Can­ning rings a hand bell in mem­ory dur­ing a hymn sing and me­mo­rial at St. An­drew’s-Wes­ley United Church in Springhill on Oct. 23, which marked the 60th an­niver­sary of the dis­as­ter. All three lost their fa­thers in the dis­as­ter.

DAVE MATHIESON/AMHERST NEWS

The Rud­dick sis­ters — Leah, left, Va­lerie and Sylvia — sing a song writ­ten by their fa­ther Mau­rice Rud­dick dur­ing a hymn sing and me­mo­rial at St. An­drew’sWes­ley United Church in Springhill on Oct. 23 mark­ing the 60th an­niver­sary of the dis­as­ter.

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