PENSIONER Eddie Edwards believes he knows the cause of the Gresford Colliery Disaster.

The 97-year-old vividly recalls the accident which sent shockwaves across Wales and beyond when it claimed the lives of 266 men.

And Mr Edwards, of Cefn Road, Wrexham, reckons he could be the only person still alive who worked underground at the Gresford pit before the disaster.

A trained fitter, he went down the mine to help rescuers following the explosion which caused the dreadful loss of life in the Dennis section.

The official inquiry drew no firm conclusions about the disaster, which reaches its 76th anniversary on September 22.

But Mr Edwards, who is originally from Lodge and went down the pits as a 14-year-old boy, claims he knows exactly what sparked the explosion.

He said: “I was last down the Dennis section on the day before the disaster, which was a Friday.

“I had been asked by the boss to lay a new pipe down. Down there we called the shafts ‘roads’.

“I was working in the 142 road, which went off the main road towards Llay. They were putting a ‘drift hole’ through from there back to the main road for extra ventilation.”

Mr Edwards, who was on a day off when the disaster happened, said congestion caused by men and machinery meant the 142 was getting hotter and hotter.

He continued: “They needed to get in more air.

“The hole was about four feet square, which would then be lined with a canvas pipe to get the air in.

“The fireman, who did the blasting in the pit, would be making detonations to cut the drift.

“I believe that when he pressed the button for one of the charges early the next morning it caused a massive explosion because of all the gas that was building up.”

He added: “The explosion caused a fire, which spread to all the roads in the area.

“It was so loud they felt the rumble from it back on the surface in Gresford. It was a terrible thing.”

Mr Edwards spent many more years working in other local pits but, after the disaster, ventured underground at Gresford just one more time.

And that experience was itself memorable.

He said: “The explosion happened at about 2am on the Saturday and next morning my boss asked me to help with the rescue operation.

“At about 11am that day I took a horse and cart loaded with sand down the Dennis Section to help put out the fires which were still burning.

“On the way down I met Tommy Tilson, captain of the rescue team, who stopped me and said ‘Eddie, get out. The explosions are going from one side to another!’.

“That was enough for me and I did get back up to the surface as fast as I could.

“I knew all the men who died down there – we were all friends down the pit. I will never forget them.”