Pit hero shielded friend in collapse

Michael Kane with grandson Ryan
Michael Kane with grandson Ryan

A FORMER local miner, once nationally hailed as a hero, has passed away.

While all around were panicking after a roof collapse at the Wellesley Colliery, one brave 20-year-old stayed calm – and ended up saving the life of a trapped pit colleague.

Tragically the collapse, which happened in February 1960, killed 52-year-old George Bell, of Den Walk, but had also threatened to take the life of another, 42-year-old Henry Selfridge, who was pinned to the ground.

However, a brave Kennoway lad called Michael Kane ignored the danger and, along with one or two others, started digging coal away to get to their workmates.

Once eventually through, Michael managed to claw his way to Henry, before ignoring worried calls to him that debris was continuing to fall.

Michael stood over his injured friend, shielding him from danger with his own body.

Sadly Michael, who was married to Sarah, passed away just a few weeks ago, but the story of his heroics will live on locally as a reminder of the dangerous reality which faced every pit worker on a daily basis.

The story attracted local and national media attention at the time as Michael, who later went to work in the construction industry with brother Eddie, was described as the ‘pit hero’.

Speaking at the time, Henry Selfridge told the press: “I’ll never forget Mick.

“That gesture gave me heart more than anything else.

“The first thing I saw was a light coming from a hole and I shouted to the lads to make it bigger. I noticed Mick Kane, a smallish chap, standing over my head keeping it clear of stuff.

“Someone said it looked as if more was coming down, but Kane kept standing there.”

While Michael stood over his colleague, other miners knocked strips of wood together to make a canopy and protect his head.

“I didn’t do much,” said the modest hero afterwards. “I just mucked in with the rest.”