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1906 Courrières Mine Disaster

Brotherhood of Miners


Image: Women seated in a circle waiting in the hope of seeing their husbands or sons emerge after the disaster

March 10 1906 fell on a Saturday. On this Saturday in France over one hundred years ago, miners were working in conditions which were a recipe for an impending disaster. 

At 6.30am, a huge explosion rocked the Pas-de-Calais region in the north of France.  Families were changed forever, an all too familiar story for those whose men worked underground. 

Like many coal mine incidents such as the Pike River disaster in New Zealand in 2010, the 1906 Courrières mine disaster was caused by flammable toxic gas igniting. The resulting explosion sent flames racing through the rest of the mine. 1,099 miners died, with many more injured. Rescue attempts were supported by help of expert teams from Germany, as well as Paris. A public appeal for funds to help the victims and their families was quickly established. 

The news reverberated throughout the world and international mining communities. The mining fraternity had no political borders when it came to helping the brotherhood of miners. 

‘Ordinary’ New Zealand citizens were amongst those who also responded to the news from the northern hemisphere. The appalling accounts of deaths and injuries as well as the united rescue attempts of survivors galvanised many into action. 

Just a few days after the 1906 Courrières disaster, the New Zealand Herald carried a letter to the editor. Under a headline ‘Relief Fund for the Sufferers’,  R. Boeufve, the Consul for France in Auckland, New Zealand wrote:

‘On hearing of the appalling mining disaster at Courrières, in France, several residents of this city have spontaneously forwarded to me contributions for the relief of the families of the unfortunate victims. A list of these generous donations will be published and any further contributions towards the relief fund will be gratefully received at this Consulate for transmission to the Foreign Office in Paris.'

It is likely that older New Zealand miners who joined the World War One Tunnelling Company and took part in an underground war in the Pas de Calais region, were among those who contributed to the appeal for funds. At the very least, they would have known about the coal mining district in the north of France, the loss of lives, and the subsequent strikes for better conditions that took place a decade before they arrived in the same area. 

During that war another huge mine explosion, this time deliberate, would destroy an almost unimaginable number of lives from a single mining event.

The above information was contributed by  Sue Baker Wilson QSM.  Merci Sue.