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Pollitt's Prize - Tribute To Wigan's Mine Rescue Hero
Thursday 23rd February, 2006

A West Yorkshire community has honoured a son of Wigan for his gallant efforts in saving mineworkers from certain death.

The South Kirkby Mining Disaster of 1935 claimed the lives of 10 men.

But if not for the actions of Wiganer James Pollitt and a handful of others, it would have been more.

Mr Pollitt had left his Wigan homes to work the bigger mines of West Yorkshire and became one of the under managers of the South Kirkby pit at the age of just 25.

On the evening of August 22, 1935, two massive explosions rocked the mine, claiming the lives of 10 and leaving a further 11 injured and in need of rescue.

Rescue teams gathered from the surrounding districts and Mr Pollitt played a vital role in co-ordinating efforts to save the stricken mine workers along with colleagues George William Beaman and Norman Baster.

Mr Pollitt acted as captain for team of the third phase of the rescue attempt and bravely entered the blazing smoke-filled pit with little or no equipment.

With no regard for his own safety Mr Pollitt successfully brought one of the workers to the surface, saving him from certain death.

For his part in the rescue he was awarded the Edward VII Medal (which later became the George Cross) for gallantry.

Now, 70 years after Mr Pollitt's heroic efforts South Kirkby has donated a lasting memorial to Wigan in appreciation of his bravery.

A bronze statue of a miner, crafted by renowned sculptor Graham Ibbotson, now takes pride of place in the Mayor's Parlour at Wigan Town Hall.

Mayor and Mayoress of South Kirkby Cllr Tom and Irene Allsop travelled to the town to present to statute to Mr Pollitt's daughter Margaret.

Proud Margaret, who now lives near Blackpool, said: "My father was always very modest about the rescue and never talked about it much until in his later life.

"He was born and bred in Wigan but wanted to work the big mines in Yorkshire.

"On the day of the disaster he had been sent home to get some rest.

"The first we knew about it was when a neighbour asked my mother if she'd heard any news about her husband following the explosion.

"She quickly woke my father and he went down to the mine as fast as he could. It was a brave thing he did and we have always been proud of him."

Mr Pollitt died at his home in Springfield, Wigan in 1972 but Mayor of Kirkby Cllr Allsop said his deeds would always be remembered in their town.

"We are indebted to these brave men who risked their lives to save their colleagues.

"There is a memorial to them at the mine itself and their actions still resonate through our community to this day."

Accepting the statue Mayor of Wigan Cllr Brian Jarvis said: "It is fitting that the statue takes pride of place in the town hall because this used to be the mining college where Mr Pollitt trained.

"It is an honour and a privilege for me to accept this statue which is a fitting tribute to one of the borough's finest sons.

"Just like South Kirkby we will not forget James and his heroic efforts."

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