THE photographs in this week’s trip down West Fife’s Memory Lane look back at one of the worst mining disasters in Fife.

It happened early on the morning of October 28, 1939, in the Diamond Section of Valleyfield Colliery. In all, 35 men lost their lives.

An explosion of fire damp took place in the section in which all the 33 men who were employed there must have been killed almost simultaneously. In the Culross Five Feet Section some distance away from the scene of the explosion, about a dozen other men were injured. Four of these men were taken to Dunfermline and West Fife Hospital. One of the men died shortly after admission and another passed away in the course of that afternoon.

The man who ministered to the Valleyfield Community in the traumatic aftermath of the tragedy was Newmills parish minister the Reverend Alexander Caseby (pictured). In an article from the Press archives from November 1993, he described a chilling premonition he experienced which captures vividly some of the scenes from that terrible event:

“One of my church elders called on me before going out to night shift. He was a young, strong man. That night, he looked pale, and his words sent a shiver down my spine. ‘I’m afraid this is goodbye. At my funeral service, please sing ‘Nearer My God To Thee’', he said to me quietly and unafraid. I tried to reason with him, saying: ‘In many of my serious illnesses I have felt like you but the mood passed and faith triumphed’. Calmly, he spoke again: 'It’s bound to happen. So many illegal things are happening down the pit. An explosion can take place at any time. I feel it will blow up tonight'.

"My wife was upset – so was I. He walked away with his head erect to the pit, a very brave man. Many other miners probably felt the same way that night. Duty called them and they obeyed. I understood their motive from my war service days.

"Early next morning, I was called to Valleyfield Colliery office. Hundreds of people were gathering and by the time I came out of the office, a dense mass of people stood in silence. The only movement was rescuemen equipped for emergencies and boys and girls carrying their pet canaries in expensive cages.

"The general manager handed me the casualty list. He whispered: 'Thirty-fife dead’. I read the names of the dead that included Robert McFarlane, the elder who had come to say goodbye the previous evening. It was an ordeal reading the names of men I knew were marvellous: no screaming: no panic. Sobs, yes, and long sighs. One girl, expecting her first baby, fell at my feet when her husband’s name was called.

"The church was packed for Bob McFarlane’s funeral service. We sang ‘Nearer My God to Thee’. Bob was a twin. His brother died with him.”

The photographs show people gathered at the pithead awaiting news anxiously of the fate of their loved ones.

A series of 'Old Dunfermline' DVDs, featuring old images and archive footage of Dunfermline, is available online at