On Saturday, September 22 1934 a violent explosion ripped through the Gresford colliery coalfield.
Minutes later 266 men and boys lay dead in one of Britain’s worst coal mining disasters.
Only 11 bodies were recovered, the rest were left entombed in the colliery’s permanently sealed damaged districts.
More than 80 years later, author Pamela Cartlidge has used the tragedy as the centrepiece of her debut novel Bluebells and Tin Hats, which is set in Wrexham during the 1930s and 1940s and is loosely based on the romantic lives of her mother and father.
“The novel traces the life of a young girl of 14 who despite doing well at school and wanting to continue her education, is sent off to work ‘in service’ in a stately home in Wallasey,” says Pamela, 55, who grew up in Pandy where the main entrance to Gresford Colliery stood.
“She loves her family, adores her two brothers who both work locally on a farm, and deplores the fact she has to work away from home until eventually she returns to work in Wrexham.”
Pamela said her mother and father would often talk about the disaster, which had a huge impact on the mining community.
“I grew up with stories about Gresford and most people my mother knew had relatives or friends who died there,” says Pamela. “My father was from Liverpool and he had read about it in the newspaper and came over to try and help out.
“He stayed in Pandy where my mother’s family were living and he ended up getting a job there sealing the mine. He made friends with my mother’s brothers and love blossomed.”
As the years unfold and as the Second World War approaches, Louisa finds love and experiences more tragedy with Pamela basing much of the drama on her parent’s real life ups and downs.
“My father died a long time ago and never really talked about the war, but my mother only died last year aged 97,” she explains. “I did some research with the Royal Navy to find out what his involvement was and when I was sorting out her papers I found an old diary from my father.
“My father lost a brother on a submarine and he was also on a number of ships that were torpedoed. He was also involved in the Normandy landings.
“At one point during the war my mother even received a telegram to say he’d been lost at sea and then the next day he turned up on the doorstep!”
More tragedy was to follow as the war progressed and one of Louisa’s brothers was taken hostage by the Japanese.
“He didn’t return until long after the war ended,” remembers Pamela.
“He was so emaciated and only weighed six stone after what the Japanese had done to him and unfortunately he was killed in 1952 in an accident so I never met him so the book is a bit of a tribute to him along with my mother and father.”
Adapting all these stories into a romantic novel came easy for Pamela, but actually getting the book published was another matter.
“I really felt that there was a story to be told,” she says.
“I’d been gathering bits and pieces for several years with the aim of weaving a romantic story around my parent’s lives.
“I’ve always wanted to write and there were a lot of draughts but this one just wrote itself because I knew the people involved.
“Originally I was going to use different names but my sister proof read it and said I should just keep the real names, so most of the people in the book are named after members of my family.
“I wrote off to lots of literary agents and they took ages to come back, but I was getting really good feedback despite them saying they weren’t taking on anymore historical romance novels. I thought I’d spent so much time writing it that I was determined for it to see the light of day.
“Thankfully Amazon Books encourages you to self-publish, so here we are.”
Reaction across Pamela’s extended family has been positive and the book has even acted as a catalyst for bringing relatives together after years apart.
“My cousins live all over the country and it has meant they’ve all got in touch to compare notes,” she adds.
“My father was one of 10 so I’ve got cousins everywhere and I haven’t seen some of them for years. It has been a lovely way to get back in touch.”
l Bluebells and Tin Hats is available in paperback from www.amazon.co.uk