Alex Gleghorn

Wednesday February 23rd 1955 was a cold, but ordinary day for millions of miners in Britain. Snow had been falling in the North East and it had only been ten years since the end of the war and eight years since the National Coal Board took over the running of the mines after nationalisation. Queen Elizabeth II had only been on the throne a couple of years and the unknown, fresh-faced Elvis Presley had begun a small tour of Texas. 

But for one miner, Alex Gleghorn from Middlestone Village in Ferryhill, it was about to become the day that would bring him to the attention of the nation.

Here’s Alex, an ordinary lad of 18, who already had a couple of years as a proud miner under his belt.

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A Ferryhill Hero

For Alex Gleghorn, February 23rd was the day he would prove to the world that he had the true grit of his father, also a miner, who worked the same shift, and the passion for the job and his marras that lifted miners out of the category of simple heroes.

These were men who were reputed to lay their life on the line for their marra. Alex was about to prove that the reputation was well-deserved.

He didn’t have a cape and superpowers. He had much more – he had a lamp, his wits and the values he learnt from his parents and community.

Alex and his marra, Alan Kidd, of Chilton, were hauling a tram load of timber to the coal face when they were stopped by stones that had fallen on the track. They bent down by their pony to pick up the stones and suddenly a shot fired, throwing stones in their direction. Both Alex and Alan were hit by flying stones. Alan had injuries to a leg and his forehead and couldn’t move. Alex was, himself, injured and in shock. The worst of it was that Alex knew there would likely be another shot fired soon – and this time, the result could be fatal.

The quick-thinking Alex knew that the shot could be fired before he could go off for help, so took the decision to move Alan another 12 yards away from the danger zone. As it happened, another shot did fire and the debris was propelled outwards with greater force. Fortunately, Alex’s quick-thinking probably saved both their lives – the shot debris didn’t affect them.

Alex still had an injured marra on his hands and was injured himself, but he raised the alarm and got help and made sure Alan got to safety.

Suddenly, Alex was a hero.

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Alex received an inscribed watch from his marras in the Mainsforth Colliery, recognising his achievement.

Of course, the actions of a hero like Alex were to attract the attention of a lot more people. His actions were reported in the press.

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As well as the newspapers, everybody wanted to congratulate Alex on his actions that fateful day.

He got a letter from the esteemed Henry E. Collins, Production Director, Divisional Board, Durham Division. A lifelong coal miner, coal manager and industry leader.

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Even the National Coal Board itself…

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His local M.P. was also eager to congratulate Alex.

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He even got a letter from his old school.

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Downing Street were also keen to write to Alex with some good news.

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Alex was honoured for his bravery with a B.E.M. from H.R.H. Queen Elizabeth II. The British Empire Medal.

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Alex was to receive his medal from Mr Aubrey Jones, Minister for Fuel and Power; himself the son of a Welsh miner.

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Alex even got a personal letter from the new Queen Elizabeth.

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Many years later, when Alex was an old man, his family had a birthday party for him and they invited guests from many areas of his life. It was a fabulous affair and one from which Alex took great joy – he loved family and friends.

However, there were some people he didn’t know, unfamiliar faces, which was a little confusing. But when he was told who they were, he was overjoyed.

The strangers he had never met before were members of Alan Kidd’s family. Alan’s descendants – a family that may never have existed if it wasn’t for Alex’s brave actions that cold Wednesday in February 1955.

Alex passed away a little later surrounded by his own family. His story, and the pictures you see here, were kindly donated by his family and helped to inspire a storyline in the musical, The Wind Road Boys.

R.I.P. Alexander Macdonald Gleghorn – a marra to many and a hero to all – from cap to boots.