James Pollitt GC (EM exchanger)

b. 02/12/1896 Wigan, Lancashire. d. 08/09/1972 Wigan, Lancashire.

DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 22/23/08/1935 South Kirkby.

James Pollitt (1896-1972) was born on the 2nd December 1896 in Wigan, Lancashire, the fourth of nine children of George and Elizabeth Pollitt (nee Phillips). James attended the local Whalley Church of England School where he won the school prize, but he left at the age of 13, when he obtained a junior clerk position at a local undertakers, but his ultimate ambition was to become an accountant.

James Pollitt GC

However, his ambition would not come to fruition, and he left to join his father and elder brother working in the mines. He went on to train as a mining engineer at the Wigan Mining and Technical College, during which time he was offered a scholarship to Oxford to study mathematics, but he turned it down as he thought he had good prospects in the mining industry. This was confirmed when at the age of 25, he passed all his exams and could seek an Under Manager’s role. Sometime in the 1920s, James left his native Wigan and crossed the Pennines to South Yorkshire where he soon became Assistant Under Manager at South Kirkby, joined the Rescue Team and, by 1930, was its Captain. In 1934, James married Mary Jane Bradley Crofts, a widow, who had an 18 year old son named Ernest from her first marriage. James and Mary went on to have a daughter, Margaret of their own.

On 22nd August 1935, two explosions occurred in a district 1.5 miles from the shaft at South Kirkby. It was thought that these were due to a gob fire, and it was decided to seal off part of the district by erecting stoppings. At 3pm on the 23rd this work was in progress; there were 21 men in the district, some near the face and others, including George Beaman, at distances up to 100 yards away. A further explosion occurred, injuring a number of the men. Beaman and two others at once proceeded to look for and help the injured and with the assistance of others ten men were carried out of the district alive, although only one survived. During repeated journeys to and from the face, some of the rescuers were affected by fumes and it was discovered Mr Dale was missing. Although there was an increasing risk of further explosions, a search was started by Norman Baster; together with 5 other men he located Dale but he was dead. They proceeded to remove his body but another explosion caused burns to all 6 men. This explosion also injured many of the men back at the shaft who were looking after the first men injured. Baster got back and did what he could to reassure these men and then, with three others, including George Beaman, he went in and removed Dale’s body and looked for another man called Ball, who was said to be missing. Baster had no breathing apparatus, and was so affected by the fumes that he had to retire, but Beaman and another man went on, only giving up when it was reported that Ball had reached the shaft. After the rescue parties had left the mine, it was found Ball was missing. James Pollitt led the rescue party that went back down the mine to find him, despite fears of another explosion. They succeeded in finding Ball and returned to the surface.

On the 17th April 1936, the London Gazette announced the award of the Edward Medal to James Pollitt, George Beaman and Norman Baster for their rescue efforts. In 1939, with war imminent the family moved back to Wigan where James’ elderly parents and other family lived. During the War, he served in the Home Guard. He was appointed Under Manager of John & Taylor Pits and in the 1950s was involved in the planning and supervising of the sinking of the Standish Hall drift mine where he became Under Manager and remained until retirement.

In 1971, the Royal Warrant was changed allowing recipients of the Albert and Edward Medals to be able to exchange them for a George Cross. Sadly, having accepted the exchange, James passed away on 8th September 1972 and was cremated at Wigan Crematorium. His ashes were interred at St Wilfred’s Church, Standish. His George Cross was received by his widow by registered post. His medal is still held proudly by the Pollitt family.