Walter Henry Sheldrake EM

b. 07/02/1878 Heworth, Durham.  d. 4th Q 1947 Durham North.

DATE OF EM ACTION: 29/09/1930 Hedley Pit, South Moor, Durham.

Walter Henry was one of five children (4 boys, 1 girl) born to Albert and Elizabeth Sheldrake (nee Miller). He was born on 7th February 1878 in Heworth, Durham. Sadly, his father died when Walter was only six, and his mother was left to raise five children on her own. As a result, when old enough Walter, as well as his three brothers, went down the local pits as coal miners. In 1898, Walter married Elizabeth Jane Little in Durham, and they would have two daughters, Eliza Ann (known as Ella) and Phyllis. Sadly, more tragedy would strike Walter, as his wife Elizabeth, would pass away suddenly in 1902, after just four years of marriage. Walter raised his two daughters alone, until on 20th January 1906, he married Margaret Annie Gladson, at St Mary’s Church, Heworth. Walter and Margaret would have two children of their own – Walter Ernest (born 1908, sadly died 1909), and Dinah (born 1910). Walter became a colliery deputy, and it was in this capacity that he was awarded the Edward Medal for his part in the Hedley Pit rescue of 1930. Little else is known of his life, until he passed away in 1947, aged 69.



On the 29th September, 1930, a fall of roof occurred in the Hedley Pit, South Moor, County Durham, partially burying a hewer, Frederick Beaumont. A chargeman, Victor King, was the first to come to the rescue. He found that a small passage-way remained open by which the buried man might be reached and, with the assistance of his son Richard and John George Tarn, be immediately built two chocks of timber to keep it open. The passage was seven yards long and about two feet square and the only practicable method of rescue wasfor three men to crawl along the passage-way and lie full length, two in the passage-way and one over Beaumont’s body, and pass back, one at a time, the stones that were pinning him down.

This perilous and arduous work was carried on for nine hours by a team of miners (including Victor King) working in relays under the direction of the manager (Walter Robert Scott) and the under-manager (Robert Reed) until at last Beaumont was released, shaken but otherwise uninjured. During the whole nine hours the roof was shifting and “trickling” and on four occasions Beaumont was almost freed when a further fall buried him again. At one time the danger of a further fall appeared so great that the manager telephoned for a doctor (Dr. Charles James Brookfield Fox) to come to the pit to amputate Beaumont’s leg and so expedite his release. Fortunately — as it turned out — the doctor found it impossible to amputate in the restricted area in which Beaumont was confined, but he remained on the scene until Beaumont was rescued and examined and treated him before sending him to the surface. Shortly after Beaumont was extricated the whole of the tunnel collapsed.