Personal info

  • Name: David BROWN
  • D.O.B: 7th May, 1900
  • D.O.A: 10th Jan, 1947
  • D.O.D: 1st Dec, 1977
  • Award: George Cross
  • Occupation at time of action: Overman, Burngrange Shale Mine (National Coal Board)
  • Book: The Complete History - Volume 3
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The end of the Second World War left the world divided into two competing blocks, one free and led by America, the other Communist and led by Russia. In Europe this division was embodied by the Iron Curtain. In Asia after the Communists came to power in China in 1949, there sprang up what came to be known as the Bamboo Curtain. The period, until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the end of Communism in Russia followed by the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, is characterized as the Cold War. In the West there was no armed conflict, the two superpowers, both with large nuclear arsenals, being constrained by the Balance of Terror. However, outside Europe, the post-war period saw the dismantling of the colonial empires and the emergence of the Third World. Here, particularly where nationalist movements were dominated by local Communist parties, there was often prolonged fighting. Both in Korea, formerly governed by the Japanese, and in Vietnam, previously a French colony, rival Communist and non-Communist states’ governments fought against one another. The Western and Communist powers viewed these administrations as their clients and international rivalries were played out in what were essentially civil wars. Though it had an active role in the Korean War, Britain was relatively fortunate in its own experience of decolonization. As far as this volume is concerned it is only necessary to note that in the late 1940s and 1950s it successfully combatted a Communist insurgency in Malaya and that in the 1960s it assisted its former colonies in Malaya and Borneo to resist the threat of Indonesian expansion. In the Falklands War of 1982 it defended the inhabitants of this South Atlantic territory from annexation by Argentina. It also itself experienced a period of internal terrorism occasioned by the Troubles in Northern Ireland, which began in the 1960s but could be traced back to the 1920s and earlier. Meanwhile, Australia had deployed advisors and troops in South Vietnam between 1962 and 1973. However, instability in the Middle East, where the secular nationalism of the post-war period has been overshadowed by Islamic extremism, now appears the major threat to world peace. The terrorist attacks on America perpetrated by Al-Qaeda on 11 September 2001 have led directly to Western intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq. In the former country, Australia, Canada and New Zealand have also contributed troops to the military operation.


 An explosion occurred in the Burngrange Shale Mine, West Calder, Midlothian, at about 8 p.m. on Friday, 10th January, 1947, when 53 persons were at work underground in the district. Firedamp was ignited by an open acetylene cap lamp and the initial explosion started fires which spread rapidly. David Brown, the Overman, descended the pit and proceeded with a fireman to explore the narrow workings where men were trapped. Though they encountered smoke for a time it was not sufficiently dense to prevent progress but as they passed the junction of another heading increasing smoke compelled their withdrawal. After waiting a few minutes Brown made another attempt, alone, to get inbye. He actually got in to No. 3 Dookhead, where he shouted but got no response. He saw no signs of the inbye men nor of their lights, and he was forced to withdraw again. On his way outbye, he again met the fireman, who said he had been trying to improve the atmospheric conditions in the inbye section by a partial opening of some brattice screen doors, but this step was of no avail. The atmospheric conditions were getting worse all the time, due to the spreading of the fires, the extent and seriousness of which even then were not generally realised. Brown, however, did realise the seriousness of the position in relation to the trapped men and immediately sent word explaining the position to the manager who was dealing with fires elsewhere, asking for all possible assistance and making it quite clear that there was no hope of undertaking further exploratory work without the use of rescue teams wearing self-contained breathing apparatus. He then set out to discover for himself where all the smoke was coming from. Although the National Fire Service was never intended for fire-fighting underground in mines, nevertheless a team at once volunteered for this duty. Two members of the team donned their one-hour Proto-Breathing Apparatus. Underground, they met the overman, Brown, who pleaded for the use of the two sets of Proto-Apparatus, so that he and another trained member of the Burngrange Mine Rescue Team could make another attempt to get into the workings beyond No. 3 Dook. Using the one-hour apparatus borrowed from the N.F.S. Brown and his companion made an unsuccessful attempt to rescue the trapped men. At 11.15 p.m. under the captaincy of Brown a fresh team wearing goggles and using a life-line again attempted to reach the men but were forced to return as the temperature was very high and the smoke so dense that their lights could not be seen. There had been a fall of stone and sounds of strata movement were heard. A further attempt along another level led to the discovery of another fire and it became certain that there was no hope of saving the men until this was under control. The work of fire-fighting continued for four days and it was not until the night of 13th/14th January, that it was considered practicable to send a rescue team beyond the fire area. With one exception the bodies of all the 15 men who lost their lives by the effect of afterdamp and fumes were in No. 3 Dook. 

(The London Gazette of 13 January 1948, Numb. 38176, p. 273)

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