It was 7 o’clock on the morning of February 25, 1917 at Braysdown Colliery in the Somerset coal fields and the day shift was in full swing, when Mr George Weeks the Colliery under manager, entered the cage at the bottom of the pit to ascend to the surface. At the branch coal hole part way down the shaft, Herbert Gollege, a married man of a quiet and reserved disposition, was working as a hitcher. Neither man was aware that disaster was about to strike.
Shortly before, something had fallen – a lump of coal or stone – from the cage ascending the shaft and in its flight down the shaft it had struck one or more of the stays which kept the water pipes which ran down the side of the shaft in position, and had forced these from their proper place. As the cage passed the spot again on it’s descent, it came in contact with these pipes, tore them away from the shaft and hurled them on down the pit. The heavy weight of metal pitched on the top of the other cage, containing George Weeks , which was at a lower level and crashing through the upper decks brought the cages to a stand still.
From his position at the branch coal hole, some 80 yards above, Herbert knew hat someone was in trouble. Entirely disregarding the tremendous dangers to which he exposed himself, Herbert tied a lamp to his waist, stepped out into the shaft. and began to climb down the girders which were dripping with water from the broken pipes and rapidly turning to ice in the bitterly cold weather which then prevailed. On reaching the cage he discovered George Weeks in a semi-unconscious condition with a dislocated left shoulder and a bleeding head wound. Despite the bitterly cold weather, Herbert tore up his own shirt, bound up the wound and then taking off his own coat, wrapped it around the under manager and then waited until they could both be rescued. It was four solid hours later before the cages could be got to work and brought to the surface.
For his act of gallantry Herbert was awarded the Edward Medal, which meant that he would have to make his first ever trip to London. The presentation was to take on a Saturday morning at Buckingham Palace. Herbert had travelled up to London on the Friday evening and spent the night within earshot of a German bombing raid. On the Saturday morning he was at the Home Office at 9.30, and accompanied by the prominent officials walked across to Buckingham Palace where the ceremony took place shortly after 10 o’clock. His Majesty fastened the Edward Medal to his coat, highly complimented him upon the plucky deed that had earned him that distinction, and warmly shook hands with him. It should be noted that living recipients of the Edward Medal were invited in 1971 to exchange their Edward Medal for the George Cross.
Back at home, a reception was held at Shoscombe School at which the workmen at Braysdown colliery, and the owner of the Colliery (Mr F.B. Beauchamp) had subscribed to make a presentation to him. The gifts consisted of a gold watch, and a cheque for six guineas. The watch was engraved: “Presented to Mr Herbert Golledge, by the owner and workmen of Braysdown Colliery, for bravery in climbing 80 yards down the shaft to the rescue of Mr George Weeks, the under manager, March 5th 1917“.
When accepting the gifts he stated that when the accident occurred he never stopped to think who it might be that wanted help. All he knew was that someone needed his help. He should have done the same for anyone. His only desire was to do his best for the man who was in a position so that he could not help himself and he was glad he was able to render some help. If they could do any good at any time they should do it, if they could not do good he asked them not to do harm to their fellow men, and he thanked them most heartily for the very kind way in which they had treated him.
A testament to the modesty of Herbert Golledge is his own notebook which chronicles the events in the village of Shoscombe, and covers the period in question is that his own deeds do not even merit a mention.