The Saltcoats Salvationists

The Salvation Army

John Dalzell (Cumnock Chronicle)

John Laine Dalzell was one of the thirteen men that lost their lives in the disaster. The 50 year-old miner was a member of the Cumnock Corps of the Salvation Army described by the army’s Sergeant-Major J. Smith as “a great man and a great Christian” [Cumnock Chronicle 15 Sep 1950].

If Johnny had not been working at Knockshinnoch Castle Colliery on the day of the disaster there is no doubt he would have swapped his ‘pit claes’ for his Salvation Army uniform and joined his fellow Salvationists, not only from Cumnock but from further afield, at the pithead. Together they provided support, both spiritually and physically, throughout the long days and nights that lay ahead.

The spiritual support was delivered through the singing of psalms and hymns along with the offering of prayers during open-air services.

“At one stage of the operations a pathetic little group of wives and children gathered beneath the shadow of the mine’s engine room and joined in a short spontaneous religious service conducted by three local ministers and Salvation Army officers. They sang the 23rd Psalm and ‘Nearer my God to Thee’. As their voices rang out in the bright evening sunshine some of the women collapsed completely.”

The Press and Journal, Saturday 9 September 1950
A solemn scene at the pithead with Salvationists joining local clergy on the right

Physical support provided by members of the Salvation Army included driving men from the numerous Rescue Brigades to and from their houses; transporting oxygen cylinders from hospitals; visiting houses in New Cumnock and beyond for daily bread as well as running emergency canteens at the pithhead. 

“As untiring as the members of the rescue brigades and volunteers were the members of the Salvation Army who had set up a canteen helped by volunatary workers and tea and cakes and aerated water were handed out to all whowere in any way assisting in the rescue efforts and also to the relatives of workers who had been entrapped.”

Kilmarnock Herald and Ayrshire Gazette, Friday 15 September 1950

The Saltcoats Salvationists

Arthur Morris (26) of the Saltcoats Corps had been one of the first of many of the Salvation Army workers on the scene at Knockshinnoch. He was later joined by four of his Saltcoats colleagues – Captain Leslie Phillips (33), Robert Gibson, George Angus (20) and his fiancee Iris Wyllie (23).

One of groups’s key duties was to run the pit-head canteen for the host of rescue workers. The first of the rescued men was brought to surface at the Bank No.6 mine about 3pm on Saturday 9th September; the beginning of a slow but steady trickle of 116 survivors.

“The party of five worked at the colliery all Saturday and returned to Saltcoats in the evening for a Salvation Army wedding at which Mr Morris played the Wedding March. Then they made their way back to the minehead. They spent the whole night on canteen work, stopping only when the last of the rescued men had been taken to hospital.”

The Press and Journal, Monday September 11 1950

The Saltcoats Salvationists would witness the long awaited arrival of the last rescued man at the surface just after midnight in the early hours of the Sabbath morning. Doubtless they would share in the communal relief and joy at the pithead while praying for the souls of 13 missing men. A few hours would pass before once again the exhausted five headed home for Saltcoats. At 5:40 am on the morning of Sunday 10th September with Arthur in the driving seat and his bride-to-be Iris by his side in the passenger seat, tragedy struck in the cruellest of ways. Their car was involved in a fatal crash with a milk lorry near Annickbank Cottage on the Dreghorn to Irvie Road. Arthur was killed at the scene and Iris died of her injuries at 7:00 am in Kilmarnock Infirmary.


“After working ceaselessly helping with an emergency canteen service at the Knockshinnoch Castle pithead, two members of the Salvation Army were killed in a road accident yesterday, while on their way home to Saltcoats. They were Senior Leader Arthur Morris (26), clerk, 28 Christie Gardens, Saltcoats, and his fiancee, Guide Leader Iris K. Wyllie (23), 95 High Road, Saltcoats.

The car in which they were travelling was in a collision with a milk lorry on the road between Dreghorn and Irvine. Four other people involved in the accident were taken to Kilmarnock Infirmary. Morris who was driving, was killed instantly. Miss Wyllie, who had been seated beside the driver, died shortly after admission to the infirmary. George Angus (20), motor mechanic, 2 Arran Place, Saltcoats, and Captain Leslie Phillips, Salvation Army officer, 101 Sharphill, Saltcoats, were detained. Robert Gibson, 28 Adams Avenue, Saltcoats was discharged after receiving attention. Although the car was wrecked and the lorry badly damaged, the lorry driver escaped unhurt.”

The Scotsman, Monday, September 11 1950

The community was left stunned by the shocking news and messages of sympathy were expressed through the land including one from the executive committee of the Scottish National Union of Mineworkers that met at Edinburgh the following day.


“A special message of sympathy to all the Knockshinnoch miners involved is to be sent by the executive committee of the Scottish Miners Union. At a meeting in Edinburgh yesterday they expressed their greatest appreciation to everyone who played a part in the rescue work during the last four days.

The executive statement made special mention of the work done by the Salvation Army in this respect, and expressed deepest regret at the motor accident on Sunday morning resulting in the death of two Salvation Army workers and injuries to three others.”

The Scotsman, Tuesday September 12 1950

Arthur James Morris and Iris Mary McLean Wyllie

At the turn of the century Arthur’s grandparents, originally from Herefordshire, had settled in Stevenston, Ayrshire where his grandfather worked as a labourer in the Ardeer Foundry. By the time Arthur was born, at Glasgow in 1924, his father worked as as a labourer at the nearby ICI Ardeer Explosives.

Iris was born at Ardrossan three years later, her father, like both her grandfathers, having worked in the shipyards of the Clyde now plying his trade on the Firth of Clyde.

Arthur and Iris both worked in the clerical department of ICI Ardeer; Arthur as an accountant clerk and Iris as a short-hand typist. The young engaged couple doubtless were planning to have their wedding in the Salvation Army hall at Salctoats, where on this occasion one of Arthur’s collegues would have to play the Wedding March.

Instead, on Wednesday 13th September 1950, Arthur and Iris were laid to rest, side-by- side, at Ardrossan Cemetery. In attendance at the graveside were Andrew Houston, overman at Knockshinnoch, along with a party of miners from New Cumnock to pay their respects.

Saltcoats Salvation Army Hall (photo Robert Guthrie)

“Thousands lined the route from the Salvation Army Hall in Manse Street, for hours before the cortege passed. A party of miners from New Cumnock, among them Andrew Houston and others who had been entombed, were present at the graveside.

The N.C.B. and the miners’ union were also represented. The funeral service in the Salvation Army Hall was conducted by Lt.-Commissioner E. Bigwood, Glasgow. Among the many messages of sympathy received were those of from Mr. Noel Baker, Minister of Fuel and Power, Lord Balfour chairman of the N.C.B., Mr. A. Moffat , secretary of the N.U.M. , General Osborne, International leader of the Salvation Army, and Captain Phillips of the Saltcoats Corps, who is still recovering from the injuries received in the collision.

Kilmarnock Herald and Ayrshire Gazette, Friday 15 September 1950
Arthur Morris & Iris Wyllie Headstone , Ardrossan Cemtery (Photo Robert Guthrie)


A memorial tablet sits at the base of the headstone and reads-

Salvation Army Memorial Table (photo Robert Guthrie)

On Sunday 17th September a ‘Service of Divine Worship’ was held at the Martyr’s Church, New Cumnock ay of thanksgiving for the Knockshinnoch Castle Colliery. Other services were held on that day too, including one at the The Salvation Army Citadel, Corbiehall, Bo’ness where Major J. Fewster from the Territorial Headquarters of the Salvation Army in Glasgow joined local Salvationists to pay tribute to the men of Knockshinnoch Pit and Slavationists Arthur Morris and Iris Wyllie. The meeting, which was planned as a call to Christian service, was conducted by Captain Rowley assisted by Mrs Rowley and the Band of Songsters.


“During the meeting Major Fewster gave a graphic description of the events of Knockshinnoch, where he was present throughout the whole of the emergency. Called to the scene of the disaster by the local Commanding Officer, the Major told of the silent anxious crowds waiting for the news at the pithead. ‘Isn’t it time we had some prayer,’ a voice said; and so very early in the sequence of events, an open-air meeting was held in which hymns were sung and prayers offered. The meeting listened spell-bound as Major Frewster told of the heroism of the rescue squads. Men arrived wearing their best suits, and without waiting to change ran to take their places in the various squads. Stubborn pockets of gas hampered the entombed men being reached, and still the crowds waited in silence at the pithead.

Salvationists were busy running rescue men to and from their houses, and from point to point, scouring nearby towns and villages for bread; bringing oxygen from hospitals and generally assisting. The discipline and courage of the womenfolk was wonderful to see and especially so as the first were brought to the surface. Not wanting to hamper the rescue work, women would greet their menfolk, then fall back to their place in the crowd, relieved to know their man was safe, yet thoughtful for those who still waited.

Major Frewster told of the enthusiastic help given by Scoutmaster (Bandsman) Arthur Morris and Guard Leader (Songster) Iris Wyllie of the Saltcoats Corps. Among the first of the volunteers for duty, they worked unceasingly, among their many efforts being the comforting of the relatives of the 13 men still unaccounted for. As one man was brought to the surface he caught sight of the familiar S.A. uniform and said ‘I too am a believer’. This brought forth a typical Salvationist reply as Arthur Morris shouted ‘Hallelujah’. ‘Perhaps’ said the the Major, ‘That was the only hallelujah heard during the whole emergency’. Arthur Morris lived enthusiastically brought enthusiasm to every task he accepted, and died while still showing evidence of this same enthusiasm for helping men in the cause of Christ.

The congregation stood in silent tribute to these comrades before Major Frewster prayed, after which Captain Rowley, spoke on the words of Christ ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’ It was fitting that the music rendered by the Band included ‘The Old Rugged Cross,’ as this well-known song provided what one rescued man at Knockshinnoch described as the most moving moment of any while the men waited undergroun it being sung at that time by one of the youngest of the company.”

The Bo’ness Journal, Friday , 22nd September 1950

 There is a green hill far away

The name Knockshinnoch is from the Gaelic cnoc sionnaich ‘fox hill’. For the five Saltcoats Savlationists it was a green hill far away that they journeyed to back and forth every day on a round trip of 70 miles to assist those in need. Sadly two of them, Arthur and Iris, did not return home on the final day. We cannot tell if one or both appear in the newspaper photographs of Salvationists or in clips of Salvationists visiting homes or at the pithead in the Pathe News clips. Hopefully, one day we can unearth photos of this young couple who came to support the people of New Cumnock in their dark hour.

Members of the Salvation Army and local clergy gather with some local onlookers

Saltcoats Salvation Army Hall (Photo Robert Guthrie)


North Ayrshire Council
Bereavement Services
Arthur Morris and Iris Wyllie
British Newspaper Archive
The Press and Journal, Saturday 9 September 1950
The Press and Journal, Monday September 11 1950
Kilmarnock Herald and Ayrshire Gazette, Friday 15 September 1950
The Scotsman, Monday, September 11 1950
The Scotsman, Tuesday September 12 1950
The Bo’ness Journal, Friday , 22nd September 1950


Knockshinnoch DisasterCollections | James McCulloch
The RescuePathe News and Movietone News
The Rescued Men
Rescuer| Hugh Blackwood
Saltcoats Salvationists