You can find other details of Poems of the Poppies in BOOKS, and my poem Brief Encounter in POEMS. You will need to take my word for it that I am the person on the end of the front row three places from Dame Vera in the centre.
It was World War 2 veteran, 90-odd-year-old Len Johnson, then Chairman of the Macclesfield branch of the Legion who suggested that I should ask Dame Vera to write the foreword, insisting when I demurred: "I know she'll do it." And she did, most beautifully.
When I published In Our Fathers' Footsteps on 11th November 2018 to mark the centenary of the Armistice and raise funds for the Legion, I sent Dame Vera a copy by way of thanks and received this warm letter of thanks from her which I shall always treasure.
If you are wondering what the connection is between the famous Lakes poet, two images of a harbour and the poem below, continue reading.
It would be many years after we studied Wordsworth for O-level Eng Lit that I found that the famous poet used to wander around this harbour as a boy where his father was Collector of Customs, Legal Agent for Sir James Lowther, First Earl of Lonsdale, and Recorder for Cockermouth where the family lived. Sir James had already had several pits sunk in the area before the poet was born, much of the coal being exported to Ireland, Whitehaven being a major port by the time the poet was born.
In the poet's day the harbour would have been mainly black, how I remember it from my childhood, while the hill behind stayed green, without both its later buildings and the landmark on the horizon, still known to the locals as the Candlestick Chimney, the boiler house chimney for the Wellington Pit. Its shaft was sunk in 1838, the pit closing in 1932 but it is mainly remembered for being the site of Cumbria's worst mine disaster in May 1910 when 136 men and boys were killed.
When I decided to have a go at writing a poem for a competition commemorating this anniversary of the poet's birth, I was drawn to the parallels between his and my life events and the consolations that shaped our characters: as he put it, 'The child is father of the man' thus pre-empting Freud by some considerable time. Comparable life events, though not of comparable magnitude: okay, between the ages of three and seven I hardly saw my father but he got back whereas the poet's mother died when he was seven, his father when he was thirteen, and three of his children predeceased him.
As for my attempt at iambic pentameter, well...never again. How did Shakespeare manage such flowing lines in such quantity? The poem got nowhere but I'm glad I tried.
Images © Paul Martin 2007
FOR THE LEAST OF THESE
Remember the six motherless children
whose father died in a pit disaster.
Thank the family next door
who took them into their tiny home
and gave them a roof, food and love.
Remember the pit boy
who fell down the mine shaft
doing a man’s job.
Thank the man who unearthed
the truth that his Mam and Dad
did not live to see.
Remember the thousands of miners
made redundant when all the country's pits closed.
Remember their sons who leave school now
with no job and no future.
Thank the old woman
who cooks dinner every Friday
for the homeless.
The drinking water fountain commemorates the installation in 1859 of piped water for the town from Ennerdale Lake, about twelve miles away.
Haig Pit, the last working coal mine in Whitehaven, Cumbria, closed in 1986. There are plans to open a deep mine for coking coal under the Irish Sea a few hundred yards south at Woodhouse.
Images © 2007 Paul Martin. The poem's title is taken from Matthew 25, vv 40-45.
The Spirit of Christmas
Nothing in nature lives for itself
rivers don’t drink their own water
trees don’t eat their own fruit
the sun doesn’t shine for itself
a flower’s fragrance is not for itself.
Living for each other is the rule of nature
Source: I first saw this in Israelmore Ayivor's Leaders' Watchwords, a quotation from a 2017 speech by Pope Francis.
I am proud to have included in One Dog and His Cop the part played by Bonnie of Macclesfield who with other brave police dogs was responsible for helping our MP, David Rutley, then Animal Welfare Minister, at last get justice, in the form of 'Finn's Law', for police dogs like severely injured PD Finn killed or injured while saving us from harm. My huge thanks go to David Rutley for his press release and to Alex Scapens for telling the story in the Macclesfield Express this week (see below).
Footnote: you can order not only through Amazon but also direct from the publishers, SilverWood Books, Waterstones and the Book Depository, and there may still be copies available locally at the Macclesfield Visitor Information Centre for anyone who would like one for a Christmas gift.
Here is the book blurb:
Thanks to researching Jet's second major award (see previous blog), I was amazed to discover there is also a tenuous - but powerful - 1947 link between Jet and my Cumbrian mining origins.
"Saving a rescue party from a fall of rock while searching for survivors
at the William Pit coal mine disaster, Whitehaven, Cumbria"
William Pit Disaster, Whitehaven, Cumbria, 15 August 1947
I come from a Whitehaven mining family on my father's side and spent most of my childhood there. My cousin died in a pit shaft fall in 1953 and my uncle, a Battle of the Somme veteran, was one of 12 who died in the 1941 William Pit disaster. 104 men died in the 1947 disaster, including fathers and uncles of our schoolmates, over 200 children being left fatherless. It was a notoriously gassy pit. Whether or not my uncle who worked there in 1947, although not on that shift, was in any of the rescue parties, I don't know. They didn't go on about it. You can read my poem, 'Warnings', about the disaster in POEMS. It was first published by SilverWood Books in my first book, Mining Memories, in POEMS.
I discovered an enlightening commemorative article in The Whitehaven News about Jet - not through us being up there on a family visit at the time, but from references to his RSPCA award on the web. Although you may prefer to read the whole piece (see Sources below), here is an outline, which includes the newspaper's full account of Jet's timely warning:
On the weekend of the disaster, four RAF dog trainers and their dogs, Prince, Rex and Jet rushed to the disaster scene to see whether dogs could help in the search for victims. Nineteen-year-old Liverpudlian Bruce Marshall, of RAF Staverton, where Jet had been trained, had brought him out of retirement because of his known skills and fortitude during difficult search and rescue work during WW2.
“The memories of that harrowing time and of the brave dog at his side never [left] him." On Monday we ‘went down below and boarded the tubs with the dogs and chugged down about a mile – to a scene of devastation. The explosion had occurred on the Friday…I recall men were digging and shovelling, going in with canaries and Davy lamps…We carried on all week…but were not able to find anyone alive…The work was recovery, not rescue. The dogs recovered several men, under rubble…”
“Although it was too late to save any miners’ lives, Jet did save the rescue party. During a search he stopped, looked up and pricked his ears and moved back. It was a signal to get out of the area. Bruce called to the search party to stop and move back; they did so just before a wall of rock collapsed. The search party of 10-12 men had been saved by Jet's warning of the impending collapse of the mine roof and the handler’s quick response.”
Jet hardly moved from his bed for two days. Mine gases, like 'afterdamp', in that notoriously gassy pit were thought to have affected his health. Poisoning by one of its constituents, carbon monoxide, was a contributor to my uncle's death in the 1941 explosion (see above). Jet was never quite well again and when he died in October 1949, Bruce sent a card to his owner. Jet was buried with honours close to his memorial in Liverpool's Calderstones Park where Paul’s cousin paid her respects on one of her visits to her home town.
Walsh, Emma (2016). Scrubbed up well: Hero dog Jet gets a spring clean. [Online]. Available at: https://calderstonesmansion.wordpress.com/tag/rspca-medallion-of-valour/ [Accessed 12 December 2020].
The Whitehaven News (2017). Serviceman and his dog searched for trapped William Pit miners. The Whitehaven News, 14 August [Online]. Available at: https://www.whitehavennews.co.uk/news/17112481.serviceman-and-his-dog-searched-for-trapped-william-pit-miners/ [Accessed 13 December 2020].
Imperial War Museum (2020). Souvenirs and ephemera.[Online]. Available at: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30084468 [Accessed 13 December 2020].
Iola (2013). Jet of Iada [Online]. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/103543531/jet-of-iada#source [Accessed 14 December 2020]
Images: © IWM EPH 4540; © Paul Martin
We've just received news, enclosed with our Christmas card from my husband Paul's cousin, of a famous black Liverpudlian German Shepherd dog, Jet, hero of the World War II London Blitz.
Although this is a grainy old family photo added by Iada, you can see the alert, eager-to-get- going look like the photographs of Villain in One Dog and His Cop. The family link is somewhat tenuous, though. The Christmas card is from Paul's cousin on his father's side. As a child in Liverpool, she would visit her aunt on her mother's side who was housekeeper to Mrs Cleaver, a well-known breeder of German Shepherd dogs, so she got to know the dogs very well.
After training, Jet was sent to London where she located many casualties buried in the rubble left by the Blitz for which she was awarded the PDSA's Dickin Medal for gallantry on 12th January 1945.
“For being responsible for the rescue of persons trapped under blitzed buildings while serving with the Civil Defence Services of London.”
To follow: the story of how Jet was called out of retirement in 1947 to help in a major disaster
My husband took this photo of us on the occasion of three-year-old Villain's human grandparents' Golden Wedding.
He had established a reputation by then as a superb tracker dog. Although he conducted himself with complete decorum, I could tell by his body language that he found my attentions boring and would rather have been out on another job - as his intent focus on Graham, his handler, confirms.
For more information on the family background and the book, One Dog and His Cop, follow this link:
This story of Police Dog Villain and his handler, Graham, of the Devon and Cornwall Police Force was published by SilverWood Books of Bristol this week - after as many years in the writing as months in the publishing. Current availability: from the publishers, SilverWood Books of Bristol (RRP £8.99), Amazon, and other outlets via Central Books.
The inspiration for the poem, 'Warnings', below, was the 60th anniversary of an explosion
in William Pit, Whitehaven, Cumbria at 2pm on Friday, 15th August 1947.
It left 104 miners dead and over two hundred children fatherless.
We beg him to come to the beach, get some sun:
thunder's forecast tonight. But he says he's got to work
if we want to eat.
The dog tries to stop him but his mind is made up.
She goes to his shoes, sniffs them all over,
sits by them and whines.
When we coax her to come she lies down and snarls
her head on his shoes.
We leave her behind, catch the bus to St Bees, meet
Her man's on nights and he's at their allotment
so she's brought the kids. They can't understand
why our dog wouldn't come.
When the kids dig a tunnel that the sea undermines
their cries of dismay shroud a steam-horn's refrain:
one long then six short notes
in a sad minor key.
'You can't hear t'pit-horn this far away,' she says.
'Pit's gone up, I know it,' I say, 'we'll ev te gaa back.'
'But we've only just come!' the kids wail.
'Gaa yam, lass,' she tells me, 'They can stay here wid us.'
As I get on the bus I see policemen arrive.
They'll head for the beach where no-one can hear
the pit-horn's lament, and call everyone back
to the pit that's gone up.
Back in 1947, everyone had gone on the bus to St Bees because nobody had cars or even landlines then, so the police were sent to call them all back. Among the anecdotes reported afterwards was an account of a dog that tried without success to bar its owner's departure for that ill fated shift. As many animals can, it may have sensed unusual subterranean tremors beforehand. William Pit was notoriously 'gassy', my uncle being killed in the June 1941 'minor' disaster (10+ miners' deaths in one incident qualifies as a disaster).
We made my faltering recording of 'Warnings' on Paul's Smartphone (by about Take 15) for Cheshire East Libraries' celebration of National Poetry Day. Link:
www.facebook.com/BollingtonLibrary. It is one of 16 poems in my first, arguably most successful, book, Mining Memories (NB: Kindle version available at 99p). It is thanks to author and leader of Bollington Library Writing Group, Nik Perring's determined suggestion that I try my hand at poetry despite been no good at poetry at school, and ending up specialising in a scientific branch of medicine, chemical pathology.
Images of the William Pit Memorial, Whitehaven, Cumbria ©Paul Martin 2007
John Austin, a proud member of the Royal British Legion, wrote this tribute during last year's centenary of the Armistice that ended the First World War. Tragically it did not prove to be 'the war to end all wars' as the updated version of his poem, the generosity of the public and the ongoing hard work of Legion members all show.
John Austin, the son of a forces veteran, struggled with severe dyslexia and other difficulties to become a gardener at the David Lewis Centre for Epilepsy, and during the Poppy Appeal John always seems to be the one returning to the Legion office to pick up yet another container because his last one was jam packed. He is a heartening example of the Legion's motto of 'Service not self'.
I am proud, on behalf of everyone at the Legion and those whom we serve, especially at this time of year, to have this opportunity to publish John's poem.
Mitzi's photo was taken during a romp in the snow, on the same occasion as Villain's (see post 29 May). She seems to be looking for Mum - but how?
On this week's visit to the supermarket, there was a dog secured to a leash hook in the entrance, in the exactly the same stance as Mitzi in the photo looking out for her owner. I noticed how the dog's nostrils were twitching independently of each other.
Sniffing Mum out I realised, thanks to a clearer grasp of a dog’s view of the world after re-reading Chapters 4 to 7 of Stanley Coren’s How Dogs Think for the next chapter of A Police Dog in the Family, that the dog was indeed looking out for her owner – but primarily using her nose. A dog not only has its owner's unique 'scent barcode' filed in its brain but it can gauge the direction the scent is coming from by comparing the scent strengths received through each nostril. It might sound far-fetched put like this, but I am certain that if the supermarket dog had jumped her lead, she would have found the person she sought far more quickly than a human whose dominant sense, like other primates, is vision.
Dogs can smell scurf For skin to function like home-made cling-film, dead cells, scurf, are constantly being shed into the air from the skin surface and replaced by younger cells from the deeper layers. The rate is sufficient for scurf to be a major component of house dust and sufficient for dogs to pick up the trail by air scenting. Amazing.
Source: How Dogs Think, Stanley Coren 2004. London: Simon & Schuster UK Ltd
- line from Longfellow's 1874 poem, The Hanging of the Crane - a ceremony in which a newly married couple's new cooking pot was suspended over a fire in their new home - referring to babies the couple would have 'speaking' with their eyes before they learn to talk.
While making myself finish a chapter on PD Villain (see post 29 May A police dog in the family) after yet another of my approach-avoidance conflicts, I read Tom Whipple's newspaper report, Puppy dog eyes show who's master, on a scientific study attributing the dog's imploring look to a facial muscle that dogs have but wolves, their ancestors, don't.
On the left you can see Tandy with her ball looking expectantly at the person coming towards her to play ball, ready to upgrade the look to imploring if the person doesn't immediately oblige. The photo on the right shows them having a break together afterwards.
In their study, Kaminski et al state that 'mutual gaze between dogs and humans seems to trigger an increase of oxytocin [the love hormone] in both species' - analogous to the effect of the mutual gaze between human mothers and their newborn.
Puppy dog eyes
For expressive eyes, spaniels like my dog Gipsy (see my post of 29 May) with big, wide-set eyes possibly have the edge on German Shepherd dogs like Villain and Tandy with near-set eyes in wolf-like faces - but all dogs are hard-wired for these 'puppy dog eyes', the result of selection during domestication based on humans' preferences (Kaminski et al). I once had a bookmark with a spaniel and the Longfellow quote although his poem refers not to a dog but to the children to come of a marriage being celebrated in a crane hanging ceremony.
Sources: Maine Historical Society https://www.hwlongfellow.org/poems_poem.php?pid=155; Tom Whipple, The Times, Tuesday June 18, 2019; Juliane Kaminski and colleagues, June 17 2019 Evolution of facial muscle anatomy in dogs https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2019/06/11/1820653116
This is the title of my friend's 11-year-old grandson's school project on the 60th anniversary of the Normandy landings.
Front page piece - full of accurate information, its tone and over-optimistic title nicely convey the upbeat mood of the British news on D-Day. The Allies had hoped to recapture Caen within a day or two but it would take about a month after fierce fighting in St Pierre (see previous post) and elsewhere, and American losses were enormous beginning on Omaha beach on D-Day.
Life back home - in the 1000 word story that follows, this 11-year-old boy paints in the New Milliennium a rich and accurate picture of the joys, sorrows, worries and excitement of life back home in WW2. Chapter 1 begins:
'People have been hoping there would not be a war, but it happened.'
'Dear Lord and father of mankind
Forgive our foolish ways'
- Quaker John Greenleaf Whittier (for details of this hymn see blog post of 22 April)
It's almost two years since I published In Our Fathers' Footsteps (see under BOOKS). My latest book, One Dog and His Cop, about my cousin's police dog,was published 30 November this year (see under BOOKS).