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.
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).