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
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).