Born in 1893 into a mining family in Choppinton, Northumberland, Jack worked at the Ashington Colliery from 1907 to 1914, when he was called up, arriving on the western front in April 1915. He was promoted to sergeant, but was invalided home in March 1916.
Jack Dorgan had been wounded in 1916 while serving with the Northumberland Fusiliers. After a lengthy hospitalisation and convalescence, he was back in civilian life working at Ashington colliery. Working deep beneath the ground was hard and dangerous work.
They would drive a roadway a matter of 80 yards, about 8ft wide and 6ft high. The coal seam would be about 3ft high, which meant the coal hewer would work getting the coal out, and leave the stone above. Lying on the floor with his pick, he would undercut the seam. Then, when he had got as far forward as he could – about 3ft – he would start on the right hand side and he would do the same up the side of the coal seam. Then he would stop hewing and he had a set gear, a metal stand, which he put up between the roof and the floor.
Using a long drill with a sharpened edge, he would turn the drill handle into the solid side of the coal seam. Then he would clean the drill hole out with a scraper, and then he would put the required amount of explosive into the hole and push it in with a plunge. He had a long wire with a detonator on the end. It was highly explosive, you had to be careful with these! Then he got a plug of clay, and letting the wire hang out, he sealed off the hole. The deputy would come along; he had the equipment to ignite the detonator.
There was a required distance of 30 yards that he had to stretch his wire, then he got behind a coal tub, everybody was drawn back, and he would shout “Fire!” and detonate the explosives with a plunger. If everybody had done their job properly, the coal would be lying loose and you only had to wait for the fumes to clear out – which took a little while. Then the coal had to be filled into the tubs. Hard work that was! I didn’t like it!
The ‘putters’ would use pit ponies to take the tubs along roughly-laid rails back to the pit shaft. Fairly frequently the tub came off the rails (the floor was not level, stones would fall from the side of the roadway). That was very heavy work getting your empty tub back on the rails. When you took your empty tub in, you rode on the back of the pony and your chest was on your knees. If you didn’t get your back well down it got scraped along the spinal column. Invariably there were four or five splotches, scraped and scabbed. Awful business. My mother used to put Vaseline on them.
With frequent fatalities in the mines from pit falls and gas explosions, it was almost as bad as the western front.