Jack Dor­gan

BBC History Magazine - - Wwi Eyewitness Accounts - Peter Hart is the oral his­to­rian at the Im­pe­rial War Mu­seum

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.

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