Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Jet, the ‘Blitz’ Recovery dog

Having posted some accounts to the “People’s War” website about mining accidents that occurred in the West Cumberland coalfield during the Second World War, I was recently asked by another researcher about a slightly later explosion that took place at William Pit, Whitehaven on 15 August 1947. This was a terrible mining disaster with the loss of 104 lives. While I had referred to this 1947 explosion on the “People’s War” website I had not written about it in much detail.

Nevertheless, I did have some information about the 1947 William Pit disaster at Whitehaven. Reading through the Official Report, I found there was a small section about the use of trained rescue dogs in a British coalmine for the first time. More specifically, two dogs, “Rex” and “Prince” were brought in with their handlers from the RAF Police Dog Training School at Staverton to locate the bodies of miners presumed buried under roof falls.

It was then found that neither dog had been trained in body recovery work. Consequently, another dog, “Jet”, one that had been involved in recovery work in the London area during the war, was quickly brought out of retirement to save the day. “Jet”, bringing this invaluable experience gained during the wartime German air raids over London immediately became the lead dog. As a result, the rescue teams were eventually successful in the grim task of recovering all the missing bodies by 23 August 1947. This photograph shows the Memorial to the victims who died in William Pit, Whitehaven, but there is no memorial to "Jet" and the other two dogs who helped in the recovery operation.

[Click on 'Comments' below for additional information]


Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(Additional Comments)

As well as the conditions being strange for the dogs, none of the RAF dog handlers had ever been down a mine before being called in to assist the Mines Rescue workers. Before going down the mine with the dogs, the Official Report records that the handlers did a quick practice with the dogs on the surface before going underground. Despite the dogs being in an unfamiliar environment all three, and their handlers, were commended by the Inspector for their invaluable work in indicating the location of the bodies of the missing miners.

Interestingly, it is clear that when the war ended “Jet” and presumably the other dogs that had been involved in rescue and recovery work in and around London had been retired. Although this is mere conjecture, presumably this was because it was felt search dogs would no longer be required in a post war society. Whatever the reason for returning to peacetime life in 1945 “Jet”, like many ‘old soldiers’ before and since, answered the nation’s call in an hour of great need.

In more recent times, trained search dogs have been useful at the scene of many disasters in many parts of the world. The experience and knowledge gained during the war years in London in searching for survivors or recovering bodies is still beneficial to the modern world. The part played by dogs like "Jet", "Rex" and "Prince" during and after the war are worthy of recognition.

Tuesday, 10 October, 2006  

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