National Poetry Day – the story behind a poem

 

 

Thursday 6 October is National Poetry Day, which encourages everyone to enjoy, discover and share poetry – this year’s theme is Messages: say it with a poem. Lives of the First World War member Michael Glover recently contacted us to share the moving story that inspired war poet Wilfred Owen to write his piece Miners. In this guest blog post, Michael describes the tragic accident in which two members of his own family lost their lives in 1918.

 

  •  Tracing family history

I have been researching my family history since 2009, starting with my maternal grandfather, Thomas Edward Wright, and then the wider family. I was interested in the lives of these people, many now mostly forgotten but from an area I was born into in Staffordshire. I had little idea of where this interest would lead. Since 2014, I have been a member of Lives of the First World War, and have researched my great grandfather George Burgess and his son, Jabez. George and Jabez were miners who died in an explosion at Podmore Hall Colliery in Halmerend, known as the Minnie Pit – they were aged 42 and 21.

 

George and Jabez Burgess (top row, centre and right). Image courtesy of Michael Glover

George and Jabez Burgess (top row, centre and right). Image courtesy of Michael Glover

  • Minnie Pit

Coal mines were an essential part of the war effort, fuelling factories, transport and homes. On 12 January 1918 there was an explosion underground at the Minnie Pit, in which 155 workers were killed. Teams tried to save those who were trapped, and one of the rescue party died in the process. The bodies of George and Jabez were only retrieved from the pit 18 months later – they were found in an embrace, perhaps waiting for rescue but succumbed to poisonous gas. The tragic deaths added to the losses of people fighting in the war, and had a devastating impact on such a small area.  This event is etched locally into the lives of Halmerend folk and the anniversary is commemorated every year to this very day, alongside Armistice Day in November.

Podmore Hall Colliery in Halmerend, known as the Minnie Pit. Image in the public domain

Podmore Hall Colliery in Halmerend, known as the Minnie Pit. Image in the public domain

 

  • Wilfred Owen’s poem

They will not dream of us poor lads

Lost in the ground

Wilfred Owen, who later became one of the most well-known war poets, wrote a poem called Miners: How the future will forget the dead in war after hearing about the explosion. This extract reflects his sorrow at the events that unfolded:

 

I thought of all that worked dark pits

Of war, and died

Digging the rock where Death reputes

Peace lies indeed

 

The final lines express his fear that in the future, the Minnie Pit miners would be forgotten:

 

They will not dream of us poor lads

Lost in the ground

 

But using Lives of the First World War, we can ensure that we will remember and share the story of the coal miners who made a contribution and sacrifice during the war.

 

  • Lives of the First World War Community

I created a Community page on Lives of the First World War to remember the 156 men and boys who died. I was contacted by Lives Volunteer Yvonne Fenter, who offered help and expertise by creating Life Story pages from the list that I had compiled. You can browse the stories in the Community here.

 

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6 Responses to National Poetry Day – the story behind a poem

  1. derek ottley says:

    Very interesting to read. and from a man to take time to carry out research on this scale shows the true impact it has on both the past and present .
    The many miners who paid the ultimate price undoubtedly deserve their tragedy to never be forgotten.

  2. Anita Grimward says:

    We will never forget them

  3. Tony Broomfield says:

    I tried to find out about my Dad he was in the WW1 he was born in 1898 ,but i can not
    find out any thing is there sites that I can check up on I have tried the normal sites

  4. Trevor Lindley says:

    I was very interested in your piece about miners. Miners were of course a ” reserved occupation” and therefore I was always mystified by a photo I had of My uncle Jim ( a miner) in WW1 uniform. I thought it very unlikely that he would have volunteered. I learnt fairly recently that in the final years of the war (1917?) because of manpower shortages, that up to 50,000 miners were ” Combed out of the mines”. Was this why Uncle Jim was in Uniform?
    I have not seen much mention of this.

  5. Richard Berry says:

    In about 1976, when I was a 20 year old student, I preached in Halmerend Methodist Church. There was an old man (he was quite deaf) who took me afterward to show me a picture hanging on the wall. It showed all the men of the village, almost all of whom were miners. The picture might have been taken in 1916. He told me almost all the men in the picture died in the mining accident. At that time, I was struck with a great sense of tragedy and loss, which has remained with me ever since. Even though 40+ years have passed I still remember that moment and how it affected me. In some small way I feel connected to that terrible event which happened 100 years ago to the day.

  6. My maternal grandfather survived WWI but was too old for WW2 – on being discharged from the army he immediately helped with the General Strike when it came. When WW2 came along he was too old to join up for regular army and joined the Home Guard.
    He was KIA when instructing in grenade throwing – a young chap threw (as he was supposed to) his grenade towards the slit in the side – he missed and grenade rebounded.
    It was about to “go off” and William Foster threw himself on the grenade to save the young men with him – he died instantly – he received a posthumous GC.

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