Jet The Rescue Dog

On 15th August 1947, there was a devastating disaster at the William Pit in Whitehaven. 104 miners lost their lives when an explosion ripped through the mine. Miraculously, and to the astonishment of rescue works, three men walked out alive. William Pit opened in 1806 and closed in 1955, the pit was dubbed "the most dangerous pit in the kingdom" in 1816 when it was selected to test the newly invented Sir Humphry Davy’s Safety Lamp.

Dogs trained in body recovery work were unavailable following the devastating explosion, so two dogs were sent from the RAF Police Dog School at Staverton, and Jet of Lada was collected from his owner on the journey north. After his efforts helped save the rescuers he was awarded the RSPCA's Medallion of Valor. Jet had done a lot of body recovery work during the London air raids but had been back with his owner as a pet for nearly two years.

On being informed of the disaster at William Pit, Mrs. Cleaver, who was brought up in the Rhondda Valley, Wales, at first refused a request for Jet’s help, even though the request was being made personally by Colonel Baldwin. With the phone still in her hand, and in the few seconds that followed the request (she did not like the thought of Jet going just to recover what was, more than likely, only dead bodies) her childhood recollections resurfaced of women standing at the pithead waiting for news of their men folk during the aftermath of a pit explosion... she gave her consent.

Jet did not go willingly into the van when it called to collect him. He had to be lifted into the van from behind, his head drooped. He was quiet for the whole of the journey to Whitehaven but, on nearing the pit, he began to sniff and tremble. It was as if he knew he was back at work and could sense the tragedy. A training gallery was hurriedly prepared at the pit top, where the dogs were given a little practice before being taken down the pit.

Along with two other rescue dogs, Prince and Rex, and their handlers from the RAF School for Police Dogs from Gloucester, Flight-Lieut. Cooper, Corporal’s Jenkins, Darnell and Marshall, the latter from Moss Lane, Orrell Park, Liverpool, helped search the mine for the remaining four bodies.

This was the first recorded instance of dogs being used down the mines for the rescue of people. "Although Jet had never been in a cage before he was quite calm then, working seven-hour shifts, led the search party miles out under the sea. Jet and his handler had to burrow their way, wriggling like worms under the rubble and climb heaps of slack still smouldering through the recent combustion, or leaping over dangerous fissures..."

There was always the intolerable heat, gas fumes and the ever-present stench of death. The men had their feet protected and wore masks. The dogs could not. Although it was too late to save the lives of any miners, Jet however saved the rescue party. During the search Jet looked up, whined and moved back. His handler called to the search party to stop and move back. As they did there was a fall of rock. The search party had been saved by Jet’s warning of the impending collapse of the mine roof and the handler’s quick response. His handler said: "He certainly is a star dog."

After all the remaining bodies were found, his handler returned Jet home - Jet didn't move from his bed for two days following his extraordinary feat in the "most dangerous pit in the Kingdom".

Jet With His Handler
Jet With His Handler


Whitehaven had been small harbour and fishing village from 13th century or earlier. Expansion began in mid-17th century with building of piers by Lowthers 1632-4 and 1679-81 and granting of market charter 1660. By the 1680s it had grown rapidly, expanding from village of c.30 households in early 17th century to a town of over 1,000 inhabitants by 1685, which more than doubled to 2,281 by 1696. Sir John Lowther had laid out grid of streets by 1680s, making Whitehaven the earliest planned new town in post-medieval Britain.

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