The novel is fictional but based upon real events.
The charactors Hervey (a Cornet) had been discussing the heroes of Trafalgar 1805 when his Sergeant-Major (Armstrong a Geordie ) said the following
"And every man at Trafalgar is an ’ero, and every one of them four hundred and fifty is a dead ’ero. But no one ’as ever heard of the men and bairns killed that same day in ’Ebburn colliery – thirty-five of ’em, two of Nelson’s ships’ worth of dead ’eroes, and as many cripples. And the dead all sent to their Maker in a split second’s explosion of firedamp – my father and ’is father, and my two
brothers. I was the youngest and should’ve been there with ’em except I’d been ’urt in a roof-fall a day afore.’
Hervey was all but overcome, not just by the horror of the accident but by his knowing so little of things. From time to time news reached Horningsham of accidents in the coal mines nearby in Somerset, but the details were always sparse. ‘But I never knew that men could be killed in such numbers,’ he said at length, his brow furrowing in disbelief.
‘And bairns, and their mothers and sisters an’ all sometimes,’ added Armstrong emphatically, though more in resignation than in bitterness. Bitterness was reserved for what followed. ‘And you know what, Mr ’Ervey? That explosion made two dozen widows and a hundred orphans in ’Ebburn village, an’ all thrown on the parish with no extra from the coal owners. My mother died in three months in a damp and lousy poorhouse.’
The birdsong swelled as Hervey sank once more into silence. Armstrong sat impassively, disinclined to tempt him from his thoughts. At length Hervey confronted his shame. ‘Serjeant Armstrong, I am truly humbled to admit of my ignorance of all this, and I cannot conceive of how I have never read of these the newsapapers if they are so frequent.
That one at ’Ebburn was small by comparison! And you know why you don’t hear of ’em? Because the papers are forbidden to report ’em, that’s why"
Food for thought!
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