Loraine Gray (left) and Elizabeth Waters hold the coal pick and watch of their father, Henry “Gunner” Clark (pictured right).
Loraine Gray (left) and Elizabeth Waters hold the coal pick and watch of their father, Henry “Gunner” Clark (pictured right).

Daughters recall day they lost dad

HENRY Clark packed more into his 52 years than most of us would manage in 100 lifetimes before he died in a tragic mining accident at the Cornwall Colliery in 1965.

The man known as Gunner Clark for his wartime heroism will be remembered on the Ipswich Rosewood Coalminers Memorial as one of the 185 people who lost their lives in local mines. The memorial will soon be erected in Limestone Park.

For two of his daughters - Loraine Gray and Elizabeth Waters - he will always be remembered as a loving dad who rose from tough beginnings to become an Ipswich legend.

A young Henry came to Australia from England as a 14-year-old child immigrant and went to an orphanage in Western Australia.

He later joined the army and fought in the Second World War and he became known as "Gunner" Clark for his proficiency in the role. He gained numerous war medals including the Australia Service Medal 1939-1945, The War Medal, The Defence Medal, Pacific Star, Africa Star and 1939-1945 Star. During the war he was on a ship bombarded by the Germans. Gunner Clark was left floating in the water after the attack but swam to safety.

He served in Libya, Egypt, Greece, Crete, Palestine, Tel Aviv, Borneo and New Guinea. On returning from the war he went to work in the mines in Ipswich. His wife, Laura Kathage, was from a mining family. Her father, August Kathage, owned mines in the area.

"Mum's father August started the first Westfalen Number One mine at Thagoona, which ran from 1931 to 1948 when the seam ran out," Loraine says.

"When dad came back from the war he helped mum's older brother Otto to start Westfalen Number Two (mine) at Dinmore."

Loraine was 15 when her father died at Cornwall Colliery on that fateful day of August 26, 1965.

"As kids we lived down at Creek St and the mine at Blackstone, so it wasn't far away," she recalls.

"I can remember all the ambulances flying down Blackstone Rd. Mum said to us kids: 'I hope that is not the mine.' It wasn't until later that night that the minister and mum's brothers came to the house to tell mum that there had been a problem. Our sister Lynette, who was the second eldest, had been married a week before dad was killed and they had to bring her back from her honeymoon. It was a tragic time all round."

Mr Clark had only worked at the mine for a couple of years and often told his children it was unsafe.

"There were six or seven men in the mine and they heard the roof creaking," Lorraine says.

"Dad was working on the machine. The men got out and dad apparently went back to turn the machine off. At the start they said dad might have got under the machine…but he didn't."

The book, Death in the Mines: The Year by Year Toll, records the incident and how it could have been avoided. Queensland Miners secretary Cyril Vickers said that "the Queensland executive held that mechanisation had increased the risk of accidents because of... inadequate timbering for big machines and the noise of the machines". He said the tragedy could have been averted "if the roar of the machine had not prevented the men from hearing the working of the roof".

It was understood that better methods of securing the supports at the mine were needed.

The book records that "on August 26, 1965 Henry 'Gunner' Clark was caught under a fallen rock in West Moreton's Edward S. Cornwall mine at Blackstone. The rock covered an area of about 40 feet by 20 feet and it was estimated to weigh 200 tons".

Workmates, mining officials and rescuers dug for 13 hours to search for Gunner Clark and a doctor who went down into the mine found that he would have died instantly in the accident. The Ipswich community spirit was also in evidence. Women's Auxilary members came to the pit-top to keep up a supply of hot drinks and food as the search continued.

Mr Clark had Elizabeth's nurse's watch with him at the time of the accident. The watch, with its hands broken, was subsequently found and is a prized possession of Elizabeth.

Loraine still has her dad's mining pick that has his initials, HC, on it. Mr Clark's funeral was held at St John's Lutheran Church in Ipswich and Loraine says it was "one of the biggest funerals that Ipswich had seen at that time".

"The church was packed and it was standing room only outside...and the miners gave him a guard of honour."

The two sisters adored their dad who they both agree was "happy-go-lucky" and the perfect father to them and their siblings Lynette, Jennifer, Gary and Deborah.

"He was a good husband and an absolutely wonderful dad," Elizabeth says.

"He would do anything for anyone.

"Dad was also a terrific swimmer and he used to go swimming with us when we went camping and he'd have three of us on his back going under the water - that is how strong he was."

Loraine remembers her father as an immaculate man who was always perfectly groomed.

"He always had his hair in place with California Poppy hair oil. I can still remember the smell to this day," she recalls.

It was hard on the family afterwards with no compensation available as there is today.

Loraine worked in the office of Wesfalen Number Two mine for eight years until 1974 when she became pregnant with her daughter.

"Mining was our life," she says.

Elizabeth says her dad "wasn't bitter about anything in his life" and his positive attitude rubbed off on the family.

As she puts it: "How much more could you pack into a life?"

Gunner Clark's legacy was one duty, hard work and loving his family. He will not be forgotten.

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