Living: Book Reviews - How Hellfire Jack Made Europe Shake

Article excerpt

Byline: RICHARD WILLIAMSON

AN hour before dawn on June 7, 1917, the Earth convulsed under the hammer blow of one of the greatest man-made explosions of all time.

The blast was the work of a stupendous 933,200lbs of explosives - and it was 'the big idea' of a Black Country hero called Hellfire Jack.

When the First World War broke out in 1914, John Norton Griffiths was the 42-year-old Conservative MP for Wednesbury and a man determined to make his mark on the world.

He certainly did that when the big bang hit the Messines Ridge not far from Ypres.

The explosives had been laid in 19 tunnels stretching for up to 2,000 feet under no-man's land until they sat right beneath the enemy positions.

Norton Griffiths would later claim that the explosion saved 50,000 casualties as the infantry advanced to take the ridge from the shattered German defenders.

The extraordinary story of the Black Country MP and the miners he led into battle is told in War Underground by Alexander Barrie (Spellmount, pounds 14. …