Category Archives: accident

CWG: Private Alfred Beake

Private Alfred Beake

Alfred Beake was born in December 1898 and was one of nine children to Alfred and Charlotte Beake. Alfred Sr was a baker from Westonzoyland in Somerset, but it was in Chard that he and Charlotte had set up home and raised their family.

There is little documented about Alfred’s life. He played his part in the First World War, and had joined the Worcestershire Regiment by November 1918. His troop – the 5th (Reserve) Battalion – was a territorial force, and he would have split his time between Harwich, Essex, and Plymouth, Devon.

Private Beake survived the war and, by the spring of 1919 had been moved to Dublin. It was here on 18th May that he met with colleagues Private Simpson and Swindlehurst in the centre of the city. The trio caught a tram to the coastal town of Howth for a day out, where tragedy struck.

The Dublin Evening Telegraph reported on what happened next:

Private Sydney Simpson, Royal Engineers, stated… when they got to Howth, they walked along the Cliff Walk for about a mile, when they saw some seagulls down the cliff. [Beake and Swindlehurst] went out of witness’s sight for a while, when he heard a shout from Swindlehurst for help. On hurrying back, he saw Swindlehurst looking towards the sea, and he said the deceased had slipped down. The cliff was so steep that, although they tried to get down, they could not do so. Witness sent for help. None of the party had taken any drink.

Private Swindlehurst… said that he and deceased climbed down the grassy slope to get some seagulls’ eggs, but that the deceased suddenly slipped down. There was no horseplay going on at the time when the accident took place.

Captain Wynne, Royal Army Medical Corps, who made a post mortem examination, described the terrible injuries which the deceased had sustained. Death must have been instantaneous.

Dublin Evening Telegraph: Wednesday 21st May 1919

Private Beake had suffered a fractured skull from the fall. He was just 20 years of age.

Alfred Beake’s body was brought back to Somerset for burial. He was laid to rest in the family plot in Chard Cemetery.


Alfred’s oldest brother, Walter George Beake, had also served in the First World War.

Private Beake fought with the 7th Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry, and was involved in some of the key skirmishes of the Somme. But it was at Ypres that he was buried alive during an attack, and the resulting shell shock left him totally incapacitated.

Walter was discharged from the army on medical grounds in September 1916. He returned home to try and piece his life together again. He never married, and passed away in December 1978, at the age of 87 years old.


CWG: Private Joseph Soper

Private Joseph Soper

Joseph William Soper was born at the start of 1876, the third of eleven children to John and Elizabeth Soper. Both of his parents had been born in Dorset but it was in the Devon town of Axminster that their children were raised. John was a labourer, but, when he finished school, Joseph found work as an ostler or groom.

John passed away at the end of 1894, just months after his youngest son, Arthur, was born. Joseph, by this point, had found work as a postman, and, in the spring of 1897, he married Charlotte Annie Lee in his home town. The couple moved across the border to Somerset and settled in Chard. They went on to have a son, Arthur, who was born in the summer of 1900.

Postal work seemed not to have suited Joseph, and he made the move to labouring for a mason. Money appears to have been tight: the 1911 census recorded Charlotte working as a charwoman, while her younger brother, Herbert, was also lodging with them, and working as a grocer’s porter.

War was coming to Europe, but much of Joseph’s military career is a mystery. He had joined up by the autumn of 1916, and was assigned to the 13th (Works) Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment. He was based in Saltash and Plymouth, and served as part of the territorial force.

The only other documents available are Private Soper’s pension ledger and his entry on the Register of Soldier’s Effects. Both confirm that he died on 12th April 1917, and that the cause was “accidental injury received on active service“. Sadly, there is no further information about this. He was 41 years of age when he passed.

Joseph William Soper’s body was brought back to Somerset for burial. He lies at rest in Chard Cemetery, walking distance from where his widow and son still lived.


CWG: Gunner Arthur Young

Gunner Arthur Young

Arthur William Young was born on 11th July 1900, in the Gloucestershire village of Charfield. His parents, James and Eliza, were both born in the area, and this is where they raised their nine children.

James worked as a bone turner and sawyer, working the material for things like buttons. This was a family trade, and something that Arthur followed his father and older siblings into when he finished school.

By this point, storm clouds were brewing over Europe. Arthur was too young to enlist when war first broke out, but when his older brother Francis died in Northern France in December 1917, this seemed to have driven him to play his part as well.

Arthur enlisted in the Royal Marine Artillery on 1st July 1918, a couple of weeks before his eighteenth birthday. Assigned the rank of Private, his records show that he was 5ft 9ins (1.65m) tall, had blue eyes, brown hair and a fresh complexion. It was also noted that he had a scar on his right wrist and another on his forehead.

After nine months’ service, Arthur was promoted to Gunner and, by the autumn of 1919, he was assigned to the dreadnought HMS Queen Elizabeth.

On 1st December 1920, while moored in Portland Harbour, Dorset, a concert was held on HMS Warspite. Gunner Young attended, but on the trip back to his own ship, the boat he was on collided with another, and he and three others were knocked overboard and drowned. He was just 20 years of age.

Arthur William Young was brought back to Gloucestershire for burial. He was laid to rest in the family plot in the Congregational Chapelyard in his home village of Charfield.


CWG: Private Wilfred Vines

Private Wilfred Vines

Wilfred Vines was born on 19th March 1897 and was one of seventeen children to John and Emma Vines. John was an elastic web maker or braider from Stroud, Gloucestershire, and it was in nearby Wotton-under-Edge that he and Emma raised their growing family.

Braiding and weaving ran in the family: the 1911 census recorded six of the Vines’ children who were over school age were employed in the local mill. This included Wilfred, who was working as a bobbin collector.

War came to Europe, and Wilfred was keen to play his part. He enlisted on 25th May 1915, joining the 15th Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment as a Private. His records show that he stood just 5ft 2ins (1.57m) tall.

Private Vines was sent for training to the camp at Chiseldon, Wiltshire. It seems that, while he was there, he was injured and, although full details are not available, his wounds were serious enough for him to be discharged from the army because of them. He was formally released on 30th May 1916, and returned home to recover and recuperate.

At this point, Wilfred’s trail goes cold. All that is recorded is that, on 5th November 1917, he passed away at home from his injuries. He was just 20 years of age.

Wilfred was laid to rest in the graveyard of St Mary the Virgin Church in his home town. He shares his grave with his younger brother, Leslie, who died the following year.


CWG: Captain William Rowell

Captain William Rowell

William Cecil Rowell was born on 29th November 1892 in Wolborough, Newton Abbot, Devon. He was the youngest of three children to architectural surveyor Spencer Rowell and his wife, Annie.

The 1911 census recorded that William had left the family home to study to be a civil servant, and was boarding with a family in Fulham, London. His studies complete, he was driven by a need to serve his country and, on 22nd January 1913, aged just 20 years old, he enlisted in the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment.

Full details of his service are not available, but it is clear that he was committed to his purpose. He was promoted to Second Lieutenant soon after enlisting, rose to full Lieutenant in November 1914, and Captain a year later. It’s not possible to pinpoint where he served, he was wounded twice and, after his second recovery, he made a transfer to the Royal Flying Corps (later moving to the new Royal Air Force when it was founded in 1918).

Captain Rowell was based at Bekesbourne Airfield in Kent. He qualified as a pilot with 50 Squadron in October 1918, but was injured when, on the 12th November, his Sopwith Camel collided with the hanger. William was admitted to the Military Hospital in nearby Canterbury, but the injuries to his leg proved too severe for it to be saved, and he underwent an amputation in January 1919.

Tragically, while the initial prognosis was good, within a few weeks sepsis set in; Captain Rowell passed away on 22nd May 1919, aged just 26 years old.

William Cecil Rowell’s body was brought back to Devon for burial. He was laid to rest in the family plot in the graveyard of St Mary’s Church in Wolborough.


CWG: Lieutenant Frederick Liardet

Lieutenant Frederick Liardet

Frederick Charles Evelyn Liardet was born in Brighton, now a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, in 1888, and the eldest son of Wilbraham and Eleanor Liardet.

There is little further information about Frederick’s early life, but, when war broke out, he wanted to play his part for King and Country, and enlisted in the Devonshire Regiment.

He had an adventurous career… Having been twice wounded while on active service in France, he was appointed an instructor in the Balloon Section of the Royal Flying Corps.

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette: Tuesday 18th December 1917

On 23rd October 1915, Frederick married Kathleen Norah Liardet in Highweek, Newton Abbot, Devon. She was the daughter of a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Marine Light Infantry, and may have been a cousin (while their surname is unusual enough for there to be a connection, I have been unable to identify a specific connection). The couple went on to have a daughter, Barbara, who was born in 1917.

In 1916, while on a night flight with the Royal Flying Corps, the now Lieutenant Liardet was involved in an accident and badly injured. He returned to England to recover, he and Kathleen living with her family. While his health initially improved, he relapsed and passed away on 13th December 1917, aged just 29 years old.

Frederick Charles Evelyn Liardet was laid to rest in the graveyard of All Saints Church in his adopted home of Highweek, Devon.


CWG: Lieutenant Alan Lloyd

Lieutenant Alan Lloyd

Alan Edward Lloyd was born in around 1899, the second of five children – all boys – to William and Edith Lloyd. Both of his parents were Welsh, and his older brother was born in Cardiff. Railway clerk William moved around the country with work, however, and Alan was born in Lydney, Gloucestershire, his younger brother in Paddington, London, and his two youngest siblings were born in Windsor, Berkshire.

There is little information about Alan’s early life; what is clear is that, by the autumn of 1918, he had been in the army, reaching the rank of Lieutenant. He transferred across to the newly formed Royal Air Force and, in December that year was training as a Flight Cadet at Shotwick Airfield near Chester.

On the 4th December, Alan was flying his Sopwith Camel, when he got into a flat spin; the aircraft crashed and Alan was killed. He was just 19 years old.

Alan Edward Lloyd was brought to Devon – where his family were now living – for burial. He was laid to rest in the graveyard of All Saints Church in Highweek, near Newton Abbot.


Lieutenant Alan Lloyd
(from ancestry.co.uk)

CWG: Second Lieutenant George Woodland

Second Lieutenant George Woodland

George Henry Woodland was born on 9th June 1899, and was one of six children – three boys and three girls – to Mark and Ada Woodland. Mark was a hewer in a coalmine in Radstock, Somerset, and this is where the family were raised.

George – who was better known as Harry – was still at school when war broke out. He had been taught at the Church of England School in his home town, before winning a scholarship to Shepton Mallet Grammar School. Having passed his exams there, he was taken on as a member of staff at his former school, before joining the army in June 1917 when he turned eighteen.

Initially joining the Infantry Training Reserve, Harry was subsequently transferred to the Royal Air Force. After training in Yorkshire for five months, he was transferred to the 52nd Training Depot Station at Cramlington Airfield in Northumberland.

Second Lieutenant Woodland returned home on leave in October 1918. This was the first time that he and his two brothers had been together since war had been declared – one had been serving in France, the other had been injured and was recuperating at a hospital in Bristol. Harry returned to Northumberland on 14th October.

On 5th November 1918, Harry was flying at the Cramlington base; shortly after take off, while carrying out a flat turn at a height of about 100ft, his aircraft stalled and nosedived, catching fire on impact. Tragically, Second Lieutenant Woodland and his passenger – Air Mechanic Ryder – were burnt to death. Harry was just 19 years of age.

George Henry “Harry” Woodland was brought back to Somerset for burial. He was laid to rest in the family plot in the graveyard of St Nicholas’ Church in his home town of Radstock.


Second Lieutenant George Woodland
(from britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk)

CWG: Private James Sanders

Private James Sanders

James Sanders was born on 17th April 1889. One of nine children, his parents were William and Emily Sanders. William worked for a clay company in his home town of Kingsteignton, Devon. He had various roles, including caretaker, inspector and messenger.

William’s son, however, was after bigger things in life and, on 17th July 1907, he enlisted in the Royal Marine Light Infantry. James’ service records show that he was 5ft 6ins (1.67m) tall, had light brown hair, grey eyes and a fresh complexion.

Based out of Plymouth, Private Sanders signed up for an initial period of twelve years. During this time, and throughout the war, he served on six vessels, including 30 months on HMS Argyll (where he was based for the 1911 census) and more than five years on HMS Colossus.

In April 1919, Private Saunders returned to land. When his initial contract was up, he re-enlisted, this time remaining at the Naval Dockyard in Plymouth.

James’ trail goes a little cold for the next couple of years, although he continued in his role with the Royal Marine Light Infantry. On the night of the 28th March 1921, however, he encountered some trouble. The local newspaper reported on the subsequent inquest.

Kingsteignton Man’s Mysterious Death

At an enquiry held at Teignmouth on Saturday afternoon into the circumstances attending the death of Private James Sanders, RMLI… who was found drowned in the river Teign on Friday, it was stated that deceased and seven other Kingsteignton men on Monday visited Teignmouth to attend a football match, at which Sanders acted as touch-judge.

After the match they went to a public house, where deceased had three or four pints of beer and some spirits, which made him unsteady.

They left to catch a bus, but at Station Road deceased turned back. One of his companions followed him, but could not persuade him to return, so he left deceased on his own to travel back home.

The man considered Sanders was in a condition to look after himself. An open verdict was returned.

Wester Times: Friday 8th April 1921

Private James Sanders died on 28th March 1921, aged 31 years old. He was laid to rest with his father, William, who had died in 1908, in the graveyard of St Michael’s Church in Kingsteignton.


CWG: Pioneer James McDowell

Pioneer James McDowell

James Valentine McDowell was born in Ashburton, Devon, on 2nd January 1865. He was one of eight children to William and Louisa McDowell. William was a labourer, and this was a trade that James also took up when he left school.

In the summer of 1884, James was brought up to the Devon Assizes in Exeter, on the charge of attempted suicide. A local newspaper reported that:

It appeared that on June 13th the prisoner, fully dressed, was seen lying at full length in the Yeo, his head resting on a stone, but the remainder of his body was under water. The stream, however, was but three feet deep and six feet wide at this particular point, so the actual danger was not very great.

A witness seeing the position of the prisoner called upon him to come out of the water. He did so. He was very drunk. On leaving the Yeo, the prisoner proceeded towards the Dart, and on his way wished the witness to bid his father and mother good bye. Arrived at the Dart the prisoner attempted to throw himself into the water, but was prevented and handed over to the police.

When in custody the prisoner said this was the second time he had been in the water: next time should be more lucky. Subsequently, however, he stated that he only went to the Yeo for a wash, and this statement he now repeated.

The jury returned a verdict of not guilty, and his Lordship, in discharging the prisoner, advised him next time he wanted a bath not to get drunk beforehand, or he might find himself in deeper water than that in which he was discovered on the present occasion.

Western Times: Saturday 26th July 1884

The same Assizes saw trials for embezzlement, horse stealing, larceny, stack-burning and endeavouring to conceal the birth of a child. The alleged perpetrator of a count of buggery was found not guilty (his alleged offence not named in the same newspaper), while a Henry Davy, 51, was sentenced to 18 months’ hard labour for indecently assaulting a 6 year old girl.

The following year found James back on track. He married local woman Mary Ellen Ellery; the couple set up home in Ashburton and went on to have seven children. The family settled into a routine – James worked as a mason’s labourer; in his spare time, he joined the 3rd Devon Militia. His and Mary’s daughters found work as wool spinners, while their sons also got into labouring work.

War came to Europe in 1914; despite his age, James wanted to play his part. He enlisted when the call came, joining the Royal Engineers as a Pioneer on 19th August 1915. Within a week he was sent to France, and this is where he stayed for the duration of the war.

Pioneer McDowell returned to England on furlough on 2nd February 1919, and was waiting to be demobbed. However, tragedy struck before that became a reality, the same newspaper picking up the story some thirty-five years later:

An Ashburton man named James McDowell, aged about 56 years, a private in the Royal Engineers Labour Battalion, who joined up in August 1915, and had been in France continuously since that time, was found drowned in the mill leat of the the River Yeo at the rear of the cottages in Kingsbridge-lane early on Saturday morning.

He left his home at Great Bridge about 8:30 on Friday night for a short time. To get to the town he had to pass along by the river, which was running very high through the recent heavy rain, and it is supposed that he must have fallen in and had been washed down to where he was found, which was a considerable distance.

He had been demobilised, and was on furlough, and every sympathy is expressed for the family on their sad loss. Dowell [sic] who was well known and was of a jovial disposition, leaves a widow and grown up family.

Western Times: Monday 24th February 1919

Later that week, a summary of the inquest was printed:

Dr EA Ellis said he found a ragged cut over deceased’s left eyebrow, but otherwise there was no sign of violence. The cut was inflicted before death. A post mortem revealed that the cause of death was drowning. His theory was that deceased fell into the river, his head coming into contact with a stone, which inflicted the wound and caused unconsciousness. The spot where the accident was supposed to have happened, he thought, was unsafe and dangerous.

…the jury returned a verdict that the deceased was found drowned, caused by accidentally falling over the wall at the top of North Street… and they wished… to call the attention of the responsible authorities to the danger at this spot, and to the unsatisfactory state of the lighting there.

Western Times: Friday 28th February 1919.

Pioneer James Valentine McDowell drowned on 21st February 1919: he was 56 years of age. His body was laid to rest in the graveyard of St Andrew’s Church in his home village.