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Suicide on active service


Perth Digger
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This general topic has probably been dealt with before in other threads, but I've just come across a statement in the 1/20th London War Diary for 3 or 4 May 1915 that an officer (I won't name him here, as I may be wrong, but he was a Captain) had been 'found this morning accidentally shot in his room'. The battalion had gone into billets at Lapugnoy on 3 May and the incident happened on the night of 3/4th as far as I can make out. He was 43 years old and had been in the Stock Exchange pre-1914, their memorial book saying 'he was accidentally killed at the front'.

Am I wrong to be suspicious about this 'accident'? How were cases of officer suicide dealt with? Were they common? Were officers responsible for cleaning their own weapons?

Mike

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If not suicide then he certainly wouldn't have been the first to accidently shoot/kill himself when handling a loaded revolver. There is at least one 1/20th OR memoir published, which I think I have at home - I wonder if that says anything.

I am not sure when 1/20th went to a War Theatre but from the date, I am assuming this happened in UK, in which case there would be a Coroners Report and possibly a Military Court of Enquiry. The Coroners Report would be covered in a local newspaper and details of the CoE would quite possibly exist if the officers Service File is at Kew.

Regards,

Jonathan S

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There must be many cases where either a man felt he had let his pals down when they needed him and couldn't live with himself, or instances where they couldn't face the prospect of going into action again, and perhaps breaking down and seen in public as a coward. There must also have been "accidents" through drink, stupidity or fatigue, or a "blighty one" gone wrong...

I just think that at nearly 100 years on, we can have no idea of the external circumstances in most cases and I wouldn't want to grade deaths "On Active Service" as anything else. Had there not been a War, he wouldn't have been there under whatever pressure, so counts to me as same to be remembered in the same way as as the bravest of the brave. There was a comment on a previous thread where a man was killed with the comment along the lines "it was touch and go what was first as he was eager to get a medal" which I found rather repugnant.

If it was MY ancestor, I wouldn't want it known that his death was a suicide, I'd still honour him as I have no idea as to what may have caused it, but I would want to think it was the only answer he could find in whatever the circumstances were.

Just my opinion...

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I was using this example as a way of introducing the issue and in no way meant it to denigrate anyone (hence my preserving the man's anonymity). On the other hand, if we are ever to get close to how our ancestors responded to their predicament, I don't think bundling all deaths into the same category is the way to go. I agree that in this particular case, or in any other, we will never understand the circumstances fully, but I think it is important to know how the authorities dealt with such situations. I would guess that they took the easy option of ignoring such instances (and thus they did not have to acknowledge that a problem existed).

There must be many cases where either a man felt he had let his pals down when they needed him and couldn't live with himself, or instances where they couldn't face the prospect of going into action again, and perhaps breaking down and seen in public as a coward. There must also have been "accidents" through drink, stupidity or fatigue, or a "blighty one" gone wrong...

I just think that at nearly 100 years on, we can have no idea of the external circumstances in most cases and I wouldn't want to grade deaths "On Active Service" as anything else. Had there not been a War, he wouldn't have been there under whatever pressure, so counts to me as same to be remembered in the same way as as the bravest of the brave. There was a comment on a previous thread where a man was killed with the comment along the lines "it was touch and go what was first as he was eager to get a medal" which I found rather repugnant.

If it was MY ancestor, I wouldn't want it known that his death was a suicide, I'd still honour him as I have no idea as to what may have caused it, but I would want to think it was the only answer he could find in whatever the circumstances were.

Just my opinion...

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Jonathan

You may be thinking of Love and War. The letter writer in that was in hospital at the relevant time. The incident occurred in France (the 1/20th arrived in France in March 1915).

If not suicide then he certainly wouldn't have been the first to accidently shoot/kill himself when handling a loaded revolver. There is at least one 1/20th OR memoir published, which I think I have at home - I wonder if that says anything.

I am not sure when 1/20th went to a War Theatre but from the date, I am assuming this happened in UK, in which case there would be a Coroners Report and possibly a Military Court of Enquiry. The Coroners Report would be covered in a local newspaper and details of the CoE would quite possibly exist if the officers Service File is at Kew.

Regards,

Jonathan S

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How were cases of officer suicide dealt with?

I have come across one officer suicide in my research. It was recorded in the battalion war diary: '2/lt XXX shot himself'.

A Brigade-level Court of Inquiry followed. Its members were a captain, a lieutenant, and a 2/lt. The captain and 2/lt were from the officer's own battalion. The court took statements from the dead man's company commander, two other battalion officers and the battalion medical officer. Its finding was that the officer 'committed suicide whilst temporarily insane'. The report was countersigned by the battalion CO, the brigade commander and the divisional commander, and was sent to up to Corps HQ.

The officer's name appears on his local war memorial, but not on the battalion's roll of honour. He is recorded in the War List of his university as 'Died'.

I came across this incident by chance. The focus of my research was actually the 2/lt who was posted to replace this officer. He mentioned his predecessor in a letter home and, from what he wrote, it would appear he was unaware of the exact circumstances of the officer's death. I'd therefore guess that the man's suicide was not common knowledge in the battalion and, having been dealt with discreetly in a Court of Inquiry, the matter was closed.

Tunesmith

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This general topic has probably been dealt with before in other threads, but I've just come across a statement in the 1/20th London War Diary for 3 or 4 May 1915 that an officer (I won't name him here, as I may be wrong, but he was a Captain) had been 'found this morning accidentally shot in his room'. The battalion had gone into billets at Lapugnoy on 3 May and the incident happened on the night of 3/4th as far as I can make out. He was 43 years old and had been in the Stock Exchange pre-1914, their memorial book saying 'he was accidentally killed at the front'.

Am I wrong to be suspicious about this 'accident'? How were cases of officer suicide dealt with? Were they common? Were officers responsible for cleaning their own weapons?

Mike

I wonder why you choose to put accident in inverted commas? Unless you have further evidence which you have not shared with us, there is absolutely no reason to assume that this was anything else. Hundreds of accidental deaths occurred throughout the war and indeed before and after the war. Wherever loaded guns are handled, accidents happen. Did then, still do. The death of any man in his billet would be the subject of an enquiry to establish cause of death. The army was no stranger to suicides and would have no reason to hide it beyond the normal care for the relatives' feelings.

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I am not sure when 1/20th went to a War Theatre but from the date, I am assuming this happened in UK,

He and his unit were in France since March '15. Financial and domestic troubles still played a part in the tension of men's lives even tho' there was a war on. Such social and sexual pressures can't be ruled out in a case of self-inflicted. What can be kept private in civvy street is often difficult to conceal in a men's mess. Always a tragedy. Yours, A.

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George MacPhearson is probably the most famous officer suicide in WW1 and the W.O. were moved to cover that up. I dont expect this was for the feelings of his family but more likely out of similar motives as to why they decided to shoot others as examples.

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He and his unit were in France since March '15.

Thansk for the clarification. If we obtain a name and anyone is going to Kew soon, it would be worth looking at his officer file. I still wouldnt rule out accident.

Regards,

Jonathan S

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This general topic has probably been dealt with before in other threads, but I've just come across a statement in the 1/20th London War Diary for 3 or 4 May 1915 that an officer (I won't name him here, as I may be wrong, but he was a Captain) had been 'found this morning accidentally shot in his room'. The battalion had gone into billets at Lapugnoy on 3 May and the incident happened on the night of 3/4th as far as I can make out. He was 43 years old and had been in the Stock Exchange pre-1914, their memorial book saying 'he was accidentally killed at the front'.

Am I wrong to be suspicious about this 'accident'? How were cases of officer suicide dealt with? Were they common? Were officers responsible for cleaning their own weapons?

Mike

Take a look at this one for a bit of avoiding the obvious in respect of 'suicide'

http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/i...75&hl=silas

Jon

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Medals were issued and he's listed as "Acc'd killed" on his MIC. Brother won an OBE and MID also with 1/20th- would have been out there in May also.

The subject served in the Boer War in the 2nd Vol. Coy. RWK and was a Major in the Territorial Reserve, but accidents can happen to anyone. Times Obit only gives "as a result of an accident".

Doesn't look like his file has survived, or that of his brother if I was using the Catalogue correctly. Don't think we can go beyond supposition unless there is something in brigade papers.

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Possibly WO 374/45968 ?

He was a Captain and initials are incorrect.

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He was a Captain and initials are incorrect.

The initials I was looking for are "C.G." Which initials have you identified?

I wouldnt be put off by Lt shown in Catalogue as that may have been his substantive rank, but thats why I marked it up with a "?". If I was going to Kew I would think it worth a look (if "C.G." is correct).

Regards,

Jonathan S

Edited: What did concern me was the WO number. Probably too high for an officer that was probably serving in TF pre-war.

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Edited: Apologies to Perth Digger as I identified him in my original post #20. To maintain the integrity of Perth Digger's original post I wish I hadnt.

For those interested who have also identified the officer concerned, a google search of his full name will lead to a photo on http://www.roll-of-honour.com/ [although it will state he served with 10th London's].

I think it most likely his death was through accident.

Regards,

Jonathan S

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He was definitely 20th. Looks like the Stock Exchange got their '1' and '2' mixed up.

Matthew

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