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Chalk Pit Deaths
TOOTH Alfred H, Lance Corporal. 13309.
3rd Battalion Manchester Regiment. Died 31 January 1916, aged 43.
From the Epsom Advertiser dated 4 February 1916.
SOLDIER'S DEATH IN A CHALK PIT
COMRADE'S NARROW ESCAPE
The sad circumstances attending the death of a soldier on the staff at Woodcote Convalescent Camp were related to the Coronor (Mr. Gilbert White) at the Court House, Epsom, on Wednesday morning.
Deceased was Lance-Corpl. Alfred Tooth of the 3rd Manchester Regiment whose home was at Manchester; he was a married man and leaves two children aged six and four. On Sunday evening deceased and a friend named Atkins left Epsom for Ashtead and while walking back across the fields in ignorance of danger ahead, scaled a fence at the summit of a chalk pit, both men falling into a veritable death trap. Lance-Corpl. Tooth fell something like 50 ft. Atkins was more fortunate in falling only a short distance; he received no severe injuries.
Evidence of identification was given by deceased's wife, Agnes Tooth, who stated that she lived in Manchester. Her husband was about 43 years of age and joined the Army shortly after the outbreak of war and for some time had been on the staff at Woodcote Convalescent Camp. In civil life deceased was a journeyman painter. Witness last saw her husband alive at Christmas.
Charles Read, labourer, in the employ of the Epsom District Council, stated that on Monday morning he was working near the chalk pit in Woodcote-road and had occasion to go across the field at the top of the pit. Looking over the fence witness saw a man lying at the bottom of the pit and he at once gave information to the police.
In answer to the Coroner witness said it was 11 o'clock when he saw deceased: he started work at 7 o'clock but had seen no one go towards the chalk pit.
The most important piece of evidence was that given by Pte. Benjamin Atkins of the same regiment as deceased and also on the staff at the camp. He was in the company of Tooth on Sunday evening at Ashtead having left Epsom at a quarter to six. Witness and deceased had a few drinks and at nine o'clock commenced walking back across the fields, a short cut to the camp. They could see the lights at Epsom camp and made straight for them. Tooth kept a short distance in front of witness. Both men climbed over some fencing and witness turned to the left believing deceased was still in front. Having crawled through bushes witness rolled down a chalk bank. He lost his hat. Cries for help elicited no answer and so he climbed to the top of the bank and walked to the camp, believing that deceased had arrived there. The next morning witness noticed that Tooth was not in bed - for they slept in the same hut - but he did not mention the matter to anyone. About mid-day he learned that the body of a soldier had been found and then he mentioned that he had been with Tooth the evening before.
The Coroner - How long have you been at Woodcote?
Witness - six months
You knew the chalk pit? - I had never seen it before in my life.
You had no trouble in walking from Ashtead to the fence? - None whatever. It was very dark indeed.
Had you had much to drink at Ashtead? - About six drinks each.
Did you have anything to drink at the camp before you started? - Just a little
In answer to the Foreman of the jury (Mr. E. Hitchcock) witness said he heard no cry or moan before he missed deceased. It did not occur to him to inquire after the safety of his friend.
Det-sergt. Charles Young stated that at 12.30 noon on Monday in company with Pte. Kersey, he went to Headley-road where he saw the body of deceased lying at the foot of a chalk pit. About 50 yards from the body was another soldier's hat and there were also footprints leading to the top of the pit. Behind a fence he found footprints of two men and on the fence were marks of two men having scaled it.
The Foreman of the Jury - Was there any sign of a struggle?
Witness - I should say none whatever.
Mr. Hitchcock (to the Coroner) I though it was only fair to the friends of the deceased that I should ask the question, because rumour was rife in the town yesterday that there was a struggle.
Pte. Kersey spoke to receiving a message at the police station from Lieut.-Col. Kilkelly, the Commanding Officer at the Woodcote Convalescent Camp that a soldier had been found dead in a chalk pit. Witness went with Det.-sergt. Young to the spot and was able to confirm the evidence already given. There was no sign of a struggle.
Medical evidence was given by Dr. W. Thornely of Epsom, who was of opinion that Tooth had been dead several hours when found. When he examined the body he found that the right arm was broken just above the wrist, the shoulder badly bruised and the neck broken.
A verdict of "Accidental death" was returned.
BRUNS Frederick Burton, Private. 2009126.
Canadian Army Medicval Corps. Died 25 June 1919, aged 29.
From the Epsom Advertiser dated 4 July 1919.
SOLDIER'S TERRIBLE FALL
SIXTY FEET DOWN A PIT Mysterious Wound : Doctors Differ
Mystery surrounds the tragedy death at Woodcote Park Convalescent Camp, Epsom, last week when as reported in the "Advertiser" the terribly injured body of a Canadian soldier was found at the bottom of a chalk pit between 60 ft. and 70 ft. deep. At the inquest, conducted by Mr. Gilbert White, at Leatherhead on Saturday, doctors differed regarding a wound on deceased's nose and the jury returned an open verdict.
Corpl. Joseph Arthur Lallende, CAMC, stationed at Woodcote Convalescent Camp, identified the body as that of Pte. Frederick Burton Bruns who was about 25 years of age and who had been at the camp for about two months. On Wednesday they left camp together and at Ashtead Station they parted, deceased going to Wimbledon and witness to Sutton.
Mabel May, 125 Gladstone-road, Wimbledon, stated that she met deceased for the first time at 9.10 p.m. on Wednesday and stayed with him for about an hour. Outside her house they parted, deceased telling her that he was going back to camp by the 10.55 p.m. train. He was quite sober.
Pte. Frank Durrance, Canadian University Corps, Woodcote Park Camp, said that on Wednesday of last week he was on duty at No. 2 gate at the camp. Between 12.35 a.m. and 1 a.m., after a civil policeman with whom he had been talking left him, he heard three distinct shouts from the direction of the quarry. The first shout was loud, but the others grew fainter. As it rained shortly afterwards, he went into his sentry box. It was there he saw a soldier coming through the hedge from the path which led to the quarry. Witness challenged him and he replied that he was a "friend from the Hospital" coming across to witness and saying, "My friend has jumped the fence and I think he has fallen into the quarry. I think he may be killed."
Witness told him to go to the guard room if he wanted any aid, but he said, "If I report to the guard room I am out of hospital without permission and I shall be punished for it." Witness therefore let him into the camp and called out the guard who found the body in the quarry.
SHORT CUT TO WOODCOTE CAMP
By the foreman of the jury (Mr. A. Allen) - He distinctly heard three shouts and not moans.
By Supt. Coleman, representing the Surrey County Constabulary - There was nothing in the shouts to suggest to him that there was a man in distress.
Lieut. F. Cawthorne, officer in charge of the guard at Woodcote Camp on Wednesday evening, stated that he was notified by the corporal in charge of No. 2 guard that cries had been heard as if someone needed help. He sent two men with a lantern to search and with another man he went towards the quarry. They searched round the top of the quarry and afterwards went to the bottom, where they found the body. It was outstretched, with legs crossed, and the heart had ceased to beat. The depth of the pit was about 60 ft. There were no signs of a struggle on the top. Captain Manford Robert Carr, CAMC who was called to the quarry immediately the discovery was made, said there were severe injuries to the head, and death must have been instantaneous.
Pte. Kersey with Col. Guest, Commandant of the camp, and Major Bird, Adjutant, went to the bottom of the pit where there was a pool of blood, a piece of scalp and a quantity of brain. Half-way down the cliff two lumps of chalk had been recently knocked away. On the edge of the cliff in line with the spot where the body was found there were two heel marks. Several palings of the fence were broken away, but anybody who wanted to get to the edge of the cliff would have to get under the middle strut. Witness's opinion was that deceased knocked his head half-way down the side of the cliff as he fell. Near the pit was a short cut to the camp from Ashtead but he would not like to use it in the dark, although he knew it well. Had deceased got through the fence a little higher up he would have skirted the pit and it might be fairly said that he missed his way.
Pte Rose deposed to finding £5 in Treasury notes, silver and bronze coins, a permanent pass and letter from deceased's brother in the United States on the body.
Dr. L. Potts, Leatherhead, who in company with Lieut.-Col. McDermott, Medical Officer at the camp, made the post-mortem, said the skull was smashed to pulp. The jaw bone, chest bone and collar bone were fractured, as also was the fourth rib on the right side, while the liver was ruptured. The heart and lungs were perfectly normal and there was no disease about the man. There was also an incised wound from the tip of the nose running upwards to the near side of the left eyebrow. It was a very clean cut between 2.5 inches and 3 in. in length. He thought all the injuries with the exception of this wound could be accounted for by the fall. In his opinion the wound could not have been caused by the fall but must have been caused by some sharp instrument such as a knife, dagger or bayonet.
Lieut.-Col. Hugh McDermott, CAMC did not agree that this wound was caused by any instrument, his view being that the crushing in of the side of the skull tore away the side of the nose and the bone above.
By Supt. Coleman - He did not think any instrument had been used at the bottom of the pit and if one had been used at the top, one would have expected to find a good deal of blood about.
The jury retired and after a time the foreman returned and asked if the inquest was adjourned the authorities could produce the corporal of the guard and the soldier who came through the hedge.
Lieut.-Col. McDermott replied in the affirmative with regard to the corporal but said they did not know the other.