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The Report of the Inquest

The Keep May 2012
The Keep May 2012

On 6th October 1922 there was a tragic episode at Kempston Barracks when a soldier killed one of his comrades. A week later, on 13th October 1922, The Bedfordshire Times reported as follows.

“The inquest upon the body of Private Wilfred Thomas Pickford of the Beds and Herts Regiment, Kempston Depot, who came by his death there on Friday night, was held on Monday at the Barracks by Mr. F. T. Tanqueray, Coroner for the King’s Honour of Ampthill. Captain Fanning (Company Officer) represented the Commanding Officer; Lieutenant Coe (Adjutant) was in attendance; Superintendent Purser represented the County Police; Mr. D. Mace (on behalf of Mr. G. B. Lee Roberts) represented Lance-Corporal Baldwin, who was mot present. Mr. J. W. Freeman was chosen foreman of the jury, and P. S. Busby acted as Coroner’s Officer”.

“The Coroner, in his opening remarks, said that it appeared that the man returned to barracks about 10.40 p.m. and went into the guardroom and signed his name, leaving there to go to his sleeping quarters. Shortly afterwards someone was heard to say “Don’t Corporal” and a man came out of the guardroom and Pickford was found lying in the gateway on the stones. Someone carried him to the place where he slept and laid him down and subsequently he was discovered to be dead. That was the first statement to be received by him, but since then he had had a statement from another witness, who put out the lights in the barrack square, who said that as he was near the guardroom he saw Lance-Corporal Baldwin strike the deceased, who fell down. If that was so it looked as if the cause if death might be the blow given by Baldwin. A post-mortem had been made and if the death was found to be attributable to that blow it might be very serious for Lance-Corporal Baldwin. Then would come the question as to how the blow was given, whether there was a previous quarrel, whether there was a fair fight, or whether the blow was in self-defence. On all these points he would wait before making a statement”.

“Private Arthur Pickford said his brother’s age was 20 years and 10 months”.

“George Diprose, barrack labourer, said his duty was to put out the lights. On Friday he put out the lights in the Barrack room at 10.35 pm and then went over to sit in the guardroom under the archway at the entrance. He sat there until about 10.40 when he came down the steps, and saw Lance-Corporal Baldwin and Private Pickford talking under the lamp on the wall in the middle of the archway. When he got a couple of paces by them he heard Pickford say “Oh Corporal” or “Don’t Corporal”. He turned round and saw Baldwin hit Pickford with his fist and knock him up against the gate. He could not say where the blow fell, it was all done so quickly. Pickford fell down in a heap. Baldwin went up to him and said “Get up, I’ve only hit you once”. Pickford did not speak. Sergeant Newham came up and asked “What’s up?” Witness replied “You can see”. The Sergeant walked down to the gate and somebody from the guardroom picked Pickford up. They took him to the barrack room”.

“In reply to the Coroner’s question, Diprose said that when he saw the two men talking he heard no swearing but they were “talking rough”. He would have taken no notice but for the exclamation “Oh Corporal” or “Don’t Corporal”. He could not hear what they were talking about and did not see Pickford strike a blow. He saw Pickford come into the guardroom and “sign in”. He could not see anything wrong with him whatever while he was in the guardroom. Baldwin had had drink”.

“Private V. A. T. Lambert said he was on the gate duty on Friday at the main entrance. Lance-Corporal Baldwin was in charge. The guardroom was on the left side of the entrance arch. Pickford came in about 10.40 pm from the town. He signed the book and left the guardroom. Two or three minutes later witness heard someone running from the square towards the gateway. He looked out of the guardroom door to see what had happened and saw Pickford on the ground on the left hand side of the gateway near the gate. Baldwin came up from the direction of the square, went up to Pickford and said to Pickford as he was lying on the floor, “I’ll give you Mary”. Deceased was nicknamed “Mary Pickford”. Pickford replied to Baldwin “Oh, don’t Corporal”, Baldwin picked him up and let him go and he fell backward on his head. Sergeant Newham then came up and picked Pickford up and let him go too. He fell back again, Witness then went and tried to pick him up. He could not manage it and Baldwin assisted. Witness helped to put Pickford on to Lance Corporal Baldwin’s shoulders and he carried him away. Pickford felt unconscious he was dead-weight when witness picked him up”.

“By Mr. Mace: Corporal Baldwin had had drink, a little too much”.

“Lieutenant Coe said he ought not to have left his post. He was in charge of the whole police. The witness, however, was right to be in the guardroom as after 10 pm the gates were shut”.

“By the Coroner: Baldwin went out into the town at 9.30 and came back about 10.5”.

“By Mr. Mace: he brought back a bottle of whiskey with him. There were four or five people in the guardroom and the whiskey was drunk before Pickford came in”.

“In reply to the Foreman, Lieutenant Coe said that was disobedience”.

“Private G. S. Walters, who helped Sergeant Newham to put Pickford into his bed, said he gave no sign of consciousness but there were internal noises”.

“Private Lionel Bentley, who was also in the guardroom, said that Baldwin appeared to be under the influence of drink”.

“By the foreman: He did not hear Pickford being “saucy””.

“By Mr. Mace: He did not see any whiskey in the guardroom, neither did he notice anything out of the ordinary. He did not know that Baldwin was drunk at all until he was coming back across the square”.

“Sergeant W. L. Newham said he was having a conversation with Diprose when they heard a cry from the archway. When he got there he saw Private Walters bending over someone on the ground just inside the gate, and asked what had happened. Walters said “He’s been hit”. He looked at the man and saw there was no blood and no marks, and came to the conclusion that he had been knocked out. Later on Lambert told witness that Baldwin had struck Pickford and witness went across to the bedroom to see if Pickford was in bed. He found deceased lying on the pavement with Walters by him. He did not appear to be conscious, but like a man “knocked out””.

“Ex-Superintendent Thomlinson: Had there been a fight? – I don’t know, but I was informed by Walters that Baldwin had struck him”.

“The Foreman: Nothing would justify an N. C. O. striking a private like that? - he had no right to strike him under any circumstances”.

“In reply to Mr. Mace, witness said he saw the whiskey but had none himself. He saw no one other than sober. If he had seen anyone drunk it would have been his duty to place him under arrest. Witness should not have allowed the whiskey there”.

“By a juryman: He was not on guard, but must assume responsibility for anything happening there”.

“In answer to further questions Sergeant Newham said there was nothing to make him think Baldwin was drunk”.

“Sergeant Mundy R. A. M. C. [Royal Army Medical Corps] of the military hospital, said that about 11.20 pm on October 6 he was called to deceased and found him in bed, partly dressed. On examination witness found he was dead. He had two abrasions on the right forehead and his lips were pale. The body was warm”.

“Lieutenant-Colonel A. R. C. Parsons, R. A. M. C., Medical Officer at the barracks, spoke to being called to Pickford and finding him dead. He had been dead about an hour. There were four or five marks extending from the right temple across the right side of the forehead. The abrasions on the forehead were caused, in his opinion, shortly before death, and in his opinion the cause of death was concussion of the brain caused by a blow on the temple or forehead. In his opinion this blow was caused by a fist. He had measured the distances between the marks and between the knuckles on Lance Corporal Baldwin’s fist. They exactly coincided and the corporal’s knuckles were considerably bruised. He did not notice evidence of a fall on the back of the head. A fall sufficient to cause concussion would have left a mark”.

“The Coroner then asked the Medical Officer to go and examine the body with a view to finding whether there was such a mark”.

“Upon his return Colonel Parsons said there was no mark of injury at the back of the head”.

“By Mr. Mace: He did not think the edge of one of the cobbles could have caused the marks. There was nothing on the gate that could have caused marks like that”.

“The Coroner, in summing up, said that they first of all had the fact that the man died from concussion and that there were marks on his right forehead corresponding with the knuckles of lance Corporal Baldwin. Secondly they had the evidence of the man who put out the lights that he saw Baldwin strike the man and knock him down against the gate. The other witnesses came upon the scene after the man was struck and knocked down and he saw no reason to doubt that what Diprose said was virtually the truth. The man had concussion caused by the blow of Baldwin, and the question for them to decide was whether Baldwin was guilty of murder or manslaughter or whether the blow was accidental or in self-defence”.

“After a short consultation in private the foreman of the jury said that the most lenient verdict in the case which they could return was one of manslaughter against Lance Corporal Baldwin”.

“At the conclusion of the inquest Lance Corporal Baldwin was arrested and brought to Gadsby Street Police Station, Bedford, where, later in the afternoon, before Mr. G. C. Walker, he was formally charged with the manslaughter of Private Pickford. No evidence was offered and he was formally remanded until Saturday morning at 11 a.m. He was the removed to Bedford Prison”.