Relationships can be deadly

Hertfordshire Mercury, 18th May 1918


Dr Collins, Coroner, held an inquest at Langham House, Sawbridgeworth, on Friday, on the body of a man identified as George Henry Watson Walker, which was found on the railway line close by on the previous Wednesday morning.

Police Constable A. Johnson, of Lowestoft, said that the deceased was his brother-in-law, and was 41.  He was a nurseryman before entering the army and had lived at 12 Broughton Hill, Letchworth.  He had joined the army in March 1915 and was, at the time of his death, a lance-corporal in the 3rd Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders.

He had been wounded twice in this war and also twice in the South African war.  He had also suffered from shell-shock and was very nervous.  He could not rest anywhere, and was strange in his manner.  The witness knew that he had deserted his Regiment.  His wife had returned to live at Letchworth last Monday.  The witness wished the Coroner to know that since the deceased received shell-shock in France in July 1916, he had gradually become worse.  On that occasion, he had lain for 36 hours before being picked up.

From the evidence of engine-driver Alfred Webb, Bishop’s Stortford, and Police Constable Eames, of Thorley, it transpired that the deceased was run over by a special goods train near Spellbrook signal-box at about 5:50am.  The body was cut in two completely.  On the clothing was found, among other things, a pocket-book, on one of the pages of which was written the following message  “Dear Biddy.  I have destroyed everything.  This is the end.  Good-bye.  Think as well as you can of me.  I am glad you are all right now.  The disgrace is too much for me to bear now.  Things might have been otherwise.  It is all for the best, at least I hope so.  George.”  The brother-in-law, recalled, identified the writing, but said he did not know who Biddy was.

On another page was written  “Good-bye, Louie; good-bye, John.  Portmanteau, clothes, books and vases at Mr Biddlecombe’s, The Old Elm, Stort Hill, Bishop’s Stortford, Herts”.  The brother-in-law said that Louie and John were deceased’s wife and son.

On another page was written  “Susie, if your father would have let me wash and shave so that I could have gone back properly dressed, this would not have happened.  Still, it does not matter now, for it is too late”.

Susan Lois Biddlecombe, a masseuse, of Stort Hill, Bishop’s Stortford, said that she was engaged in a war hospital.  She had known the deceased since February 1917 when he was a patient of hers in a convalescent camp in Ireland.  She had been on friendly terms with him since then, and had corresponded with him.  She had last seen him on Tuesday morning, 7th May, between 11:00am and noon.  He was in her father’s yard and witness was inside the house.  Her father had asked him to remove his things and the witness had asked him to do as her father had wished.  She had last had a conversation with him a month ago.

Since then, she had received one note from him posted at Hitchin.  From its contents, she imagined him to be a deserter.  She had been home for 2 or 3 weeks on account of illness.  She did not know how he found out that she was at home, unless he had inquired at the hospital.  She first knew that the deceased was at Bishop’s Stortford just before 11:00pm on Monday night, May 6th., when he threw pebbles up to her bedroom window.  She heard his voice and recognised it.  He called her name  “Susie”.  She was frightened and ran downstairs to her mother, who opened the window and asked him what he wanted.  He said that he wanted to see the witness, but her mother told him it was too late and asked him to go away.  They thought he went, but it appears that he slept in the outhouse.

The Coroner read the note headed “Susie” in the deceased’s pocket-book, and the witness said that she believed it was addressed to her.  She believed her father would not let him shave as he thought that if he got into the house he would not go out again.  The deceased sometimes called her “Biddy”.  The Coroner read the note headed “Dear Biddy” to the witness and she said that she had been ill and believed the disgrace he spoke of was the going back to his Regiment.  The Coroner asked  “What does he mean  ‘I have destroyed everything’ ?”  The witness replied “My letters and possibly photographs”.

The Coroner said  “The conversation she last had with the deceased about a month ago was at Northampton.  She suspected then that he was a deserter”.

The brother-in-law wished other questions to be put to the witness, but the Coroner said that she had given her evidence on oath and very straightforwardly, and had no more committed perjury than had the brother-in-law himself.  The latter then withdrew the remarks he had made.

The jury retired to consider their verdict, which they returned as ‘Suicide while temporarily insane’.

This page was added on 05/11/2015.

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  • George Henry Watson Walker is my Grandfather. It was interesting to find this article and be able to know the truth about what happened as my Father (John) was still an infant when his Father died and his Mother was always described by my Father as being an invalid until her death when Dad was about 16. We were aware that Dad had had quite a peripatetic early life travelling with his Mother from one relative to another as her health deteriorated and attending many different schools.
    Dad eventually made a good life for himself and for us, although in retrospect he was probably always slightly fragile mentally – though not greatly so given what we now know.
    I am very glad that shellshock or PTSD is now so much better understood than it was at that time, and grieve for all those who, like my Grandfather, were mentally crushed by their service to the country, and yet treated in a way considered to be rough justice through the 21st century lens.
    Rachel White

    By Rachel White (30/11/2019)