An army deserter, a gypsy, being buried alive, stealing, and running away !

Hertfordshire Mercury, 2nd March 1918



At a special court at Much Hadham, on Saturday, a Private in the Bedfordshire Regiment, named William James Sale (19), of Puckeridge, was charged with being concerned, with another man not in custody, in the theft of a bay mare, a cart, and a harness, and two rugs, together of the value of £65, the property of Mr E. Pigg, junior, of Patient End Farm, Furneux Pelham, on the night of 5th February.  He was further charged with the theft of a pair of boots, valued at 7s 6d, the property of Thomas Holland, of Furneux Pelham.

Mr Pigg, having given formal evidence of his loss, Thomas Holland, who is groom/gardener to Mr Pigg, said that he arrived at 5.30 a.m. at the farm on the 5th and missed the horse, the cart and the harness etc, also the pair of boots and a hat from the harness room.  Against the door was a quantity of corn in a sack which had not been there the night before.  Mr and Mrs Pigg got home after 11.00 p.m. on the 4th., and when taking the pony out the witness saw two men pass in front of the yard door.  He peered round the corner to see where they were and, by the light of his lamp, thought they looked like soldiers.  They had said “Goodnight, sir”, and he had returned the greeting.

Superintendent Sullivan deposed to visiting the farm on the morning of the 5th, and the last witness had pointed out to him marks of the cart along the carriage drive, and other marks on the grass bank, indicating that the mare had been led from the stable yard to the high road, a distance of about 200 yards, and then harnessed in the road.  On the road there were several wheel marks and horses’ hoof marks showing that there had been some difficulty in getting the horse between the shafts.  Continuing his inquiries for several miles through various villages he, at Wheathamstead, ascertained that a horse and cart with two men in it had been seen at 4.30 that morning.  He had received no further tidings until 7th February when there came a communication from the police at Aylesbury, in consequence of which he went down there on the 8th and saw the prisoner who was detained on another charge.  On the 9th, the Watford police communicated, stating that the horse and cart had been recovered in the parish of Flaunden, on the Buckinghamshire border.  The cart had been found in a lane and the mare some distance away when it had strayed to a farm.

Police Constable Miles, stationed at Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, deposed to having arrested the prisoner at Little Missenden on 7th February for stealing an overcoat and also for being an absentee.  He was in company with another man who had run away.  The witness had recovered the prisoner’s uniform which he had thrown in a hedge, and nearby were the horse rug and carriage rug mentioned in the charge.  The prisoner stated that the articles did not belong to him, but had been left behind by some gypsies.

Police Sergeant Tucker, of Aylesbury, said that, on being received into custody, the prisoner made the following statement:  “On Monday night, I was in the Old George Public House at Puckeridge with a gypsy until turning-out time.  I went home to get a pair of shoes and we then went to Braughing.  We had had some beer.  We then went to a farm and got a pony and cart and rugs.  We harnessed the horse and drove to a common about 15 miles from Aylesbury.  We left the cart in an old by-road and the horse in a wood, and then went to Great Missenden, taking the rugs with us”.

Police Constable Briden, of Bishop’s Stortford, who received the prisoner from the custody of the Aylesbury police, said that he read the charge to him, and in reply the prisoner said that the other man had the boots and wore them.  When in the train, the prisoner said “I’ve been dragged into this by the other man”.  The prisoner also said that since being buried alive in France it had affected his head, and he ought not to have touched a drop of drink and this would not have happened.

The prisoner, in response to the Chairman, said that he wished to make a statement.  He then said “On Monday night, 4th February, I went into a public house to have a drink.  At about 7.15 p.m., there came in a gypsy fellow and I got talking to him about France, and then he told me that he was a deserter from the army.  Later on that evening, the gypsy gave me a lot of drink and, towards turning-out time I did not know what I was after, my head was so bad.  I went with the gypsy with not the slightest idea of stealing.  He took me up to a farm which I knew nothing about and said to me “I’m going to have a horse and trap”.  He went to the sheds, got the horse and trap and harnessed it himself, and I, like a big fool, jumped up into the trap.  Then he drove away as fast as he could go.  I am very sorry I dropped into this state and, since then, thought myself a big fool.  I have done nearly 3 years in France and have been wounded, slightly gassed, and buried alive, which affected my head.  I enlisted when I was sixteen”.

Superintendent Sullivan said that the prisoner’s parents were respectable people.

The Chairman said that the prisoner would be committed for trial at the Quarter Sessions on the 8th April.

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