Two soldiers, absent from their regiment, embark on serious stealing and housebreaking

Hertfordshire Mercury, 16th February 1918


At the Herts Winter Assizes, two soldiers, Dormer and Mulholland, were put on trial on charges of housebreaking and theft.  Both men pleaded guilty, and Mr Nadrett prosecuted and reviewed the evidence.

At the Hertford County Sessions, on the Saturday, 2 soldiers, Private Harry Dormer (28), 20346, of the 5th Bedfordshire Regiment, and Private John Mulholland (20), 9421, M.G.C., were charged with housebreaking and stealing at Bayford, and also stealing at Easneye Park, Ware.

Police Constable Walter Skeggs, of Bayford, stated that on Monday, January 28th, at 3.00 p.m., he was on duty in the Broxbourne Road near Black Fan Cottages which were not occupied at the time, when he found a window that had been forced open with a spanner.  There were footmarks on the chairs inside the house where the intruders had stepped in.  On trying the back door, he found that it was unlocked.  He then informed the tenant, Mrs Taylor, and, after making a search, she handed him a list of missing articles and some soldiers’ shirts, pants and socks, which did not belong to her, which she had found stuffed up the chimney.

Mrs Taylor, wife of Lance-Corporal Thomas Matthew Taylor, Bedfordshire Regiment, of Black Fan Cottages, Bayford, said that she had been living at Bayford village since October and her home had been closed, though she visited it every week to see that things were all right.  She was there on Saturday, 26th January, when everything was quite all right.

On Monday, the 28th, she was sent for by the Police and found that the house had been broken into and every drawer and box had been opened, and several things were missing, including her child’s silver brooch, 2 walking sticks, her brother’s underclothes, 6 shirts, 2 pairs of pants, a tweed waistcoat, a hairbrush, a pair of black leather leggings, several coins out of her children’s money boxes, links and studs, a metal matchbox, etc.

Some of the things belonged to her brother, Hubert George Smith, and some to her, and she put the value of them at £2  7s 11d.  She identified the articles produced as being those missing.  She found a pair of pants, one shirt, and one pair of braces under her mattress, and two shirts up her chimney, which did not belong to her.

Harry Maynard, of Little Berkhamstead, a roadman, stated that on Friday, 25th January, he was on his way home from work when he saw 2 soldiers going to Mrs Radford’s house next door to Mrs Taylor’s and, as one of them was about to knock on Mrs Taylor’s house, the witness told him that there was nobody at home there.  He recognised Dormer as one of the men, but not the other.

Miss Mary Elizabeth MacKay, of Seward’s Cottages, Brickendon, who is working in the gardens at Brickendonbury, said that two soldiers came to her home at 8.30 on the Sunday morning, 27th January, and asked for a cup of tea, and she gave them some breakfast.  Before they had their breakfast, the smaller man (Dormer) produced a little ornamental dagger and gave it to her niece saying that it was a souvenir from France.  The tall man (Mulholland) gave her the silver brooch (produced).  They said that they were home from France on 14 days’ leave.  She gave them breakfast and they then went off in the direction of Hertford.  She identified the prisoners as the two men.

Mrs Taylor was recalled and identified the dagger and brooch as her property.

Police Constable Bradbury, of Ware, stated that, at 10.00 p.m. on February 6th, he was on duty in the market place in Ware, in company with Sergeant Firth, when he received a report that two soldiers were lying on the footpath in East Street and, on going there, saw the two prisoners.  Dormer got up on his knees and said “I’m Smith from Crib Street, and this is my friend from France, on leave”.  They said that they wanted to go to Wadesmill and they went off in that direction very hurriedly.  Sergeant Firth told him to stop them and examine their passes.  They followed, caught them against Canons Farm, and Mulholland bolted.

The witness ran after and caught him, and the defendant struck out left and right, kicking and biting.  The witness closed with him, and then Mulholland said “If you will let me up, I’ll show you my pass”.  He let him get up, and Mulholland then started kicking and biting again, and tore the witness’s cape.  He called Sergeant Firth to help him and, with the assistance of some special constables, Mulholland was eventually got to the Police Station, charged with assault, and with being an absentee.

Sergeant A. Firth, of Ware, corroborated Bradbury’s statement.  He added that Mulholland had a pass from France which had expired on 8th December.  Mulholland was wearing the stolen leather leggings produced.  Dormer was arrested at Poles half an hour after midnight where he had been found sleeping in a shed.  He was wearing two civilian striped shirts similar to those stolen.  Dormer had no pass.  Both prisoners had been handed over to the Hertford Police the next morning.

Superintendent Pear, of Hertford, said that when the prisoners were handed over to him Mulholland had on 4 shirts and 1 undervest, pants, waistcoat, gaiters, a white silk handkerchief, a coloured handkerchief, a cigarette case, 2 coins, a pair of sleeve links, and various other articles that were identified by Mrs Taylor as being her property.

On Dormer, there were 2 shirts, pants, a hair brush, a shoe brush, a shaving brush, etc. which were also identified as being part of the stolen property.  Dormer, he had discovered, was an absentee from the 5th Bedfordshire Regiment since 20th September last, at Crowborough, and Mulholland belonged to the M.G.C. and was an absentee from France since 8th December.  The prisoners had nothing to say and were committed for trial at the Assizes.

The men were then charged with stealing jewellery and money to the value of £4. 11s. from the Lodge at Easneye Park, Ware, on 2nd July.  Mrs Esther E. Taylor, wife of William James Taylor, of South Lodge, Easneye Park, stated that the prisoners went to her house on 6th February and asked for some tea, and she gave them some.  Whilst they were having tea, her husband came in and they sat down together.  It was a dark night and she left home to meet her boy coming home from Ware, and when she returned they were still there and she invited them to stop the night.  They stopped there all the next day, having breakfast, dinner and tea, and left, after tea, at 5.00 p.m.

On 8th February, the following day, she heard that two soldiers had been arrested, and then she looked round to see if her belongings were all right.  She discovered that various things had been stolen from her bedroom, including a gold brooch of the value of £1.15s, a chain worth about £2, about 13 shillings in money, and a pair of boots and other things from her son’s room.  The brooch, chain and ring produced she identified at Hertford Police Station, together with the stolen boots that Dormer was wearing at the time.

Mulholland said “I never took any jewellery from the house, but I took half a sovereign in gold”.  Dormer said “I only acknowledge taking the boots”.

Sergeant Firth gave evidence as to finding the gold chain and brooch, and a ring, and 25 shillings in silver on Mulholland when he arrested him on the previous charge.

Both prisoners were committed for trial at the Assizes on this charge as well, and were remanded to Brixton Prison until Tuesday.

At the hearing at the Assizes, Superintendent Pear said that, from enquiries, he had found that the defendants had been at liberty some weeks in the district and had been sleeping rough.  They had represented to several people that they were on leave from France and, by telling various tales, had obtained food and lodging in some places.  Evidence was given that the men were deserters.

His Lordship said that the men had been about with tales of their ‘prowess’ and ‘valour’, and had enlisted the charity of people who were only too glad to do anything they could for brave soldiers who had fought or were fighting.  They were not content, however, with getting food and hospitality, but plundered the people at the same time.  He was glad that the British Army was not composed of men like them.

Dormer was sentenced to 6 months, and Mulholland to 9 months; both hard labour.

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