Snow, Ernest

Snow, Ernest          1909 Aug 20th             Rollestone /Shrewton

Salisbury Plain Motor Disaster

The County Coroner (Mr R A Wilson) held an inquiry on Saturday into the circumstances attending the death of Ernest Arthur Snow, a London Territorial, who died on Thursday evening as a result of the injuries he received in the motor car disaster on Salisbury Plain on Thursday. The details of the calamity were published in last week’s Times. The 10th Battery of the 6th London Brigade RFA (Territorials) were marching into camp shortly after dawn on Thursday, when they were charged into at the rear by a newspaper motor car which dashed clean through their ranks, injuring no fewer than fifteen men. Gunner Snow was taken to Bulford Military Hospital, where he died the same evening. The spot where the accident occurred is known as Greenland’s Bottom, and is some seven or eight miles from Salisbury on the Devizes road.

The inquest was held on Saturday morning in the Hospital Reading Room at Bulford Camp. From the windows one could loo into the wards across the way and see the injured men in their beds, whilst in the front of the building was the fateful motor car, much damaged in the front, and an object of much melancholy interest.

My Taylor Parkes, solicitor, of Fleet Street, London, attended on behalf of the chauffeur, and Mr Rowland Hopwood, solicitor, of Gray’s Inn, London, represented the Daily Chronicle, in whose service the driver was engaged at the time of the mishap. The Chief Constable of Wilts was also present.

Coroner’s Warning

The Coroner warned the jury not to be guided by what they had read of the sad occurrence, but to return a verdict in accordance with the evidence which would be placed before them.

Mr Taylor Parkes said he represented the driver Saytch, who was present to render every assistance possible, and to assist the jury in the enquiry. The man Poole, who accompanied Saytch, was also present, and was prepared to give any assistance in his power. The driver was very much upset at the sad occurrence, and wished to express his sincere sympathy with the relatives of the deceased, and also with those who were unfortunately injured. Might he now contradict one paragraph—

The Coroner : On no, I don’t think you need to do that.

Mr Parkes : On the ground that it might create a false impression. It makes an interview with Saytch—

The Coroner : I have told the jury not to take any notice of anything they have read. We have nothing to do with that at all.

Mr Hopgood said that on behalf of the proprietors of the Daily Chronicle he wished to express their regret at the deplorable occurrence, and their sympathy with the deceased. They wished him to render any assistance he could to the enquiry, and to say that they accepted full responsibility for any liability that might properly attach to them. Anything they could do to assist the injured they would do.

Evidence on identification was given by Thomas Ored Snow, a brother of the deceased gunner. He said that deceased was 25 years of age, was a test clerk in the employ of the National Telephone Co., and resided at 155, Kimberley Road, Nunhead.

The Captain’s Story

Capt Finch then told a graphic story of the disaster. “We detrained at Amesbury from Okehampton,” he said, “we were 92 non-commissioned officers and men, and three officers, and we arrived at this place about 4.30am. When we reached Greenland’s Bottom on the Devizes road there was a certain amount of mist about, but it was not what you would call foggy. Just before the accident took place a motor car dashed by at a great speed and our attention was attracted by it. We were then going down the dip.

Had you any warning of it? Yes. It was only by the sounding of the horn that we were able to get out of the way.

The Captain said the men had closed up their ranks again when suddenly he heard shouts and cries and disturbance in the ranks. He was marching in the front with Lieut Dymott, and Sergt Nash had charge of the rear guard. “When I looked round I saw a motor car ploughing its way through the ranks of my men. I saw men falling right and left, and some in front, whom the car must have gone over. It came right through the ranks. The speed was erratic owing to the many human obstacles. There seemed to be something wrong with the gear. The driver pulled the car up on the side of the grass twenty yards in front of me. When I looked round I saw half my battery prostrated – those knocked down by the car and those knocked down by contact with others. I immediately caused the driver to be placed under arrest. I asked the driver what he meant by driving through my men and cutting my men down – in fact I put it a little stronger than that. He said he could not help it, or words to that effect ; that the car had run away and was beyond his control.

The Coroner : What was the depth of your column? About forty yards from back to front. The man had been doing their shooting and had left their guns and horses behind.

We were in full marching order, and the men were whistling a lively tune, as they always do when they are on the march. There was no straggling, and the rear guard was only about ten yards behind the main body. We heard no warning, but suddenly the car dashed into us. It was a bolt from the blue altogether.” captain finch went on to say that Lieut Lucas subsequently drove the car and was able to pull it up in little more than its own length. The witness did not think the gradient of the hill was very great.

Cross-examined by Mr Parkes, the Captain would not agree that the near side of the car was the only side damaged. He said that the radiator was damaged, and the lamps on each side were contorted and bent out of shape. He admitted that there was some mist at the bottom of the dip, and said it was naturally thicker at the bottom than at the top.

There would be a certain amount of dust from your men, and that would make it thicker still? I could see quite a hundred yards in front and behind. The witness added that the dust from the first car had cleared off before the second car arrived.

The driver of the first car saw you going down the dip? I suppose so.

You don’t know whether this car was running on a free engine? I don’t know.

You say the speed was erratic? You naturally would expect to find that when a car was going over mens bodies and running into men.

Was the driver trying to get out of the way? I don’t know.

You did not see it until it got half way through? I saw it on the right side.

Some of the men went to the left and some to the right? I don’t know.

There was confusion at the time? I saw men being knocked right and left, and some were being knocked down in front.

Continuing his answers, Captain Finch said he did not notice any effort on the part of the driver to get one side of the road or the other. It was coming on to me and I jumped out of the way.

You cannot say whether it was on the off-side or the near side? It was in the middle of the road, and was ploughing my men down right and left.

Did you notice the car go on the green on the right side of the road? After it had gone twenty yards past myself the car turned to the right, and I suppose that half the car or a little more than that was on the right hand side.

This took place suddenly, and it is rather difficult to remember? There is no difficulty in remembering that. What I am telling you did take place.

You could not see whether the driver applied the brake? I could not see.

You had this subsequent testing and even at full speed there was no difficulty in stopping it in its own length.

At this point Major Lee, who was standing at the back of the room, unexpectedly interposed, “I command the battery that has been knocked about here,” he said, “and these questions that are being put are absolutely absurd. Captain Finch has not eyes in the back of his head, and could not possibly see. We have witnesses here who will give the evidence. I am a solicitor, sir, and I know something of it.”

Mr Parkes : I am here by the permission of the Coroner.

The Coroner (to the Major) : Please don’t interrupt.

The Major : I want to save time. My men have to catch the 12.50.

The Coroner : I am very anxious not to waste time.

The Major : I don’t suggest that you are wasting time, sir, but I say that the gentleman cross-examining is.

Mr Hopgood : I am here for the proprietors of the paper, and I do not think so at all.

The Coroner : That will do ; please go on.

Mr Parkes (to Captain Finch) : The driver must have lost his head – that is the only explanation! I don’t know what to make of it. I leave that to you.

You say the driver must have had some difficulty with the gear? After he was arrested he was hammering and doing all sorts of funny things with the car. He went on to the green, and wanted to get on the road again, but I rushed up to him, and he had no opportunity.

When you went up to the driver and asked him what he meant by doing this thing he said he was very sorry? He did not say he was sorry. He did not say one word of regret. He did not take any more interest in the men he had run over than if they had been a lot of pears.

Mr Parkes : I have expressed my regret on behalf of the driver.

The Coroner : We must all make allowance on occasions of this sort.

Did he say he tried to do his best to avoid the accident? No, I don’t accept that. He did not say one word about avoiding the accident.

Did he say he put on the brakes? I did not enquire. I did not enter into a discussion. I ran to look after my men.

In answer to a juryman the Captain said he placed piquets along the road to prevent other motor cars coming along.

Arising out of another question by a juryman, PS Pickard said the road was 13½ feet wide where the accident happened.

This concluded Captain Finch’s evidence, but before he retired he said he wished to express the sympathy of his commanding officer and the officers and men of the brigade, with the relatives of the victims in the disaster.

The Sergeant’s Story

Sergeant Harry Naish, who was in charge of the rearguard, said the battery was marching down the hill when the first car dashed by. Though that car was going at a great speed the driver seemed to have perfect control over it. That car had been gone a minute or so when he heard another car in the rear. The column was then at the bottom of the hill. He gave the order “left incline” and, looking back, he could see the car on the top of the hill – he would say a hundred yards away. The men were then easing off to the left as ordered. On turning again he saw the car coming down the road at a tremendous speed and rocking itself from side to side. Seeing that the car was making straight for the rear section and taking up two-thirds of the road on the left side he shouted out to the men to scatter, thinking that that would be the quickest way to clear them out of the way. He could tell by the speed of the car that it was coming straight into them, so he shouted sufficiently loud for the leading section to hear and jumped clear himself. He had just as much as he could do, however, to get out of the way. The driver seemed entirely to have lost his head, because any ordinary driver would have drawn the car to the right, the road being practically level. If the driver had been within three or four yards of them he could have inclined the car to the right and got on to the grass. The car, however, went straight down the centre of the battery, and no attempt seemed to be made to divert it, even after it had started ploughing through the men. There was a mist, but it was not sufficient to prevent the chauffeur from seeing the column.

The Coroner : Could you see the brow of the hill? I could, and the car upon it.

Mr Parkes : You don’t know anything about motor cars? You have never driven one? I should make a poor fist of it if I did not do better than he did.

The Coroner : Now, we only want to get at the facts. We are not making any charges against anybody. If the solicitor asks anything which I think is not proper I shall pull him up.

In answer to a further question by the chauffeur’s solicitor, the sergeant said he could see that the car was out of control, and that the driver had lost his head.

Mr Parkes : It is a very sad affair, but if one suddenly came across a group of soldiers in the mist it would cause one, to some extent, to lose his head? Yes, it would.

Especially if he saw soldiers going in all directions? The car was practically upon us before we were going in all directions.

Replying to a juryman, the witness said the men were whistling, and even if the chauffeur could not have seen them he could have heard them.

A juror : What was the speed? I am no judge, but he was going very fast.

The Coroner : I haven’t asked because it would be guess work. He was coming down hill, and no doubt he was coming at no end of a pace. We all know of the mist on Salisbury Plain, and the jury will be able to judge.

Cross-examined by the Chief Constable, the witness said the first car that passed was not raising a very great amount of dust, but it was raising some, as were the men.

By the permission of the Coroner, the medical evidence was next taken, the doctor explaining that they were very busy in the hospital.

Lieutenant Williamson, RAMC, stationed at Bulford Hospital, stated that the deceased was brought into hospital at abut half-past seven, suffering from a broken thigh and a fracture to the bse of the skull. He was unconscious. He was treated, but gradually sank, and died in the evening.

Second-Lieut Lucas was called to speak as to the working of the brakes on the car. The foot brake, he said, was all right, but the side brake did not grip. He put on full speed, and with the foot brake alone he pulled the car up in about its own length.

The witness was asked a number of hypothetical questions as to the distance in which he could pull the car up when going at varying speeds, but he replied that that depended largely upon the gradient.

The threads of the story were then picked up where they were dropped before the medical evidence.

Punched into the Ditch

Corpl. Walter Riddle, who was with Sergt. Naish in the rear guard, corroborated the sergeant’s evidence. He was marching by the side of Sergeant Naish when soddenly, he said, he received a punch on the shoulder. He did not know whether it came from the sergeant or the car, but at any rate he found himself in the ditch. When they passed Stonehenge the air was very clear indeed, but when they got on the road it was inclined to be misty, although they could see from the valley to the brow of the hill.

The witness was closely pressed by Mr Parkes as to whether a baggage waggon was not lost in the mist on the Plain that morning. He replied that he did not know anything about it.

The Coroner : It isn’t anything new to get lost on Salisbury Plain.

This completed the evidence called by the police, and the two occupants of the car were then called by Mr Parkes.

A Veteran Publisher

Joseph William Poole, carman, of 78, Bruce Road, Bromley-by-Bow, said he had been in the employ of the Daily Chronicle for thirty-two years. He accompanied Saytch to Rollestone Camp on Thursday morning. They left Salisbury Square, London, at 20 minutes to 1, and in places the mist was very thick. They put the head lights out because the reflections got in the driver’s eyes.

They went down into Greenland’s Bottom at a rate of from ten to fifteen miles an hour, and they did not see the soldiers until they got to within five or six yards of them. He then thought they were sheep. He called the driver’s attention to the fact, and told him to put on his foot brake, and shouted for all he was worth. The driver turned into the side of the road, and did everything he possibly could to stop the car. As far as he (witness) could see the car was under control.

Mr Parkes : Did you see the soldiers scatter in front of the car in all directions? Yes, right and left.

The Driver’s Evidence

The driver was then called, and was warned by the Coroner that anything he said would be taken down in writing and might be given in evidence against him. He said his name was Arthur John Minton Saytch, and he resided at Queen’s Road, Battersea. He had been in the employ of the Daily Chronicle for two years, but had been driving a motor car for seven years. He had an absolutely clean license. He knew the road where the accident happened fairly well, this being the sixth time he had been along it. When they were on top of the hill they saw some mist, so he let the clutch in, and shut the engine down, which acted as a brake. He had no speedometer but he reckoned he came down at between ten and fifteen miles an hour. As they got into the dip Poole said, “Be careful, I think there are some sheep in the road.” That was about five yards before they got to the soldiers, and he instantly took out the clutch and applied the brakes, but before anthing could be done he was in to the rear of the soldiers.

Mr Parkes : Did you examine your brakes before you came out? They are always examined before the car comes out of the garage.

It is said that the side brake would not grip? It would if it were put on properly but one of the rods is a bit long.

Can you make it grip? Yes, I usually rely on that, but when there is anything urgent I put on the foot brake.

Did you alter the course of your car as soon as you saw the soldiers? I turned the car immediately to the right, on the grass. The car seemed to be going over and I was afraid of doing more damage so I used the foot-brake to prevent that.

What effect would that have? That allowed the car to run a longer distance.

Did you sound your horn? No, I shouted.

Why didn’t you sound your horn? I had my attention on things in front and I stuck to my steering wheel, to try as much as possible to avoid the accident. I should have had to take one hand off the steering wheel, and the slightest bump in the road would have had a tendency to make the car run all over the place. Instead of sounding the horn we both shouted. I did everything it was possible for a driver to do to avoid the accident.

Were the soldiers going in all directions? Yes.

You were naturally very upset at this particular time, and it is possible that you could have pulled up in a shorter distance? Yes, sir, on the green if I had not released the brakes.

The witness added that the car was a Daimler, and weighed about twenty-five hundred weight, so that it was not a heavy car, but a light one.

In answer to a juryman the chauffeur said he did not take the time of the accident, but he agreed that if it was 4.30 that would be an average of about twenty miles an hour all the way down from London.

A juror: How many men do you judge you had gone through before you turned on to the side of the road? It is impossible for me to say.

The suggestion is that you were coming down the hill at from ten to fifteen miles an hour, that you had your side brakes on, and that when you were five or six yards from the rear of these men you put on your foot brake? Yes.

What distance do you think you would want to pull it up at the foot of the hill with your foot brake, without obstruction? You can pull it up in a length and a half.

You don’t think you went a length and a half before you reached the side of the road? I turned on to the green.

The Coroner : If you had pulled up and applied your brakes five or six yards before, how is it you did not get the car to stop sooner? It is impossible for me to say.

Five or six yards is nearly a length and a half of your car? A length and a half is twenty seven feet.

PS Pickard, stationed at Shrewton, stated that on Friday he examined about a hundred yards of the hill, and he found that it rose 6½ to 7 inches in six feet.

Charles Paul, chauffeur in the employ of the Daily Chronicle said he was the driver of the first car. He left Salisbury about four o’clock on Thursday morning for Rollestone Camp. He passed nothing on the road except the soldiers, and he passed them just over the brow of the hill. There was a fairly thick mist at the top of the hill, and at the bottom it was practically impossible to see anything. He arrived at Rollestone Camp at twenty minutes to five, and ten minutes or a quarter of an hour later he heard of the accident.

The Coroner : How far ahead did you see these soldiers? About ten yards ahead from the top of the hill.

The Chief Constable : Did you meet the other car that morning? No.

You had not seen it? no.

When you see mist in the bottom of these valleys you always slow up? Yes.

The Coroner said he thought that was all the evidence it would be necessary to take. All the facts were pretty well before them. No doubt this poor man was killed by the motor car, and the only other point they had to decide was as to how far the driver of the car was responsible for the death. There was no doubt about it that the poor fellow was unintentionally killed. Driving a motor car was a dangerous thing although it was getting very common. What one had to decide was whether the chauffeur used sufficient caution in driving, and whether he was going at a dangerous pace. In all these questions in which the question of negligence had to be considered, it all depended on the circumstances of every case. Driving a motor car at 4.30 in the morning was not quite the sae thing as driving a motor car through a village or a populous place. There was no doubt that it was a misty morning, and the jurors knew that if the mist in a hollow did not rise it would be very much thicker then on the hills. One in the hollow might have seen on to the top of the hill, but very likely one on the top of the hill could not have seen in to the valley. The Coroner went into the evidence in detail, and concluded by remarking that it seemed to him the jury would require stronger evidence than had been placed before them before they would come to the decision that the driver was criminally responsible for what had occurred.

The jury then considered their verdict, the court being cleared in order that they might deliberate privately. After an interval of nearly half-an-hour the court was re-opened. The Coroner said the jury had considered the case very carefully, and had returned a verdict of “Death by misadventure.” At the same time they felt there had been very great negligence on the part of the driver, and they could hardly believe that the car was only going at the rate of fifteen miles an hour. Taking all the circumstances of the case into consideration, however – the early morning and the thick mist – they had given some effect to the driver’s statement that he really did not see these men until he was closed upon them. Even then the jury thought that if the chauffeur had been coming at a reasonable pace he would have had time to stop the car before doing all this damage. The jury thought the driver should be censored.

Saytch was then called into the Court, and the Coroner, having informed him of the verdict, said the jury had taken a merciful view of the death of this man. It was undoubtedly near the borderline of a charge of manslaughter. But the jury had taken all the circumstances of the case into consideration and had taken a lenient view on it. It was the opinion of the jury that he must have been travelling down the hill at a considerably greater speed than fifteen miles an hour, and they considered that he should be censured for the great speed at which he travelled. Although it is rather outside the province of this case, continued the Coroner, it is a matter of common knowledge that there has been a great deal of racing among these newspaper cars. There is no proof of it in this case and therefore it falls to the ground, but there is an impression abroad which I do not think is without foundation, that there is a great deal of this racing going on, and I can assure that if any cases of this sort come before the police or the authorities in this district, there will be a different way of dealing with them than with ordinary accidents.

The proceedings then terminated.


Motor Car Disaster 1909 Sep 17th

Serious Charges Against the Chauffeur

It was stated at the Salisbury County Petty Sessions on Tuesday that the Director of Public Prosecutions had caused to be issued against Arthur John Minton Saytch, of 18, Stanley Street, Queen’s Road, Battersea, a warrant for manslaughter in connection with the motor car disaster on Salisbury Plain in the early hours of the morning of August 13th. The charge of manslaughter is in regard to the death of Gunner Snow, who died in hospital at Bulford on the day of the disaster.

Saytch was summoned to appear before the County Bench on Tuesday to answer five “informations.” The first three charges were that “he by wanton driving did cause certain bodily harm to A S Thompson, Acting Bombardier ; Gunner C D Crimp, of the 10th Battery, 4th London Brigade RFA (Territorial Force), and Gunner C Pollard, of the Ammunition Column,” and the last two that “he did unlawfully make an assault upon Drivers A Taylor and J J Williams, of the Ammunition,” and “did then beat, wound, and ill-treat them, thereby causing actual bodily harm.”

The defendant did not appear, and the Clerk (Mr Hodding) explained that that was due to the fact that it had been arranged to hear the manslaughter charge this (Friday) morning, and it was thought better to hear the summonses on the same day.


1909 Oct 22nd The Salisbury Plain Motor Fatality

The trial was concluded at the Wilts Assizes on Friday, before Mr Justice Phillimore, of Arthur John Minton Saytch, chauffeur, who was indicted for the manslaughter of Gunner Snow, a London Territorial, on Salisbury Plain.

Three of the injured men – Crimp, Gwilliam, and Taylor – described their recollections of the disaster. Taylor estimated the speed of the motor at 40 miles an hour. “It was like a dream to me,” he said.

Second-Lieutenant Lucas, who is a motor engineer, drove the car to the camp from the scene of the accident with the foot brake alone. He was able to stop it in its own length when travelling at a speed he estimated to be twenty-five miles an hour.

In his evidence, Saytch said that before descending the hill he applied the side brake, throttled the engine right down, and left in the clutch to act as a brake. He was travelling at from ten to fifteen miles an hour. As he got towards the bottom he encountered a thick mist. Then he ran into the soldiers before he knew they were on the road.

Prisoner was asked by the judge why he could not see there was a mist over the road before he actually got to it.

His reply was : “I cannot answer that.”

Then Mr Foote, KC, prosecuting, pressed him to say why he did not stop the car dead when he first became aware of the presence of the soldiers. Saytch answered that he passed several of the men on his left, and he thought he could pass them all. Instead they began to get in front of the car.

Answering Mr Foote’s final question, Saytch declared that the accident would never have happened if the men had not scattered.

A motor engineer named Godwin Smith said that ground mists were bewildering. A motor driver could possibly see over them to high ground beyond, but it would be very difficult for a driver to distinguish such mists from the white road until close upon them.

The jury, after a brief deliberation in private, returned a verdict of “Guilty of manslaughter.”

A previous conviction for exceeding the speed limit was proved, and it was also stated that prisoner was responsible for another accident which had happened on the Plain two days previously.

Prisoner was sentenced to eight months hard labour.


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