Thompson, John

Thompson, John       1915 December 31st         Perham Down

Suicide of a Soldier – Shot Himself at Perham Down Camp

How a soldier was found dead in his hut at Perham Down – apparently having shot himself – was told at an inquest held at the Camp, on Wednesday, by the Coroner for South Wilts, Mr F H Trethowan.

The first witness was Lieutenant John MacDonnell Roberts, of the 19th (Service) Battalion Durham Light Infantry, stationed at No 5 Camp, Perham Down, who said that the dead soldier, Pte John William Thompson, had been his servant for about a month. He was 20 years of age, unmarried, and his home was in North Shields. His attestation papers showed that before he joined the Army last March he was a labourer. He was a very decent fellow, and though he was quiet had not noticed that he seemed depressed. Thompson suffered somewhat in consequence of being flat-footed, and witness was trying to do something for him, because he seemed afraid that the flat-footedness might prevent him from going abroad with the battalion, which he was very keen to do. However, Thompson never said anything that would lead witness to suppose that he would take his life. He last saw him at about 8.30pm, on Tuesday, at the door of the hut which witness occupied with other officers. He only saw him for a moment to ask him to take a message for him, and told him he need not hurry about it. Witness went to see a brother officer in the next hut, with whom he stayed till 9.50pm, when it was reported that a man had been found shot in his room. On going there he found it was Thompson. The revolver produced belonged to witness and was usually kept in a holster. For the past two or three days it had been hanging on the wall in his room where Thompson had placed it. The pouch produced also belonged to him, and when he last saw it, he thought, it contained six rounds ; now it only contained five. When the revolver was first shown to him after Thompson’s death it had an empty shell like the one now produced. Thompson had no trouble in the regiment.

Private Joseph Wilson said that on Tuesday he was acting temporarily as the Rev W Foster’s servant, and Mr Foster shared a room with Mr Roberts. Witness went into the room at about 9.15pm, and saw Thompson lying behind the door. He picked him up, and put him in the middle of the room, and, thinking he was in a fit, called two men to come up with him. They then sent for a doctor. The revolver was lying close by the body before he moved it.

Lieut G A Baras, RAMC, medical officer of the battalion, said he found Thompson dead on arriving at the room. There was a bullet wound near the fourth rib, a little to the right side of the breast bone and the skin around it was singed and blackened – showing that the shot was fired at close quarters. The wound was very small, there was very little external bleeding, and no sign of a struggle. He afterwards found that the bullet had penetrated the body, but had not gone through the tunic at the back. Death was due to the injury to the heart, with hemorrhage, caused by the bullet wound. Death must have been instantaneous.

Inspector Jones, of Ludgershall, who made enquiries as soon as the death was reported, stated that he found a revolver bullet in Thompson’s clothing which fitted the shell in the revolver already produced. He also found a letter to Thompson’s parents, in which he stated that he was disappointed in himself, and complained that his feet had caused him much trouble.

The jury returned a verdict of “Suicide whilst of unsound mind.”


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