Lee, Samuel

Samuel Lee            1916 April 28th               Larkhill

A Derby Recruit’s Suicide

Officer’s Statement as to the Treatment of Older Men

A sad story of the suicide of a man named Samuel Lee, aged 35, who had been drafted into the Army under the Derby Scheme, was related to the Coroner for South Wilts (Mr F H Trethowan) at Larkhill Camp, on Tuesday in last week.

Private Charles Evans, of the 2/5th Yorks and Lancs Regiment, to which Lee also belonged, stated that Lee’s home address was 70, Park Side Road, Owlerton, Sheffield. He had been at Larkhill three or four weeks. On the day before his death he seemed to be “put out” and said he wanted to get out of the Army and go back to Sheffield. He had been depressed ever since he had been in the Camp. Witness did not know that Lee had any trouble at home but said he had complained about his life in the Army.

The Coroner : Did you and he talk about it together?

Witness : Yes.

Did he ever threaten to take his life? He said we might as well go and drown ourselves.

Meaning he and you? Yes.

What did you say to that? I didn’t say anything.

Did you think he was going to drown himself? I didn’t think that. I said to him why not cut his throat. He said, “It is bad enough, but I won’t do that.”

Did he hear about someone at Larkhill who cut his throat? Yes, he heard about that.

What did he say about it? I said to him first, “I could not go and do that.”

He agreed with you? Yes.

You didn’t mean to drown yourself? No.

Was there anything in particular he complained about? He said we were treated like dogs ; that is what he said.

Did he get into trouble in the battalion? No, I don’t know of any.

You say he was treated like a dog ; he was not punished in any way? No.

What was actually complained about? Didn’t he give you any specific instance? The sergeants were going at him and bully-ragging him about.

Can’t you tell the jury any particular act which was likely to have upset him by any sergeant or anyone? No.

The Foreman (Mr F English) said these answers were very vague, and the jury failed to follow them.

The Coroner (to witness) : How was it you came to go to the pond yesterday morning? I had a slight suspicion, you see. We came past there.

Why did you go near the pond in the first place? Did you go there because you thought somebody might be drowned? I was walking past it.

Did you notice anything? No, I saw nothing in the pond.

But didn’t you find his body there? Yes.

Why did you go to the pond yesterday? Because I thought he was there.

Had you missed him already that morning? I had missed him all night.

So you went to the pond to see if he was there? Yes.

You really mean this. When you had missed him all night you thought he might have drowned himself, and went to the pond to have a look? Yes.

Sergeant Thomas Ball, of the 2/5th Yorks and Lancs Regiment, said he was quartered in the same hut as Lee, and found he was always quiet in his behaviour during the last week or so. Witness had not seen any instances of the conduct complained of, nor had he heard any complaint made. Lee was not in his squad, but had once told him he did not like soldiering. Evans told him at 8.15 that morning what had happened, and he got the body out of the water.

Captain Robert Barrett Pope, of the RAMC, stationed at Larkhill, said he saw the body and came to the conclusion that death was due to drowning. There was no sign of violence. Lee had been put on light duty on four occasions by witness. He was rather delicate, and not very well developed. He did not appear to be at all weak-minded, and there were no signs of insanity.

Lance-Sergeant James Arthur Warden, in whose squad Lee was being trained, said Lee had taken no interest in his work since he joined the regiment. He got into no trouble because of that, and was not reported. It was left entirely in witness’ hands to do his best to make a soldier of him. Instead of forecasting that he would never make a soldier, witness tried to make him “buck up.” His treatment of him was kind all the way through. Lee was of a changeable temperament, but witness never heard any threat about suicide. He attested in the Army Reserve on December 11th, and came up for active soldiering on March 23rd.

The Foreman : Did he really make up his mind not to get on?

Witness : My firm opinion was that from start to finish he never took to soldiering at all.

Captain R Smith, the Adjutant of the Battalion, said he would like to clear up any conclusions that might mistakenly have been formed about this man’s treatment in the Army.

The Coroner told the jury they could make any statement if they were of opinion there was no truth in the story Lee told. He was an oldish man to start, and probably did not agree so much with soldiering. As a matter of fact there had been quite recently another inquest at Larkhill of a man who had cut his throat under rather similar conditions, and it would be quite well if they were informed how these older men were treated when they came up for training. It would allay a certain feeling of discomfort.

Captain Smith said that as these men arrived he spoke to each batch personally, instructions having been issued from a higher authority that they were to take into account that the men had come from sedentary occupations, and, of course, might not take to soldiering as quickly as other people. That was to say, men who came up voluntarily. He told them they were to make themselves at home, and that they would be given every possible assistance. Similar instructions were given to the sergeant-majors of the companies in which the men were appointed. There would be no possible opportunity of bally-ragging, because on parade there were the regimental sergeant-major, the officer in charge of each battalion of recruits, the officer in charge of the brigade recruits, and occasionally the commanding officer and himself walked on parade to see how these men were getting on.

The Coroner : On occasions when these men were beginners they would be taken separately?

Captain Smith : That is what we have done in this case. By reason of their former occupations we have got them into squads and given them training according to their build and progress.

The Coroner said some of the men must be very trying to the sergeants who were in charge of them. At the age of 35 a lot of hard work would be required to make a man into a soldier.

Captain Smith : Quite so, but the sergeants have been very even indeed, having had their instructions. We have to take the material as we find it and mould it accordingly.

The Coroner mentioned that at a previous inquest a suggestion was made that there was some difference between the way some of the men were treated and those who enlisted into the Army Reserve under the Derby Scheme.

Captain Smith said there was no difference in the treatment at all as he could tell. The man of whom Lee was an example had had a groove in life, and the Army understood their disinclination to soldiering. They tried by argument and common-sense to appeal to them that there was a war in progress, and that they should try to get to love the life.

The Coroner, in summing up, said he was very glad they had the statement of Captain Smith. The complaints did not appear to be substantiated in any way. There was no doubt the man was feeling very depressed indeed, and it was a very great change for a man of 35 whose occupation had been of a sedentary character to come and be made into a soldier. The jury had heard that the Derby recruits were treated with consideration, and that the Army did realise these men required slightly different treatment from younger men of 19 and 20. He did not think that the evidence showed that the man was ever treated badly. As Sergeant Warden said, he was very depressed at times, and he never seemed to take any interest in his work. When a man had no interest in his work it was quite possible that sergeants who were training and trying to get him on would get rather annoyed or impatient. The sergeant had orders from his superiors that these men were to be treated in a certain way, and no doubt he did his best to act accordingly.

Just before the jury considered their verdict a pocket-book was found by a soldier in the hut where the body lay. It was handed to the Coroner, who read the following extract from it:

March 23rd, 1916. — This horrible life, and it is driving me insane. It is a cruel system to send one like me to a hell-hole like this. I think I shall end it all if they don’t send me home. Some of the soldiers are like wild beasts ; their language is awful. If I disappear some night you will know what has happened. Let my sister know in Sheffield. Her name is Campbell, and the address is 70, Park Side Road. Share what money I have amongst you.

I remain, yours, tired of life, Samuel Lee.”

 

The Coroner said that rather helped the jury to find that the man was not being “bully-ragged” by the sergeants. Apparently he was complaining of some of the language – rather a curious reason if he committed suicide.

Captain Smith remarked that the date of the entry was March 23rd, the day Lee joined the regiment.

One entry in the book was simply “Play up,” and another “Dear old Hillsboro’ Park and the library, where I have spent some happy hours.”

The Foreman said the jury had agreed on a verdict of “Suicide whilst temporarily insane.” They were of opinion that no blame attached to any of the squad to which deceased belonged. There was no doubt the man set up a firm dislike for the Army, over which, apparently, he had no control.

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