Newcombe, Arthur

Newcombe, Arthur         1917 February 23rd            Fovant

Training With Live Bombs

In the course of bombing practise at Fovant last week one soldier was killed and another seriously injured as the result of an explosion. The facts were related at an inquest held at the Military Hospital by the Coroner for South Wilts (Mr F H Trethowan), on Thursday afternoon.

At the commencement of the inquiry, the Coroner said he would remind the jury that this was one of those unfortunate accidents which happened during men’s training. There was a bombing accident as the result, probably, of a mistake or an error of judgement on someone’s part. He did not intend to call full evidence, as the technicalities of a bomb had been explained on the occasion of a previous inquest. Very likely some of the jurors were on the jury at the earlier date, when another inquiry was held into a bombing fatality. The Commanding officer of the battalion was present, and was quite willing to give any information required.

The Officer Commanding expressed his regret at the unfortunate accident. He said considerable risk had to be run in a soldier’s training, but they all deplored the loss of Private Newcombe’s life.

The Coroner : In a previous inquiry we were told distinctly by an officer that it was necessary that every man should have a course of training with live bombs.

Colonel Rayner : That is so. This was a practical course being carried out by highest orders.

Evidence of identification was given by Col. Sergt-Major Long, of the Sherwood Foresters, who deposed that Private Arthur James Newcombe was 32 years of age, and his home was in Lenton, Nottingham.

Second-Lieutenant Frank Lamb said that on Wednesday, about 11.10am, in the course of his duty, he was at West Field bombing bays, Fovant, at a live-bomb instruction. He was in a bay with Privates Newcombe, Stevens and Dennis, and was sending men from his bay to the next bay, where they threw their bombs under the direction of Lieutenant Hoyte. He instructed Stevens to take a Mills bomb from the box, and proceed to the next bay. All the bombs had previously been examined by the regimental bombers and by himself. Stevens took up his bomb, but at that moment a bomb had been thrown from the adjoining bay and everyone ducked. As witness raised his head he noticed that the Bomb which Stevens had apparently picked up was back in the box. He could hear and see that it was alight. He shouted to all three men, and stood clear. There was an almost immediate explosion, which injured Dennis and Newcombe. The latter died within a minute or two of the explosion. A military inquiry would be held the following day.

Private Walter Stevens said that in accordance with orders he took his bomb from the box and held it in his hand. He pulled out the ring when the officer said “Right.”

Answering the Coroner, Stevens said he grasped the bomb as tightly as he could, and did not notice the lever fly up. When he heard it start to sizzle he put it down either in or by the side of the box and shouted to the other men to stand clear. He had just got clear himself when the bomb exploded.

The foreman of the jury (Mr F Gatehouse) asked how it was that the other two men did not escape.

The Coroner said he was informed by Lieut Lamb that Newcombe and Dennis were up in the front of the bay, whereas the other men were further back behind the box of bombs.

Captain T S Elliott, RAMC, said that, in consequence of a report on Wednesday morning, he went to the bombing bays, and arrived as the two injured men were being removed in an ambulance. Newcombe was then dead. Witness examined his body at the mortuary, and found two small wounds, one in the region of the heart, and the other on the same level but further towards the back. Both missiles had penetrated the lungs, and probably one passed the heart or some big artery. Death was due to hemorrhage, and must have been practically instantaneous.

The Coroner said he thought the jury would have no difficulty in forming an opinion as to how the very sad accident happened. It seemed a great pity Newcombe should have met his death in England, when simply preparing for duty on the field of battle abroad. As far as the witness Stevens was concerned they could not get away from the fact that it was through some negligence on his part that the fatality occurred. It was not criminal negligence in any way, and, therefore, the jury need not consider that in coming to their verdict. As to the actual occurrence, they must decide amongst themselves. It was quite possible Stevens might have been nervous, and thought he heard the sizzling when the bomb really was not making any row at all. If he thought he heard something and was frightened, and put the bomb down, the fuse, if it was not alight then, would go off at once.

A verdict of “Accidental death” was returned.

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