Valentine, William

Valentine, William       1919 July 18th       Larkhill

Sad Story of a Returned Prisoner of War

The newly-appointed Deputy-Coroner for South Wilts (Mr H E Vincent) held an inquest at Larkhill Camp on Saturday, concerning the death of Private William Stainton Valentine of the Durham Light Infantry, who had been a prisoner of war in Germany, and who was found dead with a gun-shot wound in his head.

Pte Wilfred Pearson, of the 3rd Durham Light Infantry, stationed at Durrington Camp, said that Valentine was a private in the same company, and for about three months they had been living in the same hut. He last saw him alive in the hut at about 7.45am on Friday, when the men were leaving to go to breakfast. He and Valentine were due to go on leave that morning, and Valentine seemed in his usual spirits. About 7.30am he returned to the hut and saw Valentine’s body in the corner and blood about the place. On going up to him he found he had been shot through the head, and there was a rifle on the right of the body. Valentine had very variable moods. For a week he would be very jolly, and then he would be miserable and downhearted for days. He used to tell of hardships he had undergone in the salt mines when a prisoner of war in Germany. He was always studying at books as well. When he was in the dumps he used to go to bed very early, but he had been quite cheerful all that week.

Company Sergt-Major Alfred Raston said that Valentine was 20 years of age, and lived at 49, St Edward’s Street, Bowerham, Lancashire. He was called to the hut at 7.55 on Friday morning and found the body with a rifle near by and pointing at him, the butt being wedged against the wall. Witness sent for the doctor and the company commander. On examining the rifle he found a single empty cartridge case in it. There were no cartridges in the magazine. From the position of the rifle he had no doubt Valentine shot himself when in a sitting position. It must have happened when the men were on parade for breakfast. Men were not supposed to be in possession of live ammunition except for musketry courses and field firing. The most careful supervision was exercised and men firing always had to return their live rounds and empty cases. He could only suggest that Valentine might have picked up the live round when walking across the downs. He knew no other way in which he could have got it. He had known him since May and had been told about his experiences as a prisoner of war when he went through very great hardships which had affected his health. He used to become very morose at times when thinking of these hardships and they worried him very much. He was a good soldier and witness tried to cheer him up and told him he would get better. He had never threatened his life. In his diary there was a shorthand note which witness had had transcribed. It said, “This diary has not been kept for the previous months because of the greatest trial of my life having been raging, namely, worrying over a certain little episode which was really of no importance, therefore showing my mind was in a delirious state.” That was dated June, 1919. There was also a note in longhand written when he was on leave in February, “Barrack’s doctor came to see me about my nerves, Said I must not mope about.” He was continually referring to being depressed, but on the morning of his death he seemed quite cheery and had bought a present to take home. He was a compulsorily detained man, but that did not seem to worry him.

Capt F Newry, RAMC, stationed at Durrington Camp, spoke to examining the body and the wounds thereon. They were, in his opinion, self-inflicted.

The Coroner returned a verdict of suicide while of unsound mind.

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