Derek Medhurst

An unfortunate accident: William Robert Leigh

Grave of W R Leigh

Having survived service in the Royal Navy during the First World War, a distant cousin died in an accident during a miners strike. It is interesting that in this obituary there is a list of principle mourners and of floral tributes received.

William Robert Leigh - Obituary from Sevenoaks Chronicle of 29 August 1919

Death and Funeral of an Ide Hill Petty Officer
Stoker Petty Officer Wm Robert Leigh
Victim of Miners Strike

As stated in our last issue, it was with regret that we had to announce the death of this well-known, popular and promising Petty Officer of the Chatham Division RN, who was accidentally killed while on duty at Crigglestone Colliery, Wakefield, Yorkshire, during the strike.

The only son of Mr & Mrs W H Leigh, Alberta Lodge, Goathurst Common, Ide Hill, deceased joined the Royal Navy in August 1910, at the age of 16 years, and during the first five years served on the Lord Nelson. During the earlier stages of the war he served as leading stoker on the Sentinel. Leaving the Mediterranean in July 1917, he saw service in the Irish Sea until the finish of the war as Stoker Petty Officer on the Kestrel. Although not actually in any engagement, deceased came through much active and dangerous service unscathed. When the Arcadian, carrying a large contingent of troops, was sunk, his ship was in the vicinity, and was instrumental in saving 600 men in the short space of 20 minutes. Recently he was drafted with others to undertake pumping operations in the Yorkshire strike area, and it was while thus engaged that he met his sad and untimely death. No one witnessed the accident, but it is assumed that to forward the work, as hands were short, he had stepped forward to couple up a truck, and in doing so slipped, and was caught between the buffers of the wagons.

The inquest was held at Clayton Hospital, Wakefield, on the 16 August. The evidence showed, as already stated, that no one saw how the accident had occurred, but the colliery shunter stated that he heard a yell, and on going back found deceased pinned between the buffers of empty coal waggons at a coal dump near the boiler furnace. From the position of deceased he thought he had slipped on some loose slack coal, and had been caught by the buffers before he could recover himself. Every effort was made by the Naval and colliery officials to get deceased to hospital as soon as possible. Death, however, took place on the way. A verdict of "accidental death" was returned.

The representative of the Ministry of Mines and the Colliery Manager (Mr Waterhouse) expressed their regret and their condolence with the parents that so promising a young Petty Officer, who had been through the great war, should have met with a fatal accident while helping to pump water from the colliery during the miners' strike.

Captain Heard, Officer in Charge of Chatham Division, also expressed the regret felt by the officers and men of the Division, and their sympathy with the parents in the great loss of their son while on active service.

The body was sent by the Naval Authorities to Sevenoaks for interment, where the arrangements were taken in hand by Mr E Wallis. Later the funeral took place at Ide Hill, the service being conducted by the Vicar,the Rev W Raven. As the cortege wended its way slowly to the church, the coffin covered with the Union Jack and White Ensign, sent from Chatham Division's Headquarters at Leeds, the deepest sympathy and respect were shown for the deceased and bereaved family. Business premises were closed, and many villagers occupied seats in the church, in addition to the principal mourners who were: Mr & Mrs W H Leigh and Miss Leigh (father and mother and sister); Louie Leigh (uncle); Mrs Miles (Godden Green); Mrs Brad_ny, Tonbridge; Mr Bennett, Tonbridge; Mr Dolding[?], Tonbridge; Mr Dann and Mrs Castleden, Victoria Road, Sevenoaks, (cousins); Mr and Mrs Richardson and family and Mrs Woodcock (cousins); and Mr Harboard (deceased's closest personal friend)

Many beautiful floral tributes were received, including wreaths sent by the Colliery Officials and the Officers and men of the Chatham Division stationed at Crigglestone Colliery; a fine laurel and cypress wreath from the deceased's father and mother; from the demobilised and discharged soldiers and sailors of Ide Hill; from the Ide Hill Gardening Society (of which Mr W H Leigh is Secretary); from Mr and Mrs Turner (Weardale Manor); Mr and Mrs Moore and family; Mr and Mrs Boakes and family (Small Stones); To dear Will from Birdie; Mr and Mrs J Tasker and family; Mr and Mrs Tichener, Elsie and Tom; Mrs K Marchant and family; Mr and Mrs Richardson and Mrs Woodcock; Uncle Len and Dora; Mr and Mrs Harbord; Mr and Mrs Brown; Aunt and all at Tonbridge; Mr and Mrs Hall (Combe Bank); All at 25 Victoria Road, Sevenoaks; From Louie; From Scholars of Louie's Class; From E C Periam.

Mr and Mrs W H Leigh wish to thank all kind friends for expressions of sympathy with them in their sad bereavement and for floral tributes received.