Category Archives: Death

Britain’s first known car fatality

It happened on Monday 17th August 1896 when Bridget Driscoll was knocked down by Arthur Edsell who was reportedly driving at 4mph.

The Morning Post’s report on Friday 21st tells us that Mr Percy Morrison held an inquest at Penge on the body of Bridget Driscoll, the 44 year old wife of a labourer of 137 Old Town, Croydon, who was fatally injured by a motor-car at the Crystal Palace on Monday 17th August.

May Driscoll, daughter of the deceased, said she had gone to the Palace with her mother and a friend named Elizabeth Murphy to see the Catholic fete connected with the League of the Cross taking place that day.  They were on the Terrace when she saw three motor cars approaching, the last one of which was coming at a very fast rate, and going from one side of the road to the other.  The ladies safely avoided the first two cars, but the third one, which was a good distance behind, swayed towards them. As soon as Miss Driscoll had run close to the rails she turned and saw the car passing over her mother.

At the subsequent inquest the Coroner [c] asked: Did the car knock the deceased down?’  The Witness [w] replied: ‘Yes’.

[c]: ‘Did the driver appear to be attending properly to his duty?’

[w]: ‘I don’t think he understood how to drive; he kept going from one side to the other, whereas the other two were going straight.’

[c]:’Did your mother do anything to warn the driver?’

[w]: ‘Yes, she put her umbrella up.’

[c]: ‘Was your mother quite sober?’

[w]: ‘Yes, and I am sure she did not fall down in front of the car.’

The jury returned a verdict of “accidental death” after an inquest enduring some six hours, and no prosecution was made.

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Marlene Dietrich – her final years

It was on Monday 29th September 1975 that Marlene’s show business career largely came to an end when she fell off the stage and broke her thigh during a performance in Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne, Australia.  The following year, her husband, Rudolf Sieber, died of cancer on Wednesday 24th June 1976.

In 1979 she did her final film appearance in David Bowie’s ‘Just a Gigolo’.  In that same year her autobiography, Nehmt nur mein Leben (Take Just My Life), was published.

With an alcoholic dependent on painkillers, Marlene withdrew to her Paris apartment and spent the final 11 years of her life mostly bedridden, allowing only a select few – mainly family and employees – to enter the apartment. She was not isolated though – she was a prolific letter-writer and phone-caller!

In 1982 she agreed to take part in a documentary film about her life, but refused to be filmed and her director – Maximilian Schell – was allowed only to record her voice. However he used the interviews with her as the basis for a film set to a collage of film clips from her career and in 1984 the film – Marlene – won several European film prizes and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary in 1984 and Newsweek named it “a unique film, perhaps the most fascinating and affecting documentary ever made about a great movie star”.  Four years later – in 1988 – Marlene recorded the spoken introductions to songs for a nostalgia album by Udo Lindenberg.

It was on Saturday 6th May 1992 that Marlene Dietrich died of renal failure at her flat in Paris – she was 90.

Her funeral ceremony was conducted at La Madeleine in Paris, a Roman Catholic Church on Sunday 14th May 1992 and her funeral service was attended by approximately 1,500 mourners in the church itself—including several ambassadors from Germany, Russia, the US, the UK and other countries—with thousands more outside. Her closed coffin rested beneath the altar draped in the French flag and adorned with a simple bouquet of white wildflowers and roses from the French President, François Mitterrand. Three medals, including France’s Legion of Honour and the US Medal of Freedom, were displayed at the foot of Marlene’s coffin, military style, for a ceremony symbolising the sense of duty Marlene Dietrich embodied in her career as an actress, and in her personal fight against Nazism.

The officiating priest remarked: “Everyone knew her life as an artist of film and song, and everyone knew her tough stands… She lived like a soldier and would like to be buried like a soldier”.

Marlene Dietrich’s gravestone is in Berlin – and the inscription reads “Hier steh ich an den Marken meiner Tage” (literally: “Here I stand at the marks of my days”), which is a line from Theodor Körner’s sonnet “Abschied vom Leben” (“Farewell to Life”).

Marlene had instructed in her will that she was to be buried in her birthplace, Berlin, near her family and, on Tuesday 16th May 1992, her body was flown there to fulfil her wish. Dietrich was interred at the Städtischer Friedhof III, Berlin-Schöneberg, next to the grave of her mother, Josefine von Losch, and near the house where she was born.

In an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel in November 2005, Marlene’s daughter and grandson claimed that Marlene was politically active during those years and that she kept in contact with world leaders by telephone, including Ronal Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, running up a monthly bill of over US$3,000. In 1989, her appeal to save the Babelsberg studios from closure was broadcast on BBC Radio, and she spoke on television via telephone on the occasion of the fall of the Berlin Wall later that year.

In Flanders Fields

John McCrae is remembered for what is probably the best known and most popular of all First World War poetry.  It is believed that he was so moved by the death of his friend Lieutenant Alexis Helmet, who had been killed by a shell burst, and inspired by the profusion of wild poppies he could see in the nearby cemetery, that he wrote In Flanders Fields. Sadly, John McCrae did not survive WW1; he died from pneumonia whilst on active duty in 1918.  He is buried at the Commonwealth War Grave Commission, Wimereux Communal cemetery.

In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead.  Short days ago
We live, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold on high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

The words of Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD, Canadian Army (1872-1918)

My mother’s father was involved in this war and served in many areas of conflict – but not in Flanders.  He died in the mid-1930s and, according to my mother, the doctor said it was because of what he did in the war.

 

This is a story that perhaps we wish had not happened

It was on this day – Monday 16th July 1945 – that the first atomic bomb was detonated at a desert site in New Mexico, close to the Los Alamos laboratory where the device had been built.

Three weeks later, on Monday 6th August 1945, a similar device was used on Hiroshima.

Quoted in the New York Times on Saturday 25th May 1946 Albert Einstein commented:
‘The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.’

I loved reading the stories of this man

For most of those reading this there may be the thought ‘Who’s he?’ or ‘So what?’  For men of a certain age – and maybe some ladies – the outlaw Billy the Kid was a part of our youth – part of a time when young boys would have great fun playing cowboys and watching cowboy films in the cinema and on television.   I’m afraid I can’t avoid telling a bit more about Billy – and about Sheriff Pat Garrett.  Please feel free to move on to something else!

On Thursday 14th July 1881 one Henry McCarty – known by many over the years as William H. Bonney and even more as Billy the Kid – was shot and killed by Sherriff Pat Garrett outside Fort Sumner, USA.  For most of those reading this there may be the thought ‘Who’s he?’ or ‘So what?’  For men of a certain age – and maybe some ladies – the outlaw Billy the Kid was a part of our youth – part of a time when young boys would have great fun playing cowboys and watching cowboy films in the cinema and on television.

Billy the Kidd was first arrest was for stealing food in late 1875, and within five months he was arrested for stealing clothing and firearms. His escape from jail two days later and flight from New Mexico Territory into Arizona Territory made him both an outlaw and a federal fugitive.

After murdering a blacksmith during an altercation in August 1877, Bonney became a wanted man in Arizona Territory and returned to New Mexico, where he joined a group of cattle rustlers. He became a well-known figure in the region when he joined the Regulators and took part in the Lincoln County War. In April 1878, however, the Regulators killed three men, including Lincoln County Sheriff William J Brady and one of his deputies. Bonney and two other Regulators were later charged with killing all three men.

Bonney’s notoriety grew in December 1880 when the Las Vegas Gazette in Las Vegas, New Mexico, and the New York Sun carried stories about his crimes. He was captured by Sheriff Pat Garrett later that same month, tried and convicted of the murder of Brady in April 1881, and sentenced to hang in May of that year. Bonney escaped from jail on April 28th 1881, killing two sheriff’s deputies in the process, and evaded capture for more than two months. He ultimately was shot and killed by Garrett in Fort Sumner on July 14th 1881. Over the next several decades, legends grew that Bonney had not died that night, and a number of men claimed they were him.

 

A Snippet from 11th May

How often have you had your own thoughts on the actions and performance of parliamentarians at large and ministers in particular?  Fortunately this particular story has never been repeated!

It was on this day – Monday 11th May 1812 – that Spencer Perceval, the Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom was shot dead in the lobby of the House of Commons.  The assassin was John Bellingham, a merchant and broker who bore a grudge against the British government for failing to help him when he was in severe legal and financial difficulties abroad.

Spencer Perceval is the only British prime minister to have been killed while in office.

The whole story of John Bellingham’s life and death is told on:
wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Bellingham
and
http://www.exclassics.com/newgate/ng550.htm

Scott of the Antarctic

It was on this day – 29th March 1912 – that Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his men died.

Work had been going on for most of 1911 setting up a base, laying provision depots, doing geological surveys, collecting various specimens and experimenting with their equipment and rations.  It was in September when the group of 16 – mainly support – men set out towards the Pole. Bit by bit the support headed back to base and, on 3rd January 1912, Captain Scott decided who would be with him on the final trek to the Pole.  It was himself, of course plus Edward Wilson, Lawrence Oates, Henry Bowers and Edgar Evans.  14 days later, on 17th January 1912, the team reached the Pole.

There they saw Amundsen’s flag that had been planted there a month earlier.

It’s hard to imagine the overwhelming disappointment the five must have felt.

Captain Scott wrote in there book: “Great God! This is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority.

The return journey started out well, but rations were low and the men lost condition. Evans’ frostbite worsened and he died on 17th February. Oates also suffered frostbite.  This delayed the rest of the party and, on 16th March, he put on his boots for the last time and stepped out into a blizzard saying, “I am just going outside and may be some time.

Scott acknowledged his sacrifice recording that: “We knew that Oates was walking to his death… it was the act of a brave man and an English gentleman.

Scott, Wilson and Bowers continued towards the ‘One Ton’ depot which they knew could save them.  However, an unseasonal blizzard halted them just 11 miles short of their target and, malnourished, frostbitten, weak and trapped inside the tent by the weather, they knew what was coming.

I do not think we can hope for any better things now. We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker, of course, and the end cannot be far.”

Scott was probably the last of the three to die on 29th March 1912.

Eight months later a search party found the tent and its content of rolls of photographs, meteorological observations, diaries and fossils that had been gathered on the way back from the Pole.

They left the bodies in the tent and buried them under a mound of snow.

A Final Farewell

My father and I stood in silence at the bottom of the panel as we looked at the name carved there – Jaime Domenech – a brave ancestor from many years ago.

It was the chief councillor who broke into our thoughts at last.

“Now you know what happened to your ancestor. He did not die. He lived, and he and his men gave life to this valley, this village. The Indians did not go away. They camped outside the valley, making it impossible for Jaime Domenech and his soldiers to escape.”

“Very soon, they found that they did not want to escape. They liked the tranquillity of the valley. There were many Indian villages in the hills and mountains around. In time the Indian maidens came to the valley. The attraction of the strange fair-skinned men overcame their fear of Quetzalcóatl. In fact, they believed the newcomers were the children of Quetzalcóatl, and they were pleased to come and live with them. They married the soldiers. More and more the Spanish and Indian bloods mixed. The children of these marriages were brought up in the traditions of old Spain. In time the population increased to over 600 souls.

“Then the maidens stopped coming. The Indian tribes moved away. Slowly the numbers in the valley started to fall. We are now less than one hundred, with few young men and no young women to continue our village. In a few more years our village will be empty; a home for ghosts and memories. It will be returned to Quetzalcóatl. We had hoped that we would go without anyone ever knowing we had been here.”

“We are the first white men to visit this valley in all those years?” My father’s voice was hushed.

The old man nodded. “Yes Señor. No man from Cortez’s force found the soldiers. The maidens that came never returned to their villages so building on the fear of Quetzalcóatl that kept the Indian warriors out. Everyone here can trace their ancestry to one of that first brave band; the band led by your ancestor Jaime Domenech.”

My father and I stood there silently, thinking about the life these people had led over the previous 400 years.

At last my father spoke: “It is a strange story you tell, Señor. My son and I have many questions to ask but that would be prying into your private history. You said you wished to leave this valley as you came, with no one knowing you have been here. We will respect that wish.”

He reached into the shoulder bag that lay at his feet. “All the notes I have made in coming to this valley of yours are in this book. I give it to you to do with as you wish. Your secret will remain safe with us. No one will ever find your valley because of us.” With that, father handed his journal to the elder who took it with a smile.

“Thank you,” was all he said.

We left the valley, escorted by the same two men we first met. They took us past their cottage to the edge of the valley near where we had entered. As we stood on the ridge, looking back to the edge of the valley and the village my father turned to the two men.

“One question, if I may, my friends. What is the name of your chief councillor, the man we have been talking with in the large hall?”

It was councillor Blue Belt who replied in that strange lilting tongue so like, and yet so unlike, our own. “His name, Señor, is Jaime Domenech. A direct descendent of the leader of the band of soldiers who first came to this valley. You and he are of the same family, Señor.”

 

The Sunday after

The Sunday papers all told of the story – this one is from the Sunday Express – it says:

‘Sometimes a baby’s cry broke the stillness’: Kings and Queens, Presidents and Prime Ministers, Princes and Chancellors from 111 nations joined a countless throng of humble people yesterday in the final massive act of homage to Sir Winston Churchill.  It was an occasion of pomp and pageantry, pride and sorry, which will not be equalled in the lifetime of any who saw it.

And yet what there was to say could be said simply.

The thoughts of those who stood in the windswept streets and the millions who watched on television were summed up in one message.  It was from the Queen, and was in the circular wreath of white flowers – freesias, arum lilies, gladioli, and lilies of the valley – which she sent to the interment at Bladon Church.  It was written in her own hand and said:

“From the nation and the Commonwealth:
In grateful remembrance.
Elizabeth R”

No one can say with certainty how many people stood and shivered in the bitter east wind to honour Sir Winston. Probably there were around half a million.

A day when Britain stood still

This Saturday, 30th January 1965, saw one of the largest assemblies of world statesmen in history when Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral was held – regarded by many as a day when Britain ‘stood still’.

The following is based mainly on BBC reports with personal memories included:

‘Thousands of people had paid their last respects to Britain’s greatest wartime leader Sir Winston Churchill who was buried today after a full state funeral. A total of 321,360 people filed past the catafalque during the three days of his lying-in-state.

Silent crowds lined the streets to watch the gun carriage bearing Sir Winston’s coffin leave Westminster Hall as Big Ben struck 09.45. The procession travelled slowly through central London to St Paul’s Cathedral for the funeral service.

Many millions around the world watched the funeral procession at home and abroad as television pictures were beamed from 40 BBC cameras placed along the route.

The mourners were led by Sir Winston’s wife, Lady Clementine Churchill, his son Randolph and daughters Mary Soames and Lady Sarah Audley. The Queen and other members of the Royal family; the Prime Minister Mr Harold Wilson and representatives of 112 countries packed into the Cathedral for the service.

The funeral cortege was accompanied by a 19-gun salute and an RAF fly-past as it began the journey to Sir Winston’s final resting place. At Tower Hill the coffin was piped aboard the launch ‘Havengore‘ for the voyage up the Thames and then toWaterloo Station where the coffin was placed onto a train drawn by a Battle of Britain locomotive named Winston Churchill.  Thousands gathered to pay tribute at wayside stations as the coffin passed while, at many football matches, a two-minute silence was observed.

Sir Winston was finally laid to rest in the Oxfordshire parish churchyard of Bladon, close to Blenheim Palace where he was born 90 years before.  Only family members were present at his internment.