Sunday, 12 October 2014

The Bayonet Tragedy

The funeral of Private Arthur Charker [Z1306/12/7/1]

Monday 12th October 1914, Bedford: Private Arthur Charker, the Highlander bayoneted by a colleague on Friday, died of peritonitis from a punctured intestine this morning. Private John Fraser was arrested on Friday on a charge of malicious wounding, but at the Borough Magistrates' Court this morning the capital charge was brought. An inquest was held at the County Hospital this afternoon into his death at which witnesses described the events of Friday evening. Private Charker was billeted at a house in Albert Terrace where he was in a room with five others, including Private Fraser. Charker received his pay at 5pm. When the roll was called at 9.40pm he was in his room with the other five. There was an argument and Private MacVinish wanted to fight the others. Sergeant Kenneth Mackenzie who was the responsible officer that night was billeted in the same house. He said that three of the men were drunk and three sober, and that he did not think they had any drink in the room although he had seen bottles of beer in the house before even though they were not allowed. Eventually MacVinish quietened down and Mackenzie left. He returned at about 9.40pm when he heard a disturbance. Fraser was fighting with a man named Macdonald, and with help from another sergeant he separated the pair. Fraser then sat down on his bed against the wall. Sergeant Poulson told Mackenzie that Fraser had a bayonet. When asked Fraser refused to hand it over, and Mackenzie thought – but could not swear to it – that he said “And I’ll stick it into the first man that comes near me”. As he left the room to fetch some men to place Fraser under arrest he heard a scuffle, turned and saw Charker, Fraser and Macdonald fighting on the floor. Mackenzie went to fetch as many men as possible to separate them. When they were separated it became apparent that Charker had been stabbed and Mackenzie sent for the doctor. He thought Macdonald was sober but had been goading Fraser to fight.

The other sergeant, Poulson, said that Charker had been drinking heavily and the others were also under the influence. He helped Sergeant Mackenzie to calm the initial quarrel and was standing at the door when he noticed that Charker was bleeding from a cut over the eye He sent Macdonald for a towel and managed to stop the bleeding. While he was doing this Macdonald and Fraser started to fight again. They separated the pair. Fraser sat on his bed, stretched out his hand and took the bayonet in its scabbard from near the fireplace. As Fraser looked as if he meant to use it he told Sergeant Mackenzie and left the room to get an escort. He heard a “fearful scuffle” and rushed back to the room to find the three men fighting. He saw the bayonet in Fraser’s right hand and Macdonald also had hold of it. It seemed that Charker and Macdonald were trying to get the bayonet from him. Six or seven more men rushed in, there was confusion and someone said that Charker had been stabbed.

According to Private Macdonald he and three other men were sober, Fraser had had a drink or two and Charker was a little drunk. Fraser and Charker quarrelled, he did not know what about, and they came to blows. He was helping Sergeant Poulson with Charker’s eye when he realised Fraser was holding an entrenching tool above his head. Fraser struck him on the arm, they struggled and Macdonald managed to get the tool from him. When the sergeants left the room he saw Fraser had a drawn bayonet in his hand and heard him say he would put it into the first man who went near him. Charker tried to get the bayonet from him, but Fraser swung it into his stomach.

Fraser himself said that MacVinish was the first to cause a disturbance. While Sergeant Poulson was treating his eye with a towel Charker told one of the other men to go to bed. Fraser said to him “you have enough to do to look after yourself”. Macdonald then hit him (Fraser) in the face with the towel and he hit Macdonald with a trenching tool. After they fought he had gone to his bed. Macdonald challenged him again and he said that if they would leave him alone he would interfere with nobody. Charker then hit him in the eye and he got up holding the bayonet. Charker fell over him and the bayonet went into him. He was friendly with Charker and had no intention of stabbing him - they used to “knock about the streets together” back in Inverness. Fraser had tears in his eyes as he said he was sorry this had happened to his “chum”.

Charker had made a statement while he was dying in the hospital, but as it was taken under the impression that it was his dying declaration and there was no evidence that Charker was aware that his condition was fatal it could not be accepted. Acting on the Coroner’s recommendation the jury gave a verdict of manslaughter. Private Fraser will be tried for this offence, but will not face a murder charge.   

Source: Beds Times 16/10/1914

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