Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Thefts by Soldiers Billeted at Southill

Men at Southill Station, 1920 [Z880/2]

Wednesday 7th July 1915: Two soldiers have appeared at the Biggleswade Petty Sessions today charged with stealing potatoes and peas worth 7 shillings and 6 pence from George Brown at Southill between 20th and 23rd June. Walter Kirby and Herbert Brown both pleaded guilty. Mr. Brown reported the theft to the police, estimating that he had lost half a bushel of peas and about 60 roots of potatoes. The Bench was informed that other charges had been laid against the men and decided to hear those before passing sentence. They were then accused of stealing five fowls from J. King and Sons, Southill on three separate occasions between 1st and 21st June.

Police Sergeant Marritt told the Court that he had met Kirby leaving the 2.38am train from Leeds on the morning of 28th June. Kirby, a Private in the Royal Engineers billeted at Southill, admitted taking the potatoes and peas and made a voluntary statement. He said had found the hens sleeping out in the open and took them home to be cooked. Another man was with him but he did not wish to give his name. There was also mention of a pheasant, which was not included in the charge. P. S. Marritt and P. C. Pedley met Brown at leaving the 3.38am train at Biggleswade on the same date. Brown at first denied any knowledge of the fowls or potatoes, but later admitted having the vegetables and one hen.

The soldiers’ landlady, Mrs. Lichfield of Southill, said that Kirby had been billeted with her for nine weeks and Brown for some time less. About five weeks ago she saw a fowl on the copper in her wash house which then disappeared; some time later she saw a pheasant which the soldiers ate. A week later there were two hens, which she cooked at Kirby’s request and ate with the men; then a week or two ago there was another fowl hanging outside the wash house door. She said the men had been sending parcels away but she did not know what was in them.

Henry Vellam, the farm bailiff for Messrs John King and Sons, had noticed on 26th June that some slats had been pulled off the hen house. Several fowls had been lost during June; two which were in the habit of roosting out and two others which were sitting on eggs had disappeared. He believed that between ten and a dozen fowls were missing. Kirby and Brown pleaded guilty to stealing the fowls. They were sentenced to one month’s imprisonment with hard labour for each crime, with the sentences to run concurrently. The Bench may have been more lenient for a single charge, but the theft of fowls was a serious offence and appeared to be part of a “systematic course of plunder”. It was hoped that after serving their sentence they would be able to return to their military duties. Mrs. Lichfield was told to think herself extremely lucky not be charged with receiving stolen goods.

Source: Biggleswade Chronicle 9th July 1915

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