Thursday, 19 May 2016

Luton Girl Saves Mother and Baby

Joyce Cunningham

Friday 19th June 1916: A Luton girl has saved the lives of a mother and child while on a visit to Worthing (Sussex). Fourteen year old Joyce Cunningham, a pupil of Luton Modern School, was on the beach with her mother at the far end of the Marine Parade when a small boy drew her attention to a woman and baby in the water. She went to the rescue, but when she did so the drowning woman pulled her legs from under her, and the three spend some time in the water.  An elderly gentleman in weak health also went to help, but without the girl’s effort – all the more noteworthy because she is only able to swim a few strokes – there would undoubtedly have been a tragedy. Young Joyce soon recovered from the shock, but her mother needed medical assistance. Miss Cunningham’s father, Christopher Cunningham, went to Worthing to join his wife and daughter, and received many congratulations on her bravery. A recommendation is to be sent to the Royal Humane Society and it is expected that she will be suitably rewarded.

The full story was told in the police courts at Worthing, where Hilda May Denyer was charged with attempting to drown her nine month old daughter, Winifred, and with attempting to commit suicide by throwing herself into the sea. The young woman appeared in court wearing a long blue knitted coat without a hat, and appeared in a collapsed condition. Joyce Cunningham told the court that the baby was fastened to the woman’s chest by a scarf, and there was a string bag full of large chalk stones near the woman in the water – she was unsure whether this was attached to the woman or not. The woman had asked “Why don’t you let me go?” but she refused and called for help. A gentleman and Miss Cunningham’s mother arrived, and her mother held the baby while she untied the scarf. The gentleman had then got the woman out of the water. A letter addressed to Hilda Denyer’s mother was read to the Court:
“Dear Mother. I hope by the time you get these few lines baby and I will be at rest in our watery grave. No one knows what I have suffered these last few weeks. Kindly see that Teddy is taken care of until his Dad comes home, if he ever does. Please ask Ted to forgive me. He is one of the best, and to live without him is impossible. I have had twelve weary months waiting for his return, and I can’t hold out any longer. Tell dear little Ted I have gone away. It is for the best. Hope you will all forgive.”
Miss Cunningham was thanked by the Bench for her plucky rescue. Mrs Denyer was committed to trial at the Assizes in July; after promising she would never do anything of the sort again she was granted bail on condition she went to live with her mother, and the baby was returned to her.[1]

Source: Luton News, 25th May 1916

[1] At the Assizes Hilda was bound over in the sum of £10 and told that as her husband was doing his duty for his country “she must do hers by looking after herself and her children”. Joyce Cunningham was presented with a Royal Humane Society certificate for her courage. It appears Ted survived the war and the couple went on to have four more children. Hilda Denyer died in 1985 at the age of 94. 

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