3rd Dorset Regiment: Mutiny and fatal shooting at Upwey

On night of Sunday 28th November 1914 there was a mutiny at Upwey, near Weymouth. Private Wallace Williams of the 3rd Dorset Regiment was killed and Private Lane injured.  The papers report that Grandad Beck attended the Coroner’s court but gives us no information about his involvement.  The civil courts part in this was to ascertain how the death happened and if it was a criminal offence.  The war had started 4 months before.  I am sure that the investigating the incident had to be handled with care, as it involved both the military and civilian police.  It is likely that Grandad Beck, as Dorset’s only detective was involved in the investigation and liaising with the Dorset Regiment.  This may have helped to secure his promotion the following year, to Superintendent of Blandford Forum, a town with a military base nearby.

I know it is not really relevant but I couldn’t resist another picture of Lionel in uniform take in 1917.

Young man in uniform
Lionel, Grandad Beck’s son in the uniform of the Royal North Devon Hussars C. April 1917

The circumstances behind this affair is confusing, the Coroners court was held on 3 December then adjourned until a week later, when a verdict of manslaughter was given.  This was then heard by the Assizes in January.  In between the military held its own court and found 5 men guilty of Mutiny1.  The Western Gazette reported on the 3 civilian courts.

Sunday 28th November 1914

About 80 men and three officers of the 3rd Dorset Regiment were guarding the reservoir at Upwey, which feed into the Portland waterworks.   The 3rd’s wartime role, as this time, was guarding the railways, waterworks and other sites of strategic importance. The men had been under canvas but due to the tempestuous weather  some of the men had been put into the huts, even though they were not ready, in particular the huts were not probably lit.

On the night of the incident the weather was stormy with strong winds. The residents of Upwey reported hearing the sounds of about 100 shots being fired and concluded that something serious had happened.  We don’t know how they reacted to this but it is likely they called the local policemen, who would have contacted Superintendent Sprackling at Dorchester.

The most reliable account, according to the Western Gazette was that between 6 pm and 9.30 pm the men were making hilarious use of the canteen… Some of the men, getting out of hand, attempted to pull down a non-commissioned officer’s tent, and it was when they were challenged by the guard that the violence was resorted to.  There was about 30 men in the hut, which had only a candle for light.  The firing lasted about 20 minutes.

Private Wallace Williams

The inquest was into the death of Private Wallace Williams,  who was from Teddington, London. He had listed in 1901 and was unmarried. Company-Sergeant-Major Simpson giving evidence said that Private Williams didn’t have an place of residence or any relations.  Private Williams was killed by a shot in the chest, at close range and had died almost instantaneously.  He was described as a very excitable man, and he did not appear to be a man in his right senses.  He was accustomed to being in drink. Private J. Amey described Williams as a “delightful man” all up for fun.  His nickname was “Happy”  At the second inquest a report, written before the incident, said that in the opinion of the author Captain Jarvis, Private Williams was mentally deficient, and had give a lot of trouble, undermining discipline and should be dismissed from the Service.

Private Williams’ was buried at Melcombe Regis Cemetery, his body being taken from the mortuary to the cemetery on a gun carriage, covered with a Union Jack and several wreaths.  The Wilts Band played for a large number of the deceased’s comrades, before volleys were fired over the open grave, and buglers sounded “The Last Post”.

Thursday 3 December 1914

At the first inquest four prisoners were in the dock under military guard.  Supt. Sprackling and Detective Beck were present to represent the County Police. One other man, Private Lane, was in hospital with serious injuries but was expected to recover.  The inquest heard how a row occurred at the canteen, and a considerable amount of excitement and disturbance ensured at a certain hut. The disagreement may have been about the amount of rations the men were receiving. Williams, who was shot, was one of the men who took part in the disturbance.  He had rushed into the hut calling out that there was a mutiny and a general row was going on. Men got hold of their rifles, and there was a large amount of firing in the hut.  Two men had been named that had fired their rifles, one was the deceased man and the other was Corporal Wilson.

Thursday 10 December 1914

At the second Coroner’s court the newspaper reported that Corporal Wilson was 18 years of age and had been in the Regiment for 14 months.  He told the court that he was in the hut when Private Williams rushed into the hut and shouted “Mutiny, mutiny.” Williams picked up a rifle and fixed a bayonet. Witness also took up a rifle. … He fired one shot out of the window, but he did not know why.  He had had a drop of drink, but he was not drunk. He was excited… when he fired the shot through the window he did not see anyone outside. While being questioned by the Coroner, Wilson agreed that it must have been him who fired the shot that killed Williams.  He then broke down in the dock and sobbed aloud for some little while.

The Jury returned a verdict of Manslaughter against Corporal Wilson.  The Jury added that they considered that Corporal Wilson did not intend to kill anyone: that the evidence was very conflicting and that the circumstances were extremely exciting.  They wished, therefore, to strongly recommend him for mercy.

Tuesday 12 January 1915

Corporal Alfred Wilson was tried at the Assizes court in Dorchester for the manslaughter of Private Williams at Upwey Camp.  Since the Coroner’s warrant Williams had been tried at a Court-Martial on 29th December and found guilty of mutiny and sentenced to 6 months’ hard labour.  As the circumstances were the same as had been heard by the Coroner’s Jury, the Judge observed that although the two charges against the prisoner were different, they were the outcome of the same set of facts, and as he did not think a man should be punished twice for one offence… Under His Lordship’s direction, the Jury returned a formal verdict of not guilty.

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Ref: Quotes in italics
Western Gazette:
1914: 4 December; 11 December p2
1915: 15 January p10
Keep Military Museum Website, history of the Dorset Regiment.
 
1 Blindfold and Alone By John Hughes-Wilson, Cathryn M Corns:
In late November 1914 five reservists of 3rd Battalion, the Dorset Regiment were charged with mutiny after what appears to have been a drunken brawl near Upwey (From Google Books)

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