Yesterday's proceedings took place in the waiting room at Bere Ferrers Station. Officers wer present representing the New Zealand contingent. Mr. R. B. Johns, solicitor, Plymouth, represented the London & South Western Railway Company, and Inspector Walter Trump was also present.
The Coroner, opening the proceedings, referred to an anonymous letter appearing in a Plymouth contemporary newspaper, signed by "Enquirer". He thought it was a most improper communication addressed to the paper considering that this matter was under consideration, and he did not think it should be inserted. He hoped if anyone of the jury had seen the letter they should abandon it from their minds altogether.
With reference to the unidentified man, an officer stated that No. 54624 Private Sidney Ennis West, aged 21, was missing from the roll call and was, to the best of his belief, the unknown man.
Military evidence was called as to the New Zealand contingent from which it appeared that owing to certain difficulties - which were satisfactorily explained during the inquest - the troops had had no food after breakfast and up to the time they entrained from a certain Devon station between 3 and 3.30pm. The arrangement was that they were to be served at the first stopping place, Exeter, from rations carried in the guard's van but owing to unforeseen circumstances the train was stopped at Bere Ferrers, which the men apparently concluded was the stopping place arranged for.
Private Archibald Graham Porteous said the men were not told where the first stop would be, but the arrangement was that two men were to get out of each carriage to fetch the rations from the guard's van. At Bere Ferrers, Jackson and West got out from his carriage on that side; it was the side they entrained on. They were sitting next to the carriage door in readiness. Witness personally only saw these two men get out on the wrong side.
Mr. Johns explained that the train was a long one of eighteen coaches, and not all could be drawn up at the platform, and most of the men got out from the coaches that were not at the platform.
In further evidence, witness said the who left his carriage had passed out of his view when the express dashed through. The whole thing happened practically simultaneously. He heard the whistle of the express blow, but there was no time for anybody to warn the men. After the soldiers' train had left Bere Ferrers, the men had something to eat at Tavistock.
Sergt. Major Stanley Edward Deacon spoke of passing on from a superior officer an order that they were to draw rations from the provisions in the guard's van. The men were to hold themselves in readiness for the stopping-place, when they were to receive a further order to get out of the train and draw the rations.
The Coroner asked: Had there been much complaint among the men about being kept so long without food?
Witness: I think they were asking when they were going to be fed.
Coroner: Was there a general complaint that they were not getting their food?
Witness: Well I don't remember sir - (laughter).
An officer in Court: I never heard a New Zealander complain. They always take it as a matter of course.
Coroner: I take it they were hungry?
Witness: I certainly think they were, if they felt anything like I felt.
Witness was further questioned as to the orders to the men, and another officer in the Court stated that the orders were his. But he did not say the first stop; he said Exeter. Referring to the men leaving the train the Coroner asked: The men did it on their own responsibility. No one ordered them to get out of the carriage?
Witness: That is as I understand it.
An officer who gave an explanation concerning the feeding of the men, said every attempt was made to do what was in the interests of the men entrained. The deceased soldiers had no right to be out of the train and he confirmed that there was no time to warn them - it happened like a flash.