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Memorial to the New Zealanders at Bere Ferrers

Memorial to the New Zealander soldiers at Bere Ferrers which is included on the plinth of the village War Memorial

© Richard J. Brine


From The Western Times

2 October 1917


The Terrible Death of Colonials near Tavistock



The adjourned inquest on the New Zealand soldiers killed in the railway accident at Bere Ferrers Station last week was resumed yesterday by Mr. R. Robinson Rodd (Coroner) at Bere Ferrers. A train was standing in Bere Ferrers Station on Monday afternoon last and some New Zealand soldiers got down from the train on to the permanent way, not knowing that an express train was due to pass through. The train dashed into the men, killing nine and injuring three. One of the latter (Private Trussell) subsequently died at Tavistock Hospital.

At the opening of the inquest, when only evidence of identity was taken, Captain Herbert Stanley Hewlett, of the new Zealand Expeditionary Force, stated that one man remained unidentified. The other nine were:


55753 Private John Stanley Jackson (20)

56795 Private Chudleigh Kirton (21)

55776 Private Baron Archibald McBryde (24)

57122 Private Richard Vincent McKenna (20)

55050 Private William Simon Gillanders (36)

56883 Private John Warden (33)

57068 Private William Frederick Greaves (31)

56791 Private Joseph Judge (age not known)

56874 Private William John Trussell (28)

(The unidentified man is named below as 54624 Private Sidney Ennis West)

The other two injured men, both of whom had their arms broken, were

56920 Private Nathaniel Johnston Gatley (34)

55026 Private Robert James Barnes (39)

(The newspaper extract describes all the men as Privates - some were, in fact, Riflemen)


Memorial to the New Zealanders at Bere Alston

The memorial to the New Zealand soldiers at Bere Alston

on an inclined slab supported by scrollwork at the base

of the village War Memorial

© Richard J. Brine


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.


Bere Ferrers Station today

Signal Box, waiting room and platform at Bere Ferrers Station today.

At that time, the line was single-track with passing places. The signalman had parked the train carrying the New Zealanders in the by-pass in order to let the express train through. Instead of getting out onto a platform (the station had two at that time) the men jumped down onto the track into the path of the oncoming express. The inquest was held in the waiting room.

© Richard J. Brine


Frank Kidwell, signalman at Bere Ferrers station, said the troop train in question arrived at  3. 52. She was stopped because the line was not clear ahead. The express went through at 3.53 when the troop train had barely stopped; in fact, the driver of the express was whistling before the troop train stopped. He did not personally see the men run down, but they could have had no chance to save themselves.

An officer gave evidence as to the food arrangements, and said in the circumstances that prevailed everything possible was done for the men. The difficulties were got over as well as they could be.

The officer said that there were certain refreshments given at Exeter station by the Mayoress's organisation.

Coroner: Do the military authorities rely on that?

Witness: No, that is a free gift.

Further replying, he said this refreshment was not enough for the troops. It was a bun and a cup of tea. Anything above that, the men had to pay for, and consequently there was not time for that sort of thing. Consequently rations were issued.

Charles Henry Thorn of Exeter, the fireman on the express from Exeter to Plymouth, Friary, said on approaching Bere Ferrers station, he noticed a train standing in the station. Witness was on the right-hand side of the engine. They (i.e. the engine crew)  were whistling  and when in the station he noticed soldiers on his road. He shouted to the driver: "Whoa; soldiers on the road!" but it was too late to pull up. The train was travelling at about 35 miles an  hour. The soldiers seemed to be confused, and made a "scuffle" to get out of the way. The train was pulled up as promptly as possible - within 200 or 300 yards.

It was not considered necessary to call the driver of the express ( J. Skinner of Exeter) or the driver of the troop train, neither of whom, it appeared. saw the men struck.

The coroner said the evidence was quite clear that the deceased men, without orders, left the train and got down on to the permanent way, exposing themselves to danger, notwithstanding that the signals were warning the approach of a train. No one was to  blame


The jury concurred and returned a verdict of "Accidental Death".

Expressions of sympathy and regret at the circumstances in which deceased met their death were made by the Foreman of the Coroner's Jury (Rev. J. Sharpe) and Mr. Johns. The former stated that a memorial service was held in both local churches on the previous Sunday.


Bere Ferrers Memorial Plaque to the New Zealand soldiers

Brass plaque in St. Andrew's Church at Bere Ferrers

© Richard J. Brine


To mark the 74th anniversary of this terrible incident, local people, who have never forgotten 24 September 1917, added the names of the men to their own War Memorials in a special ceremony in September 2001  at which many New Zealanders were present.

The soldiers who died were taken to Efford Cemetery on the outskirts of Plymouth where they were buried in graves maintained  by the Imperial War Graves Commission in different parts of the cemetery according to the religion of each man.


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