My thanks to the Minchinhampton Local History Group Annual Bulletin Number 32 2015
A Double Tragedy of the Great War Diana Wall
During the course of the research for “Sunshine and Shadows”, the 2014 exhibition looking at life before, during and after the Great War, many tragedies emerged in the stories of the Minchinhampton area. However, there was one, discovered by Steve PITMAN of Rodborough, which took place very close to the town and blighted the future lives of two separate families.
On Sunday 27th August 1916 Dorothy BEARD, of Gravel Hill, Burleigh left home at 10.30 in the morning, to meet her fiancé, Archibald KNEE of West End. He had been home from the Gloucestershire Regiment for a week on sick leave and during that time he told his father distinctly that he would rather die than go back, saying this more than once. From a child he had suffered from nervous depression but his father did his best to cheer him up and was under the impression that he would return to camp on Sunday; a car had been ordered to take KNEE to the Great Western Railway station as he was due to return to camp at Chiseldon. On that day Dorothy came to the house, remaining there practically the whole day and she, too, seemed somewhat depressed, probably at Archibald having to go back. The couple were last seen at about 9.45p.m. and as they were going out, according to Mr. KNEE, his son said “Father I shan’t be long. I shall be back about half-past ten”. He thought Dorothy was being taken to her home, to Burleigh a mile away. When Archibald had not come home at 11.30 p.m. his father, becoming alarmed, went to Mr Beard’s house and found that the girl had not returned. The Minchinhampton policeman, P.C. DANCE, was alerted and their disappearance reported. The two fathers sat up all night and the next morning they made a search on the Common in the pools and reservoirs but without result.
Charles Henry KNEE, the father, was a clothworker as was his son, Archibald, before joining the Army on June 14th 1916, following conscription. He was a Private with 15th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment, aged 25. Nathaniel BEARD, described as a millhand, said Dorothy was a cloth weaver at Messrs P. C. Evans and Sons Ltd, Brimscombe. She was aged 18, a strong and active girl. Until Friday 1st September their disappearance remained a mystery, when, just after noon, their bodies were discovered in Iron Mills Pond.
At the inquest the following day, held in the Weighbridge Inn, Alfred DAVIS, a millhand of High Street, Minchinhampton, said he heard the young couple were missing and about 1.20 p.m. on Friday he walked along the footpath, a private one by the Iron Mills Pond to see if he could discover any sign of them. Beneath a tree he saw a girl’s and a soldier’s hat and also a bundle in
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the water but he could not make out what it was. Thinking however it might be the deceased he went to Nailsworth Police Station. P.C. HITCHINGS said enquiries had been made to discover the whereabouts of the young couple but no-one had before looked into the pond where they were found and no dragging operations had been carried out. On Friday he had a telephone message to come to the Iron Mills Pond where he saw Mr A. T. PLANE, and with ropes and a grappling iron he brought the bodies to the bank; the water was at least four foot deep. They were tied together, face to face, with the man’s raincoat, the knot which was behind the girl, being made with the tails of his coat. With assistance he brought them to the Weighbridge Inn and madeexaminationbutfoundnoletters. Theywerebothfullydressedandthe military pass and railway ticket were found on KNEE, as well as a purse containing 11shillings. On the girl was a wristlet watch which had stopped at 11 minutes to 4, a gold bangle, necklet and brooch.
According to the report of the inquest in the “Stroud News” published the following week, “The jury returned a verdict in each case to the effect that they committed suicide by drowning themselves, there being no evidence to show the state of their minds. Mr A. T. PLANE, at the end of the enquiry said, as the owner of the pond in which unfortunate young couple drowned themselves, he should like to express his great sympathy with the relatives. He was very sorry indeed it should have happened on his property and he sincerely hoped the parents would be comforted in their bereavement. The Coroner, (Mr. Moreton BALL) said he was sure all wish to express sympathy with the families in their very grievous and terrible losses, and the jury agreed with these sentiments.”
Dorothy BEARD was buried at Amberley Churchyard and Archibald KNEE was interred at Minchinhampton Baptist graveyard and, again according to “Stroud News” “There was a large attendance of sorrowing relatives and friends at both interments. At Pte. KNEE’s funeral the Rev. S.J. Ford (pastor) officiated. Deceased had been a member of the Baptist Sunday School and before his death had attended the Sunday evening service at the Baptist Chapel, at which the Pastor made special reference to the young soldier who was about to return (as was then thought) to his military duties.” Indeed, a double tragedy for Minchinhampton.