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1921: 'Hidden' tragedy of the Great War ... a Brook Street father

Updated: Dec 4, 2023

Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 08 March



A sad story of man's depression and suicide mainly owing to the loss of two sons in the war was unfolded to the East Sussex Coroner (Mr. G Vere Benson) at Brook Street, near Cuckfield yesterday (Monday) afternoon.

Deceased was Henry Selby, aged 65, a builder’s labourer, who cut his throat with a razor early last Wednesday afternoon, from the effects of which he died on Thursday evening.

Brook Street c1900 (colourised)

The inquiry was held at Jasmine Cottage, the residence of deceased, and the first witness was Susannah Selby, who said deceased was her husband and was sixty five years of age. He was a builder’s general labourer. For the last eleven weeks he had been home suffering from a nervous breakdown, and Dr. Wells had seen him occasionally, although not during the past fortnight. He had never suffered with his nerves before. His biggest trouble was the loss of two of his sons in the war. He was worried, too, about his work; he felt he was not able to do as much as he had done owing to advancing years. He was a little depressed on the day of the tragedy, but he would not go out for walks as she desired him to, as he did not want to leave home. He only went out when witness took him to see Dr. Wells.

Questioned by the Coroner as to how deceased passed his time indoors, witness said it was a puzzle to know. He could not read, and the time undoubtedly seemed long to him. He could have done a little gardening, or occupied himself with a few odd jobs about the house, but as he was on his Club he was frightened to, as he thought someone might see him or the Club get to hear of it and he would be struck off the funds.

The Coroner said that seemed a very unfortunate rule in deceased's case. He had heard of such a thing before, and it made life very irksome and dreary for men in deceased’s mental condition. He thought a regulation might be made to meet such cases.

Dr. Wells said no doubt it was an emphatic rule, but It was the first time he had heard that deceased was worried over it. If he (witness) had known that such was the case he would have made representation to the Secretary of deceased’s Club, and the rule could have been relaxed For the man to have worked would have been strictly against the letter of the rule, but undoubtedly deceased had a perverted idea of the regulation.

Continuing, the widow said she left her husband sitting at home early on Wednesday afternoon for a short time. He wondered how some fruit trees in the garden were growing and suggested she should go end see. Witness went to the garden, being gone about ten minutes or quarter-of-an hour, and when she returned she found deceased lying on the floor near the door with his throat cut. He must have done it immediately she had gone.

Fanny Pattenden, a neighbour, said she came in on Wednesday morning and asked deceased how he was. He replied he got no worse and no better. He would not go out, as he said he looked like a monkey, and only wanted to stay home. He said “Never mind, I shall soon be better.’’ There was reason for him saying he looked like monkey; it was merely a delusion.

Dr. A. E. Wells said he had been seeing deceased since the middle of December. He may have attended him casually before that date, but not for nerve trouble. Deceased was depressed, tremulous and disinclined to speak, but his physical condition was normal, and he could have done some work if he would. He was not a lunatic, but was on the borderland of insanity, and witness did not consider his mental condition bad enough for him to be put away. In such cases one usually wished one had pushed the matter, but deceased already had one son in an asylum and witness was not anxious to cause the family further trouble.

There was no reason to think that deceased contemplated suicide, but like all depressed people it would not be wise to give him an opportunity. His wife had taken his ordinary razor from him and had been the habit of shaving him herself with a safety razor, but deceased had evidently gained access to a disused razor which the other occupants of the house did not know of. He had a dread of being seen and spoken by people, which was a common condition of such cases. Witness, to get him out, suggested he should come up to see witness instead of witness visiting him. Witness was out when he was sent for after the tragedy, but Dr Killpack, of Haywards Heath, attended to deceased’s injuries, and witness saw deceased on Thursday morning and received Dr. Killpack’s report. He took over the case, but realised that deceased was plainly dying from shock, the result of the injury, aggravated his mental condition.

Henry Selby's sons who served in World War One

The Coroner, who sat without jury, returned a verdict of “ Suicide whilst of unsound mind ’* (melancholia).



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