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1938: Shocking traffic tragedy at Cuckfield

Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 15 February 1938



There was a shocking tragedy on the Cuckfield-Ansty road shortly after seven o’clock on Wednesday morning, when father and his son lost their lives as they were proceeding to their work. The father was Mr. Frank Gander, aged 40, of New England Road, Haywards Heath, and was riding a motor-cycle with his 17-year-old son, Dennis, as pillion passenger. They intended going through Ansty to the main road between Bolney and Handcross, where they were employed by the G.P.O. in laying telephone cables. On the bend just north of High Bridge their machine came into collision with a two-ton lorry, being driven in the opposite direction by Mr. Frederick Starley, of Hunter’s Cottage, Albourne. Mr. Frank Gander was killed instantaneously, and his son died in the Haywards Heath Hospital at about ten o’clock the same morning, he having been taken there in the Red Cross Ambulance. 

Dr. E. F. Hoare (Coroner for East Sussex) held an inquest on the two men at the West Hylands Institution, Cuckfield, on Thursday afternoon. He sat with a jury, Mr. P. Webber being Foreman. 

Mr. J. A. P. Bartlett (of Messrs. Nye and Donne, Brighton) represented the driver of the lorry. Dr. Conrad James Farr, of Cuckfield, stated that in the case of Frank Gander 


The whole of his skull was smashed, the right side of the skull being completely swept away, and there were other injuries including those to the left arm. Witness saw the son the Haywards Heath Hospital at 7.55 a.m. was unconscious, and his condition was hopeless, He had a depressed fracture of the fore part of the skull, the brain being exposed, and there were injuries to the right arm, both hands, the left wrist and the right knee. He died just before 10 a.m. 

Point on Ansty-Cuckfield Road where tragic accident occurred

Frederick Starley, the driver of the lorry, said he was travelling from Ansty towards Cuckfield between 20 and 25 miles per hour. At a left-hand bend known as High Bridge there was mist on the road, and he had also encountered mist on the hill prior to reaching the bend. On rounding the bend on his near side he saw a motor-cycle coming towards him from the direction of Cuckfield at a speed which was too fast under the weather conditions. Witness presumed the motorcyclist saw the lorry, and as he did so he seemed to swerve and get into a wobble. The near-side wheels of the lorry were grinding the kerb. Witness braked hard, but the motor-cycle came across and struck the front off-side wing of the lorry. There were two men on the motor-cycle, and on being flung off one of them struck the projecting front off side of the lorry's body. Witness pulled up immediately, and alighting he found that one of the men was dead and the other badly injured. He went for the police. 

Arthur James Bowles, of Kemps Estate, Hurstpierpoint, who was riding in the cab of the lorry, 


The lorry had not overtaken any other traffic at that point. He could feel the vibration from the lorry’s near-side wheels touching the kerb. 

John Ernest Jenner, of Mavis Bank, Langton Lane, Hurstpierpoint, stated that at 7.15 a.m. he was riding a pedal cycle at High Bridge in the direction of Cuckfield. It was foggy at the bend, and he was keeping well in on his proper side. He saw a motor-cycle coming towards Ansty at a speed of about 35 miles hour, which he thought was too fast having regard to the thick mist over the bridge. The motor-cycle was in the centre of the road when he saw it. Witness heard a lorry coming behind him, but did not look behind. The lorry must have pulled out slightly to overtake him. He saw the front near-side wheel of the lorry alongside him. The crash occurred, as far as he could remember, when the body of the lorry was immediately opposite him. The driver of the lorry pulled in front of him. 

The Coroner: According to you, at the moment of the collision the lorry was not grinding its wheels on the kerb Witness : It could not have been, because it was passing me. 

Witness further slated that the lorry was going at reasonable speed, and there were no other vehicles on the road at the time as far as he knew. 

Witness was also questioned by Superintendent H. Moss and Mr. Bartlett regarding the lorry passing him, and in the course of his replies he stated that he saw wheel of the lorry and then saw the body passing him quickly afterwards. 

Mrs. Emily Gander, of 3 Stocklands, Cuckfield, identified the bodies as those of her second son, aged 40, and her grandson, aged 17. 

P.S. Cook, of Cuckfield, described how he visited the scene of the accident and found the body of a man lying on his face on the east side of the road 3ft. from the kerb, and another man lying on his back on the grass verge a few feet away. The elder man was dead, and the younger man was removed to the Haywards Heath Hospital. There were no actual skid marks on the road, but there was mark presumably made by the 


commencing 5ft. from the east side kerb and continuing for 50in. to point 4ft. 2in. from the same kerb. The approximate point of impact, which was presumed through the matter on the road, was lift, from the west kerb—the lorry’s near side. The width of the road was 21ft., and the width of the lorry was about Oft. When he arrived it was still foggy, visibility being about 30 yards in the hollow. 

Recalled, Frederick Starley said did not remember overtaking a cyclist, but after the accident he saw the cyclist in front of him. The lorry was 6ft. 6 in. wide. 

Arthur James Bowles was also recalled, and said that he did not remember overtaking cyclist. It might have been possible to overtake him without noticing him, but he did not remember seeing the cyclist until after getting out of the lorry. The fact that his attention was attracted by the motor-cycle might account for his not seeing the cyclist. 

The Coroner, in his summing up, said there was this discrepancy in the evidence about passing the pedal cycle, but could hardly believe that the cyclist, being an independent witness, would come there and deliberately make a false statement. On the other hand, the men in the lorry definitely said they were close to the kerb at the time. It was a foggy morning, and the driver’s mate in the lorry, who would have been the person to see a cyclist on that side of the road, admitted that it was possible he did not notice the cycle because his attention was focussed on the motor-cycle and that it was possible the lorry just cleared the cyclist. This seemed much more consistent with the facts regarding the point of impact. When the lorry passed the cycle it probably drew in to the kerb again —which was admitted by the cyclist and the driver might have thought he had been tight to the kerb all the time, it all happened in a flash. Whatever the explanation of the discrepancy, the main point from the evidence was that at no time was the lorry on any side of the road but its proper side. 

Without retiring, the jury returned a verdict of “Accidental Death,” and exonerated the driver of the lorry from all blame. They also expressed deep sympathy with the relatives of the deceased men. 



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