1940: Fatal 'hit and run' in Broad Street

Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 03 September 1940

SOLDIER KILLED IN AN ACCIDENT AT CUCKFIELD.

INQUEST STORY OF LORRY WHICH FAILED TO STOP.

CORONER RETURNS OPEN VERDICT.


“Found killed" was the verdict recorded by the Coroner for East Sussex (Dr. K. E. F. HOARE) last Tuesday, when he held an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Fusilier James Simpson, Arduthie, Stonehaven, Kincardineshire. who was knocked down and fatally injured in Broad Street, Cuckfield, on August 24th. by a motor vehicle which failed to stop.


Broad Street circa 1930s

Colour-Sergeant WILLIAM TATE who identified the body gave evidence of returning from a dance at Haywards Heath in an army lorry. They did not stop until reaching their destination. Witness thought they passed a local service bus on the way, but he he could not remember where. The night was very dark, and the headlight of the lorry kept “dulling”. He did not see anybody in the road.


Dr C.H.Glenn of Haywards Heath said he examined deceased and found the bones of the left side of the skull loose. There was a small hole in the scalp, and the brain tissues were damaged. Death was due to a fractured skull.


Fusilier John Rankin Findlay said Simpson joined him at the “Wheatsheaf” at 8:30 on the evening in question and they remained there until 10:30 when they began walking towards Cuckfield. They were in the centre of the road and when about fifty yards beyond a bend witness heard a motor vehicle approaching from the rear. He immediately went to the right hand side of the road, expecting Simpson to follow him. The next moment he heard


THE SOUND OF AN IMPACT

And turning round he saw an Army lorry travelling towards Cuckfield. He saw neither head nor rear lights on the vehicle. Witness then noticed Simpson lying in the road. He shouted to the driver but the lorry did not stop. The lorry was “moving pretty fast”. He stopped the first car which came along.


Replying to questions by Police Inspector O. BUTLER BROWNE WITNESS said Simpson was “pretty steady on his feet” and was able to walk by himself. Witness had been along the road before and knew of the footpath on one side but on the evening in question was the less steady of the two he had more to drink than Simpson and did not know quite where he was.


Second Lieutenant HUGH DOUGLAS said he was motoring on the Haywards Heath to Cuckfield Road and came upon the accident. Simpson was lying two feet from the kerb. A witness was returning to his car a man wheeling a bicycle approached him and said he had nearly been knocked down by an Army lorry.


P.C. PAVIOUR, of Cuckfield said he found DECEASED LYING IN THE ROAD with his head towards the centre of the road and his feet six inches from the kerb.


Fusilier LLEWELLYN FEATHERSTONE who returned in the Army lorry from the dance at Haywards Heath, said that on reaching the end of the journey he found he had left his respirator in the dance hall. He told the driver of the lorry, Sergeant Sturgeon, who said he would return for it. As the lorry was being turned witness saw two vehicles pass. On their way back to Haywards Heath they were stopped by Lieutenant Douglas, who told them of the accident.


Sergeant KENNEDY STURGEON stated that he was the driver of he lorry which brought the men back from Haywards Heath. As he was turning the lorry to go back to Haywards Heath two cars passed, but he did not think either was an Army lorry.


Answering questions by Inspector BUTLER-BROWN, WITNESS said the masked headlight, both side lights and tail lights of the lorry were on, but the headlight kept dimming. He had been driving he vehicle for five or six days. Witness was present when the police examined the lorry next morning. The damage to the front mudguards which was pointed out to him had been done before the evening of the accident.


Inspector BUTLER-BROWNE remarked that efforts to trace the cyclist who spoke to Lieutenant Douglas had failed.


SUMMING UP

The CORONER said Simpson's injuries were severe and terrible, and could not have been caused by a fall in the road. They were undoubtedly caused by a vehicle. He was satisfied that the two men were walking in the centre of the road; that they heard a vehicle coming behind them: and that Findlay saw the vehicle strike his friend. Finley admitted that he had had a drop to drink and that he did not know quite where he was. The point was that Simpson was struck down by a lorry, but there was no shred of evidence to show which one it was. It had been suggested that the vehicle driven by Sergeant Sturgeon was the one involved, but there was nothing to bear that out, and it might well have been another lorry. He was left with no evidence as to how the accident arose, and with no indication as to whether the vehicle was driven carelessly or not. Therefore he could only return the open verdict of “found killed.”


THE FUNERAL

A large number of Cuckfield residents witnessed an impressive spectacle on Wednesday afternoon, when the funeral of Fusilier Simpson took place locally with full military honours. The whole battalion met the cortege at the Cuckfield hospital, where the coffin, draped with the Union Jack, on which rested deceased Glengary cap and bayonet, was placed on a military vehicle. Six members of his own company acted as bearers, and others formed a guard of honour. The cortege proceeded at the slow march through the High Street to the cemetery, the Battalion band and the pipers playing Funeral Marches and Highland laments en route. The service at the graveside was conducted by the battalion chaplain (the Reverend J. A. TAYLOR), the vicar, the Reverend W. Hilton Wright also being present. At the close of the committal prayers three volleys were fired over the grave, and a bugler sounded “the Last Post” and “Reveille”. Finally the whole battalion filed past the grave and gave the “eyes right” as a last salute to the dead comrade.


A number of beautiful floral tributes were sent by: the commanding officer and officers of the battalion. All officers of the 29th I. E. H. Q. His comrades of “C” Company, Officers, W.Os, N.C.O.s, and men of “A” Company. W.O. and Sergeants of H.Q. Company. All Corporals, Lance-Corporals and Fusiliers of H.Q. Company, An old Royal Scot, The mother of two soldier sons.

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