top of page

Haywards Heath Girl Killed by a Tank: Distressing fatality near Cuckfield Park

Updated: Oct 18, 2020




The first visit of the tanks to Cuckfield and Haywards Heath in connection with the Army manoeuvres resulted in a distressing fatality at the former town about half-past twelve last Tuesday afternoon, when Miss Edith Holman Smith (20), the adopted daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J. S. Cottington, of Nesscroft, 65 Gower Road, Haywards Heath, was killed near the entrance to the Cuckfield Park cricket ground and opposite the camp of the 1st Guards’ Brigade.

Tanks involved in Cuckfield tragedy

The sad affair occurred while the tanks of the 2nd Battalion Royal Tank Corps, stationed at Hickstead, were proceeding home after night operations in the Danehill district. Three stationary Army lorries were outside the Guards' camp, and Miss Smith was cycling up the hill from the direction of Anstye. A regimental Police-Corporal of the Scots' Guards named Hill called out to the girl


Miss Smith immediately dismounted, and stood near the Corporal at the entrance to the cricket ground. As the tank drew out towards the off side to pass the lorries it is presumed that something went wrong with a clutch, for it ran on to the low bank, and although Corporal Hill made a gallant effort to grab the girl out of harm’s way, she was caught by the tank, which knocked down several yards of the wooden fence.

Miss Smith’s left arm and her bicycle were crushed under the track of the tank.

The tank was pulled up within three yards, but the unfortunate girl's position was such that her arm had to be amputated before she could be released, the operation being performed by Lieutenant Mac Garry, R.A.M.C., who was summoned from the Guards' camp. By this time, however, the girl was dead.

The body was conveyed to the Haywards Heath mortuary in a military ambulance. The back part of the bicycle was smashed.

A sad feature of the tragedy was that Miss Smith, who was employed as a maid by the Rev. Prebendary and Mrs. Bell St. Wilfrid’s Vicarage, Haywards Heath, where Mr. Cottington is gardener, was concluding her holiday, and was due to return to the Vicarage on Wednesday.


Dr. E. F. Hoare (Coroner for East Sussex who sat with a jury, of whom Mr. A. Anscombe was foreman, held an inquiry into the tragic affair at the Sussex Hotel, Haywards Heath, on Thursday afternoon. The War Office was represented by Mr. H. D. Roome, instructed by Mr. C. W. Evans (Treasury solicitor), while Mr. C. J. M. Whittaker, of Messrs. J. K. Nye and Donne, Brighton, represented the relatives of deceased. Major W. F. Morrogh, D.S.O., M.C., and Lieutenant W. T. Stephenson, of the 2nd Battalion Royal Tank Corps, were also present.

Mr. ROOME said he had been asked to express the deep sympathy of the Army Council, and the Colonel, Officers and all ranks of the 2nd Battalion Royal Tank Corps with the relatives of deceased.

A plan of the scene of the accident, prepared by Police-Sergeant Short, was handed to the jury the Coroner, who remarked that it was admirably drawn.

The first witness was JOHN SAMUEL COTTINGTON, of 65 Gower Road, Haywards Heath. He said deceased was his adopted daughter, and was 20 years of age. He last saw her alive between eleven and twelve, on the previous Monday evening, when she was at home. He had visited the mortuary and identified the body.

Corporal CECIL HILL (1st Battalion Scots Guards) said he was Corporal on patrol duty controlling traffic outside the gate of the 1st Guards’ Brigade camp at Cuckfield on the day of the accident. About 12.35 p.m. he noticed a tank approaching from the direction of Cuckfield. He turned and saw deceased coming from the direction of Anstye on a bicycle. She was within a short distance of him, and he warned her of the approach of the tank. Deceased took heed and dismounted, and they stood on a low bank on the opposite side of the road to the camp and about one and a half yards from each other. The tank swung out to pass three Army lorries which were stationary on the camp side of the road and facing towards Anstye. It came towards witness and deceased, and in


he saw it was coming straight on, and he considered there was something mechanically wrong. In the meantime witness and deceased had pulled right into the fence. In the last minute, as the tank approached, deceased seemed “flabbergasted”. She did not seem to know whether to retain the hold of her bicycle or not. Witness attempted to grab her, but had to jump clear to save himself from certain death. The girl appeared to get clear, and then got entangled with the tank and was forced down. When witness turned round he found that the tank had passed over her bicycle and her left arm. It pulled up within three yards. He estimated its speed at from 10 to 12 miles per hour.

By the JURY : There was no one else at the spot except a Sergeant, who was inside the camp gate. Deceased was standing against the fence with her bicycle in front of her when the tank was approaching.

By Mr. WHITTAKER : There were three lorries standing behind each other and close together. There was no other traffic coming from the direction of Anstye, and only the tanks coming from the direction of Cuckfield. The lorries were facing the direction the tank was going, and the tank had to pull out to pass them. The tank had plenty of room to pass. Deceased was standing opposite the second lorry and witness opposite the bonnet of the leading lorry.

By the CORONER: It was the right side of the tank that struck deceased.

By the JURY: There was no footpath on either side of the road.

Sergeant HERBERT SMITH (1st Battalion Scots’ Guards) said that at 12.35 p.m. the previous Tuesday he was standing inside the entrance to the 1st Guards’ Brigade camp. He saw the lorries outside and also deceased standing on the bank with her bicycle on the near side of the road. Witness


approaching, and saw Corporal Hill wave his left arm to the girl to get right back against the fence. Deceased did so, and held her bicycle in front of her. Witness could not see the tank, and the next thing he saw was the girl release her right hand from her bicycle and put it up if to push the tank away. The fence against which deceased was standing was carried away by the tank, which then hid the girl from witnesses view.

Corporal A. HILL (“A” Company, 2nd Battalion Royal Tank Corps) said that at 12.35 p.m. on the previous Tuesday he was in command of a tank going towards Hickstead. Witness was sitting on the side above the driver. He noticed the three stationary lorries and also a motor-bus coming from the opposite direction. His driver slowed down, and the Police-Corporal on duty outside the camp beckoned the tank on. The driver pulled out to pass the lorries thus putting the tank in slanting direction. Witness saw the girl against the fence. The first thing the tank struck was deceased’s bicycle, which was wrenched out of her hand.. The girl, realising that she could not save the machine, tried to run away, but the track of the tank caught her arm and forced her down. Witness immediately dismounted and went to the girl’s assistance. The right track was on her left arm, and witness summoned the Medical Officer from the Guards’ Camp.

By the CORONER; The motor-bus was signalled to stop, and the tank was signalled to go on.

By the JURY:The tank was travelling at seven or eight miles hour. It slowed down before swinging out.



and each track worked separately.

By Mr. WHITTAKER: The surface the road was tarred. The tanks were propelled by revolving tracks, and when the tank had to swerve one track was stopped and the other quickened. When it was desired to right incline the left track would be set going faster than the other, and the reverse would happen to straighten out. The tank was perhaps two or three yards away from the rear lorry before it began to pull out. At the time of the accident he realised that something had gone wrong mechanically.

If the clutch had operated properly there would have been plenty room to pass. There was a 2ft. clearance on either side. Witness maintained that the girl was not on the bank against the fence, but on the road. She would not have been touched if nothing had gone wrong with the clutch.

By Mr. ROOME: The tank would have travelled about thirty miles that day up to the time of the accident. Up to then it had been working quite properly, and other vehicles had been passed. The driver was a very good and careful driver, and in the ordinary course of things witness considered there would have been no accident.

Lance-Corporal EDWARD BARBER ( “A” Company, 2nd Battalion Royal Tank Corps), the driver of the tank concerned in the accident, said that at 12.15 p.m. on the previous Tuesday he was proceeding down Park Hill at Cuckfield at a speed of ten miles an hour. He was passing the Guards’ camp, and at same time he



pushing a bicycle. She was then about 3ft- from the bank on her near side. Witness drew to his off side to pass the three stationary lorries, and as he was passing them his nearside clutch failed to disengage, and the tank went straight on instead of getting back to its proper position. The tank struck the girl when she tried to pull her bicycle away instead of jumping out of danger, and she was knocked down before she could get clear.

By Mr. WHITTAKER: The length of the three lorries was about 60ft., and they were nearly touching each other. The length of the tank was about 17ft. and its width 8ft. 8in., while the width of the lorries was 7ft. 7in. This left a margin of about 3ft., the width of the road being 19ft. Witness was about 10ft. or 12ft. away from the first lorry when he commenced to turn to the right.

He first appreciated the danger when he was 3ft. from the girl. He had used the left clutch just previously, and it had worked all right, but just afterwards it failed. The young lady tried to pull her bicycle away instead of jumping out of danger. Witness's seat was on the off side of the tank, and he was keeping as far on his off side as possible in order to avoid the lorries. Witness had driven a tank for 2 and a half years. He could have cleared deceased if the clutch had not failed to act.

A JURYMAN said he understood that a tank could be turned almost at right angles, and witness replied that it could "about turn”.

Staff-Sergeant A. F. FRANKS (2nd Battalion Royal Tank Corps) said he examined the tank half-an-hour after the accident. He took it up and down the road, and swung it about to test the braking. He found nothing actually wrong with the steering. He tested the left clutch at the camp, and it was not sticking then, but he found six bright spots on part of the clutch which caused him to


that the compressor plate fouled on top of the inner clutch plate carrier at the time of the accident. That fault might be of short duration, when the tank was very hot after travelling some miles, or in hot temperatures. The same thing had happened several times on other machines of the same type.

Police-Sergeant G. SHORT (Cuckfield) said he received information of the accident at 12.45 p.m. When he arrived the deceased had been removed in an ambulance. The road was 19ft. wide, with tarred surface. The bank on the right-hand side of the road had a mark extending for 7ft. where the track had passed along it before striking the fence, and afterwards the mark continued for another 3ft.

Lieutenant PERCIVAL MACGARRY, R.A.M.C., attached to the 1st Guards’ Brigade, said he was called to the girl, who was dead when he arrived at the spot. He had to amputate her left arm before the body could be released from the track. Her skull was fractured, and he attributed death to shock, following fracture of the skull and multiple injuries.

Addressing the jury, the Coroner said there was no doubt death was due to the injuries received. What the jury had to decide was whether the driver of the tank exercised reasonable care in passing the lorries.

After a short retirement the Jury returned verdict of “Accidental death" due to injuries received through being knocked down by a tank, owing, apparently to some mechanical defect. They exonerated the driver from all blame, and expressed their deep sympathy with the relatives of deceased


Amid many manifestations of sympathy, all that was mortal of Miss Smith was laid to rest, on Saturday afternoon, in Haywards Heath Cemetery. Scores of people lined the route taken by the funeral cortege to St. Wilfrid’s Church, where a service was held, while hundreds more assembled at the Cemetery. The cortege was met at the Church entrance by the Rev. Prebendary J. A. W. Bell (Vicar), the Rev. F. A. H. DU BOULAY and the Rev. H. E. Ward. The last-named read Psalm 39, the Vicar led in prayer and the Rev. F. A. H. DU BOULAY read the lesson. The Rev. J. A. W. Bell said the final prayers at the graveside. The chief mourners were Mr. and Mrs. S. J. Cottington (foster parents), Mr. T. Cottington, Mrs. R. Smith, Mrs. T. Cottington, Mr. R. Smith, Mr. V. Smith, Mrs. Elphick, Miss Alice Elphick, Mr. and Mrs. W. Pilbeam, I Mrs. Packham, Miss G. Taylor, Mrs. Cooper, Mr. Jack Cooper, Mr. and Mrs. F. Baker and Mr. Jack Gaston.


were represented by Lieutenant W. T. Stephenson, Sergeant Noble, Corporal Harcourt, Lance-Corporal Isaacson and Private Lucas (2nd Battalion Royal Tank Corps), Corporal Hill and Corporal Woolgar (1st Batt. Scots’ Guards), and Guardsman C. Johnson (1st Batt. Grenadier Guards).

Members of the Women’s Guild Stoolball Club attended wearing their colours, the representatives being Mrs. Barnett (Captain), Mrs. Wilson (Secretary), Mrs. Palmer, Mrs. Metcalf, Mrs. Marshall, Mrs. Mileham. Mrs. West, Miss K. Mileham, Miss Overton, Miss K. Payne, Miss W. Payne and Mrs. Payne.

Among others noticed present were Mrs. Andrews, Mrs. Allen, Mrs. Allard, Mrs. B. Backs hall. Mrs. Bell, Miss Baker, Mrs. Brenchley, Miss D. Brown, Mr. and Mrs. George Baker, Mrs. E. H. Brown, Mr. and Mrs. F. J. Baker, Mrs. L. U. Boxall, Miss Box, Mrs. Baker. Mrs. Box, Miss Berry, Mrs. E. Briggs, Mrs. Booker, Mr., Mrs. and Mias Bishop, Mrs. Compton, Miss M. Comber, Mrs. Catt, Mrs. Clay, Miss Cawley, Mr. H. R. Chandler, Mrs. Dawkins, Miss Dench, Mrs. Edwards, Miss A. Edwards, Mrs. Fairs, Mrs. W. Fox, Miss Grace Fairs, Mrs. H. J. Forster, Miss Farrant, Mrs. H. J. Farucorabe, Miss Gaston, Miss Gregory, Mrs. T. Green, Mr. W. Green, Mrs. Godley, the Misses Gaston, Mrs. Gasson, Mrs. Green, Mrs. H. Haskell, Mr. and Mrs. R. Holder, Mrs. Harris, Miss Horrobine, Mrs. A. Hunt, Mrs. Holder, Mrs. Holmes, Mias Hope, Mrs. Hurst, Miss Jenner, Mr. and Mrs. P. Jenner, Mrs. Kent, Miss Kelsey, Mrs. Larkin, Mrs. W. Lloyd. Miss Lundup, Mrs. Lewry, Mrs. Linford, Mrs. F. Martin, Mrs. Mynott, Sen., Miss Meaner, Mrs. F. Mitchell, Mrs. Miles, Mrs. H. Mynott, Mrs. Muzzell, Sen., Miss Mitchell, Mrs. Masters, Mr. and Mrs. H. J. Margetts, Mrs. W. May, Mr. Marshall, Mr. and Mrs. B. J. Newnham, Mrs. W. Newnham, Mrs. Nunns, Sen., Mrs. Nye, Miss Orton, Miss Pertfold. Mrs. Pattenden, Mrs. Packhatn. Mrs. Pierce, Miss E. Parsons, Mrs. A. Penfold, Mrs. Pointing, Miss A. Parker, Mrs. Page. Mrs. Parsons, Miss Parez, Mrs. Palmer, Mrs. Parr, Miss Hit, Miss Paetefl, Miss Rolfe, Mrs. Reid, Miss G. Russell, Mrs. A. Scutt, Mr. and Mrs. A. R. Saunders, Mrs. Skinner, Mrs. Spicer, Miss Sayers, Mrs. Simmonds, Mrs. G. Stone, Mrs. Searle, Mrs. Shirley. Mrs. Sturgess, Mrs. Short, Mrs. Sturt, Mrs. Swain, Miss D. Simmons, Miss E. Taylor, Miss G. Taylor, Mrs. Tunbridge, Mrs. C. Towner, Mrs. C. Tullett, Mrs. Tarry, Miss Taylor, Mr. and Mrs. Tracey, Mrs. J. Wilson. Mrs. Wamett, Mrs. Woodland, Mrs. Warrender, Mrs. J. Wheale, the Misses Willson, Mrs. J. White, Mrs. Wettings, Mrs. J. Weller, Mr. B. Welling and Mrs. A. Yeates.

The coffin, which was lowered into a grave lined with evergreens and flowers, bore the inscription :


Died September 11, 1928,

Aged 20 years.


were received as follows:- In ever-loving memory of our dear daughter, loved by all, from Dad and Mum and Family. In affectionate remembrance, from Jack Cooper. In loving memory, from Auntie Meary and Uncle Will and Harold. In affectionate remembrance of Edith, from Jack. In loving memory, from Victor, to a dear friend, happy memories. With deepest sympathy, from Rose and Jack. Memories are sweet that are left with us, from Parker Awcock. In loving memory of Edie, with deepest sympathy and much regret, from Grandma and Mr. and Mrs. F. J. Baker. In loving remembrance, from Gladys Taylor. From Grace and Marjorie Fairs, Dorothy Newnham and Daisy Tullett. In loving memory and sincere sympathy, from Mr. and Mrs. Shirley. Kind remembrance and with sincere sympathy, from Mrs. Stone and Minnie. From all at 67 Gower Road. In loving remembrance, from L. Jepps and Dorothy.

In loving remembrance of Edie, from Marjone and In loving remembrance from A. Andrews, Lily Albert, Peggy and Hilda Hollingdale. With sincere sympathy, from the Rev. and Mrs. Cresswell Geo (Pinchbeck Vicarage. Spalding). Deepest sympathy, from a visitor to Brighton. With deepest sympathy, from the members of the Sergeants Mess, 1st Battalion Scots’. Guards. In remembrance of Edie’s unfailing cheerfulness, from T. McDermott. With deepest sympathy, from Mr. and Mrs. Penfold and Ida. With deepest sympathy, from Ena. To dear Edie, with loving memory, from Annie. With deepest sympathy, from N. and D. Watts. In loving memory and deepest sympathy, from Mr. and Mrs. E. Breed (Ditchling). With kind remembrance, from I.M. In loving memory of dear Edith, from Mrs. Holman and Mrs. Laker. With deepest sympathy, from Mrs. Short and Miss Tyler.

With love and sincere regrets, from all relatives in Freshfield Lane. Mr. C. Elphick and family. With sincere sympathy, from the Misses Willson. In kind remembrance of Edith, from Mr. and Mrs. Andrews and Cyril. In deepest sympathy from Mr. and Mrs. Warnett, Will and Leslie. With sympathy, from Mrs. Tunbridge and family. With much sympathy, from Miss Wyatt and the Misses Wyatt (Crawley). deepest sympathy, from old school chum, Elsie Ledigo. With deepest sympathy, from Miss Mabel Page. With deepest sympathy, from Mrs. G. Baker and Celia. With sincere sympathy, from Mr. and Mrs. J. Parsons. From a lady who only knew her by visiting the Vicarage. In kind remembrance, from Prebendary and Mrs. Bell and all at the Vicarage. In deepest sympathy, from the members of the omen Guild Stoolball Club. With deepest regret, and kind thoughts, from Kathy and Winnie Milshara. With deepest sympathy, from Hazel and Evelyn (Clevelands), with deepest sympathy from Ruth and Jack. With deepest sympathy and kind remembrance of a very dear little friend. With love and deepest sympathy, from Fred, Ethel and Ettie. With deepest sympathy, from Mrs. Humphrey, Bert and family. With deepest sympathy, from Mr. and Mrs. Chidley and family. With sincere sympathy, from Mrs. Griffin and daughter. With deepest sympathy from the Tank Crew.

With sincere sympathy, from Lieut. General Sir David Campbell and the Officers of the Headquarters Staff, Aldershot Command. In kind remembrance, from J.W. With heartfelt sympathy, from Mr. and Mrs. Linford, Lena and Jack. With deepest sympathy, from Lieut. Colonel J. M. and all ranks, 2nd Battalion Royal Tank Corps. With deepest sympathy, from Mr. and Mrs. Divall, Ivy and Willie. In loving sympathy, from Mrs. Holmes and E. and M. Andrews. With deepest sympathy, from Mr. and Mrs. Brenchley and boys. With sincere sympathy, from Wends m Gower Road (Miss D. Attree, Mrs. Bishop, Mrs. Button, Mrs. Compton, Mrs. Champion and family, Mrs. Cook, Mrs. Clements, 188 Cowdrey, Miss Comber, Mrs. Ford, Miss Fairs, Mrs. Farley, Mrs. Gage, Mrs. Haskell, Mrs. Hall, Mrs. Hatfield, Mrs. Humphrey, Mrs. Holmwood, Mrs. H. Mynott, Mrs. Mynott. Sen., Mrs. Newnham, Mrs. Pattenden, Mrs. J. Pattenden, Miss Paine, Mrs. Peake, Mrs. Payne, Jun., Mrs. Scott, Miss Scrivens, Mrs. Scutt, Mrs. Searler, Mrs. Swain, Mrs. Satchwell, Mrs. Tullett, Mrs Welling and Mrs. White).

The funeral arrangements were carried out Messrs. G. Hilton and Sons.

Mr. and Mrs. Cottington and family wish, through this medium, to thank their many friends for sympathy shown and beautiful floral tributes received.

Bình luận

bottom of page