Two Soldiers Drowned At Wootton
Sunday 5th May 1946
An inquest was held at Newport on Tuesday 7th into the death by drowning of two soldiers who were stationed on the Mulberry Harbour pier head moored off Wootton Creek. The inquest was told that it was assumed that the soldiers lost their lives whilst making their way back to the pier head in the early hours of Sunday morning by what was described as ‘unauthorised methods’. The Coroner together with a jury consisting of various people including a police inspector and a Captain from the Isle of Wight garrison then took evidence.
The bodies had been found on the beach at Woodside on Sunday morning, Dr Kennedy confirmed death was due to drowning, and estimated the time of death to be early Sunday morning.
Sergeant Williams, Royal Engineers stated that the men were on authorised leave from 5.30 pm. Saturday evening until 10 am, Sunday morning. Transport was normally provided from the pier head to the shore and back again at set times by military transport. On certain occasions, Saturday being one, there was no transport available and men on leave had to either wait until 10 am, the following morning or make their own way back. The collapsible boat, which had been found at Woodside, should have been moored to the pier head and he was unable to say how the boat had got onto the beach. He then explained that it would dangerous for two people to use the boat in the choppy sea that was running that evening the weight of six people was needed to keep the boat stable. He also said that the two men were aware that there would be no return transport to the pier head that evening.
Sapper Hill who went ashore with the two deceased said they spent most of the evening in a public house in Ryde playing darts; around 10 pm., he left the two men who said they were going dancing. At the time both appeared to be quite sober, the Coroner then asked how much they had drunk, five, six pints was the response, which was quite normal for them. He personally made his way back to the beach at Fishbourne and had to wait about four hours for ship transport.
The Coroner then questioned Hill as to the procedure if there was no transport, the response was ‘ its easy to get lodgings for the night or borrow a boat’, when pressed how to borrow a boat at 4 am, the reply was ‘take the boat and put it back later’. When pressed by the Coroner, Sapper Hill admitted he had previously used one of the collapsible boats to get back to the pier head and admitted it was a dangerous thing to do. With a Northeast wind blowing and a choppy sea the risk would increase.
The police said that extensive inquiries in the Ryde area had failed to trace the deceased movements after 10 pm on Saturday night. After making inquiries in the Wootton area it had been found that dinghies were taken without people’s authority and a 11ft 6 inch dinghy was missing since Saturday evening. On the night in question there had been a strong North-East wind which would have be blowing straight up the creek making things difficult, until rounding the headland where there was a very strong undercurrent.
Major Leese officer in charge of the pier head said there were three sergeants stationed there, and leave for the men was at their discretion, subject to the requirement of 66% manning at all times.
The Coroner then questioned the Major, and asked why arrangements were not in place to ensure that soldiers on shore leave got back safely, the Major’ response was that he agreed with the Coroner, but so far his superiors had not authorised his request. The Major also said that men on shore leave were discouraged from making their own way back even though they were experienced watermen.
The Coroner then addressed the jury and said that the cause of death was due to drowning, it was impossible to say if the men were in the collapsible boat or the missing dinghy, in either case, it would have been dangerous to be out on Saturday night in small boats.
The jury returned a verdict ‘Accidental death’ adding the rider that ‘better facilities should be provided for men retuning from shore leave, enabling then to return at a reasonable hour.'
The bodies were both taken home to the North of England for burial.
Source: Isle of Wight County Press