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FOUR BOYS DROWNED IN THE RIVER TAW

 

The inquest reported here took place on 19 July 1919:

"The most terrible bathing tragedies ever remembered on the Riv er Taw occurred on Friday evening when no fewer than four boys from the village of Bickington, near Barnstaple, were carried away by the tide and drowned. The victims were  Arthur Cornish aged 13, son of Mrs Mabel Harris, a widow; Cuthbert Thomas Hampden Whalley, aged 12. son of Mr.  and Mrs. John Whalley of Victoria Cottage; Arthur Bennett, aged 12, son of Mrs Bennett, a widow and Leslie Longman, aged 11, son of Mr J. Longman who is absent on military service."

Most, if not all of the boys were scholars at Bickington School, after leaving which, in the afternoon a party of eleven proceeded to a spot known as the Salt Marsh, off Penhill for the purpose of bathing. The party included, in addition to the deceased boys, George H. Rodd, F. Bailey, R. Shaddick, C. Burridge. A Gaydon, Frank Thorne and T. Hobbs. The boys had not been in the water long before the tide commenced to flow so strongly that Rodd and the other six boys, deemed it wise to return to the bank, and dress.

As he was leaving the water, Rodd strongly advised the deceased boys, who were non-swimmers, and who were close by, to also return, but this advice appeared to be ignored and Rodd and his companions were horrified on turning around a minute or so later to find that Cornish , Whalley, Bennett and Longman had been carried away by the tide. An alarm was speedily given, but alas, nothing could be done for the unfortunate boys, who indeed, were not again seen alive.

 

The River Taw at Bickington
Now defended by a stout fence, this is the river Taw at Bickington where the boys were swept away by the undertow of the current.

 

Nothing was known of the tragedy at Barnstaple until nearly two hours later when PC Manley, on Taw Vale Parade, happened to see a body floating up the river which turned out to be that of Whalley. Without divesting himself of his clothing. Mr Charles Sanders jumped into the river and brought the body to the slip near the boathouse. Dr A. W. Lemarehand, who was promptly on the scene, tried artificial respiration for half an hour but without result, the body then being conveyed to the mortuary at the North Devon Infirmary.

When news of the occurrence became known, a search party was instigated at Bickington, whilst dragging operations were commenced on the river. Shortly after nine o'clock the same evening. Mr Gifford, of Barnstaple and PC Disney of Fremington, close to the spot where they had been drowned. The bodies were subsequently temporarily placed in buildings adjoining the post office in Bickington.

 

At the inquest which followed this incident, The Coroner took the opportunity to to ask everyone to warn people - especially boys and other young people - of the extreme danger of bathing in the river Taw. It was not safe to bathe at any time or in any place. The strong currents caused the sand frequently to shift, creating pits where the day before, it had been level sand. He characterised the river as treacherous and emphasised the fact of its unsafe nature. He expressed his heartfelt sympathy with the parents of those who had lost their lives.

Mr Whalley asked the Coroner if something could be done to discourage young people from visiting the river to bathe. The verdicts on each boy were the same . . ."accidentally drowned in the river Taw".

 

 
 
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