One of the mysteries beyond the compasses of human understanding was revealed yesterday at the resumed inquest at Luton Court House, conducted by the Deputy Coroner Mr G.J.M. Whyley.
The victim was Gunner Ernest Victor Jackson, 21, an artilleryman who had served and been wounded at the Front while working on that most dangerous weapon of modern warfare, the trench mortar. Recovering from his wounds, he was drafted to the London R.F.A. and when engaged with Lieutenant O’Donnell and Corporal Campbell in the preparation of a smoke bomb, used for signalling purposes, he sustained injuries which resulted in his death.
Thus he escaped from the terrors and dangers in the face of the enemy only to meet his death at home on a comparatively simple duty.
Mr E. Gibbs was again foreman of the jury.
Dr. Bone said he attended the man on admission to hospital, and until Dec. 20th. The principal injury was a comminuted fracture of the lower jaw. A large wound extending from the middle of the lower lip down the neck. It was not a hopeless case. There was a possibility of a fracture of the base of the skull, as there was bleeding from the ear. The patient was conscious, but died on Dec. 22nd from sceptic pneumonia, due to the injuries.
Lieut. R.H. Johnston, gunnery instructor, explained the practice of training gunners in the method of obtaining accuracy. He explained the mechanism of the bomb, and the method of working.
Replying to the coroner, he said he was in charge of the trench mortar instruction.
Answering a juryman witness said that he had fired the missile produced on many occasions.
Witness added that he heard of the accident on the morning of Dec. 20th, and he went at once. The bombs were fitted in a shed specifically allocated for that work, and he there ascertained what had happened. He was told by Corporal Campbell that the bomb was put on the table among a lot of tools without the safety pin being inserted. He turned round to drill a hole when he heard the bomb rolling on the bench. He turned round and snatched it as it was falling, and the shock of his catching it struck the cap. These bombs, normally, were for signal work and would not destroy anything at all. Jackson was being put in the ambulance when witness arrived. Lieut. O’Donnell, who was also injured, was detailed to lecture on heavy gunnery. He was wounded in the right forearm. Corporal Campbell, the man actually holding the bomb, lost a finger.
The deceased and all the men there were experienced, and Lieut. O’Donnell had been at the Front in charge of a trench mortar, and Jackson was in charge of the actual detonation.
The Coroner, summing up, said that he adjourned the inquest to acquaint the Inspector of Explosives with the facts. He had received a reply to the effect that the Home Office would not be represented. They had the explanation of Lieut. Johnston, and he thought it was clear that is was quite an accident.
A verdict of “Accidental Death,” was returned.
Major Thomas said that accidents of this kind were much regretted by the War Office. They all realised the fact that Jackson had died in the service of his country.