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Soldier of the Regiment

Private James W Heaton

The sad tale of Private James W Heaton, number 52098, of the Regimental Depot, King's Own Royal Regiment.

From the Lancaster Guardian of 13th December 1919

A Canal Tragedy
Soldier’s Attempted Rescue of Comrade at Lancaster

Two recruits of the King’s Own Regiment, stationed at Bowerham Barracks – Private Richard Hall, of Preston; and Private James W Heaton, of Wigan, took a walk round by the Projectile Works and the Aqueduct on Wednesday evening. As they ascended the steps to the Lancaster and Kendal Canal Bank, Private Hall stopped to light a cigarette at the top, and heard a splash. On looking into the Canal he saw his companion, Heaton, in the water. Hall can swim and doffing his heavy overcoat he jumped into the icy water. He managed to get hold of Heaton, but he latter clutched at him, and dragged him under. Hall had difficulty in freeing himself, but when he again essayed a rescue Heaton disappeared. Information was given to workmen at the National Projectile Factory, who telephoned to the police. Dragging operations were commenced, but had to be abandoned in the darkness. On Thursday morning they were resumed by soldiers and at 3.45 p.m. Private Robinson recovered the body. The inquest will be held today (Friday).

From the Lancaster Guardian 20th December 1919

A Recruit’s Pluck
Why Attempt to Save Drowning Man Failed.

The reason the bravery of Private Richard Hall, a recruit of the King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, was thwarted when he attempted to rescue his young comrade, Private James William Heaton, (18), King’s Own, from drowning in the Lancaster and Kendal Canal, on 10th December, was his lack of knowledge of “life saving” which used to be taught in conjunction with swimming in the Lancaster baths. Murky misty weather was the cause of the tragedy, Heaton having unwittingly walked across the towing path into the icy water on the dark December night, opposite the “Forty Steps” near the Aqueduct.

These facts were disclosed at the inquest at the Town Hall on Friday night by Mr Neville Holden, Coroner. A half-brother, Daniel Gregory, collier, 115, Dean’s Avenue, Hindley, Wigan, identified the body of Heaton, who joined the Army six weeks ago.

The chief witness, Private Richard Hall, King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, a young and modest Prestonian, explained that Heaton and himself had been friendly since they joined the regiment at Bowerham Barracks. They had been accustomed to walk out together at nights, either in the town or country.

The Coroner: Not to picture shows?
Witness: No, sir, Continuing, he said it was wet and stormy on Wednesday, December 10th, but after walking about Penny Street till 7.10 p.m. they walked along Caton Road, past the National Projectile Factory, till they reached the Aqueduct. Heaton had not been that way before, but witness had. As they mounted the “Forty Steps” witness stopped to light a cigarette, before going on to the towing path. Heaton was four steps in front and as he lit the cigarette he heard a splash. After the splash he heard Heaton shout: “Oh Dick come and help me.” In the darkness he could only see the splashing. Doffing his overcoat and cap he jumped into the water, finding Heaton in the middle of the canal. Witness seized hold of Heaton’s coat, but Heaton clutched at the collar of his tunic and pulled him down. “We both went under the water twice” said Hall, “And then I lost him.”

The Coroner, ascertaining Hall learned....


Witness: No sir.

The Coroner: You should find some friends who will tell you how to save a drowning man. If you can swim you can get a man out easily when you know how to do it?
Witness: Yes, sir. Hall also mentioned that after Heaton sank he stayed in the water five minutes trying to find him, but failed. He then put his overcoat on and reported the matter to the police.
The Coroner: Neither of you had had anything to drink?
Witness: No, sir.
PC Gardner, Borough Police, described meeting Private Hall in Parliament Street without his cap. His condition bore out his story that he had tried to rescue a comrade who had been drowned in the canal, but through Heaton having clutched him by the throat he had to break away from him.

PC Robinson proved that after dragging operations the body of Heaton was recovered on 11th December from the middle of the canal, just opposite the steps near the Aqueduct. Deceased was wearing his military coat and clothing but was without cap. There were no signs of struggle, nor marks on the body. He must have walked right into the canal. Cheerful letters were found in his pocked.

Sergeant Major Clark, King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, Bowerham Barracks, said Heaton enlisted on 30th October 1919 and both bore good characters and were fast friends.

The Coroner was quite satisfied it was an accidental occurrence, his verdict being “Accidentally drowned.”

The remains of the deceased were interred at Hindley, Wigan, on Monday. They were escorted from the Mortuary to the Castle Station with military honours, Captain Young being in charge of a large body of men from Bowerham Barracks. Other officers present were Captain Edwards, Lieutenants McGowan and Witty. The King’s Own Band played Chopin’s “Funeral March” on the way to the station and just before the train steamed out, the “Last Post” was sounded. The cortege was met at Wigan by the 5th Battalion, Manchester Regiment (Territorials).


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