Enquiry into the death of Second Lieutenant Harold Daws
Extracts from the Court of Enquiry
Captain AJ Hopkinson’s account, first witness
‘I went on patrol with Private Williams, bomber, 10th Durham LI from the sap in H41 trench about 4:30pm before dark. My intention was to go no further than the outer edge of the enemy [?] but to listen from there as the Germans had been making great noise during the morning. We reached the edge of the German wire and found a hand grenade. As there was no sound we went on further. About this time it became very dark, and we encountered numerous obstacles, and very thick wire. In trying to work round the shell holes and wire we must have changed direction, without knowing it. After going on for some time we came suddenly onto a sap, which we never doubted was an enemy trench. The sap was covered in places with brushwood hurdles. I put down my hand into the sap and felt a sandbag. I cut open the sandbag to see what it contained, and found it full of earth. Immediately afterwards I heard someone coming along the sap. I fired, and heard a groan, and heard him fall. We then both got away as quickly as we could. In the excitement of the moment Private Williams left the German hand grenade which we had found. Eventually we got well clear into no-man’s land with great difficulty, and back to our own trench, by being guided by the very lights. We re-entered our front line between Hunter St and the Sunken Road. I immediately reported to Captain Stewart, my company commander, what I had done on my patrol. On my way to Captain Stewart’s dug out one of the sentries told me that Second Lieutenant Daws had been killed by a rifle grenade in no.3 sap. The following morning, when I went on duty in the fire trench, Sergeant Brown mentioned that Second Lieutenant Daws must have been a killed by a revolver bullet, and Lance Corporal McDonough told me that a German hand grenade had been found near the spot where he was killed. At once it flashed on me that possibly I shot Daws myself. I therefore went straight up the sap, and recognised the sandbag which I had cut open the night before. I at once came away and told Captain Stewart’.
Captain AJ Hopkinson, being questioned
‘I should not have lost my way, if it had not [got] so very wet and dark, as I had carefully examined [the] ground from the trenches, and studied aeroplane photographs, I had also examined my diary, and from it expected some moonlight at about 8:30pm. Instead of this, there was no moon at all and the stars were all hidden by the clouds’.
Six more witnesses were interviewed.
Opinion of the court
‘The Court are of the opinion that Second Lieutenant H Daws, 10th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, was killed accidentally by a bullet fired from a revolver by Captain AJ Hopkinson, 10th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, that Second Lieutenant Daws was on duty and not to blame, and that no other person was to blame’.
Opinions of the commanding officers of the battalion, the brigade, and the division are given.
Opinion of Major General VA Couper, commanding 14th Division
‘I am of the opinion that this was an accident. Patrols get lost very often in these dark nights. I do not consider Captain Hopkinson was to blame’.
Reference: WO 339/50614
Where to find this: Service record of Second Lieutenant Harold Daws, The National Archives
Contributed by Durham County Record Office