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Child killed by aeroplane: Singular Accident at New Shildon

Report from Auckland Chronicle

From: 14-Feb-1918

Civil Parish: East Thickley

A shocking accident occurred on Tuesday at New Shildon, resulting in the death of a girl named Edith Walker, aged 11, daughter of Margaret J. Walker, of 19, Thomas Street, New Shildon.

About 4 o’clock an aeroplane alighted in a field near to Middridge Grange Farm. A quarter of an hour later the airman tried to rise and failed, the machine travelling until it crashed through another fence, over a private road, and struck in a second fence.

The deceased child, Edith Walker, evidently unobserved by the airman, was on the road or near the fence. She was picked up in the adjoining field with such injuries that she died at Hawthorn Farm shortly afterwards.

An enquiry was conducted by Coroner Proud at the NER Institute, New Shildon, yesterday morning.

Tried to save another child

A cousin of the deceased child, Fred Robson, said he went with her to see the aeroplane about four o’clock. The machine was on the ground beside Middridge Grange Farm, and they went into the same field and close to the machine. They were then going home, and had reached the bottom of the bank near the hedge, when the aeroplane knocked her down. The machine was running on the ground, and approached them from behind. Witness managed to get through the gap, but deceased was trying to get a younger child out of the road. Witness had tried to get to this child also.

The evidence of the airman, Second Lieutenant Arthur Birbeck, was to the effect that he was piloting the machine on Tuesday, and was passing over Shildon. It was foggy, and as he lost his way he looked for a landing-place with the object of finding his direction. He came down near the farm house, and would be stationary about a quarter of an hour, and then having got his bearings he started, intending to cross the hedge on the west of the field, as it was low in the centre. But the engine did not pick up sufficiently to raise the machine to clear the hedge, and he turned for the largest hedge to prevent the machine from turning over. It was all clear when he started, and he did not see anyone at the hedge as as he came down the hill towards it. It would be ten minutes afterwards that he heard the little girl had been at the hedge. He saw a police officer, and asked him to take charge of the machine until he went to the telephone to report that he was down, and he was then informed that a child had been knocked down and taken to the farm.

Impossible to have seen

If the girl had been in between the hedges, as apparently she was, it was impossible for witness to see her.

PC Handley said he was on duty, having gone to the field in consequence of the airman having descended. When the airman started a second time and crashed into the hedge witness could see people on the other side of the hedge, but did not see any children about the hedge, and he had a better chance of seeing than the airman. The child had been struck by the machine and had been carried into the field when he reached the spot. The injuries to the head were serious, and Dr Smedley, who was summoned, said there was no chance of recovery. The child died at the farmhouse.

This concluded the evidence, and the jury returned a verdict that the child was accidentally killed and than no blame attached to the pilot.

Second Lieutenant Birkbeck took the opportunity of publicly expressing his great regret at the occurrence and his sympathy with the relatives. He had taken the opportunity, he said, that morning of personally expressing his sympathy to the mother.

Contributed by Durham County Record Office

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