Two officers killed accidentally by sentry

Imperial War Museum image Q53710. The cyclist section of the 2/5th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment on a bicycle march, led by Lieutenant J.E. Greenwood, during training at Windsor, 1915. Cyclist units were often employed on road patrols and as sentries.

Several newspapers included details of a tragic story from an inquest held at a Police Court on Monday 25 January 1915. This example is from the “Manchester Evening News”:

Harris was charged with causing the death of the two officers and Pullman with having aided him.

The Court ordered the two men to be remanded in custody of the military authorities. Captain Gorwyn and Lieutenant Tosswill of the battalion were present at the court proceedings. Captain J. H. W. Thompson, of the regiment’s 11th (Service) Battalion was present to represent the military authorities.

Next day’s “Western Morning News” added some detail of the two officers:

The “Hull Daily Mail” and other newspapers continued the story when proceedings were re-opened on 29 January 1915:

The “Dorking and Leatherhead Advertiser” gave further details of the questioning of Harold Murton who had been driving the car:

The “Birmingham Daily Gazette” of 4 February 1915 reported the conclusion of the inquest and a verdict of “Accidental Death”.

The officers killed

Records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission shows that the two officers were:

Lieutenant Arthur Ernest Simpson of the Army Service Corps.
He had been commissioned on 23 November 1914 and given the rank of Lieutenant.
Arthur had been born at Beckenham in Kent in 1872, the son of John and Alice Simpson. He married Mary Elizabeth “Tita” Tyrer in 1903. The couple had two daughters, Dorothy and Peggy, by the time of the 1911 census, at which time they lived at 43 Oakmead Road in Balham.

The “Western Times” of 30 January 1915 reported his funeral:

The National Archives holds a campaign medal index card for an ASC officer of the correct name. No medals are shown (which fits with Simpson’s story, as he had not served overseas) but the date of his death is shown: it is written incorrectly as 21 May 1915. The Archives also holds his service record (reference WO339/20005).

Another source which gives an incorrect date of death, rather surprisingly, is the 1923 Probate Calendar. Arthur had died, of course, on 24 January 1915.


Flight Sub-Lieutenant Bertram Welby Hart of the Royal Naval Air Service.
Aged 22, he was the son of James and Annetta Emily Hart of 38, Glenhouse Road, Eltham Park, London.
His family added an entry in De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour:

Both men are buried in Ford Park Cemetery at Plymouth.


The sentries

The two sentries were serving with a unit that would soon be known as the 2/7th (Cyclist) Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment.

The “Birmingham Mail” of 25 January 1915 added some personal detail:

The easier of the two can be traced thanks to his relatively uncommon name:

Private 1621 Donald Pullman had enlisted into the 7th (Cyclist) Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment on 1 December 1914. He was discharged from the army on medical grounds due to sickness on 14 November 1915. His service record no longer exists, leaving us to wonder whether his sickness was related to stress caused through this incident. His address in 1915 was 1 Pattison Road, Golders Green, London.

George Harris, 19 years of age and from Exeter, is not so straightforward. No surviving service record matches to the known details and although several men of the right name and regiment appear in the campaign medals record, none make an obvious or convincing case to be the right man. The births and census date for Exeter show three men of the right name and around the right age.

The other man who was said to be present, Private John Botterill, has proven to be equally elusive.


British Newspaper Archive
Commonwealth War Graves Commission


Devonshire Regiment