For what avail?
IN the 1940s, George Raymond Walden, a British farmer, aged 65, was shot and killed by British police officers who were supporting members of the War Agricultural Committee in dispossessing him of his lawful property at Itchen Stoke in Hampshire
During both the First and Second World Wars the need to produce as much food as possible was paramount. In an attempt to increase food production, County War Agricultural Executive committees were set up to supervise agricultural production in their local areas. In practice the "War Ags" were the local arm of national government, especially in the over-seeing of the ploughing up land and the achievement of production targets.
The farmers were evicted - often without warning - under the Defence of the Realm Act, by the all-powerful County War Agricultural Executive Committees (the 'War Ags').
By 1946 more than 1,800 farms in England and Wales were still held by the 'War Ags'. Astonishingly, farmers were graded A, B or C by other locals and those graded C might in some cases be evicted.
Professor Brian Short (CCS), : "Families were made to feel like pariahs in their communities, although some War Ags took their roles more seriously than others." In one notorious 1940 case, a Hampshire farmer was shot dead by police for refusing to leave his life-long family farm.
"The case of George Walden was most incredible," said Brian. "When he refused to leave, police dropped gas bombs down his chimney. But he had his gas mask and refused to move. In the end they came back armed. The coroner's report described it as 'justifiable homicide'."
While it could be claimed that with wartime food-shortage emergencies, the 'War Ags' were basically successful in their aim to ensure continuity of food supplies, the social cost - arising from the sometimes callous treatment of farmers - is still felt today.
In 1952 A G Street wrote a novel "Shameful Harvest". This is the best study of how petty local bureaucrats for the best of reasons end up acting like the Gestapo and how sometimes the honourable thing to do is fight them.
This is an update of a post from a couple of years ago - I have now found the inquest report, reproduced below. It tells the full story of the clash between an Englishman in his Castle and the government taking our freedom and liberties in the name of defending them. How resonant that sounds today.
Ralph Waldo Emerson: For what avail the plough or sail, or land or life, if freedom fail
The Itchen Stoke Shooting Tragedy
George Raymond WALDEN
Verdict of Justifiable Homicide
From the Hampshire Chronicle archives 1940, with kind permission.
The adjourned inquest was held on Tuesday afternoon at the Guildhall, Winchester, on the death of George Raymond Walden, the 65 year old farmer of Borough Farm, Itchen Stoke, who died on Tuesday week following a siege of his farm by police officers. Mr Walden, who was a bachelor and had lived all his life at Borough Farm (which his father had farmed before him) had resisted the attempts to evict him from his home after his failure to comply with the cultivation directions of the Hampshire County War Agricultural Executive. The inquest was conducted by Mr Theo E Brown (Winchester City Coroner) sitting with a jury. There were also present Mr R Knox (Deputy Chief Constable of the County), Mr W G Stratton (Head Constable of Winchester), Mr C G Hickson (Deputy Clerk to the County Council, representing the police), Mr D C M Scott (representing the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Hampshire County War Agricultural Executive), Mr S A Pettifer (representing Sir Anthony Tichborne – the landlord – and Messrs James Harris and Son agents for the Tichborne Estate), Mr R R Geech (representing members of the deceased’s family), Supt Fielder, and others, Police constable Draper, who was shot during the incidents at Borough Farm, attended the court on a stretcher.
William Roland Meads, 82 High Street, Winchester, Cultivation Officer for the County War Agricultural Executive Committee – the Committee responsible for carrying out the Defence General Regulations under powers delegated by the Ministry of Agriculture, said that after due consideration, the Committee made a Cultivation Order in respect of property owned by Mr Walden – an order dated April 17th, 1940. The order directed the ploughing, summer fallowing, and preparing for cropping in 1941 of two areas amounting to approximately four acres. That order was not complied with. The matter was further considered in connection with both the landlord and the tenant and an order for taking possession on July 20th was issued. That was nothing to do with the landlord, but the action of the County War Agricultural Committee under authority from the Ministry of Agriculture.
John Reginald Morton, the Carfax Hotel, Winchester, Assistant County Land Officer, employed by the Hampshire County War Agricultural Committee, said he prepared a schedule of Borough Farm, in support of the application to the Ministry. He corroborated that notice to terminate the tenancy on June 20th was served on the deceased. On June 24th, Mrs Roskilly, the sister of Mr Walden, came to see him and he gave her some friendly advice, the following day and explained the position fully to him. He was not successful in persuading Mr Walden what the real position was. Notice of intention to take possession on July 20th was then served upon him. Arrangements were made with the Chief Constable of the County that two constables should be present at Borough Farm at 11.20 am on July 22nd to see that there was no breach of the peace. He was instructed to carry out the taking possession, and when he got there the police were already there. He tried the doors and found them locked. They found it necessary to break open the back door and the inner door. As they went though the inner door one of the two policemen with him call out to him, saying that Walden was inside with a gun and advising him to go outside. He went out and Walden re-fastened the outer door.
Police constable Draper, stationed at Ropley, said that at 11.30 am on July 22nd he went, on instructions, with Police constable Cripps to Borough Farm. He saw Walden standing at the back of the farmyard. Cripps went first and said “Good morning, Mr Walden, I want to speak to you” Walden said “No!” and something else which he could not catch. Walden then closed the door and bolted it top and bottom. Cripps shouted to him but there was no reply. The position was explained to Mr Morton (who had arrived) and then he and Police constable Cripps got through the back door into the scullery. They went on through the door into the kitchen (which was fastened on the inside) and Cripps then said “Look out. Here he comes with a gun.” Neither he nor Cripps had any firearms with them then, so they withdrew out to the yard. Cripps went off to inform the Police Superintendent, while he remained to watch Walden’s movements. At about 12.50 he was standing at the entrance to the cow pen yard when he heard the back door open. He stepped behind a board fence and he peeped over. He saw Walden about 12-15 yards away, so he said “Well, what are you going to do now?” Walden raised the gun and fired with one barrel of a double barrelled gun. He was struck in both legs and one arm. Walden said nothing to him at all then or at any time. A roadman and field workers came to his assistance. There were 15 pellets in the left leg, two in the right leg, and two in the left arm. He was taken home and later to the Royal Hampshire County Hospital.
Police constable Cripps, stationed at Preston Candover, said he was with Police constable Draper on July 22nd. He corroborated what Police constable Draper had said about the occurrences that day. He said that when he was in the kitchen he saw Walden creeping down the stairs with a gun. He went off to inform the Superintendent, while Draper remained. On his return he heard that Draper had been shot. In the afternoon he tried to get Walden to come out, but without success. He went away and returned about midnight with other officers under Inspector Hatcher. He and other constables threw four tear gas canisters into the house; they then heard movements and he and another office stood by the side of the door to arrest Walden as he came out. The door opened a little and Walden fired twice through the partly opened door without hitting anyone. Then a third shot was fired, presumably from another gun as he had not had time to reload. The door was shut again and barricaded from the inside.
A half an hour later they forced the house and at the foot of the stairs they found an empty civilian gas respirator case. The witness said he lifted the latch of the door at the bottom of the stairs but heard a movement on the stairs. He withdrew quickly and just got out of the way when another shot rang out. Later he went across the farmyard towards the front door and he was shot at again, this time receiving some of the shots in his right arm, right leg and chin, and Inspector Hatcher, who was with him was also slightly wounded in the left hand. He remained on duty outside the premises until 7 am the next morning, keeping out of sight of the house. Then he left and when he returned Walden was being carried out of the house suffering from severe injuries.
Inspector Hatcher, of the Hants Constabulary, stationed at Basingstoke, said he saw Draper after he had been shot at his home at Ropley. The same afternoon police officers were stationed all round Borough Farm. His intention was to arrest Walden on a charge of attempting to murder Police constable Draper. Tear gas canisters were thrown into the farm with the intention of making him come out and from this point on he corroborated Cripps evidence. Later additional police officers were brought to the farm and the house was surrounded. Shortly before 7 am both the outer doors of the house were forced and wedged open. Walden fired at the officers then.
Sgt Longman together with three constables entered the scullery by the back door and Sgt Longman called to Walden to surrender assuring him that no harm would befall him. Walden did not comply and said “You are going to kill me or I am going to kill you; I am not going to give in” The scullery door was forced and he heard several more shots fired the last in fairly close succession. He went in by the front door and found Walden lying on the floor of the kitchen in a kind of sitting posture and with a severe wound on the right side of his head. By his right was a double barrelled gun, which he did not have hold of but which was pointing towards his head. He searched the premises, and found, in addition to the double barrelled 12 bore gun by the side of Walden, a single barrelled 4.10 gun and a certain amount of ammunition for both guns, some of which had been fired. He gave evidence also of the shot marks which were on the walls of the premises, and said that there was no mark anywhere of any shots in the ceiling. Both the guns used by the police and Walden’s double barrelled gun were firing No. 6 cartridges.
Police sergeant Longman, stationed at Basingstoke, spoke of the final attack upon the house. He entered the scullery with three constables, and found that the door to the kitchen was secured. He forced the door open and saw the barrel of a gun pointing towards him from the stairs. He pushed the door to, and shots were fired. He called out to Walden, and said “Put your gun down and surrender.” Walden replied “I am going to kill you like you are going to kill me; I am not going to give in.” He said “Don’t be a silly man, put up your gun and come out.” Walden, however, fired and taking a gun which one of the constables gave him he fired back twice towards the stairs. He called out again to Walden telling him to come out, but Walden only fired in reply. One of these shots struck him in the neck, so he gave the gun to Police constable Cole, who also called on Walden to surrender and later fired. Hearing a groan he went into the kitchen and at that moment Inspector Hatcher came in at the front door with other constables.
Police constable Cole corroborated Sergeant Longman’s statement up to the time when the latter was hit by a shot and he took the gun. He then said to Walden “Come out and put that gun down.” And Walden replied “No, I am not coming out; I am going to shoot.” He looked out of the door and saw Walden standing on the stairs pointing the gun directly at him. He could see what looked like this elbow and he fired at that. Walden’s gun was then withdrawn and after a short time he heard a groan. He then went into the kitchen with Sergeant Longman and found Walden in the position that Inspector Hatcher had described.
Dr Charles Hall Wrigley, Pathologist to the Royal Hampshire County Hospital, said that the deceased man died on the same day as that on which he was admitted to Hospital suffering from gun-shot wounds. He made a post-mortem examination, and found a gun-shot wound on one side of the head; there were 30 pellets there in a circle about 4 inches in diameter. One pellet went through the right eye and it was that one pellet which caused his death. There were no signs of scorching or powder marks. Death was due to injury to the brain, following gunshot wounds.
Howard Albert Davies, 6 Southgate Street, Winchester, a gunsmith, said that there were approximately 280 pellets in a No. 6 12 bore cartridge. He said that if such a cartridge had been fired at the head of a man from 2 ft range, there would certainly be some scorching. Moreover, if a man had fired it at himself from such a range there would be a total wound of the head; he did not think there would be much of the head left. At such a distance also one would find not also the pellets but the wad.
Summing up the case, the Coroner said that it had aroused some notoriety but when one came to boil it down there was really very little in it. Going shortly over the facts, he said that this man, George Raymond Walden had been ordered by the County War Agricultural Committee in the execution of their duty, to do certain acts upon his farm. A good many attempts were made to induce him to carry out what had been ordered; but he disregarded the order; in fact he flouted it, and he did not attempt in any shape or form to do what he had been ordered to do. In consequence, the War Agricultural Committee had applied to the Ministry of Agriculture, and they had been authorised to take a certain course, which was they if they failed to get their orders carried out they were to evict Walden from the farm. That eviction, as the evidence had showed, had nothing whatever to do with the landlord, Sir Anthony Tichborne, or his agents. That was the position of July 22nd. Eviction at all times was a somewhat difficult process of law, and the War Agricultural Committee, in their wisdom, made application to the Chief Constable of Hampshire for two police officers to accompany their representative to see that there was no breach of the peace. That was a very proper and very ordinary proceeding, and the two officers – Police constable Draper and Police constable Cripps – together with Mr Morton, went to the house, and made a peaceable approach to take possession of the land. He pointed out the significance of the answer given by one of them to his question to the effect that they were not armed at the time. One of these officers remained behind while the other officer went to report that Walden was armed. Then, without warning Walden shot at the constable who was left in what we could only describe as a murderous manner.
Reinforcements were obtained, and without going into the whole of the story, entrance was ultimately obtained to the house. But before that and after it and practically continuously until 7 o’clock the following morning, this man was shooting at every officer who appeared, and as a result he wounded four. They had all seen that afternoon the poor fellow who while standing there unarmed, had been fired at and badly wounded by the man who refused to carry out a lawful, command. After that the position was entirely changed. It passed from what he might call a civil proceeding to a criminal act. Walden, without any justification whatever, had fired at Police constable Draper and wounded him. The subsequent events which took place were done in the attempt to arrest Walden. If he had not been killed in this unfortunate affair he would undoubtedly have had to stand his trial on a charge of attempted murder. They Walden died of a gun shot no one would have any doubt whatever. In his humble opinion too, the evidence had entirely disposed of any suggestion that he committed suicide. The evidence, he thought, showed beyond all doubt that it was a shot from one of the policemen which caused the injury from which Walden died. If they came to that conclusion, he thought the proper verdict for them to return was that this man died from gunshot wounds inflicted by a police office in the proper execution of his duty, and was therefore justifiable homicide.
The law with regard to justifiable homicide in circumstances like these was they where a police officer was resisted in the legal execution of his duty he might repel force by force and if in so doing, without disproportionate violence, he killed the party resisting him, that was justifiable homicide. An officer was not bound to withdraw, but could stand his ground and attack a party who was attacking him – for who would submit quietly to arrest if, where resistance was offered, the police were bounds to retire. An officer in the course of the legal execution of his duty was entitled to the protection of the law and there was no doubt that they were carrying out their legal duties on this occasion. They were met by force – by murderous force – and they were entitled to repel it with force. He had no hesitation whatever in directing them in this case that, so far as the police were concerned, it was a case of justifiable homicide.
After a short retirement, the foreman of the jury announced that they found that Walden died of gunshot wounds inflicted by the police in self defence and in the execution of their duty. Their verdict therefore was one of justifiable homicide. On behalf of the jury the foreman expressed their sympathy with Police constable Draper and wished him a speedy recovery.
The same expression was made by Mr Geech on behalf of the relatives, and sympathy with the relatives was expressed by Mr Pettifer on behalf of his clients, mentioning that this unfortunate affair closed an association lasting many years. Mr Scott, on behalf of the County War Agriculture Committee, also expressed his regrets at the occurrence.
Transcribed from a report in the Hampshire Chronicle dated Saturday, 3rd August 1940