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Laws, W.E., Pte., 1916

Photo: Brian Chandler

In Walker (Christ Church) Churchyard is the Commonwealth War Grave of :

1557 Private
W.E. Laws
Royal Army Medical Corps
16th January 1916

Newcastle Daily Chronicle 01/02/1916 reports:

Newcastle Soldier’s Strange Death.
Inquest at York.
A verdict of death from ‘Syncope, following acute alcoholic poisoning’ was returned at the adjourned inquest, held yesterday at York, upon the body of William Edward Laws (24), of the 2/1st Northumberland Ambulance R.A.M.C. attached to the 2/7th Northumberland Fusiliers, whose death took place under somewhat mysterious circumstances at the Fishergate Schools, York, where he was billeted, on January 16th.

The evidence given at the earlier proceedings showed that Laws returned from Walker, Newcastle, where he had been on a visit to his wife, on January 12th, and was then apparently well. On the morning of the 15th he complained of vomiting and inability to retain his breakfast. In the evening he sent a comrade for a small flask of rum which was obtained and laid down on his bed. About midnight he aroused the billet by shouting and running backwards and forwards to the water tap, one of his exclamations being, ‘I am going to die’ and another ‘my stomach is cold’. He gave his comrades the impression that he was drunk, and about five o’clock on the morning of the 16th he was placed in the guard room.

He was visited regularly, and about nine o’clock, Lieut. A.G. McFarlane, medical officer of the battalion, was sent for, and found deceased delirious. He ordered his removal to the Military Hospital, but whilst arrangements were being made for this to be done, Laws collapsed. Lieut. McFarlane was again summoned, and came to the conclusion that the man was suffering from acute alcoholism. He treated him, but death took place about two hours later. Lieut. McFarlane subsequently made a post-mortem examination and in the course of his evidence said he found no indication of disease due to alcohol, and expressed the opinion that death was due to the effects of some toxin as shown by the presence of acute toxic changes on the body tissues. At this stage of the inquiry it transpired that the deceased had told Private Hewitt that whilst on leave at Walker he had taken some rat poison in mistake for medicine in the dark, and the Coroner thereupon adjourned the inquest for an analysis of the contents of the stomach to be made.

Yesterday the Coroner (Mr. J.R. Wood) read the analysis made by Mr. John Evans, public analyst for York, which stated that he had failed to detect any poisonous substance. There was an absence of any of the poisons – arsenical compounds, phosphorus and strychnine – usually used in the preparation of rat poisons.

Detective Inspector Bennett produced a report upon enquiries made by the Chief Constable of Newcastle, which stated that Mrs. Laws informed him that she never had any rat poison in her house, and that examination of the house revealed nothing of a suspicious nature. He had also failed to trace the supply of any poison to deceased in Walker.

Lieut. A.G. McFarlane, in further evidence, said he still thought death was due to some acute toxin. Deceased’s condition might have been caused either by phosphorus, chloroform or alcohol. and might have been set up by his consumption of a small cask of rum, considering the fact that he had had no food for some time and had already had some alcohol. He attributed death to syncope following acute alcoholic poisoning.

The CWGC entry for Private Laws

If you know more about this person, please send the details to janet@newmp.org.uk