Death by a car; firstborn in America; Groucho Marx; Churchill speaks; battles (various) and an English lady with the Russian Army

On 17 August 1896 Bridget Driscoll became the first known car fatality when she was knocked down by Arthur Edsell who was reportedly driving at 4mph. The London Standard’s report of Friday 21st tells us that Mr Percy Morrison held an inquest at Penge, on the body of Bridget Driscoll, the 44 year old wife of a labourer of 137 Old Town, Croydon, who was fatally injured by a motor-car at the Crystal Palace on Monday 17th August. May Driscoll, daughter of the deceased, said she went with her mother to the Palace on Monday to the Catholic fete connected with the League of the Cross taking place that day in the company of a friend named Elizabeth Murphy. They were on the Terrace when she saw three motor cars approaching, the last one of which was coming at a very fast rate, and going from one side of the road to the other. The ladies safely avoided the first two cars, but the third one, which was a good distance behind, swayed towards them. As soon as Miss Driscoll had run close to the rails she turned and saw the car passing over her mother.
The Coroner [c] asked: ‘Did the car knock the deceased down?’  The Witness [w] replied: ‘Yes’.
[c]: ‘Did the driver appear to be attending properly to his duty?’  [w]: ‘I don’t think he understood how to drive; he kept going from one side to the other, whereas the other two were going straight.’
[c]:’Did your mother do anything to ward the driver?’    [w]: ‘Yes, she put her umbrella up.’
[c]: ‘Was your mother quite sober?’ [w]: ‘Yes, and I am sure she did not fall down in front of the car.’
Various other witnesses claimed to have seen no notices warning the public to be aware of the cars. Elizabeth Murphy gave similar evidence, saying that the driver of the car was swaying from one side to another for some distance. Mr C E Raddock, a retired army surgeon, said he was at the Palace, and was asked by a nurse if he could render any assistance. He went to the spot where the body lay and he found life extinct, there being a terrible wound on the right of the head, from which the brain was protruding. The witness had not made a post-mortem examination as he was out of practice. Dr Wood of Penge, who had examined the body, said he found a scalp wound and a fracture to the right side of the head. He thought the deceased must have been struck by the car very severely, as a large portion of the scalp had been stripped off, and death must have been instantaneous.
Florence Ashmore, another eye-witness, thought the accident was due to both the deceased and the driver of the car becoming bewildered, the former having hesitated before turning away from the car. The Coroner asked ‘Was the car going fast?’ The witness replied:’ Yes, rather – well as fast as a fire-engine.’ The inquiry was adjourned for further eveidence.
The Derby Daily Telegraph of Saturday 22nd August also covered the inquest reporting that one witness spoke of the erratic course steered by the car and, when asked as to the speed, replied “It was going as fast as a bicycle.” A third witness declared that the car was going “as fast as a fire-engine – in fact, as fast as a horse can gallop.” It is reported that the driver did his best to pull up, but he sounded no warning. The Grantham Journal of 22nd has a similar story with one or two additional bits of information. It says that daughter May said that ‘she did not hear the driver call out, but she saw her mother hold up her umbrella to warn him to stop. She also stated that there was plenty of room for the car to have passed without touching her mother. The witness, in answer to the coroner, denied that she saw any notice posted up, “beware of the horseless carriage.” This report also tells us that it had been announced that ‘the Palace Company had undertaken to defray the cost of the deceased’s funeral’.

18 August 1587 was the day that Virginia Dare became the first child to be born in the Americas to English parents – Eleanor (Ellinor or Elyonor) White and Ananias Dare. It was in Roanoke Colony in what is now North Carolina where Eleanor’s father John White was governor. It is said that the child was given the name Virginia as the first born Christian in the Virginia colony. Around 120 settlers had left England on 8th May 1587 intending to establish a new colony in the Chesapeake area but were landed here instead. Nothing is known of what became of Virginia and the other colonists – the fact of her birth is only known because her grandfather John White returned to England in 1587 to seek fresh supplies. When he eventually returned three years later, Virginia and the other colonists were gone. Notwithstanding that, Virginia Dare has become a prominent figure in American myth and folklore, symbolizing different things to different groups of people. She has been featured as a main character in books, poems, songs, comic books, television programs and films. Her name has also been used to sell ranging from vanilla products to wine and spirits. Many places in North Carolina and other parts of the southern United States have been named in her honour. If you would like to take this further go to: www. as a start point

19 August 1977 was the day Groucho of the Marx Brothers died. On a bad day – listening or retelling some of his jokes can cheer the whole place up. For instance: ‘What’s a thousand dollars? Mere chicken feed. A poultry matter’ or ‘I could dance with you until the cows come home. On second thoughts I’ll dance with the cows and you come home’ or ‘One morning I shot an elephant in my pyjamas. How he got into my pyjamas I don’t know.’ These examples come from ‘The Cocoanuts’; ‘Duck Soup’ and ‘Animal Crackers’. Groucho and his brothers were most certainly crackers – in more ways than one.

 20 August sees two unusual events that some will feel positive about and others less so. I include them here as historic facts that may well provoke thought and/or discussion.
On this day in 1915 Private W Hacket is reported as having being shot in the chest on the front line at Armentières, but was uninjured because the bullet was stopped by his pocket Bible.
On this day in 1924 the British sprinter Eric Liddell refused to run in his heat of the 100 metres at the Paris Olympics because it fell on a Sunday and was against his religious convictions – a decision that was much later presented in the film ‘Chariots of Fire’.

Wednesday 21 August 1940 saw The Guardian newspaper report on the previous day’s speech by the Prime Minister to the House of Parliament. The outbreak of the First World War has been widely recalled during this month and Winston Churchill effectively stitched the two together in his time when he began: ‘This war is only a continuation of the last, but very great differences in its character are apparent. In the last war millions of men fought by hurling masses of steel at one another. Prodigious slaughter was the consequence. In this war nothing of this kind has yet appeared. It is a conflict of strategy, organisation, technical apparatus, science, mechanics, and morale. The British casualties in the first twelve months of the Great War amounted to 365,000. In this war, I am thankful to say, British killed, wounded, prisoner, and missing, including civilians, do not exceed 22,000. A large proportion of these are alive as prisoners of war. The gratitude of every home in our island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world except in the abodes of the guilty goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, un-weakened by their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of world war by their prowess and their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. [This provoked prolonged cheers.] All hearts go out to the fighter pilots, whose brilliant actions we see with our own eyes day after day but we must never forget that all the time, night after night, month after month, our bomber squadrons travel far into Germany, find their targets in the darkness by the highest navigational skill, aims their attacks, often under the heaviest fire, often at serious loss, with deliberate, careful precision, and inflict shattering blows upon the whole of the technical and war-making structure of the Nazi power. On no part of the Royal Air Force does the weight of the war fall more heavily than on the daylight bombers, who will play an invaluable part in the case of an invasion and whose unflinching zeal it has been necessary in the meantime on numerous occasions to restrain. I have no hesitation in saying that the process of bombing the military industries and communications of Germany and the air bases and storage depots from which we are attacked, which will continue on an ever-increasing scale until the end of the war and may in another year attain dimensions hitherto undreamed of, assure one at least of the most certain, if not the shortest, of all the roads to victory. Even if the Nazi legions stood triumphant on the Black Sea or indeed upon the Caspian, even if Hitler was at the gates of India, it would profit him nothing if at the same time the entire economic and scientific apparatus of German war power lay shattered and pulverised at home.

22 August 1864 – Staying with conflict a little longer; it was on this day that the Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field was signed. This led to the formation of the International Red Cross. I doubt that there was any link but: on this day in 1138 the Battle of the Standard, sometimes called the Battle of Northallerton, the English force, commanded by William of Aumale, repelled a Scottish army under the command of King David I of Scotland on Cowton Moor near Northallerton in Yorkshire. Also on this day, but in 1485, the Battle of Bosworth Field – much in the news of late – saw the death of King Richard III at the hands of Henry VII’s men; and in 1642 this day saw the start of England’s Civil War

23 August 1915 – One of the books on my bookshelf is ‘Nurse at the Russian Front’ – the diary of Florence Farmborough – who went to Russia as a teacher of English to a surgeon’s daughters and became a nurse with the Russian army through the conflict. Her diary for this day tells us that they had halted and ‘set up our dressing station. Loud explosions rent the air repeatedly, but the frame of mind of the soldiers proved more optimistic than was expected. Finger and hand cases came to the fore again; many of them had walked in themselves, despite the fact that they had been warned to apply for aid only at the divisional Unit, where the medical staff had its own harsh methods of treatment for self-inflicted wounds. One old soldier, with grey threads in his beard and pathetic brown eyes, held out a trembling, blood-stained hand; I washed it and, under the thick blood-coating, there was revealed the dark tell-tale stain of a wound received at close quarters. I looked at him and he knew that I knew, but nothing even akin to cowardice could be read in that haggard face; I saw in it only despair and a great exhaustion of mind and body.’


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