Henry Charles Hawes

ARP man from Hoxne dies after demonstation.

An inquest was held in July 1939 after an ARP man, Henry Charles Hawes aged 53 from Hoxne, died after an exercise in Stradbroke. The widow, Alice Hawes, stated that her husband was a bricklayer and painter employed by the East Suffolk County Council. She said that her husband had been in good health, although he had been treated by Dr Sheehan of Hoxne for a septic wrist caused by an insect bite and occasionally he had been subject to slight attacks of indigestion but they had been no worse lately. She said he had eaten a small meal before he left to go to Stradbroke.

Edgar Lines, a surveyor employed by the East Suffolk County Council and Bridges Department for the West Area said that he staged and produced an anti-gas decontamination exercise for the benefit of the Air Raid Wardens, in the Priory Grounds at Stradbroke, on the evening of last Friday. He was a qualified anti-gas instructor holding certificate No A. 7.

For this purpose he utilized men who had considerable instruction and experience in the wearing of full anti-gas equipment. He and the six men held an undressed rehersal in the Court House in Stradbroke and then proceeded to fit the service respirators and steel helmets that were available for this purpose.

At 8pm the got into the lorry that was to take them to the scene of the operation. On arrival they moved into a pre-arranged position and Lines checked with all the men that they were prepared and ready to commence the demonstration of the decontamination of a bomb crater.

He told the men to do their job slowly in easy stages. During the exercise and up to the point of leaving the grounds he saw no signs of distress from anyone. In answer to questioning he added that it would be very hot to work in the uniform on a hot day but on Friday there was a breeze when they started and although it dropped it was then not very hot.

Mr Lines then demonstrated to the Coroner how the clothing was worn and how the gas mask could be removed to get air. He also added that the time for wearing the clothing laid down by the Home Office was one period of two hours followed by four hours rest. The total time the deceased was wearing the clothing was 35 minutes.

William George Whittle who was responsible for the cleansing and storage of the equipment stated that he had checked it just before the exercise and found everything in order.

Stanley George Offley Warren, another member of the team, said that Hawes complained about being hot when they were wheeling the sand out so he took over the wheelbarrow and Hawes took the Shovel.

Part way through the exercise Hawes stood up and paused and his colleague noticed he was sweating a great deal and was red around his right eye. He suggested that Hawes took his repirator off but Hawes said he was all right and could carry on.

James Edgar Clarke said that he been with Hawes earlier and after having a cup of tea they had gone down the street to the Hemp Sheaf where they had had two brown ales each. They had reported for duty at 6.30pm. Hawes had complained to him on the way back from the exercise that he could not get his wind so he pulled the respirator away from his face. On arriving back at the Court House, Clarke examined the respirator and although it appeared to function correctly it was unusually wet.

As Hawes proceeded to undress he fell bckward over the form and was breathing deeply. The foreman and the other men realised there was something wrong. Hawes did not speak and they lowered him to the floor. He then shuddered and the witnesses believed he passed away.

Dr William Joseph Sheehan of Hoxne gave details of his post mortem.

'The deceased was a man of strong physique and there were no marks of physical injury on his body. The muscle walls of his heart were thick owing to great physical exercise and strain on the heart and that was usually a sign that a man was in good health. Further, there were no signs of disease in any of the organs and the lungs were sound. The stomach was very much dilated and there was present in it a quantity of undigested food as the condition of the stomach would make it a slower process to digest it. The condition of the stomach would also account for the indigestion of which the deceased complained. Death was due to heat exhaustion and the presence of food in the stomach'

The coroner recorded a verdict of death caused by heat exhaustion, accelerated by the presence of food in the stomach. He added that everything had been done in the propoer manner and expressed his sympathy to the relative

The funeral took place on Wednesday with many people assembled to pay tribute to their late friend who was known to them all as 'Chummy'.

He had been a member of the British Oddfellows and the Old Contemptibles Association. In 1914 he was taken prisoner at the battle of Mons and held for four years in Germany. Escorted by members of the British Legion and borne by his fellow ARP workers, the coffin was draped with the Union Jack.