Medals count for little in class warfare

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George Walters was a hero of the Crimean War. At Inkerman on 5 November 1857 his quick thinking and bravery saved the life of an officer in the heat of battle. Sadly although he carried the Brigadier General to safety he later died of his wounds in the military hospital at Scutari. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry and later left the army (and his home town of Newport Pagnell) to start a new career with the Metropolitan Police.

His mini biographer (in the link above) noted that he soon left the police and ‘joined the Regents Park Police, and little is known of what happened to him before the 1871 Census’. Well, thanks to the newspaper coverage of the Police Courts, I can fill in a small amount of detail, at least as to what he was up to in 1865 when he was about 36 years of age.

George was indeed working in Regent’s Park as a Parks constable and on 20 July a well-heeled group of men and women were enjoying a boat trip on the lake. At about twenty to nine in the evening ‘the whole party’ made their way to the exit gates close to the Zoo. The gates were locked and had been for some time it seems, as a small crowd of people were gathered there hoping to get out.

Henry Percy Berry, a ‘young gentleman’ of 81 Adelaide Road in fashionable St John’s Wood took matters into his own hands.

‘Being desirous that the ladies should not wait there for an indefinite period of time he got up over the gate and, as he was getting over a second gate for the purpose of going to the inspector’s lodge’, he was seized by constable Walters.

The park constable grabbed him by the throat, ‘and after shaking him violently said he should take him into custody and charge him with an assault’. Berry offered the man his card but he was ignored. Walter summoned another constable and together, with the help of ‘a drunken cabman who said he was a detective’ the young man was unceremoniously dragged to the nearest police station.

Berry claimed to have been beaten and kicked on the way and had the bruises and a torn coat to show for it. After a night in the cells he was presented before a magistrate in the morning (for assault) but the case was discharged.

Now, several weeks later he counter sued the constable for assault and so it was George Walters who found himself in front of a ‘beak’. The former soldier wore his medals with pride; the VC and Crimean Medal (with four bars) making a very clear statement as to his character. He was defended by counsel, Mr Johnson, and the case was observed by Inspector Caunt of the Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Works (who looked after the Park and employed the constable).

Berry’s testimony (that he was an innocent and the victim of an aggressive attack by Walters) was challenged in court and he was forced to deny swearing at the constable or throwing any punches. He admitted climbing the gate but didn’t consider that it had made him a ‘wrong doer’ in the eyes of the law. He was also ‘perfectly sober at the time’ he insisted.

The young gentleman’s evidence was backed up by two  ‘well dressed young named Edward Castle and Matthias Milner’. Neither knew Berry personally they swore, but they said that they had seen the event unfold.

The constable brief now called his own witness, a retired policeman turned cabdriver named John Holder. He painted an alternative account to Berry’s and it was one which corroborated our hero’s. Berry had used bad language he said, and was violent. He had been called to lend assistance as a former police colleague. As to the term coat he argued that the damage had been done by Berry himself and Walter had warned him about it at the time. His warnings had been treated with contempt and abuse by the young man however.

As for the former soldier, Holder declared that:

‘He never saw a man exhibit more civility and forbearance than did the defendant on this occasion, and he never saw a man behave more violently than the complainant did’.

Holder’s account was supported by the other park constable. So in the end it came down to who the magistrate would choose to believe. Would it be the working-class constable who was a decorated war hero, or a rich young man with a fashionable address?

I think you can probably guess.

Mr Mansfield had tried the previous case when Berry had appeared on a charge of assaulting the constable and had dismissed it. He was hardly going to admit he was wrong in open court. He declared that the defence that had been offered by Walters was a fiction and he ‘could not adequately give expression to his feeling of indignation at the manner in which the cabman had given his evidence’.

He turned to George Walters and fined him the huge sum of £4 for the ‘outrageous’ assault on a respectable young man and warned him that failure to pay would result in him going to prison for  a month.

England, a home fit for heroes? Not in 1865 it seems, not when the reputation of the ruling class was at stake anyway. It reminds me of Kipling’s Tommy:

For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an` Chuck him out, the brute! “
But it’s ” Saviour of ‘is country ” when the guns begin to shoot;

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, August 10, 1865]

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