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This may seem like an inappropriate item to include on a website about a World War 1 Memorial but this was a massive tragedy in the little village of Bettisfield and a number of the players in the drama feature later in the war memorial stories. The story is told here through the newspaper coverage at the time. The stories have been transcribed from the originals (from  Wales Newspapers On -Line). Also consulted were Bettisfield school Log Book and School Board’s Minute Book for the year 1905.

Cheshire Observer 21st January 1905

FIVE CHILDREN DROWNED. ICE MISHAP NEAR WHITCHURCH. SPLENDID HEROISM

A terrible calamity on Wednesday befell the little village of Bettisfield which lies midway between Ellesmere and Whitchurch. A party of youngsters from the school after hurriedly snatching a midday meal, ran off to a small sheet of water known as Gospel Pool to see whether the ice would bear. The pond is about a quarter of a mile from the school house, it adjoins the Cambrian railway and is within a short distance of the station. It is said that a swan had been sailing about in the middle of it and a deep drain which runs through it makes it dangerous in all times of frost. On this occasion too, the ice was doubly dangerous for a thaw was in progress. Heedless of any peril that might await them. five of the more daring youngsters ventured onto the pool, while their more cautious companions watched their movements from the banks. For a minute or two they slid about on the glassy surface and then without warning the treacherous ice gave way. With a shriek the hapless children dropped out of sight to the horror of their watching comrades who scattered in all directions to raise an alarm.

Their terrified cries brought help but too late. before any grown up person appeared on the scene, however, Walter Maddox,  a fourteen year old schoolboy, bravely entered the icy water and succeeded in reaching one of the drowning girls. She was locked in the grasp of another victim of the treacherous ice and he found it impossible to save her. By this time he was  utterly exhausted but more effectual aid was at hand, the Vicar of Bettisfield and a band of men having arrived. The brave lad was on the point of disappearing when a man named Kelsall who had dashed up from a neighbouring farm managed to throw a rope to him. The boy had enough strength left to grasp it and was drawn ashore. The others, however, had  by this time gone down for the last time and it was only a question of recovering the bodies. Although every possible means was employed this took a long time and it was only after half an hour’s dragging that the first victim, a girl was brought to the surface. An attempt was made to restore animation but she was long past human aid. It was not till over 3 hours after the disaster that the last body, also that of a girl, was recovered, hatchets having to be used to break the ice. Meanwhile a crowd had gathered on the banks, among them some of the parents of the ill fated children, frantic with grief. As each body was brought to the side it was carried to the little schoolhouse where a few hours previously the children had been sitting at their lessons.

The inquest was held on Thursday evening by Dr Aylmer Lewis. The children were identified as Joseph Speakman aged 13, Evelyn Hughes 9, Albert Moore 13, Thomas Beckett 11 and Lucy Mary Morris 9. The principal witness was the boy Maddox aged 11 years who described how he tried to rescue his schoolfellows and was himself rescued by Mr Kelsall. They had been warned by the schoolmaster against going to the pit. Maddox was warmly commended for his pluck. The jury returned a verdict of ‘Accidental Drowning’ and thought none was to blame. They expressed their deep sympathy with the bereaved parents and with this, the Coroner, the Vicar and Mr Llewelyn Jones of the Flintshire Education Committee associated themselves.

***

Cheshire Observer 28th January 1905

Flintshire Education Committee

A meeting of the Flintshire Education Committee was held on Thursday at The County Buildings, Mold. Mr R Llewelyn Jones presiding over a large attendance.

The Bettisfield Tragedy

The Chairman next alluded to the recent terrible ice accident at Bettisfield in which five boys lost their lives. and moved a resolution condoling with the bereaved parents and expressing the Committee’s recognition of the heroism displayed by a companion of the deceased boys in endeavouring to effect their rescue. Mr P Pennant endorsed the Chairman’s remarks. Mr J H Warburton Lee as representing the District in which the accident occurred said a subscription list had been opened in the parish in order to assist the defray the funeral expenses and assist the poorest of the bereaved families to put up a suitable memorial and to present a testimonial to the boy Walter Maddox aged 11 who absolutely regardless of his own life tried to save his school fellows. It had occurred to him that as the disaster happened to school children and as this was the Education committee, some of the members might wish to contribute to this fund. The Chairman had kindly given a handsome donation. The resolution was carried.

***

Bettisfield School Log Book. (Flintshire County Record Office)

At the front of the book was written

‘On January 18th a gloom was cast over the neighbourhood by a lamentable ice accident through which five of the scholars attending this school lost their lives’.

Signed Wm Davies Headteacher

7th June 1905

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Many thanks to Sandra Nevett – Walter’s Great Niece, who has allowed us to post this remarkable photograph from her family archives. We believe this is Walter Maddox at the gravesides of some of the drowned children in January 1905

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Bettisfield Churchyard September 2015. In the foreground is the grave of three of the drowned children. Behind it (slightly left) is the grave of one other drowned boy. We have not yet located the grave of the 5th child, Evelyn Hughes

 

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Sacred to the Memory of Joseph Speakman aged 13 years Thomas Beckett aged 11 years Lucy Morris aged 9 years Who were drowned in the Gospel Pool on January 18th 1905 Now in the arms of Jesus Christ enfold us, we may rest, knowing that no evil thing can harm us on his breast

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In Loving Memory of Albert Moore of Bettisfield Who was drowned Jan 18th 1905 Aged 13 years In the midst of life we are in death.

***

The Chester Courant and Advertiser for North Wales

5th April 1905

Brave Schoolboy Rewarded. On Tuesday at Bettisfield Flintshire in the presence of the leading inhabitants of the District and the schoolchildren, Lady Wyndham Hanmer, presented the Life Saving Society’s certificate on vellum to Walter Maddox the 11 year old boy who made such a gallant attempt at rescue on the occasion of the ice catastrophe at Bettisfield on January 18th when five of his companions were drowned. Maddox was also recipient of a gold watch and a Post Office Savings Book with £5 to his credit subscribed by the people of the County

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Apologies for the very poor quality of this photograph. This is the Testimonial awarded to Walter Maddox by The Royal Humane Society, for his bravery. It hangs on the wall of the village hall, Bettisfield to this day. “It was resolved unanimously that Walter Maddox is justifiably entitled to the honourary testimonial of this Society inscribed on vellum which is hereby awarded him for having, on the 18th January 1905 at great personal risk, gallantly attempted to rescue 5 children who were unfortunately drowned through the ice giving way on apond at bettisfield, Flintshire”

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This short biography of Walter hangs on the wall in the village hall, Bettisfield, beneath his vellum award

 


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