Soldier’s Fatal Cycle Accident

An inquest into the death of Private Cecil Clifton, of the Royal Sussex Regiment, was heard at Newhaven on 22nd April 1916. Before enlisting, he was living with his wife, Gwendoline, and young child at 2 Seaview, Chapel Street in Newhaven. He would have been 20 at the end of the month. Private Clifton had enlisted into the Army in February, having previously worked as a chemist’s porter.

Private Frederick Maidlow, a friend of Private Clifton, gave evidence. Private Clifton had asked him if he could borrow his bike. Private Maidlow pointed out that the bike wasn’t fit to ride as the brake was damaged. Private Clifton said he would mend it and, when Maidlow was away, Clifton took the bike. The corporal of their hut told Maidlow that Clifton had tried to mend the brake but couldn’t, so removed the brake altogether.

On 20th April, shortly after 5 o’clock, Private Clifton was seen riding down Hillside at a “rapid rate”. He had lost control of the bike, but tried to turn right at the bottom of the hill. He was unable to do so and crashed into the wall of a house in South Road. Corp. Frank Johnson, of the Royal Army Medical Corps (R.A.M.C.), was at 52 South Road at the time and heard the crash. He ran outside and found Private Clifton lying on the pavement “his legs being entangled in a bicycle. Blood was rushing from his nose”. A window was broken and the front of the bike was smashed. Corporal Johnson applied pressure to the main artery of Clifton’s neck, to stop the bleeding, and sent him to the Military Hospital up the road. At the hospital Clifton was seen by Lieut. Will R.A.M.C. Clifton was unconscious with “blood flowing from his nose and ears”. He did not regain consciousness and died at 6:40. Lieut. Clifton believed that Clifton died from a fracture at the base of his skull, due to the “severe bruise on the left side of the face”. A verdict of “Accidental death” was given, with an expression of sympathy to the widow.

Private Clifton’s funeral took place with full military honours on 24th April 1916. The service was conducted by the chaplain of Newhaven Garrison, Rev. E Griffiths, and was attended by over a hundred N.C.Os and men. The regimental band was under Bandmaster Patrick and the firing party under Sergt. Beard. At the close of the service three volleys were fired over the grave and “The Last Post” was sounded. Private Clifton was laid to rest in Newhaven Cemetery and a fund was opened locally to help his widow and child “in their sad circumstances”.

By Jenny Flood from a story in the East Sussex News, 28th April 1916.

Photo: Jenny Flood