Shropshire Star

Ice tragedy has echoes of horror in Shropshire

The terrible lake tragedy which has claimed young lives in Solihull will have echoes from the past for one community on the Shropshire-Wales border which suffered almost identical heartbreak at the beginning of the 20th century.

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A contemporary picture of the 1905 tragedy with the hole in the ice marked.

It was on Wednesday, January 18, 1905, that a group of schoolchildren in Bettisfield, near Ellesmere, made their way to a local pool during the school lunch break to slide on the ice.

Their fun had hardly begun when the ice gave way and five of them disappeared into the water to the horror of those watching from the bank.

One boy, 11-year-old Walter Maddox, showed great heroism, entering the water and reaching one girl, but she was locked in the arms of a drowning boy, and he could not rescue her, although he almost died in the attempt.

The vicar of Bettisfield and some local men had arrived on the scene and exhausted Walter was sinking when a man named Kelsall from a neighbouring farm rushed up with a rope and rescued him.

The scene of the tragedy was known as Gospel Pool – one account gives it as Kynaston's Pool – little more than a quarter of a mile from the school.

Sadly all five children died. They were Evelyn Hughes, aged nine; Lucy Morris, nine; Albert Moore, 13; Joseph Speakman, 13; and Thomas Beckett, 11.

The inquest jury returned a verdict of accidental drowning.

A local fund was started to help the bereaved families. Walter, whose age is variously given as 11 and 14 – indeed, contemporary accounts are inconsistent as to the ages and first names of the children – was later presented with a testimonial from the Royal Humane Society to mark his bravery. He also received a gold watch and a Post Office savings book with £5 to his credit subscribed by the people of the county.

Sadly Walter does not appear to have been rewarded with a long life. The name Walter Maddox appears on Bettisfield's war memorial and according to one researcher he developed tuberculosis in the trenches and died on June 26, 1918, at the age of 25.

Interestingly others on the memorial include a William Beckett, an Edwin Speakman, and a John Ernest Kelsall – all surnames familiar from the 1905 ice tragedy. Did local families caught up in those events face yet more heartbreak in the Great War?

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