On the morning of 24 December 1924, postman William Gardner left his house in Lower Chedworth to go to work at his usual time of seven o’clock. As he turned to close his front door, a gun shot rang out and Gardner fell to the ground. Mrs Gardner and neighbours who had heard the gunshot came outside and went to the aid of the wounded man. He was taken to Cirencester Memorial Hospital, with severe injuries to his face, and other wounds on his body.
The assailant was quickly identified as being another postman, Frederick Broad, who had resigned from his job the previous day. Just before the shooting, a man named Arthurs had met Broad going towards Gardener’s house, dressed in his post office uniform. Arthurs thought he saw Broad throw something into the long grass beside the path. He wished him ‘good morning’ and Broad muttered a reply. After they had passed each other, Arthurs looked back and saw Broad retracing his steps, as if going to retrieve something he had hidden.
The police were called and Superintendent Wyman of Northleach station was informed. Wyman soon arrived in Chedworth and headed a search party which set off to hunt for Broad. He was tracked past a farm and along a lane to Chedworth Woods, but then the trail was lost. However, in the meantime, a railway ganger had come across Broad’s mangled body lying next to the railway line, about three hundred yards from a tunnel and not far from the Roman villa. A double-barrelled shotgun lay nearby. His remains were taken to Chedworth railway station.
On the following day, an inquest was opened by Mr Morton Ball, the Stroud coroner, at Chedworth Police Station. At this time, a jury was sworn in and evidence was taken from William John Broad, the deceased man’s brother, who had identified the body. He stated that his brother was a single man, 24 years of age. His general state of health had been good physically, but he had been ‘somewhat strange at times’ and had been seeing a doctor. He had served in the Army during the late conflict, and was demobilised in the usual way at the end of the war. The inquest then was adjourned until 1 January. Meanwhile, William Gardner continued to be cared for at Cirencester Memorial Hospital, where his condition was said to be ‘fairly satisfactory’. His jaw had been shot away, but there were hopes for his recovery.
Between Christmas and New Year, the local press investigated the background to the incident and spoke to some Chedworth residents. It was reported that Broad had lately developed ‘several peculiarities’ and had been very upset about some changes made at his work. The postal rounds at Chedworth had been altered recently, and Broad had been given a new, shorter route, which meant he was paid slightly less money. His former round had been taken over by William Gardner, a colleague of many years service, and Broad had become convinced that the older man held some responsibility for the changes. He had resigned with immediate effect on the day before the shooting and another Chedworth man named Percy Mabberley had been appointed to take over his job in the sudden emergency.
As speculation grew that Broad must have done something wrong to have his round changed, the Cheltenham Postmaster made a statement in which made it clear that there was nothing personal in the alteration of the rounds. ‘No report whatever had reached me of any unsatisfactory working on the part of Broad which would lead to his being changed from one duty to another. Whatever action has been taken is not the outcome of any complaint about duty. The fact of the matter is we have reorganised the whole of the postal service in the district in connection with the motor work.’
On 1 January 1925, the inquest into the death of Frederick Broad was resumed, at the YMCA Hut, Chedworth. The first witness called was the father of the deceased, William Trotman Broad, a mason, living in Chedworth. He stated that at half past six on the morning of December 23rd, his son opened his bedroom door and said he was going to assist Mr Mabberley (his replacement) in bringing in the mail. He was dressed in his postal uniform. Broad senior advised his son to remain at home, go downstairs and light the fire. When he came downstairs, his son had gone. At breakfast the deceased’s mother heard the report of a gun, and looking up at their gun rack, he saw that Fred’s gun was missing.
Peter James Morse, an engine driver in the employ of the Great Western Railway, and living in Cheltenham, stated that on 23 December he was the driver of the train leaving Andover Junction at 8 am. He pulled up at Chedworth, and on leaving the station, also on reaching the tunnel, sounded the whistle. On coming out of the tunnel and on entering the cutting he thought the engine struck a small stone. He did not see a man on the line, but later was told that he had probably knocked someone down. He inspected the engine and found no evidence of a collision, but he was afterwards told that there were some marks on one of the coaches.
James Buttle, a ganger of Withington, employed by the Great Western Railway, stated that on the morning of December 23rd he was walking along the line from Withington in the direction of Chedworth Tunnel. He saw a passing train and some distance on he discovered the arm and hand of a man lying in the six-foot way. About 800 yards further on, he found the body of the deceased lying in the four-foot way, and terribly mutilated. Death must have been instantaneous. The witness added that there was no public crossing or footway near where the body was found.
In summing up, the Coroner said it was perfectly clear that the deceased was killed by a passing train. What the jury had to ask themselves was: Did he deliberately place himself on the line; and if so, they had further to consider the state of his mind at the time. The jury returned a verdict of suicide whilst of unsound mind, and expressed their sympathy with the parents and relatives in their sad bereavement.
The funeral of Frederick Broad was held on the afternoon of Saturday, 3 January, at Chedworth Church. There were only a few private mourners, but about twelve parishioners came to the service. The parents were ‘too ill’ to attend.
Cheltenham Chronicle, 27 Dec 1924 and 3 Jan 1925
Illustrated Police News, 1 Jan 1925
Gloucester Journal, 3 Jan 1925
All accessed on http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk
©Jill Evans 2017