Preston wife takes her own life after death of her soldier husband

Local historian Keith Johnson takes a look at a tragic suicide which resulted from the brutality of war...

Thursday, 19th April 2018, 1:04 pm
Updated Thursday, 19th April 2018, 1:11 pm
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The death of soldiers on the battlefields of the First World War caused much heartache and suffering for those left behind, with many a widow or orphan plunged into despair.

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The melancholy tragedy of conflict was highlighted in March 1917 when news broke of the death of a war widow in Preston.

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In November 1914 Mrs Margery Alice Vernon Warner, a teenage bride, was notified of the death of her husband Captain Herbert Warner of the 1st Battalion East Lancashire Regiment, who was based at Fulwood Barracks and killed in France.

Mrs Warner was the daughter of Brigadier-General Frederick Ravenhill and his wife Annie, who lived at Broughton Lodge, and, after her bereavement, she spent some periods at their home where they comforted her and spells with other friends in Plymouth.

She had taken the death of her husband badly and over the next couple of years had serious bouts of depression.

Despite medical attention and visits to specialists she could not overcome her grief and despair. In late January 1917 she was welcomed back home once more by her mother Annie who arranged medical supervision. A couple of doctors who saw her suggested that she should go into a home for a short period to aid her recovery and this was arranged. A friend agreeing to take her to the institution to settle in, but she would not go. In the week that followed she seemed much brighter and said she felt quite well.

Unfortunately, it was not quite the case and the events of the first Sunday of March 1917 were to be tragic. That day Mrs Ravenhill and her daughter attended the 8 o’clock morning service at the nearby Broughton Church, returning home within the hour. Mrs Warner complained that she did not feel very well and looked pale and anxious. Her mother gave her some tea and put her to bed. Her daughter being in a kind of semi-conscious state.

At midday ,Mrs Ravenhill went to her daughter’s room and found her half sitting up in bed covered with blood. She had an automatic pistol in her hand, and there was a blood-stained mirror on the bedspread. She at once sent for Dr McCallum who, surveying the tragic scene, arranged for the unconscious Mrs Warner to be removed to the Preston Royal Infirmary. Once there she was given the best of attention and lingered for a few hours before dying the next morning.

On the following Wednesday afternoon, Coroner John Parker held an inquest at the infirmary into the death of Mrs Warner, aged 22, the widow of the late Capt. Warner. Her mother was the chief witness and she recalled details of the events and the circumstances leading to her daughter’s death.

The court heard that she had, whilst away from Preston, been dealing in spiritualism and her mother felt that it had confused her and increased her anxiety.

Her daughter had not left any writings regarding her intentions, although she had written letters to her husband that made little sense except in a spiritualist fashion.

According to Mrs Ravenshill, her daughter had often said she wished to join her husband, his death being an awful shock to her and she had questioned her sanity ever since.

After a brief consultation the inquest jury returned with a verdict of ‘Suicide whilst of unsound mind’ and the coroner expressed his sympathy to the family of the deceased. The consequences of war had led to the loss of another life in tragic circumstances.