The Battle of Epsom; ANSWERS TO CORRESPONDENTS

Daily Mail (London), February 11, 2014 | Go to article overview

The Battle of Epsom; ANSWERS TO CORRESPONDENTS


Byline: Compiled by Charles Legge

QUESTION

A memorial list of London policemen killed on duty includes two officers who died from injuries as the result of a riot in 1919 at Epsom police station. What happened?

THIS occurred on the night of June 17, 1919, and was a drunken uprising by frustrated, homesick servicemen awaiting their post-armistice passage back to Canada. Unrest between local youths and Canadian soldiers based at Woodcote Camp, on Epsom Downs, led to one soldier being arrested and taken to Epsom police station after a fight in The Rifleman, a local pub.

This enraged the 20 or so soldiers already in the town, and they formed an angry mob outside the station. But officers managed to calm the situation and escorted the soldiers back to camp. When the men reached camp, they mobilised their compatriots, and a mob of 400 to 500 returned to attack the station.

Its 16 officers defended their station for an hour until they were overwhelmed and the soldiers released their colleague from the cells.

Press cuttings I have from the time record that Sgt Thomas Green, 51, died of his injuries the next day, and eight of the other 16 on duty were also injured. Green was struck a severe blow, probably by an iron bar wrenched from a police cell window.

The cuttings also show thousands lined the streets for his funeral and record that his widow was given a full pension of PS67 a year. Each of the officers on duty that night was given a gold pocket watch inscribed 'In Public Appreciation of the Gallant Fight made by the Epsom Police 17th June 1919'.

Detectives identified the riot ringleader and Green's killer as Allan McMaster, 30, a former blacksmith. But the Canadian camp swiftly closed ranks and witnesses refused to testify.

Despite this, McMaster and four other soldiers were tried at Guildford in July, accused of rioting and manslaughter. They were acquitted of manslaughter, but found guilty of rioting and sentenced to 12 months' jail. Within weeks they were pardoned by the Prince of Wales and sent home. Rumours of a cover-up to preserve Anglo-Canadian relations still persist.

Another policeman, PC Page Mayes Janeway, died the following year on February 2, 1920, aged 45. He had been one of those wounded in the riot and it's believed this aggravated a cancer he was suffering from and hastened his death.

D. M. F. Kirk, Falmouth. Honoured: Thomas QUESTION A recent Homework for Grown-ups (Weekend) included a question about the poetic rhyming scheme rhyme royal A B A BBC C. Why is it so-called, and what examples are there of its use in classical poetry or hymns?

GEOFFREY CHAUCER (c.1343-1400) introduced rhyme royal to Britain. He probably adapted the form from the French ballade where it was already in common use.

The ballade isn't the same as a ballad -- it was a particular form of medieval French poetry, consisting of three eight-line stanzas, plus a shorter concluding stanza or envoi. Here the rhyme scheme is usually a b a b b c b c, where the 'c' is a refrain. Chaucer first used the scheme in The Parlement Of Foules, a 699-line poem written 1380s. It's thought to commemorate the marriage of Richard II to Anne of Bohemia in 1382 and describes a conference of birds choosing mates on St Valentine's Day. It begins: 'The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne, (a) Th'assay so hard, so sharp the conqueringe, (b) The dredful joye alwey that slit so yerne, (a) Al this mene I by love, that my felynge (b) Astonyeth with his wonderful werkynge (b) So sore y-wis, that whan I on him thinke, (c) Nat woot I wel wher that I flete or sinke.' (c)

Chaucer used the scheme in famous works such as Troilus And Criseyde, and in several of the Canterbury Tales.

Victorian poet Matthew Arnold cited a stanza in rhyme royal from The Prioress's Tale as the best of Chaucer's poetry: 'My throte is kut unto my nekke boon,' (a) Seyde this child, "and as by wey of kynde (b) I sholde have dyed, ye, longe tyme agon. …

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