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100 YEARS AGO: SALFORD SCHOOLBOYS SWIMMING TRAGEDY

History With Flynn

I came across this very sad story in the pages of the Salford City Reporter from the first week in August 1919 and tells the story of a Salford school outing, which went tragically wrong and ended up with the loss of three schoolboys.

Mr H.B. Winfield was the Headmaster of the Salford Secondary Modern School which later became the Salford Grammar School as we knew it.

He had arranged a three weeks camping holiday in the Lake Disrict at High Lodore for pupils, teachers and old boys.

On the day of the tragedy they set sail for a picnic at Manesty Woods an island off Derwent Water, some 25 boys including the Headmaster and a form teacher, Mr S. Duckworth, taking five boats from Lodore, taking the precaution of having at least one good swimmer in each boat.

They had rowed about half a mile when the wind sprung up and the water got choppy, it soon got worse as fierce gusts of wind blew up a storm.

This was to have fatal consequences resulting in the three deaths and an inquest being held at Keswick preside over by  Mr. E. Atter.

Mr Duckworth told the inquest what had happened on that fateful day

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"There were three of us rowing in the boat, about 300 yards from the shore, I noticed water in the boat, very soon it was above my ankles.

"In 30 seconds the boat was full of water and I told the boys to get into the water which they did, I then managed to to turn the boat over.

"I made direct for Eric Molloy who I knew was a non swimmer, I put him on the stern of the upturned boat and then went for another boy, Vernon Thomas and put him on the other end of the boat, the two other boys were clinging to the side of the boat.

"By this time I was exhausted owing to my heavy clothing and the efforts I had made in turning the boat over.

"I was sinking in to the water when I was rescued by Mr Winfield and in another five seconds I would have been done for"

 

Mr Winfield then took the stand and gave his version of events.

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"I was in the second boat with  Taylor, one of the pupils when I was about to turn back to shore, I saw the boat with Duckworth in was in trouble.

"I proceeded to it rapidly and lifted him out of the water but I could not see any of the other boys"

 

A search party set out to look for the missing boys, sadly Eric Molloy's body was found at 2.40pm, the bodies of the two other boys David Watkinson (17) and Herbert Fenton (15) were found close together the next morning.

Mr A. Watkinson the father of David told the inquest that his son was an expert swimmer but he had never known him to go into the water with his clothes and boots on, which would no doubt hamper him.

He then added that he thought that the boats that the boys were in should be examined if possible.

The Rev S.C. Robinson on behalf of the relatives of Eric Molloy thanked Mr Duckworth for doing his utmost to save the deceased boy, as he did by placing him on the upturned boat.

The schoolboy Vernon Thomas gave evidence and said that he saw Eric Molloy clinging to the boat but little else, adding,

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"I am very lucky to be alive and I must thank Mr Duckworth for all that he did"

 

The Coroner, Mr E. Atter summed up by saying,

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"It was a lamentable occurrence and I am sure the whole of the inhabitants of Keswick express their sympathy with the parents and relatives of the deceased boys.

"People come here for health and enjoyment and it a most sad occurrence when this happens, especially in cases so young.

"I don't think there is any blame attributable to anyone, and Mr Duckworth has the satisfaction of knowing that there has been every appreciation of his efforts.

"Accidents of this this description although rare still happen"

"Therefore my verdict must be that the cause of death of these three boys was through accidental drowning"

 

Herbert Fenton lived at Bolton Road, Pendleton and was buried in Weaste Cemetery, Salford with schoolchildren laying wreaths.

Eric Molloy (13) lived on Tatton Street, Salford and was buried at Greenfield, Oldham again his school chums laid wreaths in his honour.

David Watkinson was a resident of Farnworth and was educated in Salford, he was buried in a local church in Farnworth again school friends were in attendance.

A very sad story with nobody to blame, but it's hard to imagine the sorrow these boys families must have had to suffer, taken away at such an early age.




Tony Flynn

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