Remembering a fallen comrade

Today we remember a fallen colleague. He wasn't a full time police officer, and he didn't die during wartime. He didn't die in the line of duty, and therefore his name does not grace any of the memorials dedicated to police officers across the West Midlands.

His name is John Sly and he was a special constable. He had been working as a carter, but had been out of work for some time. This is evident as no occupation is recorded on his record in the special constables ledger. So even whilst unemployed and unable to provide for his young family, John tried to do his bit for the community - joining the Birmingham City Police on the 7 November 1924, aged 23, being attested two weeks later on the 19th. He was allocated to the E Division and served out of Coventry Road Police Station.

John finally managed to find work on Monday 21 June 1926, working for Mr Partridge of Lea Hall Farm, Yardley, starting the following day. Mr Partridge stated at the inquest that John had pleaded for work, stating his wife and children were starving and he was not receiving 'the dole'. He was instructed to work in a sand pit that was 14ft deep, digging out gravel and sand. It was reported by a fellow worker at the inquest that at one point John had moved slightly further away from where he was instructed to work and was digging out a hole near the bottom of the fence. He was told not dig it out like that as it was dangerous and he returned to his original position. Shortly afterwards the other carter was told by a third worker that there had been a fall of sand and they could not find John. He ran 1/4 of a mile back to the pit and commenced a search for the missing man, shortly joined by police officers and eventually John's body was found. Strangely John's shovel was not found with him, although his other tools were found nearby. He had been killed after being crushed by 10 tons of gravel.

His widow Alice reported at the inquest that John was strong and healthy and she expected him home from work at 7pm. One can imagine his eagerness to start his new job as he kissed his wife that morning and hugged his children goodbye. At 6.45pm a police officer called at the door and told her she needed to get to the mortuary, where she received the news that changed her life forever.

Alice and her three children

John died aged 25 and left behind his young widow and their three children, aged 2 and 10 months, 20 months and the youngest Betty just three weeks old. Birmingham Chief Constable Charles Haughton Rafter persuaded the Watch Committee to award Alice a £9 gratuity. This was a significant sum of money, particularly considering his short length of service and the death not being connected to his role as a special, which alludes to the high opinion and respect his colleagues in the force must have had for him.

We remember John today, 94 years after his death, and thank him for his service.Thanks also to John's granddaughter Julia for sharing his story.