I have been researching and writing about these tragedies for many years, and one thought never fails to cross my mind when I look into the backgrounds of the people involved. What if their paths had never crossed? What was the fateful moment when the die was cast, and it was almost inevitable that there would be a tragic outcome? The three principle characters in this drama are Herbert George Whiteman, Alice Squires – who would go on to become Alice Whiteman – and her mother, Clara Squires. The two families had much in common. Both lived in Swaffham, or nearby, Both relied upon the hard grind of agricultural labour to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.
The 1911 census has Whiteman, simply listed as George (aged 12) living in Newton by Castle Acre with his father Walter (49) his mother Hannah (neé Bloye) and two younger siblings Thomas and Julia. The same census gives us, at Tower Court in Lynn Street, Swaffham, Alice Squires (9), along with parents William and Clara, and siblings.
We know little about what happened to George and Alice until the years after The Great War. George Whiteman served as a Private in The Norfolk Regiment, but not for the duration of the war. He was still at home in November 1916, as we know from a bizarre brush with the criminal justice system,mas reported in The Lynn News.
At some point, either through volunteering or by conscription he went ‘to do his bit’, and thanks to pension records, we know he was discharged in the spring of 1919, with a disability pension. What this disability was remains unclear. There were reports later that something he had seen or experienced while on service had caused him to have fits. The pension system was complex, but put simply, a man with a severe disability such as loss of limbs or severe mental damage was entitled to a maximum of forty shillings (£2) a week. The army had a scale of payments for lesser injuries, and Whiteman’s pension card reveals he was to receive five shillings and sixpence each week – a pension of around 13% of the maximum.
We do not know if George and Alice ‘courted’ during the war years, but we do know that they married in January 1921, in Swaffham. It is almost certain that Alice was ‘in the family way’, because in March 1921 she was delivered of a daughter, Dorothy Mary, but the child was not long for the world. Parish records show she died on 14th May.
Interestingly, this is the first time the name of Town Farm crops up in the narrative. The Whitemans were to fare no better with their second child, Kathleen Violet, who survived only a matter of hours.
The Whitemans persisted, and with better luck. Herbert RW Whiteman was born on 16th February 1923, and then came Evelyn E Whiteman in October 1924. It seems that by the time of Evelyn’s birth the marriage was in trouble, mainly due to George Whiteman’s violence towards his wife, and by the early summer of 1925, Alice had left him, and moved back in with her parents, taking the two youngsters with her.
There is more than one Town Farm near Swaffham, but I am certain that the one central to this story is the farm that sits on Shoemakers Lane. My reasons for this are that immediately after the terrible events of Monday 15th June, George Whiteman is described as making his escape across the railway line in the direction of his mother’s house at Great Thorne. Nothing else makes sense, so I am convinced that this is the correct location. In part two, I will describe the tragic events of that June day, and how justice was done in the case of George Whiteman’s mother in law, if not with regards to his young wife.
IN PART TWO – A county in deep shock, an arrest, a confession, and an appointment with both The Lord Chief Justice of the land and the hangman.