Richard John Smithson
Son of John Fletcher Smithson and Ellen Margaret Smithson, of Green Bay, Auckland.
The inquest on a young soldier who shot himself in his mother's house early on the morning of November 21, while two members of the provost corps, who were seeking him, stood outside, was concluded this morning, when the City Coroner, Mr. F. K. Hunt, criticised a warrant officer for not entering the house after he heard a shot fired, followed by the exclamation, "Open the door, I shot myself." It was a pathetic story that was unfolded before Mr. Hunt touching on the death of Richard JohnSmithson, aged 20, son of Mrs. Ellen Margaret Smithson, a widow, aged 60, of Cleeve Road, Green Bay, near Titirangi. "It is a most unfortunate case, said the coroner, in returning a verdict of suicide by shooting.
George Lytollis, a warrant officer of the provost section, stationed at the Rutland Street Drill Hall, said Smithson had been posted as absent without leave. With Sergeant Rowland, witness called at Smithson's home in Green Bay about 7.45 a.m. on November 21. When he knocked on the door he received no reply, but after knocking a second time he heard a noise and the bolt of a rifle being withdrawn. Almost immediately afterwards a shot was fired. Witness then heard a voice say, "Open the door. I shot myself!"
Witness said he then communicated with Captain Matthews, of the Provost Corps, and later returned, to the house with Constable O'Sullivan. Mr. Hunt: But didn't you go into the house?—No, sir, we had no legal right. Mr. Hunt: But the young man had shot himself. You should have gone in, instead of going for the police. Witness did not answer. Mrs. Smithson (to Mr. Hunt): I wrote to the major of the camp where my boy was, telling him that others in camp were teasing my boy and making his life a hell upon earth. I asked that I should try and persuade my boy to return to camp. It was as much my duty as theirs to get him back to camp. I don't think it was right for him to be in camp. He was a sensitive boy and only 19 inches around the chest. Asked by the coroner if he had any knowledge of the letter written to the camp commandant. Captain Matthews, of the Provost Corps, said he had not heard of the matter.
Previously, at the inquest, Mrs. Smithson had stated that her son joined the army in January last, and had been stationed in the North. He had disliked camp on account of having to peel potatoes and wash dishes, and he had told her that he did not wish to return to camp. When witness left home on the night of November 20, about 8 p.m., to go to her work in the city, her son appeared to be in good spirits. He had two air guns and an air pistol and was fond of shooting, and was a good shot.
The Coroner said it was only natural that Mrs. Smithson would be distressed over the happening. He asked Captain Matthews if he would be good enough to obtain a report from the camp where Smithson had served concerning Mrs. Smithson's complaint that her son had been teased and bullied.
Captain Matthews: "I certainly will, sir, but there are a lot of grievances in a camp. If notice was taken of eccentricities we would never get anywhere, and the unit would cease to function. I will obtain a report and forward it to you, sir."
Sergeant F. Edwards, who represented the police, said there was nothing on the file to suggest that Smithson had been teased or bullied. "The chaplain at the camp had spoken to Smithson for threequarters of an hour on one occasion, and he says that Smithson appeared to be gloomy."
After the Coroner had read letters sent to Mrs. Smithson by the camp commandant and also by the chaplain, Mr. Hunt told Captain Matthews there appeared to be no necessity to obtain a report from the camp. Constable O'Sullivan, of NewLynn, said he went to the house at Green Bay about 8.40 a.m. on November 21 and found Smithson lying dead. There was a .303 rifle near the body. Addressing Warrant-Officer Lytollis, Mr. Hunt said: "You should have gone into that house, you know. Another time, break into the house, law or no law."
Captain Matthews pointed out to the Coroner that Warrant-Officer Lytollis and the sergeant were unarmed. "There was a man inside the house juggling with a gun and my two men, who were not armed, did not know what was in his mind," added Captain Matthews.
Mr. Hunt: "But why go and get the poor constable?"
Captain Matthews: "As I said before, my two men were not armed We went back armed. This young man was fond of guns, and had been shooting at targets about his house. If he was going to shoot himself he might just as easily shoot the two men."
"It was a most unfortunate affair," said the Coroner, in returning a verdict of suicide by shooting.
(AUCKLAND STAR, VOLUME LXXIII, ISSUE 303, 23 DECEMBER 1942, PAGE 4 - via Papers Past)
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Text in italics supplied by Cenotaph Online, Auckland War Memorial Museum