Tragedy in Ringstead
Harry William James Cope
Harry’s Early Life
James Cope and Jane Hillson were married in 1862 in Ringstead and had several children, including Harry William James who was born late 1877. Tragically Jane died aged 35 years, in 1881 very soon after the birth of their daughter Ruby.
In 1881 James was an Army Shoe Maker and by 1891, his son Harry, aged 13 years, was working as a boot closer, and by 1901 was also a shoemaker.
Marriage & a Family
The Military Service Act in 1916 had enabled the British Government to begin conscription for single men aged 18 to 41 years old. Exemptions were allowed and so a system of Military Service Tribunals was established to adjudicate claims on the grounds of civilian work of national importance, domestic hardship, health and conscientious objection.
Later in 1916, because of the need for more men, married men were included on the list for the first time. So until then Harry would have had no concerns about conscription and would have been satisfied to have been working in an industry that supported the armed forces.
It is possible that Harry received his call up papers the following year, around the time that his wife died and so understandably did not immediately lodge a claim for exemption. When his claim was finally received by the tribunal at its meeting on 14th February, 1918 the military representative ruled it out of order as a late appeal. The Tribunal however asked that Harry should be graded, to see if he qualified for exemption.
Four days later, on 18th February 1918, after days of anguish about what would happen to him and his family he finally snapped and he murdered his two sons and then committed suicide. The dreadful scene was discovered by a friend who managed to break in after looking through a small window.
The funerals were held the following week and the streets from Back Lane to the chapel were lined by crowds of people waiting for the hearse cart to go by so they could pay their respects. Many had come from Thrapston, Raunds and the Addingtons.
This was a very sad outcome due in part to poor communication and a lack of urgency on the part of the Tribunal.
Lily died in 1992 in Birmingham and it is thought that she never married.
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