REPORT ON THE ACCIDENT,
WHICH RESULTED IN THE DEATH OF FRANCIS BRIAN THOMPSON AUGUST 16th, 1944.
At a meeting held on August 17th 1944 of the Weihsien Internees General Committee, which comprises the elected Chairmen of the Nine Camp Committees, it was decided to hold an investigation and prepare for record a report on the accident which occurred at about 7.10 p.m. on August 16th 1944, and which resulted in the death of Francis Brian Thompson from electric shock. The following members of the Committee were entrusted with this duty;
Wilfred Pryor - British - Merchant.
Chairman of the Education Committee and previously Assistant Chief Manager of the Kailan Mining Administrations Tientsin.
Miles Creighton Halton - British -- Chartered Accountant.
Chairman of the Quarters Committee, and previously partner of
Thomson & Co.,
Ernest John Schmidt - American - Banker.
General Affairs Committee and previously Cashier of the Chase Bank,
This commission of three, under the Chairmanship of Mr. W. Pryor, and with Miss E.M.Blake in attendance as stenographer, consequently held an enquiry on the following day, August 18th 1944. At the invitation of the commission Mr. P.A.Bruce was present as a representative of the deceased's family. Evidence was obtained under oath from the following:-
(1) Patrick Alexander Bruce (British)
Head Master of
A Master of the same School, who had been stationed close to the deceased at the time of the accident and had taken an active part in subsequent events.
(3) Harold John Chalkley (British)
A Master of the same School, who was Warden of the Assembly Point where the deceased and some 240 other internees were gathered to answer Roll Call when the accident occurred
(4) Neil Yorkston (British) aged 16 years.
(5) Henry Chester Lack (British) aged 18 years
Fellow pupils of the School who were standing close to the deceased at time of accident.
(6) Albert Antill (British ).
An electrician by profession.
Previously serving with the British Municipal Council’s Electricity Department
(7) Dr. John William Hawksley Grice (British)
Chairman o f the
Camp Medical Committee and previously of
(8) Edward McLaren (British) .
Chairman of the
Camp Discipline Committee and previously Agent of Messrs. Butterfiel
do Swire at
(9) Nicolas Michael Mihailoff (British Protected person)
Previously in charge o f the Electrical Meter Testing Laboratory of the British Municipal Council at Tientsin, and whose Camp duties at Weihsien include such minor electrical repair work as is possible without adequate equipment and as does not conflict with the proper functions of the Japanese Camp Authorities in undertaking major repairs and the maintenance of electric mains. In this capacity he works under the instructions of the Engineering Committee.
(10) Ivan Sadd Girling (British).
Chairman of the Camp Engineering Committee and previously Branch
Engineer of the Yee Tsoong Tobacco Co. Ld., at
On Monday, August 21st, additional evidence under oath was obtained from the following:
(11) Donovan Harold Chalkley (British),
15 years of age and 5'7" in height, a fellow pupil who was also standing next to Thompson at the time of the accident and saw him place his hand on the North wire. As Thompson fell clutching the wire, the latter struck Chalkley on the neck, knocking him down, burning and dazing him.
(12) Thomas Franklin Ronald Masters (British),
15 years of age and 5'8" in height, a fellow pupil who was standing some 3 yards from Thompson and who was struck on the head and slightly shocked by the wire as it was pulled down by Thompson in falling.
(13) Manning Leonard Railton (British),
who was sitting close to Mr. Antill at the time of the accident. He rushed to help and in trying to pick up some rug or matting lying near Thompson with which to grip the wire was struck on the head and slightly shocked by the wire (probably just as it was released from Thompson’s grip). He proceeded to assist Mr. Antill in rendering first aid.
Dr. Howie, School Doctor o
At approximately on August 16th the summoning bell for evening Roll Call was sounded as usual throughout the Camp and all internees proceeded to their appointed assembly points to await the arrival of the guards whose duty it is to check their number.
Francis BrianThompson, aged 16 years, and a member of the China Inland Mission School of Chefoo, paraded with other members of his school and other internees at Assembly Point No. 6, which is the basket ball ground to the south-west of the Hospital building (see plan attached as Appendix 3). Those parading for Roll Call at this point (number 241) are required to align themselves in rows running from North to South and facing West. Thompson, waiting in line for the Roll Call, was then standing with a group of boys at a point marked "X" on the plan, i.e. under or very close to two uncovered electric wires which at that time and at that point were hanging only some 6½ feet to 7 feet from ground level.
The droop in these wires had recently been increasing and it came to light at the enquiry that for some days previous to this accident some boys had actually been in the habit of striking them with their hands to see the "ripple pass along the line", without ever having received when doing so any suggestion of an electric shock. This practice, had, it seems, never been observed by the School Authorities nor brought to their notice. On this evening, however, at about 7.10 p.m. Neil Yorkston, a Chefoo school boy aged 16 and 5'8" in height, when reaching up and "smacking" one of the wires (the South wire) with two fingers, received a shock and cried out to the effect that the current was on. Another boy, Henry Chester Lack, aged 18 and 5'11" in height, standing close to Yorkston and actually next to Thompson, thereupon immediately raised his hand and having given the same wire a similar blow and having received the same reaction, also called out. As he did so he looked round and saw Thompson, who was 6'2½" tall, raise his arm and place the palm of his right hand on to the other of the two wires (i.e. the North wire). Another boy, Donovan Harold Chalkley, also standing next to Thompson but on the other side from Lack, also saw Thompson's action and heard him remark as he raised his arms "Is it really?" Thompson’s hand immediately closed on the wire and with a groan he fell, striking the back of his head on the ground but still clutching the wire at arm's length above him. His feet were bare, the ground on which he had been standing was also bare earth and still damp from recent rains; the current was 220 volts A.C.
The moment this accident occurred Mr. S. Houghton, who was but a few feet away, pressed through the crowd and rushed to the south end of the Hospital building where he believed there to be a heavy piece of wood: he found instead a heavy deck chair and with this he returned in time to work with Mr. A. Antill and others in striking the live wire out of Thompson's grasp. Mr. Antill, sitting approximately 30 feet to the West of the place of accident, also rushed immediately to assist, but, finding the crowd around Thompson to be gravely threatened by the now low sagging wires (a few persons were actually slightly shocked and scorched thereby) and by the possibility of one wire breaking, first endeavoured to clear the crowd out of harm's way: he then belaboured the wire with a deck chair that was lying close by and forced it, with similar assistance from others, from Thompson's grip. It is estimated that Thompson was clutching the wire for a period of not more than 1½ minutes and possibly not more than 1 minute.
Having released Thompson's band from the wire Mr. Antill turned the boy's body face downward and applied artificial respiration. Dr. Grice, who had been promptly summoned from another part of the Camp where he was attending Roll Call, then arrived and took charge. His detailed report as to the subsequent treatment accorded is attached as Appendix 1, and seems to call for no explanation or amplification, except to add Dr. Grice's personal opinion, given in evidence, that death occurred almost immediately and while Thompson was still in contact with the electric current.
Francis Brian Thompson, though exceptionally tall for his age, had been in a perfectly normal state of mental and physical health before he met his death.
these events were occurring at No.6 Assembly point, Roll Call was being
conducted normally at other points throughout the Camp. The japanese
Police Authorities, however, made aware of what was happening, summoned Mr. E.
McLaren, Chairmen of the Internees Discipline Committee, to Assembly Point No. 6,
where he arrived at about 7.15 p.m. to meet Mr. Yoshida ― one of the
Police officers ― Just after Thompson had been conveyed inside the
Hospital. The first action taken by The Police, on Mr. McLaren's suggestion was
to give instructions to have the current switched off at the sub-station and
the wires shortened and so raised as to get them out
of the way. Mr. McLaren and Mr. Yoshida then entered the Hospital, the latter
being permitted to see the victim of the accident to whom artificial
respiration was still being applied. After this Mr. Yoshida left the hospital,
to return shortly in the company of Mr. Tsukigawa,
Shortly after Mr. Nagamatzu, the Chief of Police, called to the Police Station for interrogation Mr. H.J.Chalkley, who was Warden of Assembly Point No. 6, and Messrs. Houghton, Antill and Yorkston. Mr. McLaren and Mr. Yoshida were also present. The interrogation, which was conducted through an interpreter (Mr. Sabarwal, an internee) was perfectly regular; no statement was made nor question put by the Police Authorities to which any exception might have been taken. The Chief of Police expressed his concern over the accident, questioned the condition of wires and instructed the witnesses to confirm in written statements the evidence they had given verbally to him. Copies of these statements are attached as Appendix 2.
It remains now to endeavour to explain why these wires were charged on this occasion when on previous days (vide above) no current had been noticed, why they were so dangerously low and why no steps had been taken to obviate the danger.
The maintenance of all external wiring in the camp is the responsibility of the Japanese Authorities, by whom a special Chinese electrician is employed. The switching on or off of all electric circuits is also in the hands of the guards, no internee being permitted to touch the switchboard or enter the sub-station. The wires in question (i.e. those suspended between poles "A" and "B" in the plan) were part of the ordinary street lighting circuit, and although occasionally street lighting has been observed to be on for short periods during daylight hours, it has been the general practice that lights throughout the internees' part of the Camp (including street lighting) are switched on only after sundown and switched off at 10 p.m. On the two nights immediately preceding the accident lights were switched on at , and the fact that lights were switched on at , or earlier, on this particular evening is a peculiar feature of the case, for which no explanation can be given as it was not considered advisable to question the Japanese Police on this point. That boys had been able to play with these wires with impunity on previous days was manifestly due to the fact that they had done so during daylight hours when the current had not been on.
An examination of the plan (Appendix 3) will show that the distance between pole "A" and "B" over which the two wires were suspended was unusually large ― 175 feet. Pole "B" was braced with a stay wire but pole "A" had no special bracing to withstand the tension from the wires running to poles "B" or "D", and after the accident It was noticed that pole "A" was inclined considerably out of the vertical towards pole "B". The continual use of the tennis and basket ball courts for playing tennis, basket and volley ball, practising catching and pitching with "soft" balls, etc. had resulted in many balls striking the wires, but it is unlikely that this will have affected the wires as much as recent rains which must have softened the foundation of pole "A", thereby permitting that pole to lean over towards pole "B".
On July 28th Mr. I.S. Girling, Chairman of the Internees Engineering Committee, while on the basket ball ground discussed with the games supervisor the advisability of raising the wires between poles "A" and "B" and "A" and "D", which were then well out of arms reach but were still an obstruction to the game of volley ball. It was agreed that the wires between poles "A" and "D" could not be raised adequately as pole "D" was a short one. There was no immediate urgency in this matter as no more organised volley ball would be played during August. Mr. Girling, in due course, told Mr. N.M. Mihailoff, who had then much other work on hand (particularly in relation to the new X-ray apparatus at the Hospital) (??), that the wires running across the basket ball court and the south end of the Hospital needed raising and suggested that they should be suspended from insulators fixed to the eaves of the Hospital building: he mentioned, at the same time, that nothing could be done about the other wires and that there was no particular urgency to do the work specified. Mr. Mihailoff duly visited the basket ball court but, seeing that the telephone wires which run diagonally across that ground and which had become detached from an insulator fixed to the south-west corner of the Hospital building were hanging very low, assumed that these were the wires to which Mr. Girling had referred. He re-attached the wires to the insulator and considered his duty accomplished.
As mentioned previously, the droop in the wires suspended between poles "A" and "B" increased during August, and a few days prior to the accident Mr. Antill drew the attention of Mr. H.J.Chakley, Warden of Assembly Point No. 8, to the danger. Mr. Chalkley in his turn reported to Mr. Mihailoff and asked that action should be taken. There is some doubt as to the reply made by Mr. Mihailoff but it is clear that Mr. Chalkley left the conversation under the impression that the matter would be attended to, while Mr. Mihailoff believing he had carried out Mr. Girling's instructions correctly and that the lowness of the wires between poles "A" and "B" and "A" and "D" was a matter which Mr. Girling had in mind when he said "nothing could be done about the other wires" took no further immediate action. Mr. Girling, on his part, had been unwell for some days and had, in fact, been confined to his bed for two days prior to the accident. He was therefore not himself in a position to observe and rectify the droop in the wires when the latter had fallen to within hands' reach; prior to that also he had not become aware of the misunderstanding that had arisen over his original Instructions to Mr. Mihailoff as he had not expected Mr. Mihailoff to carry them out immediately. He did not know that Mr. Chalkley had reported the danger.
It has been considered unwise to question any member of the Japanese staff or to discuss with them in any way the matter of responsibility. The Japanese Authorities on their side have also avoided any direct discussion of the accident other than that contained in the Police enquiry held on the night of the accident. It may, however, again heemphasised that responsibility for the upkeep and repair of all exterior electric transmission lines is recognised as belonging to the Japanese Authorities and that this has never been delegated to the internees. This is evidenced by the fact that on the morning following the accident a party of electricians were brought into the Camp, presumably from Weihsien, and much repair and maintenance work to outside transmission lines has now been undertaken by them throughout the Camp. Among the improvements already made have been the setting up of new suspension posts midway between poles "A" and "B" and "B" and “C”, the substitution of insulated wires for bare wires across the basket ball ground, the tennis court and the South playground, and the bracing of pole "A" with a stay wire.
Mrs. Thompson, the mother of the deceased, was a tragic witness of the accident. She had dashed to her son's side and was on the point of grasping him when she was thrust away for her own protection by Mr. Antill. To her, to her three children who remain with her at Weihsien, and to her husband, now in Western China, we desire to express our profound sympathy and, in conclusion, to record the universal sense of sorrow which this tragedy has occasioned among all members of this Internment Camp.
Signed at Weihsien this 29th day of August 1944 by the aforesaid Commission.
on the death of
F. BRIAN THOMPSON, AUGUST 16th 1944.
On August 16th 1944 just after Camp time I got an urgent call to the Hospital playing field. I got there as quickly as possible and on arrival found deceased lying on his face with someone doing artificial respiration. I saw that he had a proper airway and continued artificial respiration.
No pulse was perceptible at the wrist or in the neck. A minute or two later Dr. Hope-Gill arrived and said he had already arranged for a properly heated bed In the hospital and for a stretcher.
The stretcher arrived almost immediately and the patient was gently transferred to it without alteration in position. While he was being carried into Hospital occasional compression of the chest was made and regular artificial respiration resumed immediately on arrival and continued unceasingly until
Various drugs were injected intravenously, intramuscularly and into the lungs. Dr. Robinson was sent for and arrived as soon as Roll Call was over and stayed to the end. Doctors Bryson, Howie, Gault and Neve also came to give any possible assistance, in addition to Dr. Hope-Gill who was with the case from start to finish.
At no time was any pulse perceptible nor was there any attempt at voluntary respiration, and in my opinion the patient was already dead when I first saw him.
Artificial respiration was continued until rigor mortis became unmistakable. The time of onset of the rigor mortis makes it almost certain that death occurred at the time of the accident or immediately after. All signs were typical of death from electric shock.
There were superficial burns on the right hand.
J.W.H. GRICE Chairman ― Medical Committee.
Weihsien, C .A. C .Hospital.
August 18th 1944.
COPIES Of SIGNED STATEMENTS SUBMITTED TO THE JAPANESE POLICE AUTHORITIES BY THE WITNESSES INTERROGATED BY THEM.
Yesterday evening, while Section 6 was still lining up for Roll Call, and before the arrival of the Guard, I suddenly saw Brian Thompson hanging by one hand from an electric wire on the other side of the ground from where I was. He had apparently touched this wire, which was very low and been unable to let go. Several people, including Mr. Houghton end Mr. Antill, released him as soon as possible by banging on the wire with wooden chairs, meanwhile Dr. Grice had been summoned and Brian was quickly removed to the hospital, where the doctors worked on him for nearly three hours before they pronounced life to be extinct,
August 17th 1944
After the Roll Call bell had gone and while we were all standing there talking and waiting for the Guard to arrive, I casually reached up my hand and touched one of the wires which were less than seven foot from the ground. (I touched the south one). I received a shock and exclaimed that there was a current on. This was unusual because people before have touched these wires without receiving any kind of shock. Another boy then, out of curiosity, touched the same wire as I had and also received a shock. Thompson then touched the other wire ― the north one ― and fell, dragging the wire down, and lay there with one hand holding the wire. I saw him freed from the wire and artificial respiration given, and Thompson being carried off.
August 17th 1944.
On the 16th August 1944 at about during Roll Call parade, my attention was attracted by a noise as though someone was in great pain. I at once noticed that one of the Chefoo school boys, assembled for Roll Call, was being electrocuted by grasping with his right hand a live electrical conductor and from which the boy was struggling to release himself.
I immediately rushed to his assistance and after getting the people away from the vicinity of the accident I struck the wire with a deck chair, thus enabling the boy to release his grasp. I at once applied artificial respiration. After carrying out this procedure for approximately five minutes Dr. Grice arrived and took charge of the case.
August 17th 1944.
At , on August 16th 1944 the boys of the China
Inland Mission schools from Chefoo, interned at Weihsien,
The taller boys happened to be standing under some electric wires which were within reach of their upstretched hands. On previous days boys had occasionally touched these wires and found there was no electric current.
On the night of August 16th one boy raised his hand and received a slight shock as he touched a wire with the tip of his finger. He mentioned this to the boys standing near and Francis Brian Thompson, probably out of curiosity, raised his right hand and gripped a wire slightly to the north of the wire previously touched by the first boy. Immediately Thompson received a severe shock and groaning, fell to the ground on the back of his head with his hand still tightly gripping the wire.
Mr. Antill, an electrical engineer came to Thompson and prevented the boy’s mother from attempting to pull her son away from the wire. Efforts were made immediately to find non-conducting material to force the wire from Thompson's hand. By the help of deck chairs being forcibly struck against the wire the boy's hand was released. Mr. Antill immediately began to apply artificial respiration.
Meanwhile Dr. Grice, senior medical officer, had been summoned and arrived probably five minutes after the accident. He arranged for Thompson to be taken on a stretcher to the hospital close by, where artificial, respiration was applied unceasingly. Two other doctors assisted but at the official announcement was made that life was extinct.
Francis Brian Thompson came to the C.I.M. schools, Chefoo,
in 1934, as a scholar in the Preparatory School. He was then six years of age.
A. boy with average intelligence, he succeeded in making good progress with the
school curriculum and was hoping to sit for a leaving certificate examination
next December. His record as a Prefect during the last eight months was good.
He had developed into a helpful and reliable boy who was liked and trusted by
Staff and boys alike. He leaves behind him in Weihsien his mother, two brothers
and a sister; and in
August 17th 1944.