Willie Henry

11132461) William Henry (Willie) Maturin, the eldest son of Desmond Clibborn and Inez Maturin was born on 10 April 1894. He went to Bedford Modern School, UK. Though his application for an Officer's Commission in the RFC stated that he attended Columbia University, New York, their records cannot trace him as a student or graduate. That application form also claimed that he subsequently trained as an electrical engineer.


Strangely, three slightly differing records in the IGI note a marriage in Salt Lake City, Utah on 24 December 1915 between a William H Maturin (born 1892) and Estella J Gilbert (born 1895).  A Stella J Gilbert is recorded in the 1900 (aged 3), 1910 (aged 13) and 1920 SLC censuses as the daughter of Richard Martin Gilbert and his wife Josephine.  If this proves to be a marriage by "our" Willie Henry he must have moved very quickly between Christmas Eve 1915 and 25 January 1916 when he arrived in Farnborough UK.  With perhaps three or four days by rail from Salt Lake City to New York and ten days on a ship to Southampton or Liverpool the journey would be possible but it would display a degree of haste.  Stella was still with her parents, aged 23 and single, in the 1920 census. 
Willie joined the Royal Flying Corps at Farnborough on 25 Jan 1916. As a 1st Class air mechanic (No. 19265) he applied for a temporary commission in August 1916 (with a character reference given by his Aunt Sophia's husband, Alfred Davenport in place of his father in Utah). He was promoted to Corporal the following 1 Oct and had his commission application approved on 22 Nov that year. (According to the forms he could ride and had been living at 43 Evelyn Gardens, South Kensington, London while his father was noted as living in Salt Lake City).


After training in the Officers Cadet Wing of the RFC his appointment as Flying Officer (2nd Lieutenant) to the 42 Squadron B.E.F. was confirmed on 7 Jun 1917. He flew "R.E.8 (90) A.W. 160 B.E. 2E B.E.2C (the B.E.2B is pictured right)  Avro M.F.S.H." machines for 90 hours solo. The Royal Aircraft Factory manufactured the R.E.8 and B.E.2 aircraft, Armstrong Whitworth the A.W. and Morris Farman Short Horn the M.F.S.H.


According to research in www.theaerodrome.com No.42 Squadron was re-equipped with the R.E.8 in April 1917 whilst stationed at Bailleul in Flanders and a detachment was deployed to Abeele.  The squadron's duties for the whole War were entirely Army co-operation (contact patrol, photo reconnaissance, artillery-spotting etc.). 


On 12 August Willie was on reconnaissance over the German lines at Ypres when "something struck him" and memory is then a blank till he woke 33 hours later in hospital with concussion and bruising of several bones. He was put on six months sick leave. He returned to England on 17 August via "Boulonge" and Dover arriving at the 2nd London General Hospital on 6 Sept. The last official form, for an Officers' Invaliding Board on 28 Mar 1918, records him as having a permanent home address at the Royal Automobile Club in Pall Mall, London but visiting "Boscombe, Gerrards Cross, Bucks" (possibly an RFC convalescent hospital) the following day, still suffering from injuries to his foot and headaches.


In the first quarter of 1918 he married Victoria Gertrude Reau in the St. Giles area of Bloomsbury, London.

His injuries did not heal. He was beset by problems and on the 9 July 1919 a "News in Brief" item in The Times stated that the body of Lieutenant W H Maturin had been recovered from Langstone Harbour, Portsmouth.


The Hampshire Telegraph reported the Coroner's Court proceedings on 11 July as follows:


Aftermath of War

Poignant details of a gallant flying officer's death following an unsuccessful search for work were told in the Portsmouth Coroner's Court on Wednesday, when instances surrounding the death of a discharged R.A.F. officer, Lieut. William Henry Maturin (28 - sic), an American, who was found dead in the entrance to Langstone Harbour on Saturday morning. As was previously reported, the only evidence of identification was a disc found on deceased wrist, bearing the inscription: "Lieut. Wm. Hy. Maturin. R.F.C. , C. of E." The widow saw the announcement in the papers and supplied the missing evidence.

Victoria Gertrude Maturin, Strand Palace Hotel, gave evidence of identification. She said her husband was a discharged lieutenant in the Royal Air Force. He came over from New York to enlist in the British Army, and was invalided out of the Air Force, being permanently unfit for further service. He suffered from concussion of the brain, brought about by an aeroplane crash in France. He was shot down by an enemy airman on August 12th, 1917, when he was also wounded in the head and foot. Later he was employed by the Ministry of Munitions as technical assistant in aircraft production in October 1918 but was given a month's notice to terminate the engagement in March 1919. It was said that this was because of the decrease of work consequent on the cessation of hostilities. He had been looking for work since April 7th, but was unable to find any. This fact, besides his financial difficulties, worried him a great deal. On Tuesday of last week he left her saying that he was going to Birmingham to try to find a job. He said he might get back the same night, but would stay if he obtained employment and communicate with her. Witness was worried that she did not hear from him and gave information to the police. On Sunday she saw the notice in the newspapers.


Questioned by the Deputy Coroner, she said deceased had left behind certain things that it was usual for him to take - a card-case for example. A revolver was also missing. All these incidents were unusual.

In further answers, witness stated that deceased was awarded a pension for six months only, at a rate of £70 a year. He had undergone a Medical Board examination recently, but she did not know the result of it.


"How do you account for this state of things?" then asked the Deputy Coroner. Witness answered: "The concussion he had had, wanting to obtain work, and financial worries." Continuing, witness added that she was married in 1918, and they were very devoted to each other.

Frederick Charles Down, skilled labourer at Eastney Barracks, of 100, Eastfield-road, stated that on Saturday morning, at 10.30, he was working on the foreshore in front of Fort Cumberland, when he saw a body in the water. It was about 5 yards from the shore. He and his mate recovered the body, and later the police arrived. He only left the body on the shingle, partly submerged by water.

Drowning and a shot

P.C. Mills said that at 12 midday, he was on duty at Albert-road Police-station when he received a telephone message to proceed to Langstone Harbour. He dragged the deceased's body to the bank, and later conveyed it to the mortuary. Deceased had a revolver gripped in his right hand, and there was a bullet wound in his right temple. On searching him witness found sundry articles, such as a cigarette-case and small change.

Detective Saxey, who made the inquiries in the matter, told the Deputy-Coroner that deceased had not been registered at a local hotel. From inquiries made at Birmingham, witness could not find out if deceased had been to that city recently.


Dr. Lysander Maybury described the results of his post-mortem examination. He said deceased had died from the bullet wound in the brain, death being instantaneous. During life he had evidently been in process of drowning. Assuming that deceased committed suicide, he attempted to drown himself or got out of his depth in the water and showed signs of drowning. Witness thought it possible that in that state he might have used the revolver and shot himself. Concluding, Dr. Maybury said "He was a fine specimen of manhood, and had evidently served the country gallantly. Considering the exigencies of warfare, it was surprising to me that there are not more young people out of their senses.


Further questioned by the Coroner, witness said that the immediate cause of death was the bullet wound.

The Deputy-Coroner: Had it not been for the bullet he would have been drowned? - Yes.

How, if he was in the process of drowning, could he have shot himself? - Assuming it was suicide, I am of the opinion that he showed signs of drowning and then shot himself.

"Suicide whilst Insane"

The Deputy Coroner said that he would record a verdict in accordance with the medical evidence. Death was caused by the effect of the bullet wound whilst deceased was in the early stages of drowning. He could not help finding that the wound was self-inflicted, and, further, that it was committed with the intention of suicide. It was the causes mentioned by Mrs. Maturin that accounted for the deceased's unsound mind. Finally, the Deputy-Coroner expressed his deep sympathy with the wife, who was much distressed, in the loss of her husband, and also his regret that a man who had served his country so well, who had come from America to fight for us, should have been unable to find work. He did not profess to know whose fault it was, but he certainly thought it was a most deplorable thing.


In the spring of 1920, in the St Giles district of London, Victoria G Maturin married Paul J Retief.  A "P J Retief" was promoted from Lieutenant to Captain in the Indian Army on 6 May 1921;  Indian registers note the death on 6 December 1821 of John Adrian Retief (son of Paul Johannes Retief, born 1821) and his burial in Jhelum, Bengal.  English registers then record the marriage of Victoria G Retief to Gordon A R Smart in Tendring (Essex) in the June quarter of 1936.

The foreshore "in front of Fort Cumberland" in 2006 looking east from the Esplanade . The entrance to Langstone Harbour can be seen to the right of the aerial pylons.

Click photos to enlarge.

Willie's grave is in a quiet part of Portsmouth Kingston Cemetery (In the "Triggs" area, row 13, grave 7)