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Investigation of Death on Active Service of
630150 Aircraftman 1st Class Nathaniel McGrady
949 Balloon Squadron at Crewe.
About 7.30 p.m. on June 10th, 1940, Aircraftman 1st Class Nathaniel McGrady, 949 Balloon Barrage Squadron at Crewe was teasing another man,
Aircraftsman Herbert Gaskell
from the same squadron who was doing sentry duty. Both men were firm friends.
Aircraftman 1st Class Nathaniel McGrady was age 20, from Ballyclare, County Antrim had been “larking “ with Gaskell by
throwing clods of earth at him.
Gaskell was “larking” in return and although on sentry duty pointed a rifle at McGrady. He said McGrady came towards him and began to throw clods of dirt.
Gaskell said to the inquest: "I was trying to clear myself, and I swung round. To my horror, the rifle went off.
I have not the nerve to shoot anyone unless it is necessary. It was unfortunate for me, and very unfortunate for McGrady.
I have used rifles only for drill and when they are not loaded. I did not notice the position of the safety catch when I took
over the rifle from the previous guard."
Corporal Bennett, who took over sentry duty before Gaskell, told the Coroner that the safety catch was on when he
handed the rifle to Gaskell.
Aircraftman Jack saw Gaskell turn with his rifle and a shot rang out. Aircraftman Brian Dixon said he saw Gaskell
pull the bolt on the rifle at the alert position, but it was not an aiming position. He did not think Gaskell was showing
any anger. The shot struck McGrady in the stomach.
Flight Lieutenant W. M. Pierce, Medical Officer told the inquest that when he saw McGrady in hospital he had been operated on by Dr English and was semi-conscious
and the following morning he was fully conscious and talked quite rationally. McGrady emphasised that the entire situation was an accident and was his own fault.
He did not want to get anybody into trouble.
Following the surgery McGrady made good progress but developed
severe hemorrhaging and died on Thursday 20th June.
The Coroner described the circumstances as tragic. If the orders laid down had been complied with the accident could never have occurred. There was a volume of
evidence to suggest that the fatality would not have happened had Gaskell carried out his duty. It might be equally true to say that had McGrady not indulged in horseplay
the fatality would have been avoided. He could not think of any circumstances in which a man with a loaded rifle was justified in pointing it at another man. McGrady
had made statements to two responsible people, in which he went to some length to point out that the whole affair was an accident. He was magnanimous enough to
indicate that the only person to blame was himself. He (The Coroner) could not reject evidence of that character. At the same time, he did not think that Gaskell's
explanation was satisfactory, and he was quite satisfied that the accident could not have happened in the way he had described. "In all the circumstances," added
the Coroner. "I shall record a verdict of “Misadventure”. The event is peculiar as there was no Court of Enquiry, Court Martial or other recorded investigative activity
other than the inquest. In addition, the event was never recorded in the Operational Records Books for the Squadron and there was no mention of a funeral for McGrady.
It is clear that the
Corner although making a verdict of death by misadventure was suspicious over
the evidence given at the inquest.
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