Private shot another soldier in the head during

Private shot another soldier in the head during supper

As colleagues sat at a table, Michael Brooks, 38, refused to join them. Standing nearby, he suddenly and inexplicably picked up his rifle and pointing it at Frank Fairclough, who was also serving with the Duke of Dorsetshire Regiment, shouted: “You are through.”

He then discharged the weapon, sneering as his victim slumped to the floor in a pool of blood: “I’ve got you, you bastard.”

Seconds later, a senior officer burst into the hut and Brooks turned to him, declaring: “I’m not afraid. I did it for you. It was either your life or his.”

Brooks was immediately arrested and detained in the guard room. An overnight detention made no difference as he re-affirmed his bizarre motive: “I did not murder Fairclough. My intention was to prevent Fairclough from harming my officer and sergeant which I am certain was his intention in the near future. Knowing their lives were in utmost danger, I felt it was my utmost duty to prevent any danger to them.”

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He then concluded his statement by telling investigators: “Strange but true, as we loaded our rifles, a feeling came over that I must act as the opportunity presented itself.”

The extraordinary explanation was revealed to jurors when Brooks stood trial for murder at Hampshire Assizes in 1940, an allegation he strenuously denied despite the weight of evidence against him.

Crucial testimony about his wellbeing was given by Corporal Francis Lane who was in the hut during the drama and witnessed Brooks crossing himself after the shooting. “He sometimes acted very strange and was worse at the time of the full moon.”

Dr Thomas Christie, medical officer at Winchester Prison, said from his examination of the defendant there was nothing to indicate Brooks had a disease of the mind but there was mental retardation.

His finding was supported by another medical expert, Dr Roy Craig, who deducted Brooks had a mental age of just 12. “He declared to me that what he did was right under the circumstances.”

(Image: Echo)

Mr Justice Mcnaughton heard Fairclough had been arrested the day before his death for being drunk when he made a series of offensive remarks about senior officers.

Jurors convicted Brooks of murder but found he was insane at the time of the act.

The judge ordered him to be detained during His Majesty’s Pleasure which meant he would be locked up until the authorities were sure he could be safely released back into the community.

Brooks, however, was not the only soldier to appear at the assizes that year accused of a similar crime.

Francis Collins, 31, bore a grudge and the more he brooded, the greater his anger grew at being forfeited pay after returning late from leave. “Imagine getting 72 hours detention from a bastard like that,” he grumbled to fellow soldiers. “I’ll get him.”

Hours later he did.

(Image: Echo)

Collins raised his rifle to his hip in full view of an officer and blasted his sergeant-major in the left side of his abdomen. He then fell down as though in a fit.

A member of the Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps, he stood in battledress as he denied murdering CMS Percy Durrant.

Jurors were to hear Collins, a short, dark-haired man with a pale complexion, had been charged by the CSM a few hours before the shooting with being absent with leave and was punished with detention which automatically resulted in the loss of two days’ pay.

Clearly resentful, he stormed out of the orderly room and with others boarded a van to return to his post near Salisbury. His mood had darkened by the time they reached their base camp where he picked up his valise and rifle.

Collins then looked as though he was about to say something to Durrant – instead he blasted him.

He then collapsed to the ground but was taken under guard to the hut where he was candid about what he had done but then added: “I hope I haven’t killed him.”

(Image: Echo)

But Durrant, married with a young son, had died before he could receive medical assistance.

On being told the news, Collins told a police inspector under caution: “I only pointed the rifle to give him a shock.”

In the witness box, he told jurors that every time to tried to explain why he was late at returning from leave, Durrant continually gave him “a jog in the back.”

He maintained that after collecting his rifle, his only intention had been to give him “a real fright” in front of their commanding officer to see how it felt at being shown up in front of his men, explaining: “I put a live cartridge in the magazine to make it look real. I thought the guards would see it when they took the rifle away from me and open the magazine.”

He then explained how he pressed it down so it could not be fired but somehow the cartridge got into the breech. “I was a bundle of nerves. After that, everything was vague, though I can remember hearing a shot, and when I came to on the ground, I felt ill. I knew something had happened.”

Collins was acquitted of murder but convicted of manslaughter.

Following the verdict, their senior officer Major Crowder said Collins had never caused any trouble and defended Durrant’s reputation. “I don’t think I can say Sergeant Major was a bully.”

Collins was jailed for 10 years.

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