Thursday, 9 June 2016

The Monocled Mutineer Part 3 – The Burial

Ninety-six years ago today, on the morning of 9th June 1920, following an ambush by disguised policemen and a hastily convened inquest with unanswered questions, Percy Toplis was buried in Penrith.

But not even that was without its drama.

When a policeman arrived outside Penrith’s Beacon Edge hillside cemetery at 8 am, he informed the expectant crowd of Press that they had postponed the 9am funeral until 1pm because the coffin was not yet ready, so a disappointed press corps dispersed.

When they reconvened at lunchtime, they found a note on the cemetery gates informing them that that the funeral had already taken place. While their anger was directed toward the police for the deception, it was actually the Home Office and War Office that had decreed that Toplis should be secretly interred in an unmarked grave.

Penrith Police Station, where Toplis' body was kept

To that end, the police co-opted Harry Bartley, who owned a flatbed lorry. At 8.15 that morning, officers loaded Toplis’ coffin aboard the lorry from the Weights and Measure room of the Penrith police station, where his body had been kept, before covering it with rags, carpets and sacks. Bartley then drove up to the cemetery, half fearing that he might be followed or that the coffin would bounce off the bed of the truck.

He delivered the coffin to the cemetery chapel, where plain-clothes police officers intended to inter the body in an unmarked grave before anyone discovered their deception. However, cemetery parson Reverend Law insisted on conducting a full funeral service, arguing that the deceased had not actually be convicted of anything and any judgement should be left to Heaven, before leading the police in the singing of a hymn.

Only then was Toplis was then hastily buried in a grave plot  ‘listed as No. 7135… under a yew tree at the highest point of the graveyard’ according to Allison and Fairley’s book, ‘The Monocled Mutineer’.

Percy Toplis’ grave remains unmarked to this day, despite several campaigns to erect a marker.

However, despite the police and the authorities’ desire to bury the incident along with Toplis, he  continues to exert a fascination, even today, as fact and fiction meld into myth.

Next: The Monocled Mutineer – Controversy and Conspiracy

1 comment:

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