In yesterday’s edition of ‘The Oxford Times’, it was reported that the inquest into the death of Charles Pittar (on the night of August 28th) has taken place at the family home on Banbury Road where he died, under the jurisdiction of the University coroner, Dr WT Brooks.
It was noted that at Eton Charles had proved himself to be not only an able academic (winning a Classical Scholarship to Queen’s College Oxford), but also a distinguished athlete.
Indeed we know this to be the case, as in his last summer at Eton in 1916 he was ‘Victor Ludorum,’ winning the Eton Mile Road Race and Quarter-Mile, 100 yards, Putting the Weight, as well as being second in the Half-Mile and Throwing the Hammer.
However, the coroner and jury noted, such were the after effects of shell-shock and gassing during his war service, Charles had found that he was unable to resume athletic pursuits when he returned to Oxford.
His father gave evidence that it was he who first discovered his son’s death, having found a note from Charles asking people to be careful of an explosion, as there was gas in his room. On going to the room Mr Pittar found it was indeed full of gas and, from the examination he made, realised his son was dead.
It was further reported that Mrs Pittar had been the last to see Charles alive:
“About 10.30 on Sunday night she went to his room to say ‘good night’ and at that time he was working. He seemed quite natural and when witness asked him if he was busy, he replied, ‘Yes, I am very busy.’ Witness said ‘Good night’ and left.”
In further evidence his mother added that “The fits of depression came on when her son came back from the war. He had nervous headaches, but had gradually become better. It was only occasionally that he did not sleep very well. There was nothing in his demeanour to show that he would do such a thing. It must have been a sudden impulse. She was quite sure he had no idea he was going to do such a thing. He had no personal worries or cares, but he appeared to be very much affected by losing friends one after another as a result of the war.”
Dr Brooks observed that before the war Charles had been happy and well, but that during the war many young men who escaped death or wounds suffered from shell-shock: their nerves became shaken and their minds somewhat abnormal. He read out part of a farewell letter Charles had written to his parents stating,
“I cannot ask you to forgive me for what I am going to do, and I don’t think you will ever realise my general state of mind. There seems to be a sort of cloud which oppresses me. Today I have been throughout in a most extraordinary state – a mixture between deep depression and wild excitement, and always this cloud.”
A verdict of gas poisoning, self-administered, during a fit of temporary insanity was returned.