This article which has recently appeared in the Express & Star brought to mind the stories of two brave policeman who through there tragic deaths in the line of duty left their markers in those green fields of Wolverhampton and their names on the Citys Roll of honour.
Let me tell you a little about these two old Wulfrunians
The first of the two killed in the execution of his duty. which lies near the north entrance of Merridale Cemetery, today.
The story began on Saturday 17th January 1925 when three youths escaped from Harpendum Industrial Home for boys at St Albans – whilst on their way to confession at a local church. Someway they managed to “lorry jump” to the West Midlands.
Now this is Cleveland Road notice the tall building in the centre. At that time in the 1920’s It belonged to Reade Bros Manufacturing Chemists, prior to that it was Forders Carriage Works and of late it has housed Dixons Paint Warehouse.
Well at the time of the incident to the left of those hoardings, on the corner of Cleveland road and Bilston Road was the Police Sub-Station.
Now on Sunday morning, Constable Willetts had left that Bilston Road Police Station on foot patrol at 6.00am, and after turning here at the side of the Hospital into Vicarage Road he spotted the lads acting suspiciously, and rightly suspecting that the three youths had felonious intentions, he followed them.
Opposite the Nurses Home in in 1925 stood The Vicarage to All Saints Church on the corner of Powlett Street, and it was inside the vicarage at 6.40 a.m., three shots were heard to ring out and Constable Willetts lay dying on the pavement as three youths were seen to ran away.
The Constable’s colleagues were called as they carried him to the General Hospital were he died within a few minutes , it was found he had been shot from behind by a revolver.
After an extensive motor car search (those were early days for motor vehicles ) the three youths were arrested on the same day at 5.15 p.m., on the road to Stafford.
Two of the three were charged with murder, these were Edward Haggarty, aged 17 years of Glasgow and William Crossley, aged 19 years of Carnforth.
The third youth, who was younger, was sent to the workhouse and was to be charged with theft. Haggarty and Crossley were convicted and sentenced to death by hanging.
Constable Willetts’ funeral was an emotional occasion, over 4,000 people stood around his house when the funeral began, over 500 policemen attended and St Peter’s Church could not accommodate all the mourners. He left a widow and nine month old child.
The final Outcome.
The funeral was recorded as a “most impressive and awe inspiring ceremony throughout and one that will live long in the memory of those who witnessed it.
Constable Willetts actions exemplified the service performed by the police for which he, amongst others, paid the ultimate price.
On March 11th 1925 (before the execution of the two youths ) it was reported that after a meeting of the Wolverhampton Labour Party, a statement was issued “that whilst deploring the act of the two boys, (the party) protests against their execution and hopes that every effort will be made to secure the repeal of the death sentence owing to their youth”.
And it came to be that on April 4th Home Secretary Sir William Johnson – Hicks, granted a repreive and the pair were sentenced to life imprisonment.