The tragedy of a group of friends skating across a frozen fen, no doubt laughing and calling out to each other as they sped across the deep ice, speeding along until what was hard and solid beneath their blades cracks and becomes flooded with water – the tragedy of their plunge, the lads desperate attempts to save themselves and save the girl, must have been heartbreaking.
I mentioned this story, a true story I had come across yesterday when I was struggling to really engage with the National Novel Writing Month challenge of writing 50,000 in November. I was writing about my experiences as a child of such hard winters that the rivers froze… but this terrible story goes back to 1903.
I have been doing a little research about the people involved; it hasn’t been that easy, and I’ve had to be persistent, but I have found details of those involved, the brother and sister, Dorothy and Harry, and her fiancé Russell – was he called Russ by his friends? Skating with them was another friend, Florence, and her mother, Lizzie; these two women, thankfully were behind with Harry and were safe. Harry must have seen the ice splinter and crack and he must have dashed ahead to try and save and rescue his friend and sister. It seems that the three ended up in the water,and sadly, perhaps weighed down by her heavy winter clothes, her long skirts and petticoats, sadly Dorothy drowned.
The inquest was held a couple of days later; the coroner, a local solicitor would have known these young people, he lived near them in an elegant and rather exclusive area of Spalding. How it must have wrung his heart to reach the sad verdict of ‘accidentally drowned’; how angry he must have felt when he and the jury and those present in the courtroom heard that there were two men standing nearby who refused to make any effort to help the drowning girl and desperate young men. She was not even twenty, her brother twenty-four, her fiance twenty-two…
I am just researching the story at the movement, and writing the facts of the matter… but it is someone else’s story; these people were a similar age to my grandparents, and the ones who survived, probably have grandchildren and great-grandchildren. if I ever ‘use’ this story in my novel writing, it will be the idea of it, not the actual tale of real people who had such a horrific experience on a January day in 1903.