14th November 1954

Jethou’s tenant fell off his own cliff

Lieutenant-Colonel William Withycombe was seriously injured on Jethou, the island of which he was the tenant. Although there were reports that he had been shot in the head, his wife later reported that he had fallen over a cliff.

He apparently had no memory of what had happened between heading out for his Sunday morning walk and coming to on the rocks by the shoreline. Whatever had caused him to fall, he’d entirely blocked out of his mind.

With the radio telephone link back to Guernsey out of action, his family was unable to summon help by any modern means. So, they resorted to traditional methods. They rang a hand bell and, when darkness fell, lit fires. None of this did much good. Herm, Jethou’s closest neighbour, is more than 500m away at its closest point, so the bell may well have been inaudible – and who was to know that the fires weren’t just the result of some determined gardening? It was November, after all.

Help arrived

Rescue only arrived when the regular bi-weekly ferry of food and supplies called. Fortunately, it had been scheduled to dock following day.

The alarm was raised and the Flying Christine ambulance boat was sent out from St Peter Port but was unable to moor at the dock. So, a dinghy had to be sent in its place. Withycombe was taken back to Guernsey for an emergency operation, then flown to the mainland for treatment at the Maudsley Hospital in London.

Guernsey Police visited Jethou to try to find out what had happened – and, soon afterwards called in staff from the animal shelter to help them catch Withycombe’s pet rhesus monkey. It was running free on the island and seemed to have been somehow connected to his master’s mishap.

The police issued a statement on 16 November that no intentional violence was suspected in connection with the wound to Withycombe’s head.

The incident had somewhat soured the idea of life on a remote lump of rock. Jethou was left vacant following the accident and put up for sale the following June. The lease was bought by Mr and Mrs Steer Watkins.


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