Negligence and the Army Pensions Act

The introduction of the Army Pensions Act in 1923 enabled the dependents of the deceased to lodge a claim for compensation. For a case to be successful under the Army Pensions Acts it first had to pass certain criteria. These included: membership of an accepted organisation; death due to  active service; killed or wounded in the course of duty and not due ‘to any serious negligence or misconduct’*. This post will examine the negligence/misconduct element by comparing two cases of men who were accidentally shot in their homes and the resulting decisions under the above Act.

The first case is that of James McGuinness. A blacksmith by trade, McGuinness was accidentally killed at his home in Kiltegan, County Wicklow on 2 December 1921 while cleaning a weapon which accidentally discharged. McGuinness was 53 at the time of his death. McGuinness was a father of four, the youngest of which was just 11 months. He had acted in the capacity of Company Intelligence Officer and Armourer. In the application from Michael McGuinness under the Army Pensions Act, 1923 it was revealed that

He was accidentally shot dead with a revolver by his own son, Michael (claimant). Deceased had cleaned the weapon when his son picked it up and began to examine it. The deceased, his father, told him to leave it down, and immediately a shot was discharged from it striking the father in the chest and killing him.

James McGuinness’s widow, Bridget also made an application. The couple had married in November 1915 and Bridget was his second wife. Bridget was awarded an allowance during widowhood and allowance for her two children until they came of age. While the claim of Michael was initially rejected, numerous representations were made on his behalf and the case was reconsidered by the Army Pensions Board. According to information in the file, Michael, who was 30 years of age, worked as a temporary postman and had “defective development right upper limb…absence of forearm”. This infirmity reduced his employment options and as a result he was deemed to be dependent on the deceased and awarded a gratuity of £100.

Letter concerning the death of James McGuinness.


The second example refers to National Army Sergeant James Conway who was shot and killed in his home at 19 Clancy Street, Fermoy, County Cork on 18 May 1923. Conway, a native of Baltinglass, County Wicklow had enlisted in the National Forces in July 1922. The Court of Enquiry was informed of the following by Conway’s widow, Ellen:

I was playing with a revolver, the property of my husband, Sergeant James Conway, who was at that time in the room with me. I pointed the revolver at him for a joke, and pulled the trigger. The bullet struck him in the face and killed him. I thought the revolver was unloaded.

The Court of Inquiry exonerated Ellen Conway of all blame ruling that the death was accidental. The court however did find that Sergeant Conway had no authority to have the revolver in his possession. Lieutenant V Hay in his statement claimed that Conway had contravened battalion orders dated 2 May 1923. These orders directed that all small arms be handed into stores, with few exceptions allowed. This ultimately proved why Ellen Conway’s application under the Army Pensions Act, 1923 was unsuccessful.

Extract from the Court of Inquiry.

One other point to note in the case of Conway is the date of their marriage (28 April 1923) which means the couple were only married some three weeks.

Marriage certificate for Conway and Ellen Fitzgerald.

The key difference between the cases of McGuinness and Conway is that of negligence on the part of the deceased. In the case of the former cleaning and repairing weapons was part of his tasks as armourer for the company. In Conway’s case it was found that he had taken home the revolver without permission and as a result was found to be negligent in his own death.

Letter stating negligence in the case of McGuinness.
Letter stating negligence in the case of Conway.