The grave of Helen Chester who was murdered on the 30th June 1935. You cannot see the marked grave. John Bright Street in the Waterfall area of Blackburn was where she met her death. The police had originally thought that she had fallen and John and Edith Mills had tried to dispose of the body whilst in a panic. They were tried and found guilty but the sentence was later quashed and they were released.
GIRL VICTIM'S FUNERAL
Five Thousand Sympathisers at the Cemetery.
MEN AND WOMEN MOVED TO TEARS
Scenes such as Blackburn has not known for years were witnessed on Monday, when the funeral took place of three-year-old Helen Chester, of 22, John Bright-street, the discovery of whose mutilated remains last week ended the extensive search that followed her disappearance. The body was found in a back yard only a short distance from her home.
The whole town, and Mill Hill district in particular, mourned with the grief-stricken parents. Five thousand people were present at Blackburn Cemetery. The only parallels to the scene within the recollection of older people were the internments in two Blackburn tragedies of long ago, one as far back as 1876.
People began to congregate as early as 11.30, and for two hours before the actual internment, which took place just prior to three o'clock, there was a steady stream of sympathisers making their way to the grave in the new Nonconformist burial ground at the top of the Cemetery. So great was the rush that extra police had to be summoned to clear a path for the bearers and mourners. It was also necessary for the police to attend to one or two fainting cases. As the tiny oak coffin was borne to the grave people in the vicinity burst into tears. All the trams from town to the Cemetery had been packed and extra cars and buses were put into service. The simple committal service was conducted by the Rev. H. G. Sobey, pastor of St. George's Free Church of England, Mill Hill, was punctuated by sobs. Mr. Sobey touched all within hearing when he committed the 'precious little body to rest in peace'.
After the service the mother had to be comforted by the husband and rested awhile before she was able to leave. Then people flocked to the grave, many of them laying bunches of flowers they had bought specially at the Cemetery entrance. Some carried with them sweet peas and irises, which had decked the staging surrounding the top of the grave and which they were permitted to remove. As the coffin lay by the grave before the committal women reached out to touch it.
Long before the cortege left the house a crowd began to gather at St. George's Free Church of England, Mill Hill, where, following brief rites at the house, a public service was held. The church was packed, the congregation being comprised almost entirely of women. Groups of people assembled all along the route taken by the funeral procession. Men as well as women wept bitterly.
The father alone of the relatives had been permitted to see the remains of the child, which, after release from the care of the police, had lain in the private chapel of Scales Funeral Service Ltd., who were the undertakers. The coffin was taken thence to the house, where the mourners joined the cortege. Only close relatives followed the hearse in a couple of motor-cars. An expressive hush fell over the crowd in the street as Mrs. Chester, who seemed overwrought to the point of being dazed left the house, attended by Mr. Chester, and entered a coach.
Around the coffin, which was adorned with a rope of mauve and white sweet peas, were laid floral tributes, including bunches of wild flowers. On the coffin was placed the parents' token of carnations and lilies. One simple but touching contribution was a little posy of sweet peas sent in the name of Elsie and Eveline Emmett, two little companions of Helen and one of whom was playing with her on the evening of her tragic disappearance.
The card bore the inscription:
"One of the sweetest flowers gathered before its time,
But now a star of Jesus that will forever shine".
Also along with the relative's floral expressions of sympathy was a posy from the household of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Farnworth, of 26, John Bright-street, who discovered the little girls remains. Mr. Chester's employers, Messrs. Lister and Middleton, and workmates also sent flowers, while just before the cortege arrived at the house Mrs. Green and Mrs. Davaney took in, on behalf of the neighbours, a wreath of lilies.
The crowd around the house included bare-armed mill girls in their working overalls, who reluctantly went back to their looms just before the cortege started out for the church, which was decorated with irises and marguerites, and an address was given by Mr. Sobey. The private mourners were accomodated behind a screen and thus shielded from the gaze of the congregation. There was scarcely a dry eye.
The family mourners were: Mr. and Mrs. Chester (father and mother), Mr. and Mrs. Smith (grandfather and grandmother), Mr. and Mrs. Cardwell (uncle and aunt), Mrs. Ashton (aunt), the Misses Olive, Cissie and Emily Smith (aunts), Miss Lillian Cardwell (cousin), and Mr. Arnold Aspden.
Mr. Sobey, in a brief address, said the circumstances in which they were drawn together were sad in the extreme. Mill Hill had been plunged into great consternation. They were all more or less appalled by that which had brought about the departure of a precious little child. Children always made a great appeal, particularly to men. "They seem to look to you for protection, they seem to look to you because they trust you", he said. "Those are two of the chief characteristics of children. They are so trustful, and lovable and affectionate. You mothers and fathers will readily recognise the appalling disaster which has overtaken the parents in their little home - the taking away from them so rudely, suddenly and unexpectedly of a little God-given treasure.
Jesus on earth was particularly interested in the child. He took a child before quarrelling men one day and said, setting the child in the midst of them, "Unless ye become as little children ye shall in no case enter into the Kingdom of Heaven". There was a distinctive difference, however, between being childlike and childish. He was afraid there were multitudes of childish people who had grown into men and women.
That day they assembled in God's house because it was a fit and proper place to meet when they were in trouble, because it was a fit place for friends to go and sympathise, to offer their prayers and to seek as far as in them lay to render some form of loving affection towards those who had been so rudely bereaved.
Children knew no sin, they were perfecty innocent, perfectly helpless, and were dependent on others. It was good to know there were so many societies to-day working for the protection of the child. Sometimes he felt it ought to be a penal offence or punishable by a substantial fine for any man or woman to swear or use disgusting language in the presence of children. "I have heard it. It is not nice", went on Mr. Sobey, "If we are to learn anything at all from this sad disaster, let us be careful what we say, how we act towards the child".
As well as saying so much that was beautiful, Christ left a terrible warning regarding the child. "Whosoever shall offend one of the least of these, my little ones, better for that person that they were hanged with a millstone round their neck and drowned in the depths of the sea". After expressing the hope that Helen Chester suffered little, Mr. Sobey concluded, "Never swear at children, never wish them from your doors. Sometimes I know, they may be a little tiresome, but children are children".
Blackburn Times, 13th July 1935.
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