Perfect Crime / Ernest Durham's - The Willows
Very exciting times ahead for our next LCM featured band The Willows, as they are currently working on their third album with a new expanded line-up including John Parker and Kat Gilmore. We are please to tell you that they will be headlining at the Water Rats in Kings X on Sunday 5th November. Our LCM #TrackOfTheDay is one of the first singles from the new album called 'Perfect Crime / Ernest Durham's' The song is a tale of deception, double lives, attempted murder and ultimately suicide, which finally unravelled after a cleaner exposed a lie. But why did English World War One soldier Percy Bush Cox want to live as Australian Ernest Durham?
Percy Cox was born in Wimblington, Cambridgeshire and was a farm worker until World War One, when he enlisted in the Royal Leicestershire Regiment. By 1916, he was sending postcards to a friend after being pitched into battle on the Western Front. At some point during the conflict, the private hatched a plan with three other British soldiers to swap identities with Australians. He appears to have been motivated by money, because Australian soldiers took home eight times as much as the British Tommies' wage of one shilling a week. When he crawled past the body of Ernest Durham in 1918, he saw his opportunity, according to an historian.
Amanda Carlin, chairwoman of March and District Museum, has studied Percy's life.
She said: "He and the three British soldiers crawled across No Man's Land to four dead Australians and changed their uniforms, took their dog tags." Percy's earning potential had rocketed, because "while Australians earned 8 shillings a week, we know that Ernest Durham was earning 11 shillings a week", she added. It was not, though, an attempt to desert.
After spending time in a field hospital with what is thought to have been an arm injury, Percy went on to see action in the Australian army. According to Mrs Carlin, he would not have stood out because of Australia's "Anglo-only immigration policy", which meant many of the Australians had British accents. He and his comrades were also fortunate enough to be sent to a different platoon. Meanwhile, the Cox family were told Percy was missing in action and in 1919 informed he was presumed dead. It was not long before Percy Cox's name was added to Wimblington's war memorial. It seemed Percy had got away with the deception, but leaving the army following the war was the first step towards his life starting to unravel.
On being demobbed Percy emigrated to Australia, but in 1925 he returned to the UK, still calling himself Ernest Durham, and set up home in Sawston in south Cambridgeshire.
It would be another 15 years before he decided to reveal to his family that he was actually still alive. The move led to a photograph being published in a newspaper in the 1940s, where Percy can be seen standing beside his brother Fred and pointing to his name on the Wimblington war memorial.
Despite this, he continued to live as Ernest Durham in Sawston until 1952 when he employed a cleaner, Dorothy Piper. Mrs Carlin said: "Mrs Piper found the newspaper cutting where Percy was pointing out his name and she realised he was living out this double life, so she and her husband began to blackmail him." After he died, a letter written by Percy was found in which he said: "I can take no more of this blackmailing by the Pipers.
On 30 December 1952, when Mrs Piper turned up for work, he took up a gun and chased her out of the house, shooting at her. Mrs Carlin said: "She ran outside and he ran after her... she was screaming and screaming. "He shot her again and then turned the gun on himself."
Dorothy survived and while she was never convicted of blackmail, Mrs Carlin said she believes the Pipers received about £2,000 from Percy.