Bad-tempered and quarrelsome – that was the local reputation of the three Wilshere brothers Bob, Fred, and Eric, of Ickleford, Hertfordshire. Their fist-fight on a warm August evening, two weeks before the outbreak of the Second World War, was destined to be a lethal affair.

Bob and Fred had fought several days previously. Now all three were fighting again on the edge of Harry Cooper’s barley field, where Farmer Cooper was gathering in the harvest.

Harry Cooper knew the Wilshere brothers well. He had asked Fred and Eric to stop poaching on his land, and Bob Wilshere, who was a good friend of Cooper’s, had taken his side against his other two brothers. That was the cause of their current fisticuffs.

When Cooper saw the fight he made a bad mistake. He got off his tractor and went over and joined in, overpowering 19-year-old Eric. Fred then called out to Eric, “Go and get the gun and shoot both of them.” Cooper shrugged and returned to his work.

Suddenly a furious Eric Wilshere, who had wriggled through a gap in the hedge, confronted him. Eric snatched up the farmer’s shotgun and fired from only five yards away. Cooper died instantly, with 94 shot wounds in his body.

“I don’t care if I hang for it,” declared Eric. On OCTOBER 9th, 1939, it certainly looked as if that might happen when the judge at Bedford Assizes put on the black cap and sentenced him to death. But the sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment. Wilshere spent the entire war in prison, and was released in 1946, after serving nearly seven years.