Commemorating three East Finchley soldiers from a single family

(Apologies for being off-topic)

East Finchley born and bred, Henry and Edward Smith were both local casualties of the Great War, along with Henry’s widow’s brother, Ernest Waters.  The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) commemorates Edward Smith on the Loos Memorial and adopted Ernest Waters’ burial at Chesham in 2018.  Henry Smith’s burial is now awaiting War Grave status.  All three men are omitted from the East Finchley, Holy Trinity Roll of Honour, despite Henry actually being interred in the Churchyard.

Henry Thomas Smith was born on 25 August 1890 as the first child of Henry and Susannah Smith.  Henry Snr. was a builder’s labourer and the family lived at 18 Arelon Road, Finchley.  The couple had three further children, Charles (1891), Edward (1897) and Susannah (1899).  Henry and Edward were baptised at Holy Trinity on 7 August 1892 and 2 May 1897 respectively.

Henry Sr. died in 1900, aged 31 and was buried in Holy Trinity Churchyard on 10 April 1900.  The family had then been living at 12 Prospect Place, East Finchley.   Susannah’s mother is noted as Head of the Household in the 1901 Census at the same address. 

Susannah remarried Benjamin Hume at East Finchley Congregational Church on 29 January 1905, with the Register showing their Prospect Place address.  The couple had four children and had moved to 29 Elmfield Road, East Finchley by 1911.  Henry lived with his mother and was then employed as a wood sawyer for a printers joinery.  Edward lived with Susannah’s sister and husband at 4 Chapel Street, East Finchley and was employed as an errand boy for a firm of cleaners and dyers.

Great Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914.  Recognising the need for further men to support the war effort, the Minister for War, Lord Kitchener, made a call to Arms. Hundreds of thousands of recruits came forward and Kitchener’s Army was formed in the following months.

Henry Smith enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery on 31 August 1914, allocated the Regimental number ‘41’.  He was 5’ 6” tall and his trade is noted as Printer. Transferred to 92nd Brigade as a Driver on 1 October, Henry was posted to 280th Brigade on 10 October and promoted to Bombardier on 5 November.  Using his woodworking skills, Henry qualified as a skilled Wheeler on 24 April 1915.  He was appointed as Wheeler with 90th Brigade and disembarked in France on 20 July 1916.  Henry transferred back to 92nd Brigade on 30 August 1916.

Henry was wounded in the Battle of the Somme, at Morval, on 9 November 1916.  He was evacuated home on 16 November.  Henry was discharged from 5th (Reserve) Brigade, RFA at Charlton on 23 May 1917.  He received a pension for gunshot wounds (GSW) to his leg, shoulder and eyes.  A pension review on 26 September 1917 had found total incapacity. 

Despite his critical health condition, Henry married Ethel Elizabeth Waters at Holy Trinity Church on 31 March 1918.  The couple had been neighbours on Elmfield Road suggesting Ethel may have been Henry’s pre-war sweetheart.  The couple both worked as aircraft fitters at the time of their marriage.

Ethel’s brother, Sapper Ernest Waters served just five weeks with 126 Field Company, Royal Engineers.  He died from a heart condition at his billet in Chesham, on 24 February 1915, aged 24.  His burial at Chesham was only adopted for commemoration by CWGC in July 2018.  Despite his upbringing in the Parish, Ernest Waters is also omitted from the Holy Trinity Roll of Honour. His Widow, Maud Ellen Waters and son, Ernest, lived at Plumstead after Ernest’s death.

Henry Smith died at Middlesex Hospital on 15 July 1918, aged 28.  Cause of death was noted as GSW thigh, arteriovenous aneurism and cardiac failure.  He was buried at Holy Trinity Churchyard on 22 July.  Henry’s service record notes his religion as Congregationalist, consistent with the location of his mother’s second marriage.  This could explain why Henry – and Edward – are omitted from the Holy Trinity, Church of England’s, Roll of Honour.

Information on Edward Smith is very much limited in comparison with his elder brother, principally because Edward’s service record did not survive the fire at the archive during the London Blitz.   Henry’s records were not burned and provide a more complete picture.

Edward’s Effects War Gratuity of £6 was based on Edward’s length of military service, giving a indication that Edward had enlisted in August 1914. Some records provide the prefix GS/ to his number ‘3121’.  This confirms had enlisted for General Service, consistent with Henry joining the Army as one of Kitchener’s volunteers.

Medal records for Edward show he was posted to France with the 3rd Battalion Royal Fusiliers on 6 March 1915.  3rd Battalion was a Regular Army Unit that had landed in France in January 1915.  Edward must therefore have been part of a draft of reinforcements from England.  His service with 3rd Battalion was limited to nine days, as he returned to England on 16 March 1915.  This may have been due to wounds or illness, or possibly because the authorities found he was under the minimum age for military service.  Edward was a Teenage Tommy – just 17 years old – when the minimum age was 18 years for enlistment and 19 years for overseas service.

Edward returned to France on 8 December 1915, this time posted to 8th Battalion.  This was the first of Kitchener’s New Army Battalions.  8th Battalion had formed at Hounslow with 9th Battalion on 21 August 1914 and it most likely Edward had undertaken initial training at Hounslow, prior to his short posting to 3rd Bn.  Both 8th and 9th Bns. had landed in France in May 1915, so Edward was once again a reinforcement and notably still under overseas military age at 18 years.

Edward Smith was killed in action on 2 March 1916, aged 18 years. He was part of a Brigade assault near Loos. The advance failed and 8th Royal Fusiliers lost numerous officers and 250 other ranks, as killed, wounded or missing.

Edward’s burial was not identified after the Armistice and he is commemorated by CWGC with an inscription on the Loos Memorial.  There are 37 other members of 8th Battalion Royal Fusiliers commemorated on the memorial that died on 2 March 1916 and four further names for the next day.  Just two casualties of the Battalion have known graves for this period, both of whom died on 3 March.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s