This week’s theme for #52Ancesors is Extended Family and I’m going to write about David Smith. He married Emily Smith Harmer, the oldest sister of my great grandmother Dorothy Harmer (see last week’s blog re the passport). David and Emily became foster parents to my grandmother Ivy and I have recently been looking at his family.
For the first time in 20 years of family history I have at last found a family with roots in Hailsham, my home town. We’ve only been here since the early 1900s when my great grandfather Reuben Baldwin came here. But at least one of David Smith’s grandparent lines were in Hailsham in the early 1800s and possibly further back than that.
David Smith was born in 1877 to Samson and Ruth Priscilla Sturt. Samson was a Carpenter and they were living in Vines Road. He was one of seven children all born in Hailsham.
David joined the 3rd Royal Sussex Regiment in 1893 in Eastbourne at the age of 17 and on his Attestation was described as 5 ft 3 1/4 ins tall, he had dark grey eyes and dark brown hair. His mother Ruth lived at 1 Garfield Road, Hailsham. His father had died in 1892.
From then on, his life can be pieced together by a number of newspaper reports I have found either with him mentioned or written about him.
By 1913 his involvement with Hailsham Fire Service had started. There is a report in the Sussex Express, Sussex Standard and Kent Mail dated Friday 27 June 1913 stating David Smith and another young fireman were both presented with a handsome clock and a set of spoons as an expression of appreciation on the occasion of their recent marriages. Both firemen spoke in reply and thanked the Brigade members on behalf of themselves and their respective wives.
On Friday 6 November 1914, in the Sussex Express a Roll of Honour was published of all the young men of Hailsham who had gone to fight for Old England and David Smith of the Royal Sussex was amongst them.
In 1915 he was wounded, the Hastings and St Leonards Observer on the 16 January 1915 have a report from Dallington that Private David Smith of the 2nd Royal Sussex, who was seriously wounded in the fighting around Ypres, had been visiting his father in law, James Harmer of Battle Road. Smith said he was close enough to identify the man who had shot him. My dad says that the story was he received shrapnel in the cheek.
The next mention of him is again in the Sussex Express in July 1918 when he appeared at the Coroners Court to corroborate the story of his mother Ruth in the sad tale of her second husband, George Fox’s suicide. It appears that Ruth of 17 Garfield Road had been at Stone Cross, looking after her dying stepson for two days. Her husband who was 80 was described as very childish lately and upset at his son’s health. The son died that night and when Ruth returned home and told George, he took himself outside, it was the middle of the night. The next morning his body was found in the Common Pond. It appeared that David had searched for him and presumably had found him and he informed the Police. It looked like he had attempted to cut his throat before drowning in the pond. The jury returned the verdict of Suicide whilst of unsound mind due to changes of old age.
The next mention of David is a photo that was taken of four firemen in the aftermath of a shop fire in the High Street, Hailsham in 1928. David was the second on the left. Mention of this fire ended up in the Daily Mirror and was headed ‘Fire Fighting from a Graveyard – shop destroyed’. Eastbourne Fire Brigade had apparently dashed through the fog to help. Goods were removed from adjoining shops and beer from a nearby Public House. The photo appeared in a book of old photos of Hailsham and David was unnamed, but my granny had recognised him and I wrote his name on my copy of the book.
David died in 1930 at the age of 53 and his death was reported in the local paper, Eastbourne Chronicle dated 28 August. It reads ‘Death of a Hailsham Worthy, an Honourable War Record’.
‘Hailsham has lost a worthy and much respected citizen by the death, after a brief illness, of Mr David Smith, aged 53 of 19 Garfield Road, whose funeral on Saturday excited considerable interest.’ It reports how he had 13 years of Army service in India, and he gained a Military Medal in 1918 for bravery in the field. A medal which my dad has along with the Indian Frontier Medal. Twice wounded he was discharged in 1917 and he underwent an operation to remove a large piece of shrapnel from his tongue. So the rumour dad had been told was true.
His many useful activities in Hailsham included being an auxiliary Postman, he was a member of the Hailsham Fire Brigade, Scoutmaster, and many of the bodies he was involved with were represented at the funeral. His body was borne in a coffin draped with the Union Jack and carried on the town fire engine to be buried at the Cemetery in Ersham Road.
I am amazed at just how much information and clues have been gained by searching newspapers for the story of his life. It gives me lots of clues to records that I should now search for to find out more about his life.