My First World War Ancestors: Smithers

photo credits: De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour, 1914-1918

In this year that marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, I would like to pay tribute to some members of my extended family who served in that horrific conflict. This is the third in a series of four profiles. There may be others, but these are the ones I know about.

A career soldier in the British military, Major Harold Smithers fought with the Royal Garrison Artillery (RGA). He was killed in action during the Battle of the Somme on Nov. 4, 1916, age 35.

Harold was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1881, the son of William Henry Smithers and Mary Margaret Wood. Harold lived in Great Baddow, Essex in his childhood, and the family later moved to Tunbridge Wells, Kent.

St. Mary’s Church, Great Baddow; JH photo

He served in India, Burma and Aden between 1907 and 1913. After the war broke out, he fought in France and Flanders in 1914-15, then went back to England to train personnel in artillery, his specialty. He returned to France in 1916 and died there several months later.

Harold was buried at Betrancourt Military Cemetery, France, He was also remembered in England: his mother donated a clock and an accompanying plaque to St Mary’s Church, Great Baddow, in memory of Harold and of his father.

Harold’s name is also on a war memorial in Langton Green, near Tunbridge Wells. 

Harold married Nora Maude Whittingstall in 1911, and the couple had one daughter. Our common ancestor was Henry Keene Smithers, senior, who lived in Surrey, just across the Thames River from central London. Henry Keene Smithers (1785-1859) and his wife, Charlotte Letitia Pittman (1784-1861,) were my three-times great-grandparents and Harold’s great-grandparents.

Research Notes

De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour, 1914-1918, searchable on Ancestry, profiles thousands of professional British soldiers who died in the Great War. It includes a half-page biography and photo of Harold Smithers. 

Michael Smither, a genealogist in England who has been researching people named Smithers, Smither and Smythers, showed me the memorial clock that still keeps time in Great Baddow. Michael has posted his research, including links to sources, on the public member trees section of Ancestry.