Lives Lived and Lives Lost - Portsmouth and the Great War


The immediate family of Edgar Thomas did not originate in Portsmouth but as so often was the case they settled in the borough because of the navy. Edgar Thomas's father, Edgar Francis Smith, was born in Southampton in 1870 and probably joined the navy around 1890. Nothing else is known about him until 1897 when he married his wife Bessie, probably in Scotland as she came from Sutherland.
The 1901 census is the first to contain a record of the Smith family in Portsmouth though Edgar Francis was away at sea at the time. Bessie is recorded as living at the family home, 128 Percy Road, Southsea, with the couple's first child Edgar Thomas who had been born in 1898. Two more children, Jeannie and Jack, were born in 1902 and 1907 respectively. At the 1911 census Edgar Francis was ashore and recorded as an Artificer in the Royal Navy. The family had by that year moved the short distance to 68 Edmund Road, also off Francis Avenue.

In 1909 Edgar Thomas had begun a spell of four years at the Secondary School on Victoria Road North. In his fourth year at the school, he passed the necessary Civil Service Examination to secure an appointment as Boy Clerk but he had little chance to enjoy the posting as the Great War intervened and he enlisted in the 1st Battalion Hampshire Regiment. With them he fought on the Western Front during 1917, then on 4th October of that year, in the vicinity of Poelcapelle, the 11th Machine Gun Company to which he was attached came under a heavy bombardment at about 5.30 in the morning. This was prolonged for twelve hours, but ere two and a half of these were over Pte. Smith was struck in the head by a piece of shell and died immediately.
His comrades buried him the same evening and placed a cross over his grave. In a letter to Edgar and Bessie Smith the Company Officer wrote:- "You may rest assured that your son died doing his duty. Your loss is also my loss - he was a bright lad and we all liked him very much. He was always ready and willing to do his duty."
The photograph above was taken from a WW1 memorial booklet published by Southern Grammar School. Extracts also appear above.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) lists Private Edgar Thomas Smith (29592), Hampshire Regiment, died on 04/10/1917, aged 20. Buried at the Divisional Collecting Post Cemetery and Extension (Grave Ref: II.O.8.). Son of Edgar Francis and Bessie Smith, of 17, Haslemere Rd., Southsea, Portsmouth.
Edgar Smith is remembered on the Southern Grammar School WW1 Memorial and on the Cenotaph. He is not listed in the 'National Roll of the Great War'.
Tim Backhouse
June 2014