Lives Lived and Lives Lost - Portsmouth and the Great War


The Steed family first established a presence in Portsmouth during the 1850s when Alan Davidson's grandfather, Henry Steed, moved to the Borough from the family base in the West Country. His former home had actually been at Stoke Damerel, Devonport whereas he had been born at Anthony in Cornwall, the son of Benjamin and Elizabeth Steed. Both Benjamin and Henry list their occupation as that of 'Smith' in the 1851 Census.
On 17th August that year Henry married Mary Sammells at Devonport. The couple had their first child Henry in 1853 and followed that by the move to Portsmouth where in 1861 the family were living at 24 Radnor Street and Henry sen. had joined the Royal Navy as an Armourer. The family soon moved to 49 Hampshire Street where they stayed for well over ten years during which time seven more children were born, the fifth of which was Alfred, born in 1867.
Alfred Steed married his wife Edith Davidson in 1890, probably not in England as the occasion does not appear in the marriage registers. They set up the family home at Kingston Road where they shared houses at Nos. 2 and 4 with Edith's parents, John Richard and Mary Davidson. Alfred and Edith's first child Elena was born in 1891 and she was followed in 1893 by Harold Davidson and in 1895 by Alan Davidson. The house sharing arrangement with Edith's parents at Kingston Road continued through to the 1901 census but by 1911 both families had moved to 109a Powerscourt Road where John and Mary were listed as part of the same household.
In the meantime Alan Davidson Steed had, in 1906, begun attendance at the Secondary School on Victoria Road North where he spent the next five years to 1911. During this time he was prominent in studies and in the social life of the school. As an instance of his dramatic talent, all those attending the school in 1910-11 will remember his excellent rendering of the part of John of Gaunt in Shakespeare's "Richard II." He had already passed the Senior Oxford Local Examination with Second Class Honours when he gained a Scholarship tenable at the Municipal College.

At that institution he spent two very successful years, his popularity with his fellow students being shown by their electing him President of the Men Students' Union. In 1913 he gained an Intermediate Civil Service Appointment and took up a post in the Actuarial Branch of the National Health Insurance Department, where, by July, 1914, he had risen to the position of head of his office.
He volunteered for service at the very outbreak of the war, but was not released till late in 1915, when he joined the Inns of Court O.T.C., passing from it to the London Regiment. During his training he specialised in the technical aspects of Musketry, and when his Regiment (the Queen's Westminster Rifle Battalion) went overseas he accompanied them as Armourer.
He was in France in 1917 where he took part in the Battle of Arras, but his division soon received orders to proceed to Salonica. From there they went to Egypt and thence to Palestine. He took part in the capture of Jerusalem and entered the city with General Allenby. A few weeks later, on the 30th April, 1918, his Regiment was fighting the retreating Turks in the Jordan Valley when he was killed by a Turkish shell. He was buried in a little cemetery among the hills beyond Jordan.
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 Rifleman Alan Davidson Steed (554398), London Regiment (Queens Westminster Rifles), died on 30/04/1918, aged 23. Commemorated on the Jerusalem Memorial (Panel 50). Son of Alfred and Edith Steed, of 28, Polwarth Gardens, Hyndland, Glasgow.
Alan Steed is also remembered on the Southern Grammar School WW1 Memorial, the Buckland United Reformed Church WW1 Memorial and on the Cenotaph. He is not listed in the 'National Roll of the Great War'.
Tim Backhouse
June 2014