In January 1926, Mr Vanstone, headmaster of Lustleigh School, and Mr Horrell, a co-committee member of the Royal British Legion’s Lustleigh branch, moved to right a wrong by having a name added to the war memorial which had hitherto been omitted. I hereby salute their action and pay tribute to the man they honoured, but who so nearly suffered a major injustice.
As with all men on the memorial, there is a slight sense of anonymity with just a surname and initials. With this man, the information of ‘killed while serving at home’ somehow seems to condemn him further to the sidelines. H E Smith may not have fought in WW1, but he’d already served King and Country well and rightfully deserves his place on our memorial.
Herbert Ernest Smith was born on the 14th November 1880 in Paignton, one of nine children of police constable, John Smith and his wife, Sarah. Likely, a heavy weight of expectation was placed on his shoulders when he was named after twin brothers, Ernest Herbert Smith and Herbert Ernest Smith, both of whom had died less than a year earlier just six and seven months old. His military record would surely have repaid his parents’ faith.
After pounding the beat in Paignton, Stoke Gabriel and Ashprington, John Smith retired from the police force and settled with his family in Brookfield, mending boots and shoes and thereby returning to a profession in which he apprenticed before donning the blue uniform. At this time, his teenaged son, Herbert was in service at Lustleigh rectory, probably as a groom, but on 20th October 1898, he attested into the Royal Field Artillery and subsequently served in the Boer War receiving the Queen’s medal and two bars.
On returning from the war in South Africa, Herbert served as a gunner with the Royal Garrison Artillery at Shoeburyness on the Thames Estuary, a hugely important military facility which served, among other things, as a School of Gunnery for the Royal Arsenal and would have particularly specialised in training during his time there.
A year or two later, he was transferred to Ireland, and while stationed at Clogheen Barracks in Tipperary, met and married his wife, Henrietta Gertrude Browne on 30th August 1906. Shortly afterwards, he was moved to Ballincollig Barracks, County Cork, where his wife gave birth to 2 children: Florence in 1907 and William in 1910, the latter dying in infancy. His final posting in Ireland was at the Royal Field Artillery’s No 2 Depot at Athlone Military Barracks (formerly Victoria Barracks), Westmeath.
On returning to England, he found himself stationed on Salisbury Plain, possibly at the Royal Field Artillery’s Knighton Camp, a couple of miles from Amesbury, where the birth of their third child was registered in 1913 with the name Herbert Ernest. Shortly afterwards, HE Smith, snr, was invalided out of the army, suffering, it is believed, from wounds inflicted during a military riding accident.
His 15 years of army service had made him very much a military man, so his absence from the ranks was unsurprisingly short-lived, re-joining on the outbreak of WW1 in August 1914 despite his incapacity. Serving with the 7th Reserve Battery, 170th Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery, as Quartermaster Sergeant, he was chiefly engaged in training artillery recruits. Sadly, his health gave way, his earlier wounds causing the onset of cancer, and he was taken to No. 5 VAD Hospital, Exeter, located at the College Hostel, Bradninch House. The joy of a fourth child, Hilda, in May 1915, was sadly countered by sadness when he died on 22 January 1916, aged 36.
Perhaps it was his cause of death, on the surface seemingly non-military, which was the reason for his initial omission from the war memorial. Clearly, though, he was rightfully added due to his dedicated military service and his Lustleigh connections: his parents continuing to live in the village during his service (although his father passed away just a month before he did) and with at least three of his siblings marrying in St John the Baptist church. Also, as the parish magazine, in February 1916 noted, Herbert was one of three family members to have attained to high non-commissioned rank in the army.
Herbert Ernest Smith’s funeral took place on Tuesday 25th January 1916 at Exeter Higher Cemetery with his coffin conveyed there on a gun carriage, draped with the Union Jack and escorted by a detachment from the Royal Field Artillery’s Topsham Barracks. The service was very largely attended including both family and other injured soldiers from the hospital. As well as his grave and our war memorial, his name is among those on a plaque in the church in Sidbury, close to the home of his widow.
Herbert Ernest Smith will be remembered on Sunday 22nd January, 101 years after his death, when the Bell Ringers will sound a muffled peel in his honour.
This story is drawn from various sources including.
- Alan Greveson’s World War 1 Forum
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission
- FindMyPast & Ancestry
- The Western Times