Private William Henry Smitten of Knowle was killed on 9th May 1915, just one week after first arriving in France with the Royal Warwicks. On the same day, 25-year-old Lieutenant Thomas Edwin Turner of Solihull and London also died serving with the London Regiment (Kensington Battalion).
William Henry Smitten was born at Knowle in 1889 to parents George (a labourer) and Eliza (née Cockerill, a seamstress). There was an age gap of more than 30 years between George and Eliza, and they had only two children – William Henry and a younger son, George Arthur. Tragically, both boys were killed in the First World War. The boys’ first cousin once removed, Frank Smitten, was also killed at the Battle of Jutland.
In 1891, the family was living at Malthouse Row, Knowle with Eliza’s widowed mother, Mary Cockerill. By 1901, George and Eliza had moved with their children to Hampton Lane, Knowle. George died in 1907, aged 87, so was spared the knowledge of his sons’ early deaths.
Eliza remarried in 1907, and in 1911, William is listed as a 23-year-old farm labourer, boarding in Poplar Road, Dorridge, with his mother and his step-father, Thomas Russell. His medal index card indicates that he first entered a Theatre of War (France) on 2nd May 1915, serving as a Private with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, and was killed seven days later.
William Smitten is commemorated in the Soldiers’ chapel at Knowle parish church, and at Downing Hall, Knowle, as well as at Dorridge parish church.
Thomas Edwin Turner was born in Solihull to parents Charles Walter and Ellen Clara who lived at Selwyn Lodge, Station Road for at least 20 years. In 1901, 11-year-old Thomas was a boarder at Greenhill School, Ascot Road, Moseley with his younger brother 8-year-old Charles Walter [junior], whilst their elder brother, Arthur George, aged 13, was a boarder at Lockers Park prep school, Hemel Hempstead. It seems that Arthur died in December 1902, aged 15, whilst at Rugby School. He seems to have been known by his middle name of George, and his death is recorded under the name George Turner.
Thomas went on to Rugby School in 1905, leaving in 1907 to study as an architect, apparently winning both a Birmingham and Royal Academy studentship. His father, a clerk to the County Court, died in 1907 at the age of 55. By 1911, 21-year-old Thomas was living in a lodging house in South Kensington and was described as an architect. His widowed mother, and 18-year-old brother, Charles Walter [junior], were still living at Selwyn Lodge.
He must have joined the Army shortly after the outbreak of the First World War, being commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in October 1914, and promoted to Lieutenant in February 1915 when he joined his battalion in France. He survived the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, but was killed while leading his men in the attack of the Ridge of Aubers. As far as we’re aware, Thomas Edwin Turner is not commemorated on a local war memorial, although he does appear in the list of Old Rugbeians who fell and his name is recorded on Surbiton war memorial.
Sometime between 1911 and 1921, his mother moved to St Matthew’s Avenue, Surbiton, Surrey, where she died on 19th February 1921, having seen two of her four children predecease her.
If you have any more information about the Smitten or Turner families, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
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