Three men with a local connection died on 8th December 1915:
- Second Lieutenant Cyril Talbot Burney Croft, who died in a flying accident at Castle Bromwich
- Private Charles James, who was born in Olton
- Lieutenant Sidney Smith, who lived in Castle Bromwich
Cyril Croft was born in Streetsville, Ontario, Canada on 28th January 1891, where his father (Rev. Otho Talbot Bourdois Croft (1853-1929)) was Rector of Holy Trinity, Streetsville 1889-1893, having previously been a Missionary at Stayner and Sunningdale, Toronto 1887-1889. After a further five years as Rector of Markham, Ontario 1893-1898, Rev. Otho Croft and his family then returned to England where he became Rector of South Cadbury, near Wincanton, Somerset from 1899 until his retirement in 1922.
Cyril attended a private boarding school in St Leonard’s on Sea before also being educated for the ministry, studying at St Boniface Missionary College, Warminster, Wiltshire. Being too young for ordination, he returned to Canada and was working as a Secretary when war broke out. He enlisted in the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force on 23rd September 1914, aged 23 years and 7 months. It was noted that he was 6ft 0.75in tall, with a dark complexion, grey eyes and black hair, and he had served in the Officer Training Corps for three years at Oxford. He was gazetted Second Lieutenant with the Somerset Light Infantry on 1st March 1915, subsequently volunteering for the Royal Flying Corps (RFC). He trained at Castle Bromwich, gaining his aviator’s certificate there in a Maurice Farman biplane on 27th October 1915.
On 8th December 1915, he was a passenger in a plane piloted by Lieutenant Macdonald which got into difficulties over Curdworth whilst at 1,500 feet. The pilot noticed that the engine was missing fire so turned off the petrol (but not the ignition) and attempted to land. However, the machine failed to respond and the aeroplane was caught by a gust of wind and plummeted to the ground, nose downwards. The pilot was seriously injured and Lieutenant Croft was killed. The Birmingham Daily Post 13th December 1915 reported that death would have been instantaneous and was due to a fracture of the spine in the region of the neck.
Cyril Croft is buried in the graveyard at St Thomas a Becket church, South Cadbury, Somerset (where his father was Rector) and his name is also commemorated on the war memorial shrine at East Clevedon, Somerset.
Charles James was born in Olton in 1882 to parents Charles (a labourer) and Dinah (a laundress), both of whom were born in Acocks Green. Charles James (senior) and Dinah Keen married on 23rd June 1879 at St Andrew’s Church, Bordesley, Birmingham, at which time they were living at Kelynge Street, Small Heath. At the time of the 1881 census the couple were living in Chapelfields, Olton with their one-year-old daughter, Annie. By 1883, they had moved to King’s Heath where they remained until at least 1911.
Charles (junior) went to work on the railways and is recorded on the 1901 census, aged 19, as a railway engine cleaner, and on the 1911 census, aged 29, as a labourer with a railway company.
It’s not known when Charles enlisted in the Army, although his Medal Index Card records that he first entered a Theatre of War (the Balkans) on 15th October 1915, as a Private with the 3rd Battalion, Dorsetshire Regiment. Soldiers Died in the Great War notes that he formerly served with the Royal Garrison Artillery.
As the family seems only to have lived in Olton for a short time around 1880-1882, Charles James’s name was not included on the war memorial at St Margaret’s Church, Olton. He is commemorated at the Doiran Memorial, Greece.
Sidney Smith was born in Charlton, London in 1886, the eldest of the two children born to William and Marion Smith. William was an electrical engineer who moved with his family to Birmingham by 1901. In 1911, the family was living at The Laurels, The Green, Castle Bromwich and William was recorded as working for Birmingham Corporation. With the couple were their sons Sidney (25, a mechanical engineer) and Herbert (21, a medical student at Birmingham University).
Sidney’s medal index card appears to give the date of his entry into a Theatre of War as 8th December 1915, the very day he was killed in action. He is commemorated at Mazingarbe Communal Cemetery, France, and is also recorded on the village war memorial at Castle Bromwich, and on the memorial plaque inside the church of St Mary and St Margaret, Castle Bromwich.
If you have any more information about these three men, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
tel.: 0121 704 6977