Three local soldiers died in Egypt on Easter Sunday, 23rd April 1916, serving with the Queen’s Own Worcestershire Hussars (Worcester Yeomanry). Corporal (Acting Sergeant) Cyril Henry Coombs and Private Osborn Thomas Smith are both commemorated on the Jerusalem Memorial, and both are listed on the Solihull School war memorial. Leslie St Clair Cheape, a member of the North Warwickshire Hunt, also died on the same day and is commemorated on the Jerusalem Memorial. He was a Captain with the 1st Dragoon Guards, but was attached to the Queen’s Own Worcestershire Hussars.
Cyril Henry Coombs was born in Saltley, Birmingham in 1886. His father, Samuel William Coombs, was a schoolmaster and worked for 40 years at Saltley Training College, also known as Saltley Church of England College for teacher training. The college trained teachers intending to take up posts in Church of England schools within the Diocese of Worcester. During the war, the college was closed, and the Coventry Standard reported on 13th October 1916 that Mr Coombs (Vice-Principal) and a senior lecturer were retiring:
SALTLEY TRAINING COLLEGERETIREMENT OF VICE-PRINCIPAL AND SENIOR LECTURERAfter a long association with the Saltley Training College, which was closed some time ago, owing to the war, Mr S. W. Coombs and Mr H. I. Hobbiss have retired from the respective positions of vice-principal and senior lecturer and master of method.Mr Coombs joined the staff of the college forty years ago, having previously been headmaster of St Peter’s School, Worcester. He passed through the various grades, and in 1903, on relinquishing the office of secretary, which he held for twenty years, was appointed vice-principal. Mr Coombs, who is a justice of the peace for the city of Birmingham, was a member of the City Council for six years.
Cyril was the youngest of the three children of Samuel and Harriet Coombs. His siblings were William (born 1881), and Evelyn Mary (born 1883). William had died by 1916, as newspaper reports relating to Cyril refer to him as the “only surviving son”.
Cyril attended Solihull School and Coleshill Grammar School, entering Lloyds Bank, Colmore Row, Birmingham on leaving school. By 1911, Cyril had become an auctioneer in Worcester, apparently working with his uncle. On the outbreak of war in August 1914, he rejoined the Worcestershire Yeomany and, according to the Birmingham Daily Post 4th May 1916 was reported as missing after a battle on Easter Sunday, 1916. Just over a week later, the Birmingham Daily Mail reported on 13th May that he was believed killed.
Cyril is commemorated on war memorials at Solihull School and Coleshill Grammar School.
Osborn Thomas Smith, apparently known as Ozzie, was born in Rowington, Warwickshire in 1891 and was the eldest child of farmer Thomas Frederick and Ann Jenkins Smith (née Osborn). The family seem to have had something of a tradition of giving children first names derived from family surnames. Osborn’s first name derives from his mother’s maiden name. His younger brother Gem Samuel (1892-1966) derived his unusual first name from his maternal grandmother’s maiden name. He also passed on the name as a middle name to his daughter Edna.
In 1911, 19-year-old Ozzie was the head of the household living with his brother, Gem, and described as a farmer’s son, managing Turner’s End Farm. Ozzie had left Solihull School, having won the Yardley Cup for the best shot in 1908. He was also Vice-Captain of the 2nd XI.
The Gem and Smith families feature on the Rowington Records website, which has numerous family photos and memorabilia on the site. Gem Smith seems to have stayed behind in Rowington and worked on the family farm, whilst his brothers Osborn, Alban and Joseph all enlisted. Joseph served with the Tank Corps, whilst Alban enlisted on 1st May 1918 with the Royal Berkshire Regiment.
Alban was seriously injured in September 1918, receiving a gunshot wound to his right elbow, which caused him to lose his right arm. The boys’ father, Thomas, was the miller at Rowington Windmill (“Bouncing Bess”), which ceased operating in 1916 and was apparently used as a prisoner of war dormitory during the First World War. One of the German PoWs who lived there was Fritz Perras, who was captured at the Battle of Fricourt on 1st July 1916. The Rowington Records site features photographs of Fritz and a copy of a letter he wrote to Thomas Smith, miller, in 1922.
Osborn Thomas Smith is commemorated on his parents’ grave in Rowington, as well as on the Rowington war memorial.
Renowned International polo player, Leslie St Clair Cheape was born in Fifeshire, Scotland, in 1882 and was the fourth of the six children (three sons, three daughters) of parents Captain George Clerk Cheape and Maud Mary (née Hemming) who had married at St George’s Hanover Square, London in June 1873.
Leslie’s father, Captain George Cheape (1842-1900) owned the Wellfield estate, near Gateshide, Fife and had served with the 11th Hussars in India, purchasing his commission as Lieutenant in 1862. He was Master of the West of Fife Hounds from 1878-1882, and again from 1885-1889. In February 1890, he left Scotland for business in America, leaving his wife to take charge of affairs until the hunting season ended.
His wife, Maud, inherited the Bentley Manor estate near Bromsgrove from her father, who died in 1891, and she appears there with her family (but not her husband) on the 1891 census. She was known as the Squire of Bentley and had a love of hunting, keeping packs of beagles. Her youngest daughter, Maudie Ellis, wrote a biography of her mother The Squire of Bentley (Mrs Cheape) Memory’s Milestones in the Life of a Great Sportswoman, which was published in 1926.
All three sons served in the First World War, and two of them died. Brigadier General Ronald George Hamilton Cheape MC and Lieutenant Colonel Hugh Annesley Gray Cheape DSO and Bar, both had distinguished military careers and received gallantry medals. Hugh led the last cavalry charge of the British Army at Huj in the Sinai Desert at 1.30pm on 8th November 1917. He drowned on 27th May 1918 when HMT Leasowe Castle was torpedoed 100 miles from Alexandria.
Tragically, Hugh was the third of the siblings to die by drowning. A younger sister, Helen Margaret (known as Daisy) drowned in a boating accident in Mull in 1896, aged 12. The family owned estates on the island and she was in a boat with brothers Ronald and Leslie on Loch Scridain when the boat capsized in bad weather. The eldest sister, Catherine Beatrice (known as Katie) was one of the 1,012 people who drowned when the Empress of Ireland collided with a Norwegian coal ship on the St Lawrence River, Canada on 29th May 1914. Katie had been living in British Columbia, where her husband had a farm, and was returning to visit her mother at Bentley Manor.
Leslie Cheape joined the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders as a Second Lieutenant in 1901. By 1905 he was a Second Lieutenant with the 1st Dragoons, promoted to Lieutenant in 1906. He was reported wounded in December 1915, and an article in Newcastle Journal 23rd December 1915 describes his many sporting achievements, including his being “an accomplished rider to hounds and a dashing steeplechaser.” He was mentioned in Despatches twice, and was killed on the same day and in the same action as his brother-in-law, Lieutenant Albert Jaffray Cay, the second husband of his late sister, Katie.
If you know any more information about Private Ozzie Smith, Corporal (Acting Sergeant) Cyril Coombs, or Captain Leslie Cheape, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian