Two men with a connection to the Solihull area died on 31st August 1916: Second Lieutenant John Cane Crawford, Royal Horse Artillery, was killed in action, aged 18, just two months after arriving at the Front; Captain John Wilmshurst Granger Smith, South Staffordshire Regiment was also killed in action on the same day.
The local connection is that John Cane Crawford’s family lived for a time in Hampton-in-Arden. John Smith lived in Acocks Green but was a member of Olton Cricket Club.
John Cane Crawford was born on 15th December 1897 in Sandgate, Kent. He was the eldest of the two children of Captain (later Major) John Cane Crawford (1868-1933), a long-serving officer in the Manchester Regiment.
John Crawford (senior) was first appointed to a military role in 1888 and served in the Army altogether for over 30 years. In August 1898 he was transferred as Adjutant to the 3rd Militia Battalion, based at The Depot, Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire. The family home was Croft House, Howard Street, Millbrook, Stalybridge, Cheshire, which was where his second child, Eileen Marion, was born on 11th June 1901. However, her father was serving in the South African War at the time of the birth and did not see his daughter until he returned from South Africa in July 1902.
In 1910, Major Crawford obtained a post as Recruiting Staff Officer in Birmingham, and the family relocated to Hampton-in-Arden, where they spent the next four years. On the outbreak of war, he was promoted Temporary Lieutenant-Colonel and given the command of the first newly-raised City Service Battalion, the 16th (1st City) (Service) Battalion The Manchester Regiment, also known as the 1st Manchester Pals. More details about his Army career are on The Manchester Regiment Group website.
His son, John, joined Cheltenham College in 1912, going on in 1914 to the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich (commonly known as “The Shop” owing to its first building being a converted workshop of the Woolwich Arsenal). He was commissioned into the Royal Horse Artillery in April 1915 but, still being only 17, was posted to a training brigade until of age for overseas service.
He was posted to France on 27th June 1916, aged 18½ and was killed just over two months later. His Commanding Officer wrote to John’s mother:
[he was] sitting at the entrance of one of the dugouts which led into the gun pit; at about 2.30 an unlucky shell entered the rear part of the gun pit, exploding near the entrance of the dug-out in which your son was sitting, killing him instantly.
Lieutenant John Cane Crawford was buried at Dantzig Alley British Cemetery. He is also commemorated on the war memorial in Buxton, Derbyshire, although the reason for his inclusion is unknown. He is not included on the war memorial in Hampton-in-Arden, presumably because of the family having moved away in 1914.
John Wilmshurst Granger Smith was born in Dudley in 1893, and was the eighth of the nine children (eight sons, one daughter) known to have been born to father, John Granger Smith. He was the third child of his father’s second marriage (to Frances Anne Turley), which took place in 1884. His father’s first wife appears to have died shortly after giving birth to her fifth child in 1881. The family was living at The Grange, Woodsetton at the time, and John Granger Smith was a commercial traveller. The 1881 census shows the four older boys – William Granger Smith (born 1873), Henry Milne Smith (born 1875), George Ennis Smith (born 1877) and Bernard Barton Smith (born 1879) – living in Woodsetton and being looked after by their widowed grandmothers, Elizabeth Smith and Susannah Milne.
The Smith family moved to Oxford Road, Acocks Green between 1901 and 1911. At least three of the eight brothers – Henry Milne Smith (1875-1917), George Ennis Smith (1877-1959) and Murray Turley Smith (1891-1916) moved to Canada in the early 20th century. George is known to have emigrated in 1904 and it is possible that Henry joined him around this time. George was the informant of his brother Henry’s death in 1917, when Henry (listed as an accountant) was found drowned in Hamilton Harbour in Canada. George died in Los Angeles in 1959, aged 63.
Their half-brother, Murray, enlisted in the Canadian Infantry (Central Ontario Regiment) in March 1916, indicating on enlistment that he was a member of the Canadian militia regiment, the Essex Fusiliers. His religion was recorded as Baptist. Lieutenant Murray Tyler Smith was killed on 31st October 1916, exactly two months after his brother, Captain John Wilmshurst Granger Smith, who was killed on 31st August serving with the South Staffordshire Regiment. John has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. His name appears on the war memorial in St Mary’s Church, Acocks Green as well as the rolls of honour of Acocks Green Baptist Church and Olton Cricket Club.
The boys’ father was spared the knowledge of the war deaths of his sons John and Murray, and the drowning of his son Henry in Canada in 1917. He had died in Acocks Green, aged 71, on 24th April 1916. Within the space of just over six months his wife, Frances Anne Smith (1856-1948), had lost her husband, her son and her step-son. She continued to live locally until her death, aged 91. In 1939, she was recorded as living in Avenue Road, Solihull with her two unmarried children, Frances Mildred Smith (1889-1958) and Clifford Allan Granger Smith (1896-1959).
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Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
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