Corporal William Robert Smith, 4th Battalion Coldstream Guards died of testicular cancer in Birmingham on 26th January 1917, two days after his 21st birthday. He was the youngest of the nine children (four sons, five daughters) of parents Richard (an agricultural labourer) and Ann (née Ward). The couple had married in 1875 and then lived at Shelly Green before moving to Bentley Heath by 1891, where Richard’s parents, William and Maria, also lived. The family remained at Bentley Heath until at least 1911.
William Robert Smith was born in January 1896 and baptised at St Alphege Church, Solihull on 3rd May 1896. His father, Richard, died in 1910, when William was 14. In 1911, William was living at Woodside Cottages, Bentley Heath and working as an errand boy to a bootmaker.
William apparently enlisted in the Coldstream Guards in autumn 1915. His hospital record suggests that he first saw service on the front line in June/July 1916. He was admitted to hospital on 22nd December 1916, apparently suffering from trench foot. However, this was crossed through and replaced with sarcoma of testicle (supervening). He returned to England aboard the hospital ship Newhaven, a former Channel ferry, and was admitted to the First Southern General Hospital, housed in University of Birmingham buildings in Edgbaston.
William Robert Smith is buried at Lodge Hill Cemetery, Birmingham, and is also commemorated locally in the Soldiers’ Chapel at Knowle Parish Church.
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