Three men with a local connection lost their lives on active service on 28th June 1918:
- Private Harry Cross, 1st Battalion, Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry
- Private Robert Henry Smith, 15th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment
- Private George Henry Taylor, 12th Battalion, Hampshire Regiment
Harry Cross was born on 26th August 1899 in Aston, Birmingham, and was the fifth of the eleven children (seven sons, four daughters) of parents John Alfred (a harness maker) and Florence (née Collinson) who had married in Birmingham in 1893. Two of the children – Doris Louise (born and died 1906) and Charles Frederick (born and died 1909) died in infancy.
In 1908, six of the children – John Alfred (1896-1915), Francis James (1897-1964), Thomas William Bertram (1898-1957), Harry (1899-1915), Lilian Eliza (1902-1973) and Albert Edward (1903-1975) were taken to live at Marston Green Cottage Homes. This happened as a result of their parents, both apparently alcoholics, being convicted of neglect. Both parents were briefly imprisoned following a prosecution brought by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).
By 1911, the parents were living in Birmingham with three of their children – Florence Ellen (born 1895), Sidney Collinson (1905-1962) and Dorothy Maud (born 1910) – although the other surviving six children were still in the Cottage Homes. Four of the brothers served in the Army during the First World War, and it seems that their father, John Alfred, also served.
The eldest son – John Alfred Cross – was killed on 10th October 1915.
Francis James Cross enlisted in the South Staffordshire Regiment in August 1915 aged 17, despite apparently initially being rejected for being too small. He was wounded twice and was taken prisoner in March 1917. He was held by the Germans until being released on Christmas Day 1918.
Thomas Walter Bertram Cross joined the Worcestershire Regiment, aged 18. He was a signaller, and was wounded twice and gassed. At the time his brother Harry was killed, Thomas was in hospital.
Prior to joining the Army, Harry was employed by Messrs Colman and Oldland, Moor Street, Birmingham. He is buried at Aval Wood Cemetery, Vieux-Berquin, France and is commemorated with his brother on a war memorial plaque at the former Marston Green Cottage Homes.
Robert Henry Smith was born in Solihull in 1899. His mother, Alice, was an unmarried charwoman. It seems that she and her son lived in Warwick Road with her parents, George (a carter) and Eliza. Eliza died, aged 64, in 1904, with her husband George dying in January 1905, aged 70. Both are buried at St Alphege Church, Solihull.
By 1911, Alice was still living with her 11-year-old son, Robert, in Warwick Road. Also with them in the household was a boarder, Thomas Bickley.
Alice Smith, aged 39, and Thomas Bickley, a general workman aged 40, married at St Alphege Church, Solihull on 6th August 1911. Both gave their address as Deebanks Buildings, Warwick Road, Solihull. It looks as if they had one child together, George Edward Bickley (1912-1977).
We don’t have any further information on Robert Henry Smith, other than he was living in Solihull when he enlisted in Leamington Spa. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial.
George Henry Taylor was born in Knowle in on 8th October 1894, and baptised at Knowle Parish Church on 25th November 1894. His parents were George Henry, a baker from Preston Bagot who had moved to Chadwick End by 1891, and Emma Harriet (née Lewis) who was living in Temple Balsall, and who had married in 1894. The couple then set up home in Heronfield, Knowle. We haven’t been able to find out whether the couple had any other children.
It seems that George’s parents had died by 1911, as Army records give his next of kin as four aunts: Charlotte Twinberrow; Mary Jones; Elizabeth Barlow; and Ellen Louisa Lewis. Charlotte, Mary and Ellen appear to have been sisters of his mother, Emma, who was originally from Cradley, Worcestershire.
We haven’t been able to find out any more information about George Henry Taylor, other than he was living in Sparkbrook at the time of his enlistment in the Army. He is buried at Karasouli Military Cemetery, Greece and is commemorated in the Soldiers’ Chapel, Knowle.
If you have any further information on any of these men, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
tel.: 0121 704 6977