Two men with a local connection lost their lives on active service on 20th July 1918. Captain Robert Jacobs, commanding No. 8 Sanitary Section, Royal Army Medical Corps, died of wounds, aged 39, after an enemy bomb fell on his billet. Second Lieutenant Norman Edward Smith, 1st/2nd Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers, attached to 2nd/4th Battalion Hampshire Regiment, was killed in action, aged 28.
Robert Jacobs was born in London in 1879, and was the second of the three known children of parents James, a carpenter, and Ellen (née Green) who had married in 1874 in Kensington. This was James’s second marriage – he first married Harriet Fox in 1865 at Notting Hill. Their son, Frank, was born in 1867 but Harriet seems to have died in 1872, aged 33.
By 1901, James was living with his second wife and their three children in Willesden, where 22-year-old Robert was listed as a plumber.
Around 1906, the family moved to “Ashburnham”, Whitefields Road, Solihull, although Robert is not listed there on the 1911 census. James Jacobs died towards the end of 1911, aged 71.
Two days after the outbreak of war, Robert Jacobs joined the 1st London (City of London) Sanitary Company as a private but was commissioned Lieutenant on 15th December 1914. He arrived at the front on Christmas Day 1914 and was promoted Captain on 15th June 1915. In June 1917 he was home on leave before returning to the Front.
The Coventry Standard, 23rd August 1918 reported his death and said:
His knowledge of bacteriology and his inventive genius brought him honours, and distinction. His great invention, which bears his name, had reference to the destruction of the ova of lice by “dry heat”, and this is now in use by the Allied armies. Another invention for the purification of bath water, whereby it could be used seven times, is a valuable asset in a country where water is scarce; and a self-emptying incinerator and a process of rendering down waste fats, which were ultimately turned into nitro-glycerine for the manufacture of munitions, were among the ideas he brought to perfection on the battlefield. Captain Jacobs was twice mentioned in despatches, and he was also congratulated on two occasions by Sir Douglas Haig.
Captain Robert Jacobs is buried at Avesnes-le-Comte Communal Cemetery Extension in France. He is also commemorated locally on Solihull war memorial. A photograph of his grave, together with his medals and the telegram sent to his mother notifying her of his death are held at The Core Library, Solihull (ref.: D3)
Norman Edward Smith was born in Toronto, Canada c. 1890. His parents seem to have been Thomas Henry Smith, a manufacturer born in Co. Tyrone, Ireland, and Mary Elizabeth (née Ferguson) who married in Ontario in 1886. Norman appears to have been their only child.
In 1911, Norman and his parents were living in Blyth, Northumberland, where he was recorded as a 21-year-old law student. It seems that he abandoned a career in the legal profession as he had moved to Birmingham by June 1912. In the membership register for the Masonic Lodge of Emulation both he and Thomas Henry Smith were listed as soap manufacturers. Thomas resigned from the Lodge in August 1914 but Norman’s membership continued until his death in action.
The local connection is that Norman Edward Smith was a member of the Avenue Bowling Club, Copt Heath and is recorded on their roll of honour. He is buried at Marfaux British Cemetery.
If you have any further information on either of these men, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
tel.: 0121 704 6977