Three local men are known to have lost their lives on 24th June 1917 whilst on active service: Second Lieutenant Rupert Edward Everitt, 299th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery; Private William James Leake, 1st/7th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment; and Gunner Henry Smith, 207th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery.
Rupert Edward Everitt was born on 2nd October 1875, and was the youngest of the three known children (two sons, one daughter) of Lieutenant-Colonel Herbert Everitt of the Royal Marine Artillery and his wife, Alice (née Peto) who married in 1865. Rupert attended St Mary’s School, Winchester and then Winchester College 1889-1894, where he was recorded as a boarder, aged 15, at the time of the 1891 census. He was a school prefect and also played a leading role in the Shakespeare Society. He won the silver Medal for Latin Speech and the Duncan Prize for Reading.
In 1894 he went up to Worcester College, Oxford with a Classical Scholarship. He obtained a Second Class Honours degree in 1898 and entered the teaching profession. After two years as Assistant Master at Ascham House School, Bournemouth, he moved to Packwood Haugh School, Hockley Heath 1900-1902, then worked at Clifton College for four years, during which time he was initiated into the Freemasons (Royal Sussex Lodge of Hospitality) in June 1903. He then spent two years as Assistant Master at Elstree School 1906-1908, before taking up what would prove to be his final teaching post at King’s School, Canterbury, where he was nicknamed “Crusty”. Whilst at Canterbury, he was an officer in the Officer Training Corps (OTC).
On 16th January 1916, aged 40, he enlisted in the Royal Garrison Artillery as a Gunner under Lord Derby’s Scheme, and was mobilised in April 1916. He went out to France in July 1916 to serve with 144th Siege Battery RGA, having been promoted to the rank of Bombardier on the day before he left England. Having applied for a commission, he returned to England in September 1916 to attend Cadet School in St John’s Wood, transferring to Trowbridge in October 1917. He was gazetted Second Lieutenant on probation in December 1916. He went to France as an officer in May 1917 and was killed by a shell splinter on 24th June whilst in his billet in Poperinghe.
Letters from fellow officers indicate that he had been up for most of the night and was preparing to shave when a shell burst about four yards outside the billet. A fragment of the shell caught him in the head or neck and reportedly killed him instantly. He is buried at Ferme-Olivier Cemetery, Belgium and is also commemorated at King’s College, Canterbury and at Winchester College.
William James Leake was born in Castle Bromwich in 1893 and baptised at St Mary & St Margaret’s Church on 6th August 1893. He was the ninth of the ten children of parents, John (a bricklayer’s labourer) and Mary Ann (née Robotham) who had married at St Peter & St Paul’s Church, Aston on 30th March 1876. Two of the couple’s children had died by 1911.
The family lived at Croft Cottage, Coleshill Road, Castle Bromwich and, in 1911, William was one of the four children living in the parental home. He was aged 17, and listed as a labourer.
William’s service record has survived so we know that he volunteered for the Army in December 1915, when he was aged 24 and listed as working as a platelayer with the Midland Railway. He was initially posted to the Reserves before being mobilised in March 1916 and sent to France on 24th July 1916. He gave his mother, Mary Ann, as his next of kin, his father having died in 1912.
He was wounded in action on 17th November 1916 and admitted to No. 45 Casualty Clearing Station (CCS) until 23rd November when he was returned to duty working on the Light Railway as a navvie, presumably helping to construct the railway tracks that were vital to ensure supplies could reach the front. He rejoined his battalion on 27th May 1917, less than a month before he was killed in action. He is buried at Achiet-le-Grand Communal Cemetery Extension, 19 kilometres south of Arras. He is also commemorated locally at Castle Bromwich.
Henry Smith was born in Temple Balsall in 1896, and was the second of two sons of parents Joseph and Ann (née Gibbs) to be killed in the war. Henry’s older brother, 21-year-old John Charles Smith, was killed on 22nd December 1914, just four months after enlisting. A third brother, Norman Leslie Smith (born 1899) enlisted less than a month after John’s death but, after serving 99 days, was discharged in May 1916 as “having made mis-statement as to his age.”
By 1901, the family had moved to Burton Green, near Kenilworth, where they remained until at least 1911. By 1915, they had moved to Park Lane, Bekswell, which was the address given by Norman when he joined the Army. The family remained in Berkswell until at least the 1920s, as both of the boys who died in the war – John Charles and Henry – are recorded on Berkswell War Memorial. The Coventry Evening Telegraph 4th August 1917 reported his death:
Henry Smith of Skew Bridge, enlisted as soon as war broke out with three of his brothers, and was drafted to the Garrison Artillery. For the first two years of the war he was serving in Bermuda, but was moved to France in November last. His C.O. spoke very highly of him, as one of his most reliable men. He is the second of the four brothers to fall, John being killed in the early part of the war.
Henry is buried at Ferme-Olivier Cemetery, Belgium and commemorated at Berkswell and Temple Balsall.
If you have any further information about any of these men, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
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