Facing World War 1

William Henry Smith and Laura nee Petts. ©Adèle Emm

Yesterday was the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme (1 July 1916), the worst day for casualties in British military history with 57,470 casualties and 19,240 killed in action.    This is my great grand aunt Laura Mary nee Petts and husband William Henry Smith taken some time during WW1.  I suspect he was snatching leave from the front and took the opportunity of taking a photo with his loved one.  The expression in his eyes breaks my heart.

He was a ‘carman’ at marriage; today’s equivalent of van driver but his ‘car’ was horse and possibly cart.  Neither he nor Laura were in their first flush of youth at their wedding see the photo below.  Widower William was 33 and Laura 40. They never had children.  In 1911, they lived in three  rooms in Lee, Lewisham.  He was 38 when the war began.

The badge on his shoulder tab (I’m no military historian, so correct me if this terminology is wrong) puts him, I think, in the Royal Engineers….

Detail of WH’s shoulder badge ©Adèle Emm

I’ve tried to find William Henry’s war record.  I’ve scrolled through dozens of William Henry/ Henry William/ William/ Henry Smith combinations but none were the right age or from the right area.  Admittedly, his records might have been amongst those accidentally  destroyed during the Second World War.  I looked on the War Graves Commission website but the only ones without ages gave so little further information, it was impossible.   I even consulted the 1939 register and found Laura but not William Henry.

Did he survive the First World War?  The truth is, I don’t know.

But his face haunts me.

William Henry Smith and Laura in happier times; their wedding August 1909

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