Gunner loses his life one day after the Great War Ends

Reprinted from The Packet, 27 Oct 2017
by Lester Green

Edgar H. Smith (Photo courtesy of nephew Ross Vivian)

The last sailor to make the ultimate sacrifice from the Southwest Arm region was Leading Seaman Edgar H. Smith. Born in the small outport of Island Cove to Simeon and Maria (Whalen) on June 18, 1894, according to his enlistment papers. Records indicate that he passed his medical and was recommended for enlistment with the Royal Naval Reserve on March 18, 1914 where he completed basic naval training onboard the HMS Calypso. He was called to St. John’s on August 13 for duty by Royal Proclamation when war was declared in the summer of 1914 overseas. He left St. John’s on November 14 aboard the S.S. Carthaginian and arrived at HMS Vivid, a navy barracks and shore-based training facility at Devonshire, England. Over the next four years he would be assigned to several other navy facilities and military ships.

List of ships

During the landing and the evacuation of soldiers from the Gallipoli in 1915, Seaman Edgar Smith served on the HMS Prince George and was mentioned in dispatches from the Vice-Admiral commander of the Eastern Mediterranean Squadron for good services during this action.

Daily Star, June 13, 1916

Daily Star, June 13, 1916

On August 26, 1918, he received orders to report to the navy accounting base at HMS President III, Bristol, England. It was during this assignment that he was ordered serve as a gunner and board the Trebiskin, a ketch out of Padstow, England. The ship departed with a crew of five men on November 12 and was bound from Swansea to Youghal, England with a load of coal.  It is believed that the ships sank just off the Mixon Bell outside the Swansea Harbour. An inquiry at Swansea into the sinking of the ship could not determine the exact cause but listed that the ship may have foundered under the weight of its cargo in rough seas. Onboard were two sailors from Newfoundland Seaman John Doyle and Leading Seaman Edgar Henry Smith.

A newspaper’s article that appeared in the local paper, Southwest Weekly Post on December 21, 1918 speaks about Edgar Smith as being a gunner on Trebiskin and claims that the body of Edgar Smith washed ashore about a month later. The article reads: “deceased’s body was washed up on the foreshore on Tuesday last.” His body was recovered, identified and buried at Danygraig cemetery in the St. Thomas area of Swansea. Today his monument overlooks the docks of the area.

Leading Seaman Smith had a younger brother Isaac that enlisted three years after Edgar signed his engagement papers. Isaac spent his entire naval career on the HMS Briton and served patrolling the waters around Newfoundland.

Evening Telegram, December 14, 1918

Edgar Smith’s WW1 medals (courtesy Craig Smith)

 

An article in the Evening Telegram on December 14 speaks to his death and list his next of kin as being his wife, Mrs. Lillian Smith of Winterton, Trinity Bay. They had one son born in November 1918, the same month that his father’s life was taken. Lillian appropriately named the boy Edgar in honour of her husband who never came home from overseas. His family received his medals which included British War Medal, Victory Medal, 1914-1915 Star and the Memorial Plaque (medallion that was sent to family in honour of a life that was loss during the war.)

Leading Seaman Edgar Henry Smith had become the final casualty of the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve from the Southwest Arm region. The families of the region had lost seven sailors whose lives were sacrificed in the name of their King and Country. Their names George Stringer, Simeon Whalen, John Hiscock, Luke Smith, Eldred Gosse, Alexander Peddle, and Edgar Smith. We will remember them.

Photo credit David Wilson-Pinkey, 2014.

Next week’s article will relate how the HMS Invincible, the latest in what the British Navy described as innovative battle cruisers, took part in the Battle of the Jutland, the largest naval battle of the Great War. Onboard was Seaman John Hiscock of Northern Bights. This article was originally schedule to run on October 5 but due to delays will run next week’s issue of Where Once They Sail.