This story is the result of an investigation of documents held by Surrey History Centre. The file (SHC ref. CC7/4/4, nos. 1-50) contains correspondence and insurance claims on behalf of Surrey County Council Education Department employees who had been killed in action during the Great War. The cases date from 1915 to 1918.
Case 15: Major Ralph Smith
Major Ralph Smith was born the second of four children, and the only son of Major and Ellen Smith. His father was a pastor of the Congregational Church in their local village earning a salary of £90 per year, most of which was used to pay for their family home. Nonetheless, his parents invested a great deal in Major’s future, sacrificing much at their own expense to ensure he would receive the best education possible and ultimately become a schoolmaster. Major spent three years as a pupil-teacher before attending Winchester Training College for two years. During this time, he relied on his parents’ financial support, as well as the small amount he had earned being a pupil teacher. Therefore, when he became a qualified teacher, Major did what he could in return for his parents, becoming a great financial help to his family by sending money home almost every month. Even after joining the army, Smith gave permission for his parents to use his money as sent by the Lingfield School of Managers. Whilst they did use some of his wages, Major’s parents also saved some money in the bank, in the hope of his return.
Unfortunately, Major Ralph Smith died as a result of his wounds on 19 July 1916. Although the events leading to his death are uncertain, a letter sent from Chaplain Hubert L. Simpson to Smith’s parents reveals the nature of his final few days, which he spent seemingly recovering in hospital. Simpson wrote of the conversations he shared with Major about teaching and religion, and his love for reading. The two prayed together, and Chaplain Simpson also read some of the Scriptures. Although breathing was difficult, Major did apparently not suffer much, and his parents were told to ‘have pride in his devotion and self-sacrifice […] Everybody was impressed by his quiet, brave, spirit, his gentleness and thoughtfulness.’ Smith is buried in the British cemetery of Mount Huon in Le Treport, France.
At the time of his death, Major’s older sister, Florence Nellie, was married and living away from home. The next sister, Winifred May, was 22 years old and working at Dyer and Son printers. Although she lived still lived at home, she relied on her own wages of 13/- per week. The youngest sister, Gladys Ellen, was the only child of Major and Ellen who was still dependent on her parents. Like her brother, Gladys pursued a role in teaching, spending a year working in Woking before being accepted to study at Goldsmith’s College. This was something which had pleased her brother Major and he had wanted to support her financially. Although his official will left all property, effects and money to their father, some of the money which had been saved in the bank was then used to support Gladys through her education and training. Major and Ellen Smith wrote that they had ‘no regrets about the expenses or sacrifices’ for their son: ‘he was worthy of it’.