John’s WWI Blog: Family photo from the Front

The Smith family in WWI
The Smith family in WWI

June 5, 1917 – Dad and sons take time out from the battlefield for a remarkable family photograph

This remarkable photograph in the June 5, 1917, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser provides a chilling insight into how families are affected by the conflict raging against the German empire.

Private J H Bland

Private J H Bland

Here is a dad and his two sons all serving in the same regiment, living closer together than they probably did at home.

But for friends and family left behind it must be a constant worry: will dad Lance-Corporal T B Smith and his sons Private H H Smith and Signaller T G Smith be injured – or even killed – in the same action?

The photograph, which dominates the page, is clearly staged in a studio – probably in France – and is fascinating for the expressions on the faces of the men. All are sombre, particularly dad in the middle, but the son on the left is smoking a cigarette and the other son has the beginnings of a cheeky grin.

No clue is given about the photographer and there is no mention of Mrs Smith, the wife and mother who no doubt proudly brought the picture to the Advertiser’s editor for publication, but there is plenty of information about the men.

The family home is at 12 Heygate Street and dad was employed by tailor Mr E Elliott before he joined up with the Leicesters at the beginning of war and had ‘seen severe fighting’ from as early as January 1915.

Signaller T G Smith is presumably the elder of the two sons because he joined the 10th Leicesters in August 1915 and Private H H Smith did not join the Durham Light Infantry until March 1916.

The story says: “Both sons were ‘claimed’ by the father into the Leicester Regiment, with whom they are now serving.”

There is one other photograph of a Harborough lad: Private J H Bland, the nephew and adopted son of Mr and Mrs J A Bland of Bowden Lane, who was killed in action last month. His story was told in a previous issue of the Advertiser.

There is news of other men who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Nineteen-year-old Second Lieutenant Percy R Palmer, who had won the Military Cross in March as an observer in the Flying Corps, has died in ‘aerial combat’.

In a letter from one of his Market Harborough ‘chums’, Second Lieutenant Cort says: “He was always very keenly interested in anything concerning flying. The Commandant said he had all the qualities essential for a good ‘observer’. I have lost a friend whom I can never hope to replace.”

Private Sidney Smith of Hearth Street, who received eight wounds in his arm during fighting, had spent ten months recovering before returning to his regiment, only to be drowned when the ship carrying him back to the front was sunk.

Twenty-year-old Private F Foskett is reported to be the first man from Theddingworth to be killed in action. Foskett, who previously worked at R and W H Symington, has three other brothers still serving.

Second Lieutenant Penketh, whose mother lived in Market Harborough for ‘some years’, has ‘fallen for his country’. Two other brothers have both been wounded, one of whom was so badly injured he was discharged and had returned to Canada ‘where he enlisted at the outbreak of war’.

Private Holyoak of Hearth Street is officially reported as missing and so is Private Burnham of East Farndon.

Private Warner of Nelson Street is in hospital at Salonika. The report says: “By a strange coincidence the nurse under whose care he was placed comes from this district. She is Miss Whiteman of Lamport.”