It feels like a very long time ago when we were last on Fountain Road and it was all about Ted Foster and his exploits at Villers-Plouich. Just a few doors away from him was a house where darkness had already descended as a result of the First World War, even before Ted Foster was in uniform. On 6th May 1915 Charles Smith succumbed to his wounds and died in hospital in Alexandria. He would have been taken there as a consequence of injuries caused in the Gallipoli landing at Cape Helles on 25th April. ANZAC Day. He was in the 2nd London Regiment, The Royal Fusiliers and we know very little about him. He is buried at the Chatby Military and War Memorial Cemetery in the company of Phillip George Chapman, of the Australian Infantry. They are the only members of the Summerstown182 to rest on African soil. Once of Franche Court Road, Phillip died in August from wounds at the Battle of Lone Pine.
The address on Charles Smith’s grave registration document is given as Clyde Terrace, 80a Fountain Road. The house still stands at a pivotal position on the junction of Fountain Road and Pevensey Road, looking down Cranmer Terrace to St George’s Hospital. This would have been Tooting Grove, home to the Fosters for some time and developing into one of the worst slums in Wandsworth. It was eventually cleared in the early 30s thanks to the efforts of the Chairman of the Council’s Housing Committee, Henry Prince who deservedly had a new estate a few miles up the road named after him. There is no sign now of ‘Clyde Terrace’ – occasionally stretches of housing had these add-on names on obscure plinths that you might pass thousands of times without ever noticing. There is a ‘Bath Terrace’ on Garratt Lane that I had walked past for twenty years without it ever catching my eye.
Charles was born in Chelsea and joined the army in Kingston. His parents were Charles Stephen Smith and Emma Smith and he had a brother Albert who survived the war and in 1918 is documented in the absent voters list as serving in the Royal Marine Light Infantry. They had been living at 80a Fountain Road from 1914 but were possibly in the area before that. Certainly they were still all there two years later so would have been around for Tiny Ted’s triumphant return to Fountain Road in the summer of 1917 when hundreds of residents turned out to greet the Victoria Cross winning hero. A Kate Smith was present at the address until at least the beginning of the Second World War. Just two doors away at No76 lived 22 year old Moses Caulfield who was lost in the Battle of Jutland on HMS Black Prince.
Before all hell broke loose that spring, Charles would have had a fairly pleasant few weeks. On March 16th the 2nd Royal Fusiliers embarked on SS Alaunia at Avonmouth and steamed through beautiful weather to the Eastern Mediterranean. When she was still some distance from Gibraltar the navy began its attack on the Narrows at Gallipoli. They would have had little idea of the inferno they were sailing into. After a few days on Malta they arrived in Alexandria on Palm Sunday, March 28th. They were here for almost a month, training for the task in hand. On the evening of the 24th April the 2nd Royal Fusiliers left Lemnos for Gallipoli. The Royal Fusiliers in The Great War’ by H C O’Neill OBE describes it vividly ‘The night was calm and clear, and the short journey was made under a brilliant moon. The two companies on Implacable had a hot breakfast about 3.30am (April 25th), and the men were then put into boats. The moon had already set, and the night had become dark and still. At 4.45 the fleet bombardment began’.
The landing place of the 2nd Battalion was ‘X’ Beach, a small natural amphitheatre with a narrow floor of sand about 200 yards long, on the north-west face of the peninsula. The cliff was some 100 feet high, rising somewhat steeply from the beach, and there was no natural way up. Half the battalion were in boats provided by HMS Implacable, the other half in boats from other ships. The men rowed in as rapidly as possible until the boats grounded, when they jumped into the water, in many cases chest-deep and waded ashore to begin their scramble up the crumbling cliff. The landing itself did not meet any heavy opposition, but going further inland everything changed. At the end of the day the 2nd Royal Fusiliers had lost half their strength. This included the Commanding Officer, the Second-in-Command, and all the Company Commanders. The 2nd Royal Fusiliers were among the first to land at Gallipoli on 25th April 1915. Also there on that day, following the Royal Fusiliers onto X Beach were the 1st Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. They would also suffer terrible losses.
Charles Smith from Fountain Road would have been taken from here by hospital ship to Alexandria where he died eleven days later. The first ship to arrive with wounded from Gallipoli was the ‘Gascon’ on 29 April 1915. Not all the hospitals were ready to receive wounded, some were at least three weeks from completion. Many of the injured had to be moved on to Cairo – a train ride from Alexandria and then further by ambulance. Some idea of the rapid increase arrivals of wounded in Egypt can be seen in that on 17th April (before the landing), 183 sick arrived in Egypt and on 28th April, 257. On 29th April, the hospital ship ‘Gascon’ arrived and within the following 48 hours another five troopships brought 2,849 casualties from Gallipoli. By 29th April, all the available accommodation in Alexandria was filled.
News was swiftly relayed home and Charles death was reported in the August 1915 edition of the St Mary’s Church parish magazine. ‘We much regret to hear that Charles Smith, of the Royal Fusiliers, who was wounded about April 25th, died in hospital at Alexandria on May 7th, and that Harold Smith has been wounded and is in a base hospital’. Its possible given the inclusion of both in this notification that they were brothers. We may never know if Harold made it or who he was. On the streets of Wandsworth and Tooting the recruiting drive was in full swing. Mayor Dawnay was rounding up a Wandsworth Battalion and whether Ted Foster knew about his near neighbour’s demise or not that summer – himself, twelve year old Sidney Lewis and hundreds of others were marching down Garratt Lane in answer to the Mayor’s call.
Chatby is a district on the east side of the city of Alexandria, between the main dual carriageway to Aboukir (Al Horaya) and the sea. Chatby Military and War Memorial Cemetery was used for burials until April 1916. During the Second World War, Alexandria was again an important hospital centre, taking casualties from campaigns in the Western Desert, Greece, Crete and the Mediterranean. Both my parents passed through at various stages, Dad on his way to Libya and then Greece in 1940, Mum as a WAAF based in Cairo from 1946. The Chatby Memorial stands at the eastern end of the cemetery and commemorates almost 1,000 Commonwealth servicemen who died during the First World War and have no other grave but the sea. Many of them were lost when hospital ships or transports were sunk in the Mediterranean, sailing to or from Alexandria. Others died of wounds or sickness while aboard such vessels and were buried at sea. There are 2,259 First World War burials in the cemetery and 503 from the Second World War.
We don’t know how old Charles Smith was, if he was married or what job he did. All we have is an address in Tooting and from the many accounts of what happened at those Gallipoli landings, a vague idea of the circumstances that lead to his death. He is ‘C Smith’ on our war memorial and but for Reverend Robinson writing a simple sentence announcing his death in the parish magazine, we would have been denied even these clues to who he was. 761 C Smiths were killed in the First World War.