Every day on the British Army Ancestors Facebook page I take time to commemorate a British soldier. This post will look at three of the men I have remembered recently; from left to right: Percy Jeeves, Cyril Lowe, and James Smithwick.
P G Wodehouse’s famous butler Jeeves was based on the real-life Percy Jeeves. The following text is taken from Wikipedia’s Percy Jeeves page. “[He] was born on 5 March 1888 in Earlsheaton, near Dewsbury in Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom. He played cricket at Goole Cricket Club, and became a professional player at Hawes Cricket Club. In 1910, he did trials with the Yorkshire County Cricket Club.
“In 1912, he joined Warwickshire and in 1913, mainly a fast-medium bowler, he took 106 wickets in first-class matches, at 20.88, and scored 765 runs at 20.13. In 1914, he took 90 further wickets. In all, he took 199 wickets in his 50 first-class matches at a bowling average of 20.03.
In 1914, Jeeves was picked to play for the Players against the Gentlemen at the Oval, assisting the Players to victory by taking 4-44 in the Gentlemen’s second innings.
A few months later, after the outbreak of the First World War and once the 1914 cricket season had finished, Jeeves volunteered for service in the army. He was posted to the 15th (Service) Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. On 22 July 1916, Private Percy Jeeves (aged 28) was killed in action in France, at High Wood near Montauban-de-Picardie, during the Battle of the Somme. His body was never recovered and his name is carved on the Thiepval Memorial.”
The author, Captain W E Johns, supposedly based his fictional ace fighter pilot ‘Biggles’ on Cyril Lowe who is the subject of today’s daily post. Cyril Lowe, MC, DFC was born in October 1891 and later played rugby union football for England, holding England’s international try-scoring record for over sixty years. The First World War interrupted his sporting career but he came through it with honours, serving first with the Army Service Corps and later with the Royal Flying Corps, claiming nine victories. He survived the war and died in 1983 with the Military Cross and the Distinguished Flying Cross to his name.
There is some poetic justice in that it was Rory Underwood, also a pilot with the Royal Air Force, who later equalled and then surpassed Kit Nelson’s international try tally. The photograph was published in the Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News on the 10th October 1914.
There’s some wonderful narrative about Captain James Arnold Smithwick which you can listen to on the Kilkenny Archaelogical Society website.
Captain Smithwick was a veteran of the Boer War and he was wounded in October 1914 whilst serving with the 2nd battalion, Royal Irish Regiment, his name first appearing in a casualty list (Wounded and PoW) in The Times newspaper on the 25th November 1914. On the 27th October 1914, whilst in German hands, he wrote to his brother, Richard:
“My Dear Dick, I am here, wounded and a prisoner, and I am being well treated. As you have seen by the casualty list, the Regiment suffered very heavily. It is bad luck being here, but I am lucky to be above ground. I escaped until half an hour before the end without a scratch; then while trying to retire with some of my men to deal with a machine gun firing at us from our left rear I was grazed on the shoulder and on the hand. They next got me plumb on my right breast. It hit my compass, then on to a rib, and through the muscles on top of my stomach and out at my left side. Narrow squeak! It knocked me clean out at the time, and I am a bit stiff and sore, but it is going on well and there is no danger. Your fond brother.”
Unfortunately, as the narrative makes clear, there was ‘danger’ and when the situation was all but hopeless, James Smithwick was repatriated to the UK. He died in London on the 9th November 1915 and was buried in Kilkenny. The image I have reproduced was published in The Sphere on the 18th December 1915.