Saturday, 12 March 2016

Colour Sergeant Major William Smith - a portrait of a Soldier

News of my enquiries into CSM William Smith started to percolate to his descendants - Peter and Elaine , and a couple of very important photographs made their way over to me via the internet. Also, the set of medals were made available to see, so confirmation with examination of the medals confirmed what I had found from records. I am very grateful for their generosity and trust with such precious items.

I also had a look at the Welsh National Archive, specifically the Newspaper microfilm's, and this added further information to what was now known.

The Medals are shown below, with the number of 1156, William's regimental number. Medals can be cast by the thousand, but each is individualised with the soldiers regimental number stamped on the rim of the medal.

 Front view

Rear view

I was able to find the medal roll of the 3rd Battalion, Welch Regiment which had the same regimental number - as stamped on the rim, for the South African Campaign.

And after looking at the archive newspaper records found a photo of the Welch Regiment, parading after their return to Wales. This is almost certainly the 1st Battalion, and not the 3rd Battalion.

Whilst digging into the archives I also came across the following article. This is the Victorian equivalent of a Twitter feed, literally everything would be put through the newspaper, or sought from it, being a vital part of society. 

Evening Express, 5th August 1903

I knew that CSM William Smith had been given the GCM, after all he had it in his medal clasp, and wore it as part of his uniform. This was a significant and valued award to a soldier in Victorian/Edwardian Britain, a capable and trusted soldier who could be depended upon to maintain the ethos of the Army, but specifically and more importantly, that of the Regiment.

Finally, we have the most enigmatic of all the things so far discovered about CSM William Smith. These are 2 photo's of him with a large black crow. Also, the inscription on the back of a postcard, which I believe is a photocard of one of the photo's but can't confirm. Anyway, it identifies the photographer and the subject of the photo's. However, it also makes a clear distinction with reference to William. He had recently died. 

At the moment I have yet to look into identifying the buildings behind William, the photographer, or the other people in the photo with him, the date of the photo, the possible newspaper article reporting his death, or the significance of the crow. Now that is a real mystery, better than any book you could buy or read.

Regimental records are held at Kew - the National Archives, but not all, and a  lot of stuff was blown up by the Germans during WW2, in an effort to frustrate genealogical research, er, not really, but that is the effect. The records need to be tied to WO record series, and not all are in existance. 

When I found out about my fathers lookings, and frustrations with Kew, I had an idea that the Victorians being great colonial administrators, would be excellent record keepers. In fact, they would be positively anal regarding medals and entitlements. The key to finding out about him would be through the medal rolls, once his regimental number was confirmed, and not through the service records, which were missing. So it proved.

Thanks again to Peter and Elaine Harries, and to Mike Smith - you know who you are!

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