Able Seaman Donald Augustus Smith HMS Sparrowhawk

portsmouth naval memorial
Portsmouth Naval Memorial

sparrowhawk_crew

One of the difficulties I faced when I started this project was that the combined memorial contained 39 names and that was all there was to go on. A brief effort was made by Dorset OPC in the 2000’s to trace the lives commemorated thereon but the effort stopped at Blandford. The level of proof I went for is to show that a man lived within walking, train or cycling distance of the school at some point between the ages of 10 and 18. (In most cases I have been able to add many more levels of proof as well).

The 1901 and 1911 census records are invaluable but not enough.

What I have been able to show over the years of doing this research is that the memorial almost exactly represents the wider catchment area of the school. Those who walked across town were easy to find, those who came by train were harder, some living as far away as Sturminster Newton. The three staff members were only traced due to a single, misfiled document in Blandford Museum.

For the Grammar School memorial for WW2 it is only the digitisation of newspaper records that allowed me to track down the lives of those who lived outside the town. So for the last four years I have been able to say I have identified 38 of the 39 names.

Which left the problem of ‘D A Smith’. With only a name to go on, I was looking for which one of the 13,000 Smiths who died in WW1 he was. Several hundred hours of effort over the last 7 years proved:

  1. No suitable D A Smith lived in Blandford or the known ‘commutable’ area for either the 1901 or 1911 census. By using the family tree tools on Ancestry, starting with the established Smith families in Blandford and widening the search to extended family still turned up no suitable candidates.
  2. No D A Smith or even D Smith is shown on any other WW1 War Memorial in Dorset or surrounding counties.
  3. No D A Smith had a death notice printed in the Western Gazette or other nearby publications between 1914 and 1920.
  4. No potential D A Smiths on the Commonwealth War Graves register can be shown to have a connection with Blandford (more of this later)
  5. Our D A Smith did not serve with the Canadians, Australian, New Zealand or even the United States’ forces.

Thus I have to prove a connection with Blandford for a D A Smith. Searching the census records in Southern England, the majority of D Smiths of a suitable age in 1901 or 1911 are female (Doris/Dorothy being favourite). Widening the search simply for a male D A Smith in southern England I eventually turned up Donald A Smith b 1895 and his brother Douglas E Smith b 1897 living with their maternal grandparents in Frome in 1901. Some further digging found that their father, Frederick John Smith was born in Blandford in 1869. This was the first time in 7 years I had found a connection for a D A Smith with Blandford and was quite a moment!

Donald Augustus Smith b 8 January 1895. Son of Frederick John Smith, an Engineer’s Pattern Maker born in Blandford, and Louisa (nee Hockaday) in Bristol. A brother, Douglas Edgar Smith was born in Frome in 1897.

Frederick and Louisa were living without their boys in Holborn, London in 1901. The boys were living in Frome with her parents in 1901. The next time the boys show up in official records is in 1911 when they are back living with their father and his new wife (16 years his junior) whom he had married the previous year.

As their maternal Grandfather had died in 1906 it makes reasonable sense to think that their paternal grandfather, Edgar Bennett Smith, a tailor, who was an Alderman of Blandford may well have stepped in to look after them as their father must also have lost Louisa during this time as well.

Both boys joined the Royal Navy as boy entrants. Donald in October 1911 and Douglas in March 1913. Douglas was lost on HMS Monmouth at the Battle of Coronel in 1914 and Donald on HMS Sparrowhawk at Jutland in 1916. The reason only Donald would be on the school memorial could be down to the difference in their ages and may well point to Donald only being at the school for a short period.

Donald joined the training establishment HMS Ganges on 11 October 1911 as a Boy Second Class. He passed on to be Boy First Class in February the following year and then spent time in a range of pre-Dreadnought battleships (HMS Hibernia, London, Implacable and Revenge) until he qualified as an Ordinary Seaman on board HMS Venerable in January 1913 in the Second Fleet. Before the year was out he had progressed to Able Seaman so that in January 1914 he was posted to HMS Hecla the Depot Ship of the 4th Destroyer Flotilla at Scapa Flow. From here he was posted to HMS Sparrowhawk where he would spend the next two and a half years until the Battle of Jutland.

At Jutland, HMS Sparrowhawk was lost after a collision with HMS Broke another ship of the 4th Destroyer Flotilla. Broke had been attacking the SMS Westfalen at very close range and was hit several times. The helmsman was killed at his wheel and as he slumped he caused Broke to veer to port and collide with Sparrowhawk at high speed (28 knots / 32 mph). This collision killed 6 crew of Sparrowhawk, including Donald. Shortly afterwards HMS Contest a similar Acasta Class Destroyer as Sparrowhawk collided with Sparrowhawk’s stern.

Sparrowhawk although still with power could not manoeuvre and after a night of close shaves with the dispersing German fleet was taken under tow by HMS Marksman Flotilla Leader of the 12th Flotilla. The tow was unstable and due to reports of U Boats in the area the decision was taken to take the crew off and sink Sparrowhawk with gunfire.

4-inch_Mk_V_gun_and_crew_on_HMS_Galatea_Feb_1917_LAC_3398106

4 in gun as fitted to Sparrowhawk (this picture is of HMS Galatea) Donald is quite likely to have been part of the gun crew and thus lost overboard after the collision with Broke.

Sparrowhawk and Broke in collision

Broke in dry dock

HMS Broke in dry dock after the collision with Sparrowhawk.

HMS_Sparrowhawk,_1913

HMS Sparrowhawk 1913

Capture

sparrowhawk-1913

This is not a 100% identification as there is only a circumstantial link to being in Blandford, however having searched for a long time I know how rare male D A Smiths born in the 1880-1900 window are. (Most are Scottish) So knowing that their father was born in Blandford and their Grandfather was an Alderman of the town I cannot really see any other explanation.

Questions I cannot answer:

Why is Donald on the school memorial and Douglas not?

Why on their Naval Documents, did Donald and Douglas list different mothers with different addresses in London?

Why, when applying for their pensions after the war did their father include a ‘step-mother’ in the application?

It is clear that the two boys did not enjoy the same stability in their home life as the others on the memorial but perhaps that makes them all the more interesting.

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