Thursday, 16 August 2007

About My Uncles

In my last post I mentioned a picture which hung in the dining room of 5 Holborn Road, of the Princes in the Tower. Our picture was a black and white print, not colour like the one above, and below the picture were these lines from Richard III, as spoken by Queen Elizabeth:

"Pity, you ancient stones, those tender babes
Whom envy hath immured within your walls!"

'Envy', in this case, personifies Richard III, the quintessential wicked uncle, at least as Shakespeare portrayed him. Personally, I belong to the revisionist school of thought which believes that Richard received a bum rap. Read Josephine Tey's wonderful novel, The Daughter of Time, and check out the Richard III Society of Canada, who each year on August 22nd, place an In Memoriam notice for Richard in the Globe and Mail. In case you're wondering why I'm mentioning this, it's because my daughter asked when I was going to write about "the wicked uncles". Well, I had no wicked uncles. They were all regular uncles ... each with his own foibles and peculiarities, but nothing out of the ordinary, except, perhaps, that the eldest three never married.

My very first post was about my Uncle Victor, the eldest of the Smedmore boys, who went to England in 1915 and joined the Life Guards of the Household Cavalry, was sent to France with the combined battalion of the Reds and the Blues which made up the Household Battalion of the British Expeditionary Force, and was killed in action in 1918. I never knew him of course, only what my mother would tell me about him, and what little information I found about him in the online Daily Gleaner, which reported on his joining up and on memorial services held after his death. The only picture I have of him is a large framed painting , which may have been a photograph which was colorized, showing him in his Lifeguard uniform.

I remember another picture of him, at 49 Beeston Street, one of a group of three soldiers in their khaki uniforms, but I have no idea where that picture ended up.
Victor was born in February 1886, and the next son, Norman, was born the end of November 1887. He is another uncle that I never knew, and in a way he's the real mystery man of the family. He doesn't seem to have been as popular with his sisters as was his older brother ... but then, getting killed in the war does give one a certain cachet. Norman, known by the family as Normy, also left Jamaica, but not to fight. Like many other Jamaicans he headed off to New York in June 1918, on board the ss Zacapa. On the ship's manifest he gave his next of kin as his mother at 49 Beeston Street, and stated he was going to stay in New York with a friend, Joseph Levy. Joseph Levy was the youngest brother of my father and had himself left Jamaica for New York in August 1917. Norman claimed on the manifest that he was going to the U.S. for six months but he certainly never returned to Jamaica. He lived there until his death in July 1953. I have no photographs of him and all I know of him is what I've been told by my mother, and what I've been able to find out through research. He settled first in Brooklyn where he worked as a traffic checker for the Public Service Railroad Company, and in September 1918 he filled out a registration card for the draft. After that he appears to have worked for the rest of his life in New York for Swift & Company, meat packers. Thanks to David Priever, a researcher in New York, I was able to get a copy of the administration of his estate from the Surrogate Court of New York ... like many of the Smedmores, he left no will ... and what ever else I know about him comes from this brief obituary in the Gleaner of August 8, 1953. That Norman was a Freemason doesn't surprise me as my grandfather and my Uncles Rodney and Owen also belonged to the Scottish Rite. I had not known that, like Victor, he attended Wolmer's Boy School, nor that he had worked for the lumber companies in question. I do know, from what my mother told me, that he would send money home for his mother and sisters, and I know, from a brief notice in The Gleaner that Elma went to New York on vacation in June 1951,so I imagine she must have visited Norman. One thing I do remember is how surprised the family was at how small his estate was -- according to the lawyer, Albert Stark, a mere $4,400. Considering that Norman never married, lived in lodgings and had worked steadily since arriving in New York, this small amount to be divided between his siblings, after all expenses had been paid, came as quite a shock.

I come now to the Smedmore uncles that I did know. The next one in the family was my Uncle Owen, born in November 1891 in Port Royal. To my mind he was the best looking one of the family and it always puzzled me that he never married.

I think one reason may have been that he had a speech impediment, a stammer, as did Rodney and Lucius, though I remember that Owen's seemed to be the worst of the bunch. There are probably all sorts of scientific reasons for speech impediments, but I feel pretty sure, from what my mother told me, that this was exacerbated by my grandfather's treatment of his sons. He had no patience when they stuttered and would tell them to speak up without stammering. I think Owen was probably shy. He worked all his life at D. Henderson and Company at the corner of King and Harbour Streets.

I remember him as gentle and generous. I could always touch him up for money at Christmas time when all the family gathered at 5 Holborn Road -- two shillings and sixpence or even five shillings, and then, of course, I would go to the other uncles and tell them how much I got from Owen, and they, not wanting to be outdone, would shell out as well.

I guess Owen felt he had an obligation to take care of his mother and sisters, once Victor had left for the war and Norman had emigrated to the States, consequently he lived at home with them, first at Beeston Street, and then later he moved with my aunts to 11 Dunrobin Avenue when the Beeston Street house was sold. I would say he had a very powerful sense of duty to his unmarried sisters and I know that he was a loving brother and brother-in-law. Sadly, he was on holiday when he died. The family had gone to White River for a vacation when Owen suffered a heart attack or a stroke while swimming.

In my next post I'll write about my other uncles, Rodney, Lucius and Julian. It may be a while as I'll be off line while on vacation for two weeks.


Walker said...

Enjoyed reading about your dashing bachelor uncles.

Clovis said...

I just discovered your blog and must say I am glad. To use a hyperbolic phrase, it is a veritable reservoir of knowledge. I am particularly interested about your blog because I live in the same area and always wondered what the plae looked liked fifty years ago.

Thanks, again and continue blogging.

Dorothy Kew said...

Thanks for the kind comments! Take a look at the latest post, where I continue the story about my uncles.

patricia said...

I would say that Great Uncle Julian was far from ordinary.

I don't recall you mentioning before about that picture of the Princes in the Tower being in your old home before. That's fascinating. And without any of your influence, Richard III ended up being one of my favourite Shakespeare plays. And of course I adore The Daughter of Time, though I do have you to thank for that.

Great Uncle Owne really was the best-looking of the bunch! How old was he when he died?

You know you really were very fortunate to be surrounded by so much family, even though you might have thought it a nuisance when you were very young, always having some elder telling you what to do.

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Arras Memorial

Arras Memorial

Trooper Victor Dey Smedmore

Trooper Victor Dey Smedmore
My uncle Victor