King Edward’s School and the Great War

Memorial Roll of Honour 1914 - 1918

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Smith, Geoffrey Bache

Private ▪ 26th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers

Geoffrey Bache Smith, born on 18th October 1894, was admitted to King Edward’s School in January 1905 as a Foundation Scholar. He lived with his widowed mother, Ruth, and his older brother, Roger, at 2, Grove Crescent, West Bromwich. Roger was also an Old Edwardian, serving and dying for his country in the war.

Geoffrey was an extremely talented academic all-rounder, winning many prizes in his final year such as the Exhibition for General Proficiency as well as prizes for Latin, English and French. He was a close friend of JRR Tolkien and a core member of the Tea Club and Barrovian Society (TCBS), “a fellowship of unusually talented, well-educated and idealistic schoolboys who met to trade ideas and indulge in clandestine tea breaks, and who ultimately shared the conviction that they would somehow change the world”. At School, Geoffrey was heavily involved in extra-curricular activity, serving as an “energetic and successful Secretary” to the Debating Society and regularly acting in the Greek Play and other school performances. He was an aspiring poet, a member of the Literary Society and a 1st XV rugby player.

After leaving School, Geoffrey attended Oxford University as a History Exhibitioner of Corpus Christi College, close to Tolkien’s Exeter College. Their friendship grew stronger at Oxford, perhaps because most other Old Edwardians, including former TCBS members Robert Gilson and Chris Wiseman, went to Cambridge.

Geoffrey joined the Oxford University Officer Training Corps in October 1914, applying for his commission on 1st December. The forms were signed by his former Headmaster, Cary Gilson. His application was accepted and he became a Second Lieutenant in the 8th Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. In April 1915, he applied to transfer to the 19th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers (3rd Salford Pals). In June 1915 he was promoted to Lieutenant, and was posted to France in November.

Geoffrey corresponded with Tolkien and other TCBS alumni, describing the situation in France as an “orgy of death and cruelty”. He arrived at Bouzincourt, where Tolkien was stationed, on 6th July 1916. The friends talked frequently, discussing poetry, the war and the future. In mid-November, Geoffrey was made Acting Adjutant for the Battalion but on 29th November, when the Battalion was shelled, he was hit by shrapnel. By 2nd December the wounds to his right arm were considered worrying, and at 0330 hours the following morning he died, aged twenty-two. He was buried in Warlincourt Halte British Cemetery, France.

Just before his death, Geoffrey wrote to Tolkien:

“My chief consolation is that if I am scuppered tonight there will still be left a member [of our School group] to voice what I dreamed and what we all agreed upon. For the death of one of its members cannot, I am determined, dissolve [the group]. Death can make us loathsome and helpless as individuals, but it cannot put an end to the immortal four! May God bless you my dear John Ronald and may you say things I have tried to say long after I am not there to say them if such be my lot.

Yours ever,

G. B. S.”

In 1918, Tolkien arranged for the publication of an anthology of Geoffrey’s poetry, A Spring Harvest. In addition, he wrote two poems in memory of Geoffrey, entitled “GBS” and “Companions of the Rose”.