St Leonard's Sunningwell

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Tales From God’s Acre – Heath-Smith 1

It seems fitting to move for the winter season to consider monuments inside the church. Its internal walls were traditionally reserved for inscriptions to commemorate residents of substance, including former clergy; most of these have been in place for generations, perhaps centuries, as we shall see later. But first, one of the most recent plaques, on the south side of the nave, which recalls Sidney John Heath-Smith, a young soldier killed on the western front near the very end of the Second World War. It is fitting that such a sad mark of respect should attract attention at the time of Remembrance. This year our friend Adam Asher, the teacher who brings boys from Cothill School to our Sunday services, revealed himself as an expert on the military history of the war. He promptly undertook to research Heath-Smith’s life, and what follows I owe to him, with warm thanks.

Sidney John Smith (‘Heath’ was his mother’s maiden name and he added it to his own later) was born on 4 February 1919 in Warwickshire. We know that his parents (Sidney Vere and Constance Louise) subsequently brought the family to live at Fairacre on the Lincombe Lane spur, though as yet we cannot say why. Sidney attended Oxford High School for Boys, on the corner of George Street and New Inn Hall Street  ̵̶ nowadays the university History faculty  ̶ a place already famous for numbering Lawrence of Arabia amongst its alumni.  Thence he moved the short distance as an undergraduate to St Edmund Hall, where he excelled as a sportsman (especially as a boxing blue). On graduation from Oxford he attended Sandhurst, and from there – just as he celebrated his 21st birthday   ̶ he joined the 2nd battalion   as a second lieutenant.  The following year his battalion became an air-landing unit, and in 1943 it joined the 6th airborne division. That was a good year for Sidney: he married Gillian Blake in Solihull, and also attained the rank of major, with command over a heavy company. What happened to him afterwards will be narrated next month.

Bob Evans

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