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52 Weeks Of Ancestors – Week 1: Frederick William Smith

Frederick William Smith was born in Petworth Workhouse, Sussex, England on September 7th 1894 to Mary Jane Smith, an unwed Mother.

According to records, they lived in several workhouses over the next few years until she met and married Alfred Jupp Denyer and they took upresidence in Hove, Sussex.

Nathan Thomas Alfred Denyer was born in 1899 and Edward Charles in 1902. Frederick now had two half-brothers. It looked like life was good.

Frederick was not the model child and often got into mischief. He also was the son of a black man. This was not acceptable in Victorian Britain and so, on December 21st 1906 Frederick was admitted into the Barnardo Homes in London.

The intake papers stated, “To save this lad from his wretched surroundings where he would have no chance in life, Mr. M.A. Lawrence, Receiving Officer, The Hermitage Petworth, Sussex, wrote to our Brighton inspector asking if he could be admitted to the Homes.”

His fate was sealed – how alone and alienated he must have felt. He spent two months at Leopold House, East London and on February 21st 1907,he left England’s shores on board the S.S. Dominion bound for Portland, Maine arriving on March 5th, 1907.

From there, his journey continued to Toronto where he was placed in Barnardo’s receiving home on Farley Avenue. He did not remain there for long and two weeks later he found himself on the farm of Mr. Woolacott in Port Hope Ontario. This is where his private Hell began.

The Inspector reported that “a letter was written to his mother apprising of his safe arrival.” – The letter was returned “not known”.

According to the Inspector’s annual report, the home was filthy and the boys slept in the barn, however the boys remained there. Frederick told of his treatment at the farm. “The man would come out to the barn and poke us with a pitchfork to wake us up. If we weren’t quick enough we were sent into the fields in bare feet and no coat. I took to sleeping in my shoes and socks to be ready for him.”

Eventually, Frederick was removed from the home and sent to another farm in Newcastle, Ontario. Although this farm was cleaner, he was not treated any better.

The next Inspector’s report on December 31st 1909 stated that “Doing fairly well with T.A.W. Thompson Newcastle Ontario. Good home.”

March 27th 1912, a letter was received from Frederick’s Mother inquiring about his whereabouts … that is five years after she gave him up. By that time, Frederick had left Newcastle, Ontario and had gone to Woolsley Barracks, London, Ontario.

When the First World War broke out, he immediately enlisted with the 20th Battalion Queens York Rangers, to fight in Europe. He believed that this was his passage back to his homeland.

When Fred arrived in Britain, he went to Hove to look up his family. He met a sister he didn’t know he had, she met him with disdain and told him never to darken their doorstep again. He went on to fight in some of the great battles of the war, Ypres, Somme, Passchendaele. He never returned to England again and Canada became his home.

Upon his return to Canada he went to work on the farm of Jane Cartwright in Whitney, Ontario. The farmer’s daughter would become his wife. Together they raised three sons and a daughter. Oddly enough, he named one of his sons Edward Charles, the name of one of his brothers. His other brother Nathan was killed in action at the Second Battle of the Somme on August 21st, 1918. I often wonder if they ever crossed paths during the War and if he knew his brother was killed.

He was a very strict father, often waking up his boys in the middle of the night and making them quick march up and down the driveway. Dinnertime was not a time for conversation. If you wanted the vegetables at the other end of the table, you could not ask for them. You hoped someone would pass them down. If anyone spoke, the table was tipped over and you were caned. This behaviour was probably the lasting effects of his traumatic life.

When the Grandchildren came along his attitude changed, he mellowed and we were spoiled. He insisted that for every holiday we all go “home” to his place. I recall him sitting in his chair just watching silently as we opened Christmas gifts and played. It was almost a peaceful look … he finally had a family.

When my daughter was born, he was the proudest Great-Grandpa ever. He came to the hospital to visit and was fidgeting on the chair. I asked him what was wrong and he said, “I came to see the baby, not you. “All of a sudden he jumped out of the chair and headed down the hall waving his cane shouting, “Nurse! Nurse! What did you do with my great-granddaughter.?” He bought her a beautiful silver bracelet engraved, “Love always your Great-Grandpa FWS” .

Frederick led a very quiet life and very seldom spoke about his life. He died on November 21st, 1975 in the Veteran’s Wing of Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto as a proud Canadian, and also a proud Canadian war veteran. He left behind four children, four Grandchildren and a Great-Granddaughter.

R.I.P. Grandpa. We love you.

~ Glenna Walkden