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HomecommentMark's History: How Sarah Ann Smith campaigned to bring war fallen home

Mark’s History: How Sarah Ann Smith campaigned to bring war fallen home

A friend asked me if I knew the story of Sarah Ann Smith – and they seemed rather pleased that they did and I did not! writes Mark Stevenson.

Now knowing the story I wondered if I could connect it with West Leeds. The Legacies of War website run by Leeds University was more than helpful with this. 

Photo: Mark Stevenson

The British War Graves Association was founded in Leeds in 1919 by a Sarah Ann Smith, who lived at Tabor House in Stourton. Her son Frederick Ernest Smith died in 1918 after being wounded in France.

His final resting place is at Grevellers, near Arras, in Northern France. Sarah and many relatives believed the bodies of the fallen should be brought home.

One person living in Armley wrote to the press saying:

“Nothing stood in their way to serve their country when duty called; but now when they have paid the full sacrifice, they must be relegated into oblivion as soon as possible.”

Commonwealth War Graves in Bramley. Photo: Mark Stevenson

A meeting was held in Pudsey at the Unitarian School. At the meeting, Sarah pointed out that if you were Italian, American, French or German you had the right of removal, but because we were British our fallen relatives must remain on foreign soil. 

On the other side of the argument, one ex-soldier sided with the government saying that in a lot of cases there was not much left to bury sometimes and the dead should stay where they are. 

Sarah never got her wish to bring her son home but the British War Graves Association would help many relatives visit the war graves on Whitsuntide each year.

When Sarah died in 1936 the Imperial War Graves Commission – now known as the Commonwealth War Graves Commission – paid tribute to her efforts.

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