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Forgotten hero of First World War

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Ultimate sacrifice: the first Bermudian to be killed in the First World War was a black man, William Edmund Smith

We celebrated Armistice Day yesterday, more commonly known as Remembrance Day here.

It is observed around the world every year on November 11. The holiday is used as a benchmark and in remembrance of the armistice signed between the allies of the First World War and Germany, at Compiegne, France.

It represents the cessation of hostilities on the western front at 11am in 1918, on the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month”. The date was declared a national holiday and is in many allied nations, and coincides with Remembrance Day and Veterans’ Day.

There were indeed a number of Bermudians that served valiantly in both of the World Wars of 1914 and 1939. The Royal Bermuda Regiment was formed on September 1, 1965; its stand of colours presented by the Sovereign’s late sister, Princess Margaret.

Prior to that, Bermuda’s military units were demarcated along racial lines — the black enlisted soldiers of the Bermuda Militia Artillery and the white enlisted soldiers of the Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps. They were raised in 1894 and 1895 respectively.

It is of significant historical fact that the first Bermudian to be killed in the First World War was black.

William Edmund Smith made the supreme sacrifice for freedom while serving aboard the royal naval cruiser HMS Aboukir.

The ship was torpedoed in the North Sea by the German Navy on September 22, 1914, which coincidently was only 22 days after the start of the war.

Mr Smith enlisted in the Royal Navy while employed at the Royal Naval Dockyard located at Ireland Island in Sandys, where the HMS Aboukir was stationed.

His name is etched on a war memorial located in a churchyard in Kent, England, and at St James Church in Sandys. The torpedoed HMS Aboukir was the first significant victory for the German submarines in the war. When two other cruisers, HMS Hogue and HMS Cressy, went to rescue survivors, they too were torpedoed by the German navy. It resulted in a loss of life of more than 1,000 servicemen.

Upon the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, his nephew and namesake, William Edwin Smith, was one of the first to enlist in the BMA and volunteer for service overseas with the Bermuda contingent of the Caribbean Regiment.

Ultimate sacrifice: the Field of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey in London (Photograph by Matt Dunham/AP)