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Tuesday 29 May 2012

Le Blanc Smith - Sinking of The Tanjong Penang

Taphophilia is a passion for and enjoyment of cemeteries. The singular term is a taphophile.

Monument to Gladys Le Blanc Smith, All Saint's Cemetery, Maidenhead, Berkshire.

"In Ever Loving Memory of


The Dearly Beloved And Most Devoted Wife Of

Fredrick Stuart Le Blanc Smith

Born January 8th 1884 - Died August 2nd 1913."

Gladys Le Blanc Smith was born Gladys Haig on 8th January 1884 at Bray Court, Windsor Road, Maidenhead, Berkshire to John Haig, a distiller from Scotland and Jane Mary Ann Davis. Gladys's father John was to pass away five months after the birth of his daughter in the June of 1884.

Gladys, her widowed mother, and siblings can be found living at Marlow Place, Station Road, Marlow, Buckinghamshire. A grade I listed Georgian house, built by John Wallop, 1st Earl of Portsmouth.

Marlow Place, Marlow, Buckinghamshire.

The family may have travelled abroad around the time the 1901 Census was taken as Gladys's elder sister Maud Haig was married in India.

On 18th October 1910 Gladys married Frederick Stuart Le Blanc Smith, a member of The London Stock Exchange at All Saints' Church, Boyne Hill, Maidenhead. The Slough, Eton, and Windsor Observer announced to forthcoming marriage on October 8th 1910 as follows:

"The marriage arranged between Frederick Stuart Le Blanc Smith, only son of Stuart Le Blanc Smith, of St George's Lodge, Cookham, and Gladys Haig, youngest daughter of the late John Haig, of Bray Court, Maidenhead, and will take place at Boyn Hill, Maidenhead, on the 18th of October." - Slough, Eton, and Windsor Observer, October 8th 1910.

The 1911 Census shows the couple living at Cairns, 7 Laburnham Road, King's Grove, Maidenhead.  Soon their marriage was blessed by the birth of their daughter Beatrice (Betty). Twin brothers Edward and Graham followed on 2nd August 1913. Tragically Gladys was to pass away that same day due to childbirth complications. The Maidenhead Advertiser reported on Gladys's funeral on August 13th 1913 as follows:

"Funeral Of Mrs. F. S. Le Blanc Smith, 

Amid signs of deep and profound regret, the funeral of the late Mrs. F. S. Le Blanc Smith who died under particularly sad circumstances on 2nd of August at "Cairn," King's Grove, Maidenhead, took place on Wednesday, at the Maidenhead cemetery. A funeral service was first held at All Saints' Church, conducted by the Rev, Dr. A. W. Batchelor, vicar of Cookham, assisted by the Rev. d. S. Chapman. Besides the mourners, relatives and friends, there was a large congregation of persons in the church who desired to pay a last tribute to one who was well-known locally during her professional career (unfortunately I haven't found a reference to Gladys's career in the records available), and who was so highly esteemed. The service was deeply impressive, especially during the rendering of the hymns "For all the Saints, who from their labours rest," and "On the resurrection morning." Mr. J. Gordon Bissley rendered the organ accompaniments. The scene at the cemetery was very impressive, there being a large concourse of sympathisers at the graveside, where the last solemn rites were performed by the Rev. Dr. Batchelor. The chief mourners were: Mr. F. S. Le Blanc Smith (husband), Mr. Hugh Haig and Mr. Edward Haig (brothers of deceased), and Mr. S Le Blanc Smith (father-in-law of deceased). There was a large number of exquisite floral tributes." - Maidenhead Advertiser, Wednesday 13th August 1913. 

Beatrice would later train to become a nurse.

The outbreak of World War II saw Beatrice joining the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service, where she served in the Far East on the 'Evacuation Ships'.  Beatrice was on the SS Kuala on 12th February 1942 when it came under enemy aircraft attack, killing many of the nurses, women and children aboard.  When the SS Kuala eventually sank off of Pom Pong Island, Beatrice was one of the few survivors.  However, fate was not kind to her. 

Fellow Nurse Margot Turner recounts -

"During the night of 16-17th February, all women, children and wounded were taken off the island in rowing boats and placed on board the ‘Tanjong Penang’, a small cargo boat which was very crowed.

On the morning of the 17th February 1942. She was hit by gunfire at 9.30 p.m. on that day and sank in about 5 minutes.

I was lying next to Sister Beatrice le Blanc Smith and there were people dead and dying all round us. Beatrice got a nasty wound in the buttock… My first thought was for the women and children in the hold; but a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse) struggling up from there to the deck, her dress covered in blood, said that the hold had had the full force of one of the shells and was absolutely smashed. In any case I realised that there was nothing I could do as the ship was already at a steep angle and obviously just about to turn over. Beatrice and I just stepped into the sea and were very lucky not to be sucked down when the ship suddenly turned over and sank.

The cries and screams of the wounded, the helpless and the dying, were quite terrible."

Before the ship sunk the officers had managed to throw a few small rafts overboard and Le Blanc Smith and Turner got hold of two and tied them together.  Both Beatrice and Margot had managed to save sixteen people from the sea, including six children, two of whom were under a year in age.  Sadly, Sister Beatrice was not to make it, scumming to her wounds whilst still awaiting rescue on the life raft on 18th February 1942

Beatrice is commemorated on the Singapore Memorial Collum 114.

Singapore Memorial

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