Son of Henry J. and Florence E. Hedley-Smith, of Edmonton, Middlesex. M.R.Met.S.
Edwin James Hedley Smith was born on 14 October 1914 at 14 Church Street , Lower Edmonton, N9. He was the son of Henry Hedley John Smith and Florence Smith.
Edwin attended the school between about 1925 and 1933. He joined the RAFVR (Meteorological Branch) when war was declared in September 1939 and served at a number of RAF airfield meteorological offices before joining the SS Toronto City in late November 1940. The ship had been chartered for weather reporting purposes in mid-Atlantic. Apart from brief periods in port he was almost continuously at sea until the ship was torpedoed on 1 July 1941. Edwin was one of three meteorologists on the ship and they, along with the other 37 crew, were all lost.
Edwin's parents, Henry and Florence, were living at 74 Fairfield Road, Upper Edmonton, N18 in 1941. Although the family surname would appear to have originally been Smith, with Hedley seeming to be a family forename in the paternal line, the family would appear to have adopted the surname Hedley-Smith. Certainly Edwin used the surname Hedley-Smith in his application to become a member of the Royal Meteorological Society, which was dated 9 October 1940 and appears with that surname in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission records and on the Met Office Roll of Honour. His sister Olive also went by the same surname.
We know a little about Edwin Smith thanks to the work of Brian Booth, a meteorological historian, who has been working on his biography for inclusion in a revised edition of the Book Of Remembrance for meteorologists who died during the war. This book sits alongside the Roll Of Honour at the Meteorological Office headquarters in Exeter.
The following information was taken from the entry Brian had prepared for the Book Of Remembrance as of April 2012 but please bear in mind that Brian's research is still ongoing and he has found some new information. He now knows, for example, that Edwin trained as a pilot but didn't make the grade and he was serving in France at the time of Dunkirk.
Hedley-Smith, Edwin James
Status at death: Sergeant, RAFVR
Service Number: 753648
Died: 1 July 1941, aged 26
Buried: No known grave; remembered on the Runnymede Memorial, Panel 55
Next of kin: Henry and Florence Hedley-Smith (parents) of Edmonton, Middlesex
With the outbreak of war the Meteorological Office was immediately deprived of all weather observations from ships crossing the North Atlantic. The data were of immense importance to forecasters, and in October 1939 the Meteorological Office made its first proposal to establish a number of weather ships in the North Atlantic. The Admiralty refused to countenance the idea, as it did with a second proposal the following March.
This situation persisted until August 1940, when the Admiralty, responding to a Meteorological Office initiative, chartered two merchant ships, the SS Arakaka and SS Toronto City, to act as weather ships. This was the first time the British had deployed weather ships, and the task of the meteorologists on board was not only to provide 6-hourly weather reports, but also conduct experiments, including making pilot balloon ascents.
Crewed by merchant seamen, the ships were provided with a single gun on the stern for defence, but no other means of protection, nor any means of detecting the presence of enemy ships or submarines.
On their first voyages both ships had two meteorologists on board, an RAFVR officer and a RNVR officer, but the Admiralty withdrew the latter when the ships returned to port. For the next voyage two RAFVR Corporals replaced the Navy officers, and later two more Corporals were added to the total complement.
After both ships had completed their first voyage and returned to Liverpool, the crews were told that in future they would be based at Halifax in Newfoundland, not something that boosted morale. Conditions on board were often extremely uncomfortable in the stormy waters of the North Atlantic, and especially so on the Arakaka. Not surprisingly tempers frayed at times during the tense voyages, and the crews not being told when they would return home did not help matters. For all this the meteorologists received exactly the same pay, as they would have done working in the safety and relative comfort of an airfield in the United Kingdom.
The SS Arakaka was on its sixth voyage when it was sunk by U-77 on 22 June 1941; the SS Toronto city was on its seventh voyage when it was torpedoed by U-108 on 1 July 1941. The war diaries of the two submarines reveal it was just chance they came across the two ships. There were survivors in both cases, but such are the fortunes of war that they were left to fend for themselves.
Born in Edmonton in 1914, Edwin was the son of Florence and Henry Hedley John Smith, an upholsterer and polisher by trade. Little is known of his childhood other than that he was educated at Edmonton County Secondary School between about 1925 and 1933. Nothing at all is known of his employment on leaving school but he appears to have been one of the young men who responded to the advertisements that appeared in the media during the spring of 1939, calling for volunteers for the new RAFVR Meteorological Branch.
A single man and living in London at the outbreak of war he appears to have enjoyed an interest in meteorology, and in July 1940 was proposed as a Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society, one of his sponsors being Lord Dunboyne, being duly elected the following January.
Details of Edwin's service career are unclear, but although he would have been enlisted as an AC2 his interest in meteorology would have ensured he would have gained quick promotion, and by the autumn of 1940 he was already a Corporal. It seems Edwin was stationed within travelling distance from his home, as during the autumn he was posted to RAF Horsham St Faith in Norfolk preparatory to being posted on special duties. He joined the SS Toronto City at Bristol towards the end of November 1940, replacing an RNVR officer who had sailed on the first voyage.
Edwin completed four voyages on the SS Toronto City before being promoted to Sergeant in May 1941, when a third meteorologist joined the ship. The ship sailed on what was to be its last voyage in late June, and had not long been on station when it was sighted by the submarine U-108 near 47N 30W at 1415 GMT on 1 June. Three hours later the U-boat fired a single torpedo, hitting the Toronto City in the forecastle. She sank within 3 minutes, sinking so quickly the crew was unable to launch any lifeboats. 23 survivors of the 40 men on board the ship (35 seamen, one Navy gunner, a Royal Marine and three meteorologists) were left clinging to flotsam and rafts. Although the U-boat surfaced and its Captain spoke to the survivors they were left to their fate. Edwin had enjoyed his promotion for just one complete voyage.
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