Thursday, 22 December 2011

Who remembers him?

I am currently going through the names of Royal Navy and Royal Naval Reserve personnel who were lost during the First World War, and this record for a John Smith caught my eye.

John Smith
Rank: Krooman
Branch of Service: Native
Cause of Death: Died from disease
Official Number Port Division: N.K.
Death Date: 3 Apr 1917
Ship or Unit: HMS Ascension
Location of Grave: Left Hand Plot. 2. 28.
Name and Address of Cemetery: New Cemetery, Ascension Island
Mother: Yuah Wemah Gbeah, 6, Little Kroo St, Freetown, Sierra Leone

Ascension Island is a remote outpost in the southern Atlantic Ocean, and its New Cemetery contains six Commonwealth burials of the First World War, and two from the Second.

What is a Krooman? It is an ex-slave, rescued from West Africa during the 19th century and locally recruited into the Royal Navy (according to Wikipedia). The Kroo were (are?) a tribe from the Kroo area of Liberia and the adjacent coast who had been regularly employed by the Royal Navy onboard ship for a considerable period pre-WW1. The term Krooman denoted both a member of the tribe and was also used as an official rank by the RN (krooman, head Krooman etc.). It was common for the RN to use local labour on various stations around the world to supplement the regular ships complement - another example would be a Seedie on the Singapore Station. They were entitled to medals although frequently missed out on their awards due to their transient status (they couldn't be employed on continuous service, but had to keep signing up onto a new vessel each time a ship paid off - much like the old RN system).

Who was John Smith? I cannot find anything at all about him. Posting this on a blog, related to another remote island, I hope there are people out there who remember him. If not, at least we do.

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