Two Old Edwardian poets, Geoffrey Bache Smith and Thomas Ewart Mitton, both of whom had connections with JRR Tolkien, fought and died in the First World War.
Smith was one of JRR Tolkien’s closest friends at King Edwards. According to the school, Tolkien, Smith and two other boys formed “a fellowship of unusually talented, well-educated and idealistic schoolboys who met to trade ideas and indulge in clandestine tea breaks, and who ultimately shared the conviction that they would somehow change the world”.
Smith was an aspiring poet and attended Oxford University with Tolkien.
There is a school of thought that Tolkien’s epic Lord of the Rings was stimulated by Smith’s poetic and literary influence.
Smith was killed in France in November 1916 but just before his death wrote to Tolkien saying: “My chief consolation is that if I am scuppered tonight there will still be left a member (of our school group) to voice what I dreamed and what we all agreed upon.
“For the death of one of its members cannot, I am determined, dissolve (the group).
“Death can make us loathsome and helpless as individuals, but it cannot put an end to the immortal four! May God bless you my dear John Ronald and may you say things I have tried to say long after I am not there to say them if such be my lot.’’
Thomas Ewart Mitton, called Ewart (his family name) here, was born in April 1897 and was a cousin of JRR Tolkien.
Like most of his generation he enjoyed life and had great hopes for the future. But, as his older brother Eric wrote, there was a “bolt from the blue… War was declared in August 1914.”
Eric himself was an officer in the first Territorial signals section to be sent to France at the start of the First World War. He was promoted to Captain in October 1915, and had risen to the rank of Major by the end of the war.
Ewart followed his brother and after leaving school enlisted as a signals officer with the Royal Engineers in February 1916. He went to France in March 1917. His company then moved to Belgium. He died in an accident on Christmas Eve while erecting telegraph wires over a railway near Ypres.
Eric and Ewart were part of a large and prosperous Birmingham family. They attended Moseley Baptist Church.
The family had a high sense of social responsibility; an article in the Birmingham News, August 1932 stated that the Mittons as a family had “played a prominent part in the public and religious life of the district for the past 50 or 60 years”.
Thomas Evans Mitton, father of Eric and Ewart, had studied at King Edward’s School, as his sons did later. In 1874 he founded the firm of Hunt and Mitton, brassfounders.
The business thrived. T. E. Mitton was a skilled engineer, later serving on the executive committee of the Engineering Employers’ Federation. He was appointed a magistrate in 1906. After the war he took a leading part in the training of disabled soldiers.
In 1880 he married Mabel Tolkien, and they had a large family. They lived at Abbotsford, a large house in Wake Green Road, Moseley, from 1902.
There is no ford by the house, nor any history of a monastery, so it was probably named after Sir Walter Scott’s historic house in the Scottish borders. T. E. Mitton took an interest in literature and had been a member of the Birmingham Central Literary Association, as had Arthur Tolkien, his wife’s brother.