Pair of church candlesticks, Cappy-sur-Somme: Lieutenant Horatio Smitheram, 21st Battalion, AIF

Place Europe: France, Picardie, Somme, Bray Proyart Area, Cappy
Accession Number REL45985
Collection type Heraldry
Object type Heraldry
Physical description Iron, Silver-plated brass, Wax
Maker Unknown
Date made 1879
Conflict First World War, 1914-1918

Pair of matching church candlesticks, consisting of five pieces joined together on a central iron screw. The decoration is simple, consisting of vertical grooves around the shoulders, horizontal grooves around the stem, and beading around the base and on the edge of the sconces. The pieces of one of the candlesticks are loose (possibly caused by wartime damage), which causes it to lean slightly. The candlesticks are made from silver plated brass; the silver has worn off in a number of places from polishing. The prickers inside the sconces (designed to hold the thick candles) have been bent in and there are remains of candle wax on each one. The base of each candlestick is date punched '1879'; but there is no manufacturer's mark on either.

History / Summary

Pair of church silver candlesticks salvaged by Lieutenant Horatio Smitheram, 21st Battalion, AIF. Smitheram, an accountant born on 30 June 1887 in St Arnaud, Victoria, was 27 when he enlisted on 18 March 1915. Having served with the Victorian Rangers from 1905 until 1912 (the last two years as a commissioned officer), he applied for and was granted a commission with 21st Battalion as a Second Lieutenant.

Smitheram’s battalion landed at Gallipoli on 8 September. He promoted to lieutenant in October 1915. In the first week of November when he was evacuated with jaundice. After treatment on Malta until mid-January 1916, he rejoined his unit and was transferred to France. Smitheram served with 21st Battalion throughout 1916. During the battle of Pozieres the battalion was engaged mainly on carrying duties, but it suffered its heaviest casualties of the war shortly afterwards, during the fighting around Mouquet Farm.

In January 1917, Lieutenant Smitheram was seconded to command the 2nd Division Salvage Corps and granted the temporary rank of captain. After returning to his battalion in October (and being 'severely censured for being in possession of a camera'), he was sent to 1 Anzac Corps School for officer training, then took leave in Paris, and in February 1918 was seconded for duty with 6th and later 5th Training Battalion at Fovant, England. In early August 1918 he rejoined 21st Battalion just as they were preparing for the 8 August battle of Amiens. By the end of August they were preparing to assault the German stronghold of Mount St Quentin; after the victory there the battalion was withdrawn to Cappy where they were assigned as Corps reserve. Whilst in Cappy, 21st Battalion took part in sports meetings and training sessions.

By 19 September, word got around that the battalion was possibly going to be disbanded. After the August offensive, losses meant companies in the battalion were reduced from 250 to an average of 100 men, and there were no new recruits coming in from Australia. The Australian military’s solution to the crisis was to disband one battalion in every brigade of four battalions and spread its members amongst the remaining three. The reaction to that news amongst 21st Battalion was immediate – they went on strike. They’d fight and do all the other work that was required of a soldier. But they would not allow their unit to be disbanded.

While they were waiting for the decision, they helped clean up the village of Cappy, which had been partially wrecked by both the retreating Germans and allied gunfire. Around 20 September they were conducting salvage work in the church of Saint Nicholas which had had one wall destroyed by gunfire (the church tower is visible in the right background of AWM image E03325, which show the 21st Battalion band practicing in the ruins of the town). A lot of the silver plate and candelabra was scattered around the church and was collected by the unit.

Lieutenant Smitheram recalled in 1961: 'One evening … some of the boys held a mock banquet, and used some of the candelabra for decorations – they had a little rum but plenty of biscuit and candles. They impersonated prominent people – one said he was Lloyd George, another Earl Grey and Billy Hughes and others again Hindenburg and Old Bill (the Kaiser), and some eloquent and impassioned speeches were made – they damned the King and hoch-ed the Kaiser, and finally decided they would go over to Old Bill’s side if he agreed to let them stay as a Unit and not break them up.' He added: 'Amongst the candelabra was the two straight candlesticks. Being straight and easy to carry I souvenired them, and got someone going to London and take them over for me, where I subsequently picked them up and brought them home. At that time they were in a very dirty state.'

In the end, despite deputations by the officers and men of the battalion, the break up of the battalion occurred and it was amalgamated with the 24th Battalion. Lieutenant Smitheram embarked for Australia on 6 November 1918 and was discharged in 1919. He served again in the Second World War.