G.B. Smith: An Inventory
By June 1915, Geoffrey Bache Smith had been in the Army for several months and was in a good position to advise his friend J.R.R. Tolkien on the practical matters of his own enlistment. On ?20 June Smith wrote to Tolkien, detailing at length what the new officer should have in his camp kit (and which he was expected to buy, out of an Army allowance or at his own expense): ‘a bed, bath- and washstand, sleeping-bag, and at least two blankets or rugs; also a hair (not an air) or down pillow, and I rather advise a mattress (cork), and a few other things . . .’ (Tolkien Papers, Bodleian Library, Oxford; see The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: Chronology, pp. 67–8). The ‘few other things’ became many as Smith went on. He also advised where Tolkien should obtain his gear and on fine points of officers’ clothing.
Eighteen months later, Smith was dead, after being wounded by shrapnel and succumbing to gas gangrene. On 11 December 1916, eight days after his death, Smith’s surviving personal effects were recorded in War Office files, now in the National Archives at Kew. Documents like the inventory of Lieutenant Smith’s property given below (from National Archives reference number WO 339/28936, read while researching the Companion and Guide) are of little consequence in the larger history of the First World War, but they help to personalize the conflict by focusing on one man rather than the tens of millions who served; and while this particular document would be of comparatively less importance to a biography of G.B. Smith than his letters and poetry, it serves to reflect the man through the small things that gave him comfort. It suggests, as well, the kinds of personal goods Tolkien himself would have carried during his own wartime service.
Inventory of effects, 11 Dec. 1916
3 brushes (shaving) [for applying soap]
tin cont[ainin]g: cigarettes
2 packets of tobacco
2 tie pins
3 studs [shirt fasteners]
1 cloth bag
1 comb in case
1 officer’s advance book
2 tobacco pouches
2 tooth brushes
metal cigarette case
ink tablet tube
3 identity discs
wrist watch (damaged) and strap
postal packet; A.F. [Army Form] W. 3100
large note book
2 writing pads
pad cont[ainin]g: correspondence etc.
These miscellaneous items were to be forwarded to Smith’s mother in Grove Crescent, West Bromwich (north-west of Birmingham). They still had not reached her by 26 December, when she wrote to Tolkien.
Notably absent from this list are any articles of clothing or larger pieces of camp kit, or any books that had been in Smith’s possession. It may be that these were only the effects on his person when he was wounded, separate from whatever he may have left at his base. Notably present is plentiful equipment for writing and especially for smoking: four pipes, two tobacco pouches, and a tin of cigarettes!