Reginald Simister, William Matthias Simpell and Charles Ledward Smith



Reg Simister

Reg Simister

The West Kirby Simisters were butchers who originated in Southport. Most bearers of the surname were and are to be found in the Manchester area. This is unsurprising because the village of the same name lies just north of Prestwich. Reg and his five siblings were born in Bolton. His father, William John Simister (b.1869), shared a business with his brother, Thomas Hesketh Simister (b.1866). This advertisement from the Green Book reveals the location of their shops.

Simpell Business Advert from the "Green Book" of 1911

Simister Business Advert from the “Green Book” of 1911

Reg joined the King’s Liverpools in the city on 25th October 1915. He was 5’ 8” tall and had a 36½” chest with a 3” expansion. He weighed 140lbs and had a “good” physique. He sailed for France on 2nd April 1916 from Southampton on the SS Lydia and arrived at Rouen on 6th April. He became part of the 55th (West Lancashire) Division at the base depot. Reg left the base on 20th April and joined his battalion in the field the next day. He was “temporarily attached” to the 9th Battalion on 20th May.

Reg died on the second day of the Battle of the Somme. His friend Henry Poole, who had been with him since arriving in France described Reg’s death: he was in a dugout which was buried by an exploding shell. “A big reserve party set to work, and poor Reg was quite dead on reaching him.” Henry assured the Simisters that Reg had suffered no pain and that he received “a decent Christian burial”. He also said, “I found him a very kind chum, and well liked by all who knew him”. Reg’s possessions – a pocket wallet containing letters and photographs, a New Testament, a cigarette case, a pair of scissors, a jack knife, a Post Office savings book, a waterproof case, a housewife and some letters – were sent home on 22nd September 1916. His medals were posted on 31st March 1921. Reg’s brother William survived the war having fought with the 1st/4th Cheshires at Suvla Bay.

Birth: January1897 in Bolton, Lancashire
Death: 2nd July 1916
Addresses: 44 Stewart Street, Bolton (01), Rivington, 14 North Road West Kirby (11-16)
Occupation: Butcher
Units: 1st/6th Bn The King’s (Liverpool Regiment) attached to the 1st/9th Bn.
Number and Rank: 4049 Rifleman
Medals: Victory and British War
Commemorated and Buried: GH, WK, France: Wailly Orchard Cemetery I.D.8.
Sources: BR, SDGW, SR, MC, BN, DA, LE, FT, GB, Census: 01, 11


Willie Simpell was associated with West Kirby via his father, Andrew Simpell (1859-1917) and with Liverpool via his mother Elizabeth Ann Stephens (1865-1934). The couple got married in Birkenhead in 1894, which is where Willie was born. By 1901 they were living in West Derby. Andrew was a decorator, but later became a signwriter based in West Kirby. Willie attended West Kirby School and the Laird School of Arts in Birkenhead. By 1911, he was himself a signwriter and artist, living with his mother in Liverpool, while his father was lodging in the house of James Stanley Hatton on Elm Grove in West Kirby. We do not know why the couple were living apart, but the Deeside Advertiser reported that Willie had frequently worked with his father, which is why he was “well known and highly popular” in the area.

Willie joined the Royal Army Medical Corps – an important and greatly underestimated unit, which grew from having 9,000 members in 1914 to 115,000 in 1918 – on 9th September 1914 in Liverpool. He was 5’9” tall and had a 36” chest with a 2” expansion. His skin was sallow, his eyes grey and his hair brown. He had no blemishes or distinguishing marks. His unit became part of the 29th Division in January 1915.

On 18th March 1915 he arrived on the Gallipoli Peninsula, but was sent back to Cairo on 10th September, suffering from dysentery and went to a rest camp in Abbasiya ten days later. One month later he embarked on the SS Canada and arrived back in Gallipoli on 12th November. Willie suffered several more medical problems, including a scabies infestation when he was hospitalised in Cairo once again, but the other entries in his records are unreadable. He sailed from Port Suez on 13th March 1916 and arrived in Marseilles a week later. From there he travelled to the Western Front. Perhaps he was wounded whilst serving in the Arras area and was taken back to the largest military base in France at Etaples, where he died.

His commanding officer said that Willie was “… one of those for whom I entertained the highest esteem and regard. Quiet, unassuming, always ready to do his duty or oblige his fellows, he had won a high place in the esteem of his comrades.” His possessions – a letter and six unopened letters, postcards, photographs, two pipe bowls, a razor strop, two writing pads, a leather wallet, a will and sundry papers, a note book, a New Testament, two handkerchiefs, a shaving brush and soap, tooth brush and paste, a razor in a case, six unopened letters and a nine carat gold ring – were sent home to his mother at 7 Morpeth Street, Liverpool on 1st June 1918 (see below).

Willie Simpell's Property

Willie Simpell’s Property

The Liverpool Echo of 6th June 1917 carried Willie’s obituary: “ A bitter grief, a shock severe/ To part with one we loved so dear:/ Loved on earth, regretted, gone/ Remembered in the grave/ By his sorrowing mother and only sister Lilly.” Beneath it, was a similar notice by Willie’s uncles, G. And W. Stephens, bakers and flour-dealers of Liverpool.

Willie’s mother Elizabeth, died at 9, Brooke Road, Walton in Liverpool on 4th November 1934 and bequeathed her estate, worth £125 1s, to her younger brother Walter Stephens (born 1878), a baker.

Birth: 13th June 1895 in Claughton, Birkenhead
Death: 18th May 1917, died of wounds
Addresses 31/33 Holden Street, West Derby (01), 334(?), Binns Road, Liverpool (01), 39 Minshull Street, Liverpool (17)
Occupations: Artist and Signwriter
Unit: 1st West Lancashire Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps
Number and Rank: 337272 Private
Medals: 1914-15 Star, Victory and British War
Commemorated and Buried: GH, WK, France: Etaples Military Cemetery XVIII. 0.15.
Sources: BR, SDGW, SR, DeR, DA, Census: 01, 11


Charles belonged to a wealthy family whose roots were in Liverpool and Birkenhead. His mother was Harriett Ledward (born in 1849), daughter of Septimus Ledward Esq. J.P. (1845-1906) of Hill Bark in Frankby. She married Mr Jerome Smith (1845-1906), Cotton Broker, in April 1874 in Frankby. In 1911, the family was living at Hill Bark. There were six servants, who came from Frankby, Liverpool and North Wales. Only two of Charles’s siblings – Evelyn and Frances were still at home. Harriett, Rachel and Jerome had, therefore, moved out (see below).

1911 Census Charles Ledward Smith

1911 Census Charles Ledward Smith’s Family at “Hill Bark” in Frankby

Charles joined the army, but died in London not long after obtaining his commission.

Birth: June 1880 in Birkenhead
Death: 13th November 1915, died of illness, aged 35
Address: Hill Bark, Frankby (1911 – 1915)
Occupation: Cotton Broker
Unit: Royal Field Artillery
Rank: Lieutenant
Commemorated and Buried: GH, F, ?
Sources: BR, LM, LG, Census: 91, 11


2 thoughts on “Reginald Simister, William Matthias Simpell and Charles Ledward Smith

  1. These are really fascinating as I work slowly through your work. My wife has her granddad’s joining book and what starts to appear is how small people were compared to nowadays. Even the wealthy seem small which I guess is due to the diet of their family over the previous generations. Fortunately both wars fell at good times, if that is the right expression, for my family and we lost no one but there is some of the stuff is heart wrenching in your blog. Really really good.

    • Thanks Al. I very much appreciate you taking the trouble to read the blog and make an interesting comment. I think you must be right about the food. Perhaps we should go back to eating smaller amounts. I think we have gone too far the other way. Keep looking, because many more biographies will be posted in the near future.

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