A poignant story to tell: Former Police Commissioner Jonathan Smith, seen here with his file of wartime photos and letters penned by his grandfather. *Photo by Kageaki Smith
A poignant story to tell: Former Police Commissioner Jonathan Smith, seen here with his file of wartime photos and letters penned by his grandfather. *Photo by Kageaki Smith
The inspiring story of a Bermudian soldier who gave his life to ‘fight the Jerries’ is to be told for the first time — in his own words.

The war-time letters of Major Toby Smith to his wife Faith — a detailed, almost journalistic account of a Bermudian’s life in the Second World War — lay virtually untouched for almost 50 years in a cedar case in the attic of the family homestead in Paget.

Some of the old-fashioned stamps had been torn from the yellowing envelopes by generations of Smith children.

Among those childhood collectors was former Bermuda Police Commissioner Jonathan Smith.

He remembers scavenging the cedar case for the treasured stamps as a 10-year-old boy.

But it was not until much later, as an adult, that he took a closer look at his grandfather’s 300-plus letters and discovered a treasure far more valuable than any postage stamp — his story. He said: “As soon as I read the first letter I knew there was a unique story here. He was a good writer — very passionate about his family and about the reason why he felt he had to go to war. These aren’t the usual soppy letters between a husband and wife. They provide a very detailed account of his life during the war.”

The letters and the connection they provided to his long-dead grandfather became a passion for Mr. Smith.

Over the last 15 years he has transcribed every one.

Along with his additional research and interviews with his father’s war-time colleagues, they form the basis of a new book, In the Hour of Victory, a detailed account of Major Toby Smith’s life and death in World War II.

The book will be published by Brimstone Media and is scheduled for a spring/summer release next year.

In his letters to he beloved wife Faith, Major Smith provides detailed accounts of his wartime experience — from the journey across the Atlantic with the rest of the Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps to the U-Boat attack on their convoy, plus his work as a training officer and his final words from the Front weeks before he was killed in action in Overloon, Holland.

The letters also reveal a fierce patriotism for “dear old England”. Confined to duties on the “home front” for much of the war, Major Smith’s letters show he was itching to get involved in what he saw as the ‘real war’.

He was bitterly disappointed not to be involved in the D-Day landings in Normandy and told his wife in June, 1944.

He wrote: “Very weary and rather depressed that I am not taking part in the invasion. I know you will be pleased that I am not in it, and in a way I must agree, but it does seem that I am fated to be an instructor always and never a real soldier. There are so many of my friends and acquaintances in the battle that I feel a very poor type not being with them, but, there you are!”

Mr. Smith said his grandfather’s fearless desire to get involved in combat is a recurring theme in his letters. He added: “He trained thousands of soldiers, saw them go off to war and heard stories about them being killed but that didn’t change his desire to see combat. Unfortunately he only lasted three weeks doing it.”

Major Smith’s last letter to his wife, written from Belgium on October 10, 1944, reassures her that he is in good spirits and gives details of a football game between the soldiers.

He wrote: “Everything is quiet around here and the Jerries are apparently taking a rest, for which I am thankful, as it has given us a chance to clean up, rest and play some games.”

But the impasse did not last long. Sometime between October 11 and October 14, Toby’s company made their way into Holland and came under heavy fire from troops near the German border.

In a battle over a wood — ultimately won by the Allied troops — he was killed by a mortar round that landed next to him. He was 36.

It is left to the numerous letters of condolence to pick up the story and provide the conclusion.

He was described by his Colonel and Commanding Officer as “the best officer I had” and by others as “gallant”, “one of the finest men” and the “cream of a generation”.

The title of the book is drawn from an extract from one such letter, in which the writer describes how sad it was for Toby to be killed in the hour of his Company’s victory.

For his grandson, Major Smith’s letters brought to life a man he never got the chance to know.

He said: “The experience of reading his letters was like reliving what he was reliving as he wrote them. The process meant I actually got to know him better than his own children ever did.”

The torn-away stamps were not the only annotations of the letters. There were small portions that had been literally cut out with scissors by Government inspectors — a common form of censorship designed to prevent potentially damaging information leaking to the enemy.

Despite those few omissions, the record the letters provide remains intact.

Major Smith wrote more than one letter each week during his four years at war. The recurring theme of his communication is a personal and philosophical struggle that almost every volunteer solider must have gone through — a struggle between his love for his family and his desire to fight for freedom.

The letters his American wife Faith wrote in reply have long since been lost.

But her frustration at her husband’s choice, said Mr. Smith, is evident in the lengthy attempts he made to justify his decision.

He said: “His wife was very angry, you can see that. She was a young, married mother of five children and you can tell she is pulling her hair out.

“He is really having to justify at every turn, ‘I’m doing this for you, I’m doing it for the children, I’m doing it for democracy’.”

He spells it out, in his own words, in a letter in 1944: “In the final analysis, I am certain that little though it has been, I have done best by coming here and I can say with some pride—I have served my King and country—and woe betide the man who laughs at me.

“May God grant us both health and strength to see the end of the war and may the day when we can be together come soon.

“Please hear our prayer O Christ, and please take care of and keep happy and well my darling and brave wife and our dear children.”

A Bermudian at war: Dispatches from the front line