Thomas Chester Smyth was born in 1887 in Whitburn, Co. Durham, the eldest of three children of James William and Susannah Smyth. His family later moved to Bedlington in Northumberland to live on the estate of Hartford Hall, where his father was employed by the Burdon family as their head gardener.
He attended King Edward VI School in Morpeth from 1902-1911. (Pupils there researched him as part of a First World War project in 2015.) Thomas Smyth then attended Bede College in Durham 1906-1908, completing his teacher training in July 1908 and passing the certificate examination in the first division of Class II. He must have enjoyed his time at Bede, for he was still subscribing to its magazine to keep in touch with his college cohort in June 1915. After qualifying, he became a teacher at Whitley Memorial School in Whitley Bay. His younger sister Ethel followed his career path, as she is listed as a pupil teacher in the 1911 census.
By March 1915 Thomas was serving with the 19th Battalion, Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, and he was later promoted to Company Sergeant-Major. The battalion landed at Le Havre on 29 January 1916. Interestingly, James Arthur Joicey, son-in-law to Hartford’s owner, Augustus Edward Burdon, also served in the regiment during the war, first as Captain of the 5th Battalion and later as Major of the 7th Battalion. Smyth’s younger brother, Henry Richard, also signed up with the Northumberland Fusiliers, in A Company of the 16th Battalion. Both brothers were killed during the Battle of the Somme, Henry on the 1 July 1916, aged 20, and Thomas a few weeks later on 30 July, aged 29.
Henry is buried in Lonsdale Cemetery between Aveluy and Authuille, while Thomas is buried in Carnoy Military Cemetery, about 13 kilometres away. Thomas is commemorated on the Bede College 1914-1918 Cross, Plaque, and Roll of Honour, and in a Roll of Honour formerly displayed in the church of the Holy Trinity, Church Street East, in Sunderland. His name is also carved on the war memorial cross on the Green at Bedlington, and on panels in the church of St Cuthbert there.