The Long Road to the London Inn.
As is sometimes the case, this photograph was incorrectly identified on the soldiersofthequeen.com website a number of years ago. Recently with the help of a soldiersofthequeen.com Facebook group member, the correct name and biography have finally been appended to the image. This 1909 dated photograph depicts Lieutenant Cuthbert Fairbanks-Smith of the Middlesex Regiment (Duke of Cambridge’s Own).
Above: Dated 14 February 1909, this trimmed photograph records the likeness of Lieutenant Cuthbert Fairbanks-Smith of Middlesex Regiment (Duke of Cambridge’s Own) not long before his deployment to West Africa. Photo: http://www.soldiersofhequeen.com/Edward T. Garcia collection.
Interestingly much of the information presented here is derived from Fairbanks-Smith’s Canadian officer’s Record of Services papers recording his time with the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) during the Great War. These papers record in far greater detail Fairbanks-Smith’s entire military career than his corresponding British Record of Services do.
Fairbanks-Smith was born on 18 March 1885 at Lee, Kent to Lewis Arthur Smith and Edith Fairbanks. Lewis Arthur Smith was the vicar of Christ Church at Lee. Educated at Bradfield College in Berkshire. Prior to December 1904, he was already holding an appointment of 2nd lieutenant in the 3rd Volunteer Battalion of Princess Charlotte of Wales (Berkshire Regiment). He is mentioned as speaking both French and Hindustani.
Commissioned a 2nd lieutenant in the Middlesex Regiment (Duke of Cambridge’s Own) in December 1904, he was promoted lieutenant in December 1906. Fairbanks-Smith appears to have been one of those officers that spent much of his time on detached duty away from his regiment. He was in South Africa from February 1905 until February 1907. After a little over two years at the regimental depot, he joined the West African Field Force, from April 1909 until April 1910, seeing action in southern Nigeria earning the Africa General Service Medal with clasp. He returned home briefly before heading out to India taking up a staff appointment with the 8th Lucknow Division under General Sir Bryan Mahon, KCVO, DSO. In 1912 he was appointed acting deputy assistant adjutant general of the 8th Division, holding the appointment until 1913 when he resigned his commission (The London Gazette, 2 December 1913). While in India he was the recipient of the 1910 George V Coronation Medal with “Delhi” clasp.
Above: A c. 1902 photo of a unit of the 2nd Nigeria Regiment, West African Field Force. Although taken a few years prior to Fairbanks-Smith’s arrival in the colony, the troops under his command would have looked much the same. Photo: National Army Museum.
Appointed temporary captain on 22 September 1914, Fairbanks-Smith embarked for Canada at Southampton on 20 December 1914. Attached to Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, he was appointed temporary major, antedated to 18 November 1914. He deployed with the CEF and remained with until he was struck off strength on 25 October 1915 after he was appointed temporary major with the Durham Light Infantry (London Gazette, 18 September 1915).
According to an article in the 2 February 1915 issue of The Gazette (Montreal), Fairbanks-Smith was one of the first members CEF to go into action (at least as early as December 1914). In the article, he describes the horrid conditions in water-filled trenches, the pluck of the newly arrived Canadians, and the poor sanitary habits of the French troops. He also recalls a near miss when a German bullet passed between his head and that of a Canadian sergeant, missing both men by mere inches.
On 9 January 1915, he was admitted to No. 7 Stationary Hospital, Boulogne with a dislocated semi-lunar cartilage of his right knee. The injury incapacitated him for six weeks and required him being invalided back to England. The 2 February 1915 of the Montreal Gazette states that Fairbanks-Smith was injured while traversing some trenches in almost total darkness. He fell into a trench filled with German dead, dislocating his knee and remained there for two days under intermittent shell-fire until recovered by men of his unit.
Above: The Canadians at Ypres by William Barnes Wollen. The painting depicts Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in action against German troops at Ypres in May 1915. Fairbanks-Smith was in all likelihood present at the battle since he would not transfer to the Durham Light Infantry until later that year. Image: PPCLI Regimental Museum.
In spite of an apparently good start tracing Fairbanks-Smith’s activities during the Great War, the trail goes cold after his transfer to the Durham Light Infantry (DLI) in late 1915. As of now, I have been unable to locate his medal index card or entry in the medal rolls themselves. It can be noted that I have found both for his brothers Lionel (Lieutenant, 7/Durham Light Infantry), Oswald (Major, 9th Hodson’s Horse, Anglo-Indian Army), and Norman (Surgeon Lieutenant, R.N. HMS Benbow). Nothing has been found informing us as to which battalion of the DLI he was serving with or whether he remained with DLI for the duration of the war. The London Gazette has proved less than helpful. The above-mentioned article from the Gazette of Montreal states that Fairbanks-Smith was at the front by December 1914. This would have qualified him for the 1914-15 Star and the British War and Victory Medals. Research continues.
Cuthbert Fairbanks-Smith married Miss Gladys Frances Clara Ward at Kensington, London on 27 July 1909. He was a Mason in good standing, initiated into the British Lodge in 1917. For a brief time, he was a first-class cricketer for Somerset playing two matches in 1921.
Well-traveled after the war I have found a good number of ship’s passenger manifests showing him making numerous trips to Canada, the United States, and India. Interestingly his listed occupations on these manifests include studio executive, director and motion picture executive. These leave little doubt as to his post-war career.
A 23 February 1932 article in the Times Colonist (Victoria, British Colombia) mentions Fairbanks-Smith as being employed as RKO Studios’ comedy script supervisor. At the time the article was written, Fairbanks-Smith was in Victoria scouting for a new studio location. Apparently much taken with the Hollywood studio model, the article rather bluntly stated his opinion of most British studios: “…that the best thing for them would be a good fire with all the engines busy elsewhere.” A slightly earlier article in the Cincinnati Enquirer (28 December 1931) mentions Fairbanks-Smith as being the managing director of the then newly formed Empire Films, Inc. (mentioned elsewhere as British Empire Films, Inc.). During all this Fairbanks-Smith never left his military experiences far behind. In the many newspaper articles relating to his studio career, his name was almost always prefaced with his old army rank of major.
A final note. In the 29 October 1936 issue of the Monrovia News-Post (Monrovia, California) a certain Major C. Fairbanks-Smith is mentioned as being a two-year resident of Monrovia and the proprietor of the “swank” restaurant London Inn located in nearby Pasadena, California. He is mentioned as also owning a highly regarded pheasant farm in Monrovia which supplied his London Inn with its signature course. Is this Major Fairbank-Smith the same man in the above photograph? Our Fairbanks-Smith was a native of Kensington, London so the restaurant’s name makes perfect sense. He was also employed for a time in Hollywood which is only about twenty miles as the crow flies west of Monrovia.
Above: A menu for Fairbank-Smith’s London Inn restaurant that appeared in the 31 October 1936 issue of the Pasadena Post. Source: newspapers.com.
Above: A current view of 975 East Green Street in Pasadena, California. This is the same building that housed Major C. Fairbanks-Smith’s “swank” London Inn during the 1930s. The building’s upper story still retains Tudor-style half-timbering that probably dates from its day as a British-themed restaurant. Photo: Google Street View.
Major Cuthbert Fairbanks-Smith passed away at the age of sixty-three on 25 May 1948 and is buried at St. Mary’s Churchyard, Peaslake, Surrey.