Stephen Spiers - Imperial Soldier

From the mines of South Africa to the Tunnels of the Western Front

Not everyone who lost their lives as a result of military service in the First World War was a soldier.

Stephen Spiers, a train driver in the South African mines who had lived in Durban and served in the Bechuanaland Mounted Infantry in the Boer War, sold all his household goods to come over to London with his family and enlist in 1915. His service records capture the brief period of time that his family spent in Lower Marsh whilst Spiers joined the Royal Engineers in 1916. He served as a tunneller and a mines rescue expert until he was transferred into the Rail Operating Division in 1918. His family moved around London whilst he was absent, and one of his children, Muriel, died aged one from bronchitis in 1916. At the war’s end, Spiers had to fight the War Office to get the travelling expenses he’d been promised when he came to the UK - in the end, they paid him only his fare (£19, 6s, 6d), not the £42 it had cost to transport his whole family to the UK. Perhaps unsurpisingly, as soon as Spiers was demobilised, he returned to South Africa as soon as he could.