Private 2nd Class 296830 Levi Foster

Foster Levi 96 408x600

Died Home on Thursday, 28th April 1921, age 31.
Buried in Grave C. "C." 55. at Tipton Cemetery, Staffordshire, United Kingdom.

Royal Air Force.

Husband of Mrs Alice Foster, of 10 Gough Buildings, Horseley Heath, Tipton, Staffs.
Born: Tipton, Enlisted: Unknown, Resident: Tipton.

Never served abroad.
Medal entitlement: No medal entitlement.
Soldier's Papers at National Archives did not survive.

Not commemorated on any Tipton memorial.
Commemorated here because identified as Tipton on Commonwealth War Graves site.

Link to Commonwealth War Graves Site: www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/395342/

Genealogical Data

Birth of Levi Foster registered September quarter 1889 in Dudley.
Marriage of Michael Mallin and Mary Ann Foster registered September quarter 1890 at Dudley.

1891 Census
18 House 10 Court, Horseley Heath, Tipton, Staffs. (surname incorrectly added to census as Maylior)
Michael Mallin (24, Iron Worker, born Tipton), his wife Mary A. (24, born Tipton), and their child: Levi (21 months, born Tipton), and Mary's sister Louisa Foster (18, Lodger, Labourer in Brickyard, born Tipton).

Levi Mallin is Levi Foster (Foster was Mary's maiden name).

1901 Census
Dudley Union Workhouse, Burton Road, Sedgley, Staffs.
Levi Foster (11, Inmate, Scholar, born Dudley).

1911 Census
3 House 6 Court, Horseley Heath, Tipton, Staffs.
Catherine Selwood (48, Widow, born Tipton), her 4 children: Edward (16, Newsboy, born Tipton), Rose (14, Domestic Servant, born Tipton), Sarah (11, School, born Tipton), and Martha A. (5, born London). Also Levi Foster (21, Boarder, General Labourer at an Ironworks, born Tipton). Catherine Selwood was Levi's aunt, his mother's sister.

Marriage of Levi Foster and Alice Homer registered September quarter 1911 in Dudley.
Levi and Alice had 4 children: Richard born 17th April 1913, John Thomas born 16th April 1916, Levi born 28th September 1918, and Alice born in March quarter 1921. It is possible that Levi Foster died in 1920 aged 1.

Personal Data

Levi Foster joined the Royal Air Force on 20th September 1918, his birth date is given as 16th July 1886. This is almost certainly wrong as the only Levi Foster born in the 1880s was in September quarter 1889 which also ties with his census entries.

At his enlistment Levi was just 5 feet 3¼ inches tall with a 29½-inch chest. He had dark brown hair, brown eyes and a "tanned" complexion, he was employed as a Porter, and was Church of England.

Within a week Levi was allocated to Air Station Mullion in Cornwall, about one mile west of today's Goonhilly satellite station. This was a base for Coastal-class airships operated by the Royal Naval Air Service which searched the English Channel looking for German U-boats, it was closed in 1919. Levi was transferred to the RAF Reserve on 27th September 1919, and discharged fully on 30th April 1920.

Action resulting in his death

In the Autumn 1971 edition of ‘The Blackcountryman’ Jack Haden wrote a scholarly article about the 1921 Coal Strike and how it affected the Black Country. In the section about 'Coal Picking', which was done both for personal use and as a low-level commercial enterprise, he mentions the incident in which Levi Foster lost his life.

“Several of these freelance mining enterprises had tragic results when men were buried by falls of earth. For instance, thirty-two years old Levi Foster, of 10 Gough’s Buildings, Horseley Heath, Tipton, was buried by two tons of rocks and earth when digging at Five Hovels.”

The inquest into Levi Foster's death was reported in the Dudley Herald on 30th April 1921 - see transcription below. This reports that Levi had gone "coal picking" on 24th March and had been buried in a landfall. He had suffered a broken thigh and ribs and was treated at the Dudley Guest Hospital, including an operation. Levi died almost 5 weeks later from pneumonia subsequent to his injuries.

Levi's Death Certificate shows his cause of death as: ‘Pneumonia and exhaustion following a fractured spine accidentally sustained through some earth falling and burying the deceased whilst he was picking coal at the Five Hovels Pit mound, Tipton. Lived 33 days’.

The CWGC incorrectly records Levi's date of death as 28th April 1921. His inquest was held on the 28th April, and reported his date of death being 26th April, this was confirmed on his Death Certificate. Levi was buried in Tipton Cemetery on 2nd May 1921.

Normally, for a Commonwealth War Graves headstone to mark a grave, the death must be attributed in some way to service with the armed forces. Given that Levi had been discharged from the RAF in April 1920, and was killed by a fall of rock, it is difficult to see why he has a Commonwealth War Grave Commission headstone.

There were only 3 Tipton casualties in the Royal Flying Corps/Royal Air Force. Strangely all 3 served only in the UK, and all 3 are buried in Tipton Cemetery.

Newspaper Cuttings

Dudley Herald 30th April 1921
At the Town Hall on Thursday (Editor: 28th April 1921) an inquest was held by Mr Marshall, J.P. (Coroner), on the body of Levi Foster, of 10 Gough’s Buildings, Horseley Heath, Tipton, who was aged 32 and was employed as a driller at the works of Messrs. Norton, Harty Co.

Mrs Alice Foster stated that her husband had been three months out of work. He, with William Fletcher, went coal picking at a place they called Five Hovels, and shortly afterwards Fletcher came back and told the neighbours that something had happened. She found her husband lying injured, and he was conveyed in a horse and trap to the Guest Hospital. He was alright when he left home.

William Fletcher, 12 Gough’s Buildings, Horseley Heath, deposed that the deceased went with him to the Five Hovels and found other people there digging for coal. There were women and children, working with picks and shovels. Foster went to an excavation and used his pick, and soon after the ground above him fell and buried him. Witness at once gave the alarm, and the deceased was got out.

Joseph Vaughan, of Greets Green, said that on this pit mound at Five Hovels, Foster was getting coal. Witness was working further on, He did not see what happened, but he heard a call for help and was told that Foster was buried there. Witness got his head up above the ground, but it took a quarter of an hour to get him out. He was badly injured in the back.

The Coroner: “You had difficulty in getting him out?” – Yes, we had to work very hard. There were two or three tons of rock and earth over him. He was lying 4 feet or 5 feet down. The back of the deceased was hurt.

Dr. Guy Butterworth, house surgeon at the Guest Hospital, said the deceased was brought in between 5 and 6 o’clock on March 24th. He found him suffering from a fractured thigh and ribs, and was in a very bad state. He went on favourably for about a week, and then there was an operation performed and he died on April 26th. He died from pneumonia set up by his condition and injuries. The injuries he received caused his death.

A verdict of accidental death was recorded, pneumonia following the injuries that had, said the Coroner, been described.

The Coroner: “It was private property and it was an ordinary case of coal picking. He was actually trespassing as a matter of law?”
Inspector Burford: “That is so.”