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Fred Smith

Fred Smith was the sixth son of James Percy and Mary Ann Smith and was born in the first quarter of 1890 in the Malton area. James and Mary Ann Bilton were married on 13th October 1877 in St Michael’s church and by 1911 had had thirteen children, seven of whom were still alive.

By 1891 James and Mary Ann were living with six children in Luccock’s Square, Greengate , a small group of long-gone terrace houses backing onto Greengate just opposite the Friends’ Meeting House. James was working as a labourer and the children were all at school presumably the Wesleyan School on Greengate.

1891 Census – resident at Luccock’s Square, Greengate, Malton

SMITH, James, Head, Married, M, 39, General Labourer, Malton Yorkshire
SMITH, Mary A, Wife, Married, F, 34, , Malton Yorkshire
SMITH, Betsy, Daughter, , F, 12, Scholar, Malton Yorkshire
SMITH, William, Son, , M, 11, Scholar, Malton Yorkshire
SMITH, James, Son, , M, 6, Scholar, Malton Yorkshire
SMITH, Ernest, Son, , M, 4, , Malton Yorkshire
SMITH, Walter, Son, , M, 3, , Malton Yorkshire
SMITH, Fred, Son, , M, 1, , Malton Yorkshire

The 1901 Census shows them living at 34 Greengate. James now had a job as furnaceman at a foundry, quite possibly Yate’s. Their eldest son was serving with the West Yorkshire Regiment, and the two teenage sons were also working.

1901 Census – resident at 34 Greengate, Malton

SMITH, James, Head, Married, M, 49, Furnaceman Foundry, Malton Yorkshire,
SMITH, Mary Ann, Wife, Married, F, 44, , Malton Yorkshire,
SMITH, Betsy, Daughter, Single, F, 22, , Malton Yorkshire,
SMITH, William, Son, Single, M, 21, Private 6081 & Co 2nd Batt W Y R, Malton Yorkshire,
SMITH, John Thomas, Son, Single, M, 19, Blacksmiths Apprentice, Malton Yorkshire,
SMITH, Ernest, Son, Single, M, 14, Errand Boy, Malton Yorkshire,
SMITH, Walter, Son, Single, M, 12, , Malton Yorkshire,
SMITH, Fred, Son, Single, M, 11, , Malton Yorkshire,

The 1911 Census shows the family still living in the Greengate area. James senior was still working at the foundry while Fred had found a job as a tailor.

1911 Census – resident at 2 Hodgson's Entry Greengate Malton
SMITH, James Percy, Head, Married, M, 59, Iron Foundry Labourer, Yorks Greengate Malton,
SMITH, Mary Ann, Wife, Married, F, 54, , Yorks Greengate Malton,
SMITH, James, Son, Single, M, 27, Farm Labourer, Yorks Leiccock Square Greengate Malton,
SMITH, Walter, Son, Single, M, 22, Brickyard Labourer, Yorks Leiccock Square Greengate Malton,
SMITH, Fred, Son, Single, M, 21, Tailor, Yorks Leiccock Square Greengate Malton,
THORPE, Willie, Grandson, , M, 4, , Yorks Hodgsons Entry Greengate Malton,

When war was declared in August 1914 Fred was presumably already a member of the Territorial Army as he was among the first men to leave Malton with the 5th battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment .

The 1/5th Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment was in the 150th Brigade of the 50th [Northumbrian] Division and was a Territorial Force from the South part of the North Riding of Yorkshire. They were known as the Scarborough or Beverley "Terriers" and originally these two towns, along with neighbouring Driffield, Malton, Pickering, Bridlington, Filey etc provided the Volunteers.

At the outbreak of war the men of the 5th Battalion left Malton immediately as recorded by the Malton Messenger of 5th August 1914.



Scenes which will be long remembered by the inhabitants of the town were witnessed in Malton on Wednesday, when the Territorials (“H” Company 5th Battalion Alexandra Princess of Wales’ Own Yorkshire Regiment) marched from the headquarters in Old Maltongate to the railway station. The men quickly responded to the call and were ready on Tuesday night. Many of them were in the streets until a late hour, mingling with the crowds which gathered near the Messenger office and other parts of the town. It was at first understood that they would leave for an unknown destination at 8.30 on Wednesday morning, and the streets presented a busy scene; gradually, however, it became known that they were to leave at 12.30, and long before that time the streets from the headquarters in Old Maltongate to the Railway Station were lined with people who were eagerly discussing the grave crisis.

About half-past twelve o’clock a move was made from headquarters, Lieutenant Pickles being in command of about 65 men, preceded by the White Star Band, which played lively airs on route to the station. The territorials, who turned out smartly, were cheered again and again as they marched past, men on the pavements waving hats and sticks and women waving handkerchiefs and shouting “good-bye” and “good luck”. On nearing the station the band turned aside near the Goods Yard and allowed Lieutenant Pickles and his men to walk into the station, to the hearty cheers of the vast crowd which had assembled there. The band fell in at the rear and passed onto the station platform, where the Territorials were drawn up near to the telegraph office.

It was impossible to admit all the followers into the station but a large number succeeded in in gaining admission, mostly those who had relatives in the ranks. The men were very cheerful, and there was a good deal of hand-shaking before the train in which they were to leave arrived.

In the brief interval a representative of the “Messenger” held a conversation with Lieutenant Pickles who stated that they were going on to Scarborough to await orders.

At about 10 minutes to one o’clock the train arrived, and after more hand-shaking and “good-byes” Lieutenant Pickles and his men took their seats. The band played “Auld Lang Syne” and many pathetic incidents were witnessed amongst the crowd of men and women on the Norton end of the station as the train passed out, the male portion of those on the platform uncovering their heads as the band played the National Anthem.

In 1915 the Battalion became part of 150th Brigade, 50th (Northumbrian) Division. In early April the Division was warned that it would go on overseas service and entrainment began on 16 April, landing at Boulogne. Fred went out to France with the first batch from that Battalion arriving at Boulogne on H.M. Transport “Onward” on 18th April. They arrived at 1.50 a.m. and after less than 24 hours in Camp were entrained, arriving at Cassels at 6.0 am and marched to Steenvoorde twelve ‘hot and very tiring’ miles to billets outside the village of Steenvoorde, where they had finally rested, for three whole days. On the 23rd they were on the move again, proceeding by Motor Buses to Vlamertinghe and from thence marched to A Huts at Ypres arriving just as the German army had attacked at Ypres, using poison gas for the first time. ‘As they tramped along the pave road, with Vlamertinghe and Ypres ahead, the boom of guns became even louder. Crowds of refugees were met, hurrying westwards with handcarts perambulators and almost any kind of vehicle laden with all the worldly possessions left to them.’ That night they moved forward to the banks of the Yser Canal in support of 2nd Zouaves. The Battalion lined the Canal banks under the shelter of a ridge before daylight, the men shortly afterwards digging themselves into shelter holes. B Company, which was somewhat exposed, suffered minor casualties from overdropping bullets.

That morning they had their first experience of shell fire, but sustained no injury. Shortly in the afternoon the Battalion was ordered to cross the Canal and support the Canadians at Chateau, where it reported at 3.0 pm being subject to rifle and shell fire en route and was immediately ordered to proceed to Saint Jean to the support of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade. This village was soon afterwards in flames and the Battalion skirting its rear, skirmished across open country under heavy shelling to the 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade HQ. They now came under Canadian command and were ordered to take up a position and entrench, being ready to counter attack when necessary There was constant rain all night and several men were  wounded and one killed.

At 3.00 a.m. on the 25th they received orders to proceed to Fortuin. En route they passed a number of detached bodies of troops in retreat. They arrived at the rendezvous about 5.00 am in company with 5th Durham Light Infantry and with the daylight shelling began. B and C Companies occupied the line of reserve trenches on the right of the road, but no shelter was  available for the A and D Companies (Fred was in D Company) except the hedge bottom on roadside.

About 6.00 am these latter Companies advanced to support of Royal Irish across open field and were met with heavy shrapnel fire. Leading parties obtained the objective when the order was given to retire as Royal Irish were falling back. In this movement A and D Companies suffered severely, losing 8 killed and about 40. They then dug themselves in the hedge bottom of a field to the left of the road. D Coy in line with B and C and with A at right angles on the left of D Coy.

Alternating bursts of the shell and rifle fire continued throughout the day. About noon the Durham Light Infantry, who had been ordered to search a farmhouse requested assistance and a party of 25 of D Company was sent out. It was met by the fire of a Machine Gun concealed in the house and two members of the party were instantly killed. Captain Purvis reported small parties of Germans due North in trenches. Orderlies were sent to Brigade stating that "Enemy was inclined to press" and asking "Have you any orders ?". No reply could be obtained.

Other casualties occurred from shell and rifle fire, which died down at nightfall, when the dead were collected and buried.

The next day the position was unchanged.  Again they reported their positon to Brigade and again were ordered to remain. Heavy shelling continued  as on previous day with considerable sniping and a closely adjacent farmhouse  was  destroyed by enemy's incendiary shells. They were finally relieved two days later, having lost 30 men and with over 100 wounded.

By 4th April they were in billets in Steenwoorde where Field Marshall  Sir John French addressed them “I have come here this morning to express to every single Officer and man how much I admire the splendid behaviour of the Battalion in the fighting which has gone on during the last ten days. The 5th Yorkshire Regiment has suffered heavily. You have had one Officer killed, one Officer wounded, twenty eight men killed and one one hundred and five men wounded.
When you came out here you were called upon very hurriedly and you had very little preparation. Things do come that way, very suddenly, in War. The call came through of the disgraceful conduct [gas] of the people who are fighting us, who call themselves soldiers, but who behave in a very unsoldierlike way. In the circumstances we could not wait and had to do the best we could. I do not want to go into details of that fight, because there were other British soldiers engaged. I want particularly to talk of the splendid conduct of the men of the 50th Northumbrian Division, and especially of your Battalion. I wish to compliment every one of you. I am very grateful to you, for all you have done. I think your conduct magnificent.
Whenever I am speaking of Territorial soldiers I find it very difficult adequately to express how strongly I feel on the subject. I had a good deal to do with Territorial soldiers before the War, when I was Inspector General of the Forces, and I have always said that when the Territorial Force was called upon, and put to the test, it would not be found wanting.
A good many of our countrymen did not agree with me. But you have shown right well that not only were you found not wanting, but that you were capable of taking your place and fighting splendidly in accordance with the best traditions of the British Army.
Your conduct has been superb. Nothing is more difficult than to come out in the ordinary way of routine as you did and then suddenly to be called upon to fill a breach that has so suddenly occasioned.
You showed a spirit of splendid patriotism months ago when, leaving your work and homes, you volunteered for foreign service, though originally you had only taken the responsibilities of home defence. This you did in defence of the British Empire, and whilst others remained behind, you have come here to do your duty and have done it and have set a magnificent example.
I am sure that when your fellow countrymen fully realise your magnificent behaviour, they will thank you as I thank you now. I feel confident that you will keep up the splendid record that you have established whenever you are called upon."

On 9th April they were back in the trenches and by 18th had moved to Sanctuary Wood. Lt Turnbull wrote of the conditions -
‘We entered the trenches about midnight, we found them very uncomfortable, as there was only one dug-out for our company, and the Officers were worse off than the men, for while they have a fire trench of their own, we have nothing.
I spent six hours making myself a shelter in a communication trench, a sort of sofa with a waterproof sheet above it, cut out of one side of a five-foot trench. I worked most of the night throwing earth up to shield my bed, as the Germans were sniping at our parapet all day long. Meals were wretched, as we had nowhere decent to eat them, and we also lost our principal ration bag, containing tinned fruits and other joys"

Private Ronald Gough had written home :-
‘Just a few lines to let you know that I am still alive and in the best of health. I am really suffering from overwork, because we have had a good deal to do just recently. One can only thank God for the escapes that one has every day. I am sitting in the trenches writing this, and the birds are all singing, the cuckoo in particular. You would hardly think that such a war was going on, the bullets whizzing over your head, and the shells screaming. We got slightly gassed the other day, it was awful stuff. It makes your eyes ache and gets into the lungs. Some men further up the line were terrible, staggering like drunken men’

On the 2nd June  the Battalion returned to a field about half a mile South of Vlamertinghe, where they bivouacked until the 6th when they relieved 1st Northumberland Fusiliers in  Sanctuary Wood.  On the 12th they were relieved by the 7th Durham Light Infantry.

On the 16th the Battalion was ordered to field about 1 mile West of Kruisstraat where they dug in and spent the next morning in these trenches before moving up to trenches in Sanctuary Wood in the evening. There they remained until June 23rd. On 20th June 1915 Fred Smith was killed.

 Fred had clearly already been wounded and had only returned from treatment in hospital the day before his death.  His Company Commander Captain F. Robson wrote to James and Mary Ann that night saying:

Dear Mrs Smith, It is my painful duty to inform you of the death of Private Fred Smith, your son, who was killed in action to-night. He was shot in the head while firing on the parapet and though he lived for about an hour afterwards he was unconscious the whole of the time. He only returned from hospital last night. He was carrying out his duties manfully and cheerfully and was a good soldier and very popular among his comrades. I hasten to convey to you direct the sympathy of his officers and fellow comrades upon your very sad bereavement. His personal effects are being sent to you, and he was properly buried to-night and a cross marks his grave. With my renewed sympathy F. Robson.

Fred’s elder brother William had been killed in December 1914 and another of the brothers had been drowned on service in Egypt some three years earlier.

However while Fred was buried, the continued fighting over this area of land meant that the grave was lost and Fred is commemorated on the Menin Gate in Ypres.  He is remembered on the town memorial and on the memorial in St Leonard's Church.