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William Smith

William Smith was the oldest son of James Percy and Mary Ann Smith and was born in the second quarter of 1880 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.

In 1881 they were living in Luccock’s Square , Greengate , a small group of long-gone terrace houses backing onto Greengate just opposite the Friends’ Meeting House

1881 Census –resident at Luccocks Square, New Malton, Malton, Yorkshire, England

James, Smith, Head, Married, Male, 29, Foundry Labourer (Iron), Malton, Yorkshire, England

Marian, Smith, Wife, Married, Female, 24, -, Malton, Yorkshire, England

Betsy, Smith, Daughter, Single, Female, 2, -, Malton, Yorkshire, England

William, Smith, Son, Single, Male, 1, -, Malton, Yorkshire, England

By 1891 James and Mary Ann were living with six children, still in Luccock’s Square. 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. William 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,

 They left on the 8th and arrived in Saint Nazaire on the evening of the 9th.  From there, they entrained to Coulommieres,  and from there for the next week were routemarched around various villages before arriving at Bourg on 19th September. From there they marched to Troyon under shell-fire and relieved the Grenadier Guards in the firing line and support trenches.” The night was spent in improving trenches and constructing overhead cover. The transport was parked at the foot of the hill. The firing line was connected to the supports by telephone.”  At about 4.00 a.m. the battalion stood to arms and soon came under continuous shell fire. As the French Turkos on their right withdrew they decided to advance to secure their right flank but soon found themselves under fire from the French, and withdrew.  The following morning they again came under heavy fire. “At about 1.30 p.m., a man ran back from the firing line and said that the Coys in front had been captured and the Germans were advancing. From information collected from our wounded later, it is certain that the Germans advanced under cover of a white flag, on the right flank & when our men went out to meet them, they were surrounded and heavily fired on. Many were killed, a few escaped and some it is presumed were captured. Owing to the retirement of the French, the Germans were able to get round our right flank and enfilade us with machine guns and rifle fire.”  After a day of abortive advances and speedy retirements they were left with a casualty list of about 80 dead, 110 wounded and about 440 missing – a truly horrific introduction to trench warfare.

By 1911 William, Sarah and Ernest were living in  Luccock’s Square. He was on the Army Reserve list and working as a moulders’ labourer at an Iron Foundry, possibly Yates’.

1911 Census – resident at 2 Luccocks Square Greengate Malton,

William Smith, Head, Married, Male, 31, Luccocks Square Greengate Malton Yorks, Soldier Private On Reserve,   Labourer Moulders,

Sarah Mosey Smith, Wife, Married, Female, 28, 1883, Easthorpe Nr Malton Yorks, -,

Ernest Smith, Son, -, Male, 0, 1911, Hodgsons Entry Greengate Malton Yorks, ,

On the evening of August 3rd 1914, the day before war was declared, the men of the National Reserve in Malton received a notice of call up. The following morning they left Malton on the 9.33 a.m. train, destination unknown. ”They were accorded a hearty send-off, and amongst those present to wish them God speed and good luck were the Rev. H.L. Ogle, Capt. C and the Hon.Mrs Behrens, Mr L. W. Huffam and Mr E. Stanley Jones. As the train moved out of the station three hearty cheers were given by the large crowd on the platform. They returned at night in uniform and again departed on Wednesday morning, followed by others later in the week

William’s destination was Lichfield and early on the morning of Friday 7th August the Battalion entrained at Trent Valley station for Dunfermline where they arrived at 5 p.m. the following day. There they stayed in billets and camp for the next week while the soldiers were inoculated before travelling by train to Cambridge where they encamped on Midsummer Common.

They stayed at Cambridge till 7th September, when they marched to Newmarket and entrained for Southampton and embarked on SS Cawdor Castle, about 1,000 men, 57 horses, 17 vehicles and 9 bicycles.

The remainder of September passed relatively uneventfully and at the beginning of October, after two large drafts of reinforcements the Battalion set off on a further week of route marching, arriving at Hazebrouck on 13th October. Here they went straight into action capturing the village of Bleu and establishing a new firing line, where they took “six bicycles, a wagon and some correspondence left by the enemy.

They arrived at Vallee-Paradis on  18th where they were involved in more intense “advance and retreat “ fighting, but succeeded in holding the line, for which they were congratulated byt the G.O.C.  The rest of October and November was spent in a routine of shelling, sniping, and trench improvements, with a steady trickle of casualties but nothing to rival what they had already been through. The start of December saw more of the same, though a highlight was a visit from the King and the Prince of Wales who inspected two companies of the Battalion on 2nd December.  They moved to new trenches at Rue du Bois on 5th December where the same pattern of life continued. On the 9th December 1914 the War Diary records “Trenches. Casualties: one killed, one wounded.”  That man was William Smith.

In Malton, the news of his death which took place on the 8th inst. was communicated to deceased’s relatives by two fellow comrades.

The first letter from Private J.E. Watson, a stretcher-bearer in the 1st West Yorks., ran as follows:- “As your brother and I have always been close friends during this campaign, I felt it my duty to write and offer you my deepest sympathy as I am grieved to inform you that he fell whilst doing his duty, yesterday the 8th inst. … I was with him till the last and was present when he was laid to rest. God help his poor wife and children. If I am spared, I will call and see her. We never knew the minute, but to the last he was a good lad, always cheerful and ready to give a helping hand to a comrade when needed. If I had lost a brother I could not have felt it more. He was one of England’s best soldiers.

Pte A. Horner of the 15th West Yorks. also wrote:-I am practically a stranger to you, but I am writing to tell you that your brother Pte. Wm. Smith was yesterday, the 8th, killed by a sniper, and his chums and I wish to convey our deepest sympathy to you, also his wife. I cannot tell you how sorry I am as he and I soldiered together in India. I and another drummer were detailed to bury him but found that the stretcher-bearers had already buried him.”

The “Malton Messenger” added that he “had been in the army for 14 years, seven years of which were spent in India. At the outbreak of war he was recovering from an operation and only passed the doctor for active service on Sept 24th. He went to France and was slightly wounded by shrapnel on Oct 31st. He recovered and again joined the fighting line only to meet his death as above stated.  He leaves a widow and three children under 5 years of age. His widow only received a letter from him on the 4th inst. in which he said he should not be able to be at home for Xmas, but he asked his wife to see that the children had a good Xmas. Much sympathy is also felt with the deceased’s parents who only three years ago lost another soldier son in Egypt where he was drowned. They have one son yet remaining with the Army.

William was buried at Ration Farm Military cemetery at La Chapelle-d’Armentieres. For much of the war, Ration Farm was just over 1 kilometre behind the front line at the end of a communication trench. The first cemetery, Ration Farm Old Military Cemetery, was begun in February 1915, close beside the farm buildings. It was used until October 1915 chiefly by units of the 6th Division and at the Armistice it contained 73 graves. In April 1923, these graves were moved into Plot VI of the present cemetery, at the request of the French authorities. The present cemetery was begun (as Ration Farm New Military Cemetery) in October 1915 and remained in use until October 1918. It was very greatly increased after the Armistice when graves were brought in from isolated sites and small cemeteries on the battlefield.

William is commemorated in St Leonard's Church and on the Town Memorial.

 According to the Malton Messenger, William spent much of his service with the West Yorkshires in India . Some time at least seems to have been spent at Kuldhana, a hill station in the Murree Hills where a memory of their time there survives carved on a rock.

During the last quarter of 1909 William married Sarah Mosey Sollitt in the York area and their first child Ernest was born on 15th June 1910.  A daughter, Edna was born in the last quarter of 1911 and a third daughter Lilian in the second quarter of 1914.