Military Service Timeline
John Smith was born in Langtoft in 1879 to George William Smith, a farm labourer also born in Langtoft and his wife Ann Read from Market Deeping. The Couple were married on 25th October 1869 in Market Deeping.
They went on to have nine children in all:-
- James Henry Smith, 1870, Langtoft
- George Smith, 1871, Langtoft
- Mary Smith, 1873, Langtoft
- Joseph Smith, 1875, Langtoft
- John Smith, 1876, Langtoft (died 1876)
- Elizabeth Smith, 1878, Langtoft
- John Smith, 1879, Langtoft
- Samuel Smith, 1883, Langtoft
- Eliza Smith, 1885, Langtoft
The couple lived in Langtoft, and can be found on the 1881 census living in the High Street. By 1891 John is living with his uncle George Jarvis and aunt Mary (nee Smith) in Eastgate Bourne. George is a railway labourer and also in the household is Mary’s brother Henry Smith a general labourer.
Unfortunately John cannot be found on the 1901 census, he would now be 24 years of age. It is most likely that he is on military service although this cannot be proved.
By 1911 John was living alone in Victoria Place, Bourne and the census lists him as a bricklayer’s labourer. The census says that he is married although his wife Is not living with him on census night. His Army Pension record after the war does state that his wife has not been heard from for 12 years.
John and Mary Elizabeth were married sometime around 1902 and they had two children:-
• Mary Elizabeth b 13th December 1902
• Florence Margaret b 16th April 1904
Nothing much is known about Mary Elizabeth, the wife, but the on GRO registers we can see two children’s birth’s being registered with the correct names and similar times with the surname Smith who’s mother’s maiden name was Laidler, this was in South Shields. There is also a J Smith on the marriage register for Durham to a M Laidler in 1902. The only issue with this record is the man’s name is John Jarvis Smith and not John as he was born, is this name used because of him being brought up by his uncle George Jarvis.
We have more recently carried out quite a lot of research into where John’s estranged wife and children ended up living in 1921 and have a most likely scenario as to what became of them, If anyone is interested in this please do get in touch as it is too long winded to be part of this post.
John enlisted into the 1st Battalion Lincolnshire regiment around September 1914. His regimental number of 11944 is consecutive with Bourne men Ralph Pattison and Edward Backlog who enlisted at this time. Both of the other men had previous military service and being placed with a regular army battalion would indicate that John Smith has also some previous service. This could be the reason that he has not been found on the 1901 census, again there is no proof of this but the circumstantial evidence points to this.
John trained with the 1st Battalion and eventually embarked for the western front and landed in France on the 12th November 1914. As with 60% of all WW1 records John’s full service record did not survive, most likely destroyed in the WW2 warehouse fire in London. The following history has been pieced together from surviving pension and battalion records.
The regulars of the Battalion had already left their pre war base at Portsmouth on the 14th August for France and the Battle of Mons, fighting a rear-guard at Solesmes during the retreat from Mons and then Battles at Le Cateau, The Battle of the Aisne, at La Bassee, Messines and the First Battle of Ypres.
The 1st Battalion were in Hooge a village near Ypres in Belgium when John arrived in France on the 12th November 1914, following his initial training. The Battalion came out of the front line on the 20th arriving in the rear area near Westoutre on the 21st November. The Battalion Diary reports that in the evening they received reinforcements, which no doubt included Edward Backlog and more than likely John Smith, the next 2 days were spent on refitting.
John”s first taste of the trenches came shortly afterwards when the Battalion relieved the Oxfordshire Light Infantry on the night of the 27th November in the front line near Kemmel. The next day was quiet in the trenches apart from occasional enemy sniping and the casualties for Edward’s first day at the front was 1 killed and 1 wounded other ranks.
At the end of the month that tour of the trenches was completed and whilst in billets on the 3rd December the entire Brigade were lined up alongside the main road through Westoutre for an inspection. His Majesty The King passed through on his tour of inspection and the men gave three hearty cheers as he passed them in an automobile accompanied by the commander in chief.
A letter was received afterwards in which his Majesty expressed great pleasure at the appearance of the troops.
A party of 50 NCOs and men under the command of Captain E Tatchell proceeded to Locre to perform the duties of a guard of honour where His Majesty presented medals for Distinguished Conduct to the NCOs and men of the brigade and Private Stroulger being the only representative owing to all the other NCOs and men who had been awarded the medal being killed or wounded. The Battalion paraded at 3.30pm to proceed to Locre where they were billeted in support of the units in the firing line.
It was not until the 6th of December when the daily stand to orders were changed and they marched to Kemmel to relieve the 1st Royal Scots Regiment in the trenches. The diary reports that –
“Owing to the recent heavy rains the trenches were in a very bad state and in some places were waist deep in mud and water. B,C + D companies formed the firing line and A company in support in a barn close to Battalion HQ. We obtained several bundles of fascines planks of wood and placed them in the trenches for the troops to stand on. The men were also provided with straw wisps to wrap around their legs + boots to keep themselves dry. These efforts proved of little consequence owing to the amount of water in the trenches. B Company who held the right of the position occupied by the Battalion were in such a bad state that after being in the trenches for 24 hours, the commanding officer found it absolutely necessary to relieve them with the company in support.
Officers A.S.S Wade and 2/Lieut A B L Parish joined the Battalion. Casualties. 1 Killed and 1 wounded.”
The battalion then being involved in what was to be John’s first experience in a planned attack of the enemy trenches on their third day. The attack was deemed a success even though after reaching the enemy trench which by then resembled a small canal, the already fatigued men became subject to such rifle and machine gun fire that they were ordered to fall back to their own trenches, which they did in good order. The casualties for the attack were 4 killed, 19 wounded and 18 missing of the ranks and 3 officers wounded.
A and B companies were relieved and returned to the barn in support and it would be another day before the entire Battalion was relieved from their trenches and returned to Locre to billets before the division was relived.
The tours of the trenches continued with their next tour ending on the 24th December placing them back in Locre for Christmas Day.
The Battalion diary reported the following:
Christmas Day and very seasonable, all ranks adapted themselves to the circumstances and celebrated Xmas in as an enjoyable way as the conditions permitted. Christmas Greetings were received from Field Marshall Sir John French, GCB, GCVO, KCMG, Commander in chief of the British Army in the field.
“In offering to the Army in France, my earnest and most heartfelt wishes for Xmas and the new year I am anxious once more to express the admiration I feel in the valour and endurance they have displayed throughout the campaign and to assure them that to have commanded such magnificent troops in the field will be the proudest remembrance of my Life”
All ranks of the Battalion received an Xmas card from the king and Queen and a present for all ranks from Princess Mary, consisting of a package containing Xmas Card and box containing tobacco and cigarettes which was greatly valued by all ranks of the Battalion. Greetings were also received from the Mayor and Citizens of Lincoln and many others interested in the welfare of the Regiment.
The Battalion went back into the trenches on New years eve. Eventually being transferred to the 28th Division and moving to Ypres in mid February to assist with operations on the Ypres canal.
We will move to the Battalion Diaries for the month of February and the days leading up to John’s final action on the 23rd.
About 12.0 noon a sudden order was received for the Brigade (9th Brigade) to move to Ypres to support the 5th Corps who had lost some trenches. On arrival at Ypres the Battalion billeted in the Belgian Infantry Barracks. The march from Locre to Ypres was very hard owing to Heavy rai and a cold wind blowing. 2nd Lt L.T. Brook and A J Gilby joined the Battalion. In the evening we were informed the Brigade was transferred to the 5th Corps, relieving the 84th Brigade. The 9th Brigade now being part of the 28th Division.
The Battalion paraded at 3.30am and proceeded to take up positions on the Ypres Canal in support of the 84th brigade in the trenches. The day passed very quickly. The Battalion being relieved by the 1st R S fusiliers after which returned to billet in Belgian Infantry Barracks. Casualties 1 man wounded.
Still in billets ready to turn out at a moments notice.
Still in Billets Battalion being held in readiness to move off in support if required. In the evening the commanding officer and company commanders proceeded to visit the trenches for the purpose of gaining information about the line which the Battalion is going to take over.
The battalion remained in the Infantry Barracks during the day. At 7.40pm battalion paraded to proceed to the trenches to relieve the Welsh Regt., B, C + D Companies forming the firing line, A company in support. Owing to it being a fresh line taken up by the Battalion the relief took some considerable time to carry out. The trench taken over by B Company
being considered dangerous as it was a continuation of a trench held by the Germans. A Barricade dividing one from the other. Eventually the relief was successfully carried out being completed just after midnight.
Casualties:- 3 other ranks wounded, 2nd Lieut Walker, having been overcome with sickness on his way up to the trenches was sent back and admitted to hospital.
The day passed rather quickly. The enemy shelled the trenches occupied by C Company which was close to the Ypres Canal and on top of a hill thereby making the trench conspicuous. In the evening a report was received that a party of the enemy had worked round behind the trench held by B company. A message was sent to D Company to send a party forward and drive them out of it. 2nd Lieut M.D. Wilson who was in command of D Company took this party forward and successfully drove them out and it was in following them up that he was severely wounded.
Casualties:- 1 killed, 1 died of wounds, 5 wounded.
Artillery very active on both sides. The enemy’s artillery which was at very close range shelling C company’s trenches, but without doing any damage. Snipers were also very active, causing several casualties to b Company. In the evening the Battalion was relieved by the R S Fusiliers after which it proceeded to Billet. 3 Companies (B,C,D) going to Rosenthal Chateau. A Company being billeted in Lankhof Chateau. Both these Chateaux being on the Lille Road outside Ypres. A Company found a post on the bank of the Ypres Canal as a supporting point for the troops holding the line on the south side of the canal.
Casualties, 2 killed, 1 died of wounds, 12 wounded, 1 missing.
It was in this action on the 23rd February 1915, That Private John Smith of the 1st Lincolnshire Battalion paid the ultimate sacrifice.
In the soldier’s effects register John’s effects were left to Guardian Henry Smith for his daughter Mary Elizabeth and from the pension records, Guardian Mrs G Smith for daughter Florence Margaret..