Today we remember Bourne man Reginald Smithson who died aged 21 on this day, 21 March 1918 whilst serving with the 9th Battalion, Norfolk Regiment.
Born in Cromer, Norfolk in 1897, Reginald was the son of John Henry Smithson, a railways gateman, and Hannah (nee Nudds). John and Hannah were married in 1887 in Aylsham. The Smithson family were recorded to live on Austerby Road Bourne on the 1901 census, having previously lived in North Walsham in 1891. They went on to have five children:
Recorded as a general labourer, Reginald enlisted aged 19 on July 16th 1915 to join the Norfolk Regiment. Reginald’s documents show him to have left Folkstone on August 25th 1916 to arrive in Boulogne.
On September 23rd, he joined his Battalion. Reginald’s casualty form survives, where we are able to see the number of occasions where he was wounded in battle.
On July 12th 1916, he sustained an injury to his right shoulder, causing him to be sent to Wimereux Hospital for treatment. Later injuries to his right abdomen left him absent from fighting for the majority of February 1917 through to March. He joined the fighting again at the end of the month.
The 21 March 1918 is a key date in the First World War: the beginning of the German Spring Offensive also known as Operation Michael. This was the final push for the Germans to break through the Allied lines in Northern France with the aim of reaching the Channel Ports to reach Britain.
Unfortunately though, the precise whereabouts of the 9th Bn Norfolk Regiment is unclear as the war diaries have not been discovered, with a probable answer being that this particular battalion was merged with others in 1915. Nevertheless, a likely possibility was that he was involved in the counterattack of this Spring Offensive. Reginald was one of 81 men from the Norfolk Regiment to die on this day on this area of the Western Front.
Reginald’s death hit home very soon. As recorded in the Grantham Journal, Saturday 4th May:
‘’A Memorial service was held at the Congregational Church on Sunday evening for four boys who were formerly scholars in the Sunday School, Walter Fenton, Harold Joyce, Francis Stubley, and Reginald Smithson. The service was conducted by the Rev. J. Comyn Jones, the pastor, who referred to the sacrifice these young men had made for the protection of out lives and homes. Suitable hymns were sung, and the service was largely attended.’’
Reginald is commemorated on the Arras Memorial at Faubourg d’Amiens Cemetery, Arras. As he is commemorated by name on the walls of the Memorial rather than with an identified headstone it is either that his body was not recovered from No Man’s Land, or that he was buried but could not be named so therefore lies under an unidentified headstone.
Faubourg d’Amiens Cemetery was created in March 1916, and was used to bury those who had died from wounds from local medical and dressing points behind Allied lines. The cemetery was used until November 1918, but was enlarged after the Armistice when smaller cemeteries were merged with this larger one. Faubourg d’Amiens Cemetery is the resting place for over 2,650 Commonwealth soldiers, 10 of which are unidentified.
Surrounding the cemetery is the Arras Memorial, which commemorates almost 35,000 servicemen from the United Kingdom, South Africa and New Zealand. These men died in the Arras area between Spring 1916 to 7 August 1918 and who have no known grave, just like that of Reginald Smithson. Both the cemetery and memorial were designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, a key architect involved in the work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
Lutyens also designed the Arras Flying Services Memorial at this site, with the assistance of Sit William Reid Dick. This Memorial commemorates nearly 1,000 airmen of the Royal Naval Air Service, the Royal Flying Corps, and the Royal Air Force who were killed on the entire Western Front and who have no known grave. The memorial was unveiled by Lord Trenchard, Marshal of the Royal Air Force on 31 July 1932.
Reginald’s name can be found on Bay 3.
More information can be found on a page dedicated to Reginald on our website.