NORMAN SMITH

Private 203060, 2nd Battalion Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment

Killed 3 May 1917 aged 32

Husband of Ethel Smith

Commemorated on the Arras Memorial, France


These notes focus on Norman Smith, but further information is included in order to illustrate the impact of the war in 1917 on his family and local relatives.

Norman was born in 1886. The marriage of his parents, John Nowell Smith and Catherine Lee had taken place in Birstall Parish Church on 12 April 1878.  Both parents were from Heckmondwike.  There were four other surviving children: Herbert was born in 1881; Elizabeth Ann in 1883; Alice in 1889 and Harry in 1896.  The family lived for some years at 16 Barber Square Heckmondwike.

Aged 25, Elizabeth married John Rhodes of Liversedge on 27 June 1908.  Alice married Ernest Hendry of Heckmondwike on 17 October 1908 and Norman married 21 year old Ethel Marshall from Pyrah St, Dewsbury on 27 June 1914 at Holy Trinity Church, Batley Carr.

Norman was living in Hardy St, Crackenedge, Dewsbury when he was called up in September 1916.  In February the following year his mother Catherine Smith died aged 56, and a local paper later reported that her death had been ‘in some measure due to anxiety about her sons’, two of whom were in France.  Pte. Smith wrote his last letter to his wife on 27 April 1917, when he said he ‘expected to be in the trenches at any time’.  On that day the Battalion was in camp at Liencourt, 16 miles west of Arras.  Reveille on 28 April was at 4:30am and the Battalion marched off at 6:15am.  By 29 April they were indeed in the trenches at Fampoux, just to the east of Arras.

The Battalion’s attack began at 3:45am on Thursday 3 May 1917 over ground which had already been attacked on 9 April 1917 by the same Battalion and by the South African Brigade on 12 April 1917.  The result was sadly, the same.  Within just 40 seconds of the attack being launched a heavy artillery barrage fell on the 2nd Battalion and other soldiers of the 12th Brigade.  The German heavy machine guns were deadly, but the Battalion won praise for its determined attack on the German held ruins of a chemical factory (now the site of a supermarket) and railway embankment, both of which had well prepared defences.  The War Diary is very detailed in its account of the action, but no permanent advance was possible against high explosives, gas shells and machine gun fire.  At 6:00pm orders were received for the Battalion to move back to their front line trenches.  At the end of that day a remarkably high figure of 279 soldiers were listed as missing.  That might suggest that the retirement order never reached many of the Battalion’s men.  Pte. Smith was one of those missing.  Later military records show: ‘on or since 3/5/17, death presumed’.  His body was never found or identified.

He was still reported as missing in August 1917 leaving the hope alive that he might be a prisoner of war.  That was not to be, but Pte. Smith’s outstanding pay and allowances of £1 5s 9d were not sent to Ethel Smith until 14 May 1918, over a year later.  A War Gratuity of £3 followed on 18 October 1920.

Norman’s wife Ethel was the eldest child of the Marshall family.  Two of her brothers served in the war: Sam and Albert.  Sam enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery Territorials in Heckmondwike on 25 November 1912.  He was therefore soon in France after the outbreak of war and was awarded the 1914/15 Star.  He was wounded on 7 September 1916 and again on 14 October 1918 when he received a gunshot wound to the head.  He survived the war.

His younger brother Albert Marshall was also in the Royal Field Artillery, he was promoted to Sergeant and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.  He was killed in action on 2 October 1917 and is buried alongside many of his comrades in Vlamertinghe New Military Cemetery near Ypres, Belgium. His headstone carries the words ‘He gave his life that others might live’.

Norman Smith’s younger sister Alice had married Ernest Hendry in 1908.  They had two children: Clara born in 1909 and Ronald in 1910.  Ernest enlisted on 6 December 1915 as Pte. 29412 in the 9th Battalion Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment.  He went to France on 29 December 1916 and on 29 April 1917 he was shot in the right ankle.  He was discharged on 15 April 1918 and because of his wound was awarded the Silver War Badge which he could wear on the right lapel of his civilian clothes.  His pension was £1 7s 6d a week reviewed every 6 months.  His name is recorded in the Heckmondwike Roll of Honour.

To summarise the local impact of the war in 1917 we can look at the year from the perspective of Norman Smith’s wife Ethel:  her mother-in-law Catherine died in February, from causes perhaps made worse by her worry about her sons; her brother Sam continued at the front, despite being wounded in 1916; brother-in-law Ernest was wounded in April; her husband Norman was posted as missing in May;  her brother-in–law Harry was killed in July 1917 (see separate notes); her brother Albert was killed in October and her husband would have been confirmed as dead by late Autumn.

One of the local newspapers and military records both show that Norman and Ethel had a child, but neither source gives any further details.  If you can suggest who that child might have been would they please get in touch with us.
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