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Joseph Edward Smith

Lance-Corporal Joseph Edward Smith, 43421, West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales's Own), 10th Battalion

Joseph Edward Smith was born on the 30th April 1879 at Flockton, near Wakefield, the youngest child of seven children born to George Smith and his wife, Eliza (nee Healey), of Skelmanthorpe, Huddersfield, who were married at Emley Parish Church on the 1st March 1862. Joseph Edward was baptised at a Flockton non-conformist church on 20th April 1880.

Joseph’s father, George Smith died, aged 37, at Flockton on the 6th August 1879 when Joseph was just four months-old. In 1881, Eliza Smith, a 39 year-old widow with seven children under the age of 18, was living in Flockton village. An eighth child is living in the household and this was the illegitimate child of George and Eliza’s daughter, Emma, who was also living in the household. Emma married shortly afterwards. In early 1885, Eliza, aged 44 years, married her second husband, 18 year-old, Barnsley born, coal miner Walter Swift. By 1891, the family, including Joseph, had moved to live at Batley. By 1901, Eliza Swift, is again recorded as a widow and she was living with one of her daughters at Birstall, whilst her second husband, Walter, was living in Hunslet with another "wife" and two children. Eliza died at Wakefield on the 26th July 1907, aged 65.

On the 9th September 1899, at St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church, Queen’s Road, Aldershot, Joseph Edward Smith married Dublin-born Ellen Mary Donnelly. Sometime in the mid/late 1890’s Joseph had enlisted in the West Yorkshire Regiment and at the time of his marriage he was serving at the Talavera Barracks in Aldershot.  He served with his Regiment and with Brabant’s Horse during the 2nd Boer War.

Major-General Sir Edward Yewd Brabant KCB CMG (born 1839), was a South African colonial military commander. During the Second Boer War (1899–1902), he commanded the Colonial Division in 1900, and the Colonial Defence Force of Cape Colony in 1901.On 5 November 1899, Brabant raised the Light Horse regiment known as Brabant's Horse. The top strength of the unit was 600, all ranks, including South African colonials, Australians, British, Canadians. The unit saw much action against Boer commandos. Brabant's Horse was disbanded in Cape Town on 31 December 1901. Joseph Smith is recorded with the 2nd West Yorkshires as late as 1904 when his first child, Eileen Margaret, was born at Aldershot Military Hospital in October 1904. The couple were to have another four children, Celia, Eliza (Mary), Edward and Henry between 1906 and 1912. During this time Joseph was recorded as living and/or working as a miner at Overton, Flockton, Horbury, Rotherham and, by 1912, at Mill Bank, Thornhill. It is not known for certain when he moved to live in Ossett, but he re-enlisted in the Army in September 1914 giving his occupation as a miner and his place of residence as Ossett. His wife and children were recorded as living in Town End, Ossett at the time of Joseph’s death in 1916.

Joseph Smith’s army service record has not survived, but it is known that he enlisted at Sheffield and joined the York and Lancaster Regiment with the service number 15602. .Joseph gave his age as 30 years whereas in fact he was 35 years old. It is understood that his wife Ellen was not aware that he had re-enlisted. Private Joseph Smith embarked for France on the 19th May 1915 and on the 31st July 1916 he was promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal. On the 10th September 1916 he was transferred to the 10th Battalion of the Prince of Wales’s Own (West Yorkshire Regiment) with service number 43421.

Lance-Corporal Joseph Edward Smith was killed in action on Christmas Day 1916 and was posthumously awarded the British and Victory medals as well as the 1914/15 Star to recognise his service overseas prior to the 31st December 1915.

The 10th (Service) Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales's Own) was raised at York on the 3rd of September 1914 as part of Kitchener's Second New Army and joined 50th Infantry Brigade, 17th (Northern) Division. After initial training close to home, the Division moved to Dorset to continue training and then in late May 1915 moved to the Winchester area. The division had been selected for Home Defence duties, but this was reversed and they proceeded to France, landing at Boulogne the 14th of July 1915, concentrating near St Omer. They moved into the Southern Ypres salient for trench familiarisation and then took over the the front lines in that area. In the spring of 1916 they were in action at the Bluff, south east of Ypres on the Comines canal then moved south to The Somme seeing action during The Battle of Albert in which the Division captured Fricourt and The Battle of Delville Wood. Joseph Smith would have fought with his Regiment on 1st July 1916.

In 1917 they moved to Arras and saw action in The First and Second Battles of the Scarpe and The Capture of Roeux. In late summer they moved to Flanders and fought in The First and Second Battles of Passchendaele. In 1918 they were in action in The Battle of St Quentin, The Battle of Bapaume, The Battle of Amiens, The Battle of Albert, The Battle of Bapaume, The Battle of Havrincourt, The Battle of Epehy and The Battle of Cambrai followed by The pursuit to the Selle, The Battle of the Selle and The Battle of the Sambre. At the Armistice the Division was south east of Maubeuge and was quickly withdrawn to the area west of Le Cateau. On the 6th of December they moved back behind Amiens and went to billets around Hallencourt. Demobilisation of the Division began in January 1919.

From the 29th October to the 31st December 1916, the 10th Battalion, West Yorkshires Regiment were in trenches on the Le Transloy Ridges, which was part of the Somme battlefield. There was no specific battle ongoing, but during this period there were many casualties from enemy shelling and sniper fire. Since Joseph Smith's body was never recovered, the most likely cause of his death was enemy shelling:

"On the 29th October, the 10th West Yorkshires (17th Division) moved up to the trenches north of Lesboeufs, and relieved the 2nd Battalion of the Regiment (8th Division), the conditions in that part of the line were appalling. An officer of the 50th Infantry Brigade Headquarters described the relief in the following vivid terms:- The leading battalions of the 50th Infantry Brigade, (which included the 10th West Yorkshires) moved from Mansell Copse straight to the front line. The going was very bad, traffic congestion and control regulations separated the Lewis-gun limbers from their companies, and from Ginchy onwards the way lay across a filthy wilderness of shell holes and sloppy mud, which grew worse nearer the front. Outgoing battalions (2nd West Yorkshires and other battalions of the 23rd Infantry Brigade) were in a state of utter exhaustion, having being engaged in costly local attacks, and there was the utmost difficulty in effecting a relief with incoming troops, themselves in great distress.

This relief, the hardest ever done by the Brigade, was not carried through till 6.30 a.m., and daylight revealed the full beastliness of the surroundings. If the mud of the (Ypres) Salient had been bad, this was even worse: trenches deemed impossible there, were here the normal places of habitation. The mire in the front lines was hip deep, and could only be dealt with by hand; neither spades nor scoops were of any use. Men became imprisoned and could not be released, in some cases for over twenty four hours. Hot drinks depended on a precarious and improvised supply of 'Tommy Cookers.' With power of physical resistance lowered by exposure, the fight against trench feet became more difficult and many of the new drafts were not hardened. The trenches themselves were a maze and the line intricate; men of different units and even strange divisions, hopelessly lost, were adopted for the night until they could be sent off by daylight.

Under these awful conditions, with brief respites of relief and rest, the 10th West Yorkshires spent the remainder of the year. No attack was made by the Battalion during this period, but casualties from shell fire, and ever-active snipers were many. From 29th October to 11th November, the Battalion suffered 170 casualties, including one officer killed, (Second-Lieut. I.P. Waterhouse, by a sniper on 8th November), and one missing. On the 31st December, the Battalion was relieved in the line by the 7th east Yorkshire, and marched back to Camp 22 on the Carnoy - Montauban Road." 1

The Regimental War Diary of the 10th  Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment records

"1916/12/24 LES BOEUFS Trenches: Quiet day. Enemy became very nervous in the evening opening a heavy barrage on LES BOEUFS and the support line at 8.45 p.m. The firing was very wild and little damage was done although OZONE support trench was hit in several places. All quiet at 9.20 p.m."

"1916/12/25 LES BOEUFS Trenches: Our artillery bombarded the German lines sharply for quarter of an hour at 08:30 A.M. and again at 11-30 A.M. The enemy replied with searching fire on the support line and sunken roads. Very little damage was done. Our Casualties: 2/Lieut W.J. HARTNOLL wounded by shell splinter in thigh but remained at duty. 1 O.R. was killed, 1 O.R. Died of Wounds 1 O.R. Wounded. The Battalion were relieved at night by the 7th East Yorkshire Regiment. Proceeded to Camp No. 22 CARNOY-MONTAUBAN road (Refce map ALBERT 1:40000 A8) Evacuations for trench feet during the tour of the trenches NIL
."

Joseph Smith was the 1 O.R. (Other Ranks) man killed in action on that Christmas Day in 1916.

The "Ossett Observer",1 had this short obituary for Joseph Smith:

"Ossett Corporal Killed In Action - Official intimation has been received this week by his wife, who lives at 26, Town-end, Ossett, that Corporal Joseph Smith, of the West Yorkshire Regiment, has been killed in action in France on the 25th December. His captain writes to Mrs. Smith: 'Please accept deepest and heartfelt sympathy from myself and my company in the loss of your husband, who fell doing his duty, the noblest death any man could wish for. To you and your children in your loss I offer my deepest sympathy and pray that you may be given strength to bear this great trouble'. The deceased soldier was 37 years of age and formerly worked at Featherstone colliery."

Road to Lesboeufs near Sar November 1916

Above: The road to Lesboeufs near Sars in November 1916 showing the sea of mud that this horse-drawn supply cart is struggling to get through.

Lance-Corporal Joseph Edward Smith, aged 37 years, died on the 25th December 1916. He is remembered on Pier and Face 2A, 2C and 2D at the Thiepval Memorial,2 Somme, France. The Thiepval Memorial will be found on the D73, next to the village of Thiepval, off the main Bapaume to Albert road (D929).

On 1 July 1916, supported by a French attack to the south, thirteen divisions of Commonwealth forces launched an offensive on a line from north of Gommecourt to Maricourt. Despite a preliminary bombardment lasting seven days, the German defences were barely touched and the attack met unexpectedly fierce resistance. Losses were catastrophic and with only minimal advances on the southern flank, the initial attack was a failure. In the following weeks, huge resources of manpower and equipment were deployed in an attempt to exploit the modest successes of the first day. However, the German Army resisted tenaciously and repeated attacks and counter attacks meant a major battle for every village, copse and farmhouse gained. At the end of September, Thiepval was finally captured. The village had been an original objective of 1 July. Attacks north and east continued throughout October and into November in increasingly difficult weather conditions. The Battle of the Somme finally ended on 18 November with the onset of winter.

In the spring of 1917, the German forces fell back to their newly prepared defences, the Hindenburg Line, and there were no further significant engagements in the Somme sector until the Germans mounted their major offensive in March 1918.

The Thiepval Memorial, the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, bears the names of more than 72,000 officers and men of the United Kingdom and South African forces who died in the Somme sector before 20 March 1918 and have no known grave. Over 90% of those commemorated died between July and November 1916. The memorial also serves as an Anglo-French Battle Memorial in recognition of the joint nature of the 1916 offensive and a small cemetery containing equal numbers of Commonwealth and French graves lies at the foot of the memorial.

The memorial, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, was built between 1928 and 1932 and unveiled by the Prince of Wales, in the presence of the President of France, on 1 August 1932 (originally scheduled for 16 May but due to the death of French President Doumer the ceremony was postponed until August).

The dead of other Commonwealth countries, who died on the Somme and have no known graves, are commemorated on national memorials elsewhere.

The family of Joseph Edward Smith

Above: The family of Joseph Edward Smith circa 1916 and the time of his death.

It is also understood that Joseph is remembered on the walls of Sheffield Cathedral. Joseph’s widow, Ellen, aged 41 and with five children under the age of 13 years, re-married in 1919. Ellens’ address was still Town End, Ossett when, on 24th December 1919, just one day short of the third anniversary of Joseph’s death, she married widower, George Audsley, of Low Fold, Town End, Ossett. George and Ellen also had a child from their marriage.4

References:

1. "History Of The 50th Infantry Brigade: 1914 -1919", by Everard Wyrall

2. "Ossett Observer", 3rd February 1917

3. Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site

4. We are grateful to Ian Cairns, a great grandson of Joseph Edward Smith, for providing some of the information recorded above. More information about Joseph Edward Smith is available at https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/lifestory/4118483