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Ernest Smales

Gunner Ernest Smales, 892013, 106 (The Lancashire Hussars) Light A.A. Regiment, Royal Artillery.

Ernest Smales and his twin sister Doris were born in 1919, in the Carlisle area, the children of Joseph Smales (born 1882 in Barnsley) and Jane Haugh (born 1886 in Penrith), who married in 1905 in Carlisle. In 1916, a sibling Fred Smales was born in Wakefield, and in 1913, the couple had their first set of twins, Ethel and George Smales, born in Carlisle, but sadly they both died soon after birth. It is likely that there were also two more siblings: Joseph, born in 1906 and Sydney, born in 1910, who sadly died in 1911, both in the Carlisle area. At some time after 1919, the Smales family came to live in Ossett.

Although Ernest Smales' twin sister Doris had married Horace Ambler in 1938 in the Wakefield area, Ernest remained unmarried.

In November 1939, the 106th (Lancashire Hussars) Regiment was part of 1st Cavalry Division in the U.K. before moving to Palestine in January 1940. Later, in 1940, it became 106th Royal Horse Artillery, consisting of 423 and 424 Batteries. It moved to North Africa in August 1940, after serving in Crete, by which time 424 Bty had become No. 1 and No. 2 Batteries (Anti-tank) and 423 Bty had become No. 3 and No. 4 Batteries (Anti-aircraft), known as 1/106 Bty, 1/102, Bty, etc. The regiment served with famous 7th Armoured Division "Desert Rats" during many of the earlier battles in North Africa. At the end of February 1941 the regiment was advised it was to become a LAA regiment of just three batteries and was then later known as 106th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, R.A. (Lancashire Hussars). It was placed in suspended animation in July the same year, with many of its men going to reinforce the Northumberland Hussars, who were being strengthened and re-equipped after being evacuated from Greece and Crete.

Ernest Smales died in the Battle of Beda Fomm on the 7th February 1941. Beda Fomm is a small coastal town in southwestern Cyrenaica, Libya. It is located between the much larger port city Benghazi to its west and the larger town of El Agheila further to the south-west.

In late January 1941 during Operation Compass, the British learned that the Italians were evacuating Cyrenaica by way of Beda Fomm. The 7th Armoured Division was dispatched to intercept the Italian army. Halfway to their destination, it was evident that the entire division together was too slow and a 'flying column' was sent on the direct route across the desert.

On the 5th February 1941, the column arrived to cut off the retreating remnants of the Italian 10th Army. The following day, the Italians arrived and attacked, but failed to break through the blockade. The fighting was close and often hand-to-hand; at one point, a regimental sergeant major captured an Italian tank by hitting the commander over the head with the butt of his rifle.

The final effort came on the 7th February, when 20 Italian Fiat M13/40 tanks broke through the thin cordon of riflemen and anti-tank guns, only to be stopped by field guns, yards from regimental HQ. After that failure, with the rest of the 7th Armoured Divisdion arriving and the 6th Australian Division bearing down on them from Benghazi, the Italians surrendered.

Beda Fomm

Above: Italian Fiat M13/40 tanks captured by the British at the Battle of Beda Fomm, 7th February 1941.

Ernest Smales died on the 7th February 1941, aged 21 years, and is buried grave reference 7. A. 25. in the Benghazi War Cemetery, Libya. Benghazi is a seaport on the Mediterranean. The cemetery is about 7 kilometres south-east of Benghazi in the Fuihat area.

Benghazi was an important goal for both Allies and Axis forces during the Western Desert campaigns of 1942 and 1943. There are now 1,214 Commonwealth servicemen of the Second World War buried or commemorated in Benghazi War Cemetery. 163 of the burials are unidentified. Special memorials commemorate two casualties buried in Barce War Cemetery, whose graves could not be located and three airmen who are known to be buried in this cemetery, but whose graves cannot now be identified. There are also 25 non Commonwealth burials here, 1 being an unidentified Greek soldier.

Following the attack on Benghazi War Cemetery in 2012, signficant progress has been made in reinstating the desecrated headstones and improving horticultural standards.1

References:

1. Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site