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Ernest Smales

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

Joseph Smales was born in Outwood on March 21st 1874. Instead of going down the pit like his father, Joseph became a prison warden and by 1901 was working at HMP Carlisle. On October 11th 1905 Joseph married 27 year old Jane Haugh in Stanwix, Carlisle and they had their first two children; who both died prior to 1911.

In 1906 Jane and Joseph had a son, Joseph, and in 1908 their daughter, Edith arrived. Edith was followed by another son, Sydney, in 1910. Sydney died when he was less than a year old, as did twins Ethel and George who were born in 1913. Some time in the next three years the family were in the Wakefield district. It was there, on July 16 1916, that their son Fred was born and his birth registered.

In 1919 Jane and Joseph had more twins: Doris and Ernest, who were born in the Carlisle area, but Doris lived only a few short months.

In 1939 Jane and Joseph, with their son Fred, were living in Liverpool. Joseph, who was now 65 years old, had retired from the prison service, Jane was a housewife, and Fred was employed as a motor fitter.

In 1941 Jane and Joseph Smales were living in Ossett. We know this because their youngest son; Gunner Ernest Smales, 892013, 106 (The Lancashire Hussars) Light A.A. Regiment, Royal Artillery died on February 7th 1941 and the CWGC records him as the son of Joseph and Jane Smales, of Ossett.

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 was first buried in Cyrenaica, but was reinterred at 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

Thanks to Anne-Marie Fawcett for the Smales family information.


1. Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site