ERNEST SMITH

Private 306302, 1st/7th Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment)

Killed in Action 29th April 1918 aged 19

No Known Grave Commemorated Tyne Cot Memorial, Belgium

Son of John and Agnes Smith

Lived 79, Brighton Street, Heckmondwike


It was not the usual start to war service on the Western Front.  When Private Smith joined his Battalion the soldiers were billeted in houses along the sea front in Belgian coastal pre-war resorts and ‘bathed in very luxurious Belgian military baths’.  As we know, this was not to last.

Ernest Smith’s parents were John, originally from Leeds, and Agnes (née Fawcett) from Heckmondwike.  They married on 18 March 1896 and both gave their address as Brighton Street, Heckmondwike.  By 1901 they were at 94, Brighton Street with 2 year old Ernest; nephew James aged 8 and niece Alice aged 3 both from Pontefract.  In 1911 they were all at 79, Brighton Street except for James who was lodging elsewhere in Heckmondwike.

Before enlisting on 23 October 1915 Ernest worked for the Liversedge Coal Company, who ran the Strawberry Bank Mine (near the present Headlands Road).  After training in the UK, Ernest was posted to what was still called the Expeditionary Force and arrived in France on 3 August 1917, eventually joining his Battalion on 20 August 1917 as one of a group of 20 new soldiers.  The Battalion had recently been in the front line where the troops were heavily shelled with gas.  The move to coastal billets resulted in a significant reduction in the 60 or 70 soldiers reporting sick each day with gas related problems.

April 1918 saw the Battalion defending the area to the South of Ypres during the Spring offensives of 1918.  On 13 April the war diary says "the men were particularly cheerful, especially those in the front line, yesterday’s experience of beating back the Boche with rifle and Lewis gun fire having given the men confidence in their weapons". But at 3.00am on Monday 29 April a heavy artillery barrage fell on the soldiers in the front line which lasted until 7.45am when the German Infantry attacked in mass formation.  The war diary reported that "one barrage [from the British artillery], Lewis gun and rifle fire broke up the attack which was over by 8.10am.  The men were magnificent".  The German shelling continued through the day and the Battalion losses were estimated at 100 men, with Ernest one of that number.  His body was never recovered or identified.  He is commemorated on panel 84 of the Tyne Cot Memorial near Ypres, Belgium.

Ernest’s father John was sent £2 18s 5d from his son’s pay and allowances on 12 August 1918 and the war gratuity of £11 10s in November 1919.
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