Harry Smith


Private 27020, 2nd Battalion Yorkshire Regiment (Alexandra, Princess of Wales’s Own)

Killed in Action 30th July 1917 aged 22

No Known Grave Commemorated Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres, Belgium

Son of John and Catherine Smith

Lived 17, Barber Square, Heckmondwike

Harry was born in 1896, the youngest child of John and Catherine Smith. 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; Norman in 1886 and Alice in 1889. The family lived for some years in Barber Square, Heckmondwike. For further family details see the entry for Norman Smith.

Harry worked at Scandinavia Belting Company, Cleckheaton before enlisting on 4 February 1916 in the Alexandra Princess of Wales’s Own (Yorkshire Regiment). This regiment is usually referred to in official records as the Yorkshire Regiment, but is probably better known to us as the Green Howards. Private Smith trained with the 3rd Reserve Battalion in the West Hartlepool area before being posted to France to join the 2nd Battalion. Local newspaper reports differ on the month he went to France. One suggests it was April or May 1916, if that was the case then Private Smith might have taken part in the attack on the first day of the Somme. Another report puts Private Smith’s arrival in France as around August 1916 and that would mean that he might still have taken part in later actions that year. Private Smith’s Battalion continued to have an intense involvement in the War, taking part in attacks in April 1917 on the Hindenburg Line to the East of Arras. On Wednesday 24 April 1917 Harry’s Battalion was in action near the village of Heninel, just over 3 miles from where his brother Norman was killed on Thursday 3 May 1917.

The Battalion then moved North to the Ypres salient, training and preparing for the attack known formally as the Third Battle of Ypres, but which has become known to later generations by just one name: ‘Passchendaele’. From the first day to the end of the battle in November 1917, conditions experienced by the soldiers are universally described as appalling. There is widely accepted evidence that men, and horses, drowned in the mud.

Private Smith was one of a team operating a Lewis gun. This was a machine gun weighing about 26 lbs (12 kgs) intended to be used by infantry. A team of between two and five soldiers was needed to reload and fire the gun effectively. Used in a mobile attacking situation the threat posed to the enemy by the Lewis gun often drew heavy fire from the defenders.

On 29 July 1917 the Battalion’s A Company, to which Private Smith belonged, occupied isolated posts in the front line. On 30 July the Battalion was said to be ‘settled in Assembly Positions for the advance next morning’. Official records show that Private Smith was killed on that day, though the War Diary does not record day by day casualties for this period. Some doubt is cast on the accuracy of that date of death in a letter written to Harry Smith’s father by the officer in charge of A Company, Captain (later Lieutenant Colonel) G P Lund. He wrote saying that "your son Harry was killed in action on the 1st of August during the last attack".

That attack was launched from positions South of the Menin Road on 31 July 1917. At 3:10am the Battalion, including two machine gun teams, left their trenches and lay down in no-mans-land. At 3:50am the British artillery creeping barrage began and shells landed 50 to 60 yards in front of the Battalion, allowing the soldiers to advance behind it. The war diary says: "no opposition was met and little shell fire was experienced. A few Boche were killed and about 6 captured". Understandably reports on the action vary and in contrast a battalion attacking directly alongside the Yorkshire Regiment reported a "heavy barrage on the assembly positions" and "considerable machine gun fire from the right which somewhat hindered the 2nd Yorkshire Regiment".

The Battalion reached their final positions in Bodmin Copse by 2 August and were withdrawn from the line later that night. Their war diary shows a total of 235 casualties for this period. Heavy rain had begun to fall on 31 July and Harry’s body was never recovered or identified. He is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial, Part XXXII. His father John was sent his son’s outstanding pay and allowances of £1 16s 11d on 22 December 1917 and the War Gratuity of £6 on 28 October 1919.{AG-122}

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