Remembering the men from the Kingsdown and Creekside Cluster
who gave their lives in the First World War
On the centenary of their death, we remember
Walter George SMITH
b. January/March 1889 - Egerton, Kent;
d. 25th December 1914 - Grande Flamengrie Farm - Bois Grenier. Aged 25 Years
Corporal, Acting Serjeant, L/8093
"C" Company of 1st Battalion
East Kent (The Buffs) Regiment
Remembered with Honour
Y-Farm Military Cemetery, Bois-Grenier
Row E, Grave 49
Killed in Action
Corporal Walter George Smith was born early in 1889 (the exact date is not known to us), in Egerton near West Ashford. He was one of eight children born to Walter G and Agnes Smith, both of whom were also Egerton born. His father was a labourer (general and agricultural) who lived and worked in Pluckley (1883), Egerton (1889), Newnham (1899) and Bistock Farm, Doddington (1901 to at least 1914). Bistock Farm sits south of Lynsted/Erriotwood on the Doddington Road.
His older brother, William, became a farm yardman at 16 years and this may well have been the path followed by Walter and his brothers, instead, Walter followed his brothers into The Buffs when he was about 16 years old in c.1904 to serve overseas (more is said of his brothers separately, below). He joined the 2nd Battalion, The Buffs, who were stationed in South Africa (1900 -1907) and Hong Kong and Singapore (1907 - 1912). He is recorded as being a Lance-Corporal in "India and Singapore" in 1911 - his birth-place being given as Lenham on this occasion. He was demobilised shortly before the First World War, but, as an experienced soldier he very quickly re-enlisted to join "C" Company of 1st Battalion The Buffs (East Kent Regiment) with the service number L/8093. His name is amongst the other "Old Contemptibles", those who were posted as part of the British Expeditionary Force and received the "Mons Star" - 1914 Star Medal.
Walter entered the theatre of war on 9th November 1914 when he and his comrades were quickly moved up to join the 3rd Corps, 16th Brigade, 6th Division, where the 1st Battalion The Buffs had moved on 3rd November to the entrenchments at Grande Flamengrie Farm (see right) in stark snow-laden winter conditions. Earlier, during October (18th and 20th, in particular), 1st Battalion The Buffs had suffered significant losses at Radinghem and was in desperate need of replacements as they moved into the Bois-Grenier sector (see below for a fuller description of the earlier losses).
Having survived ten years in other theatres of war, the 25 year-old veteran soldier, Walter, appears to have been the 146th recorded death from the 1st Battalion, The Buffs (East Kent). His death that day was one of only two recorded from his Battalion. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records his field commemoration in Y-Farm Military Cemetery, Bois-Grenier, Grave Reference - E. 49. This Military Cemetery was begun in March 1915, so Walter's body will have been brought in at a later date from another graveyard south of Armentieres (so-called "concentration").
His detailed military records are amongst those that failed to survive the destruction of World War 2, which that laid waste to so many WW1 records. So Walter's medal card is very nearly the only contemporary record. It shows Walter earned the Victory, British and 14-Star medals with clasp.
The Daily Mail at this time regularly recorded the casualties as reports emerged from the theatre of war; in their 22nd February 1915 edition, they reported his death as "Under Date 4th January - SMITH, 8093, Corporal W., The Buffs."
More locally, the death of Walter was recorded by the Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate & Cheriton Herald on Saturday 16th January 1915
"KILLED BY A GLANCING BULLET.
Sergt. Walter George Smith, of the East Kent Buffs, was killed at the front on Christmas day in a peculiar manner. A soldier was on the edge of the trench with a range finder (see right), when a bullet hit the instrument, glanced off the brass work, and struck Sergt. Smith full in the forehead, killing him instantly. The deceased has been in the Buffs for ten years, and had seen service in Africa, India, and China. He had left the service but a few months when he was called up and stationed at Dover, whence some two months ago he was transferred to the firing line. His parents reside near to Sittingbourne, but two of his sisters are staying in Castle Hill-avenue, Folkestone. They have two other brothers at the front.”
You will notice he is reported locally as "Sergeant" on this occasion, although this was only an "acting" rank on his death. The two brothers referred to were Herbert Edward Smith and William D Smith.
The oldest brother, Herbert Edward Smith (b.1882), was a labourer in Pluckley when he set the precedent by enlisting with the 3rd Battalion, The Buffs, Militia on 28th February 1900 at "18 years and 3 months" (Service number 5904). His home address was given as Barrack Row, Newnham, Faversham working as a labourer for Allard & Co, Faversham. He was embodied on 18th April 1900 and disembodied on 15th March 1902.
He re-enlisted (Service number 7116) on 13th January 1903, at the age of "21 years 1 month", at Canterbury for "3 years with the colours and 9 years in reserve". He served until 1905 when he moved to the reserves. On 30th September 1914 he re-enlisted, this time with the 1st Battalion, The Buffs, like his ill-fated brother Walter. He was then discharge "on termination of his period of engagement" on 12th January 1916. He left relatively unscathed having suffered a gun-shot wound to his finger (4th October 1914); inflammation to the lining of his ankle joints ("synovitis") (admitted 17th January 1915 and returned to England on 19th January); on return to England he was transferred to the 1st Class Reserve with an exemplary record. His summary pension document shows he served in India and South Africa (he received the King's South Africa Medal, 1901-1902) before he joined the Expeditionary Force - his total reckonable service amounted to 14 years and 332 days! His discharge papers say he wanted to become a policeman. He was uneducated. He achieved "third class" musketry standard. At that time he was a Lance Corporal.
Connections: His paperwork confirms his home in 1905 was Bistock Farm, Doddington and that his father, in 1914, was still living at Bistock Farm, Doddington. He had married Emma Barrett on 17th April 1909, at Southwark Registry Office (witnesses were his sister Alice Smith and H. Cripps.). Her home address in 1914 was given as 6 Arundel Buildings, Webb Street, Lower Bridge.
William Day Smith (b.1885, Pluckley - he later reported himself in military paperwork as born in Egerton). In the 1911 Census he is listed as still living at home with his father in Lower Old Lenham Road, Wychling, Doddington. William is working as a "gravel-digger" at this time.
Before this, on 18th August 1902, he followed his brother, Herbert, into joining the 2nd Battalion, The Buffs for 3 years and 9 years in the reserves (Service number 3404). So, by 20th January 1905 he was in the Reserves.
He married Hannah Hoyle on 3rd February 1906 at All Saints Church, Bury (Manchester) and had a daughter, Annie Smith (b.1st October 1908 - Bury).
With the declaration of war on 4th August 1914, William immediately rejoined (Service number 6926) at Aldershot on 5th August 1914 but only had to serve one year to 17th August 1915 when he was "discharged, termination of his final period of engagement". He served in the No.2 Field Ambulance, Ambulance Royal Army Medical Corps. Intriguingly, he was given a 10 days punishment, for "Breaking out of Hospital" on 20th August 1914!
Still a Private after 13 years reckonable service. But he did survive and raised a family.
The 1st Battalion, The Buffs, shortly before Walter joined it, took part in a violent and costly battle that set the pattern for much of the remainder of the war. Trench warfare became the norm.
In the period October-November 1914 there were four simultaneous battles in the region of Ypres ("the First Battle of Ypres"). These battles had to be won by the Allied forces if the Channel was to be secured (to permit the flow of troops and materiel) and the German forces brought to a halt.
Against superior German forces in their sector, the Buffs formed part of the Estaires-Fournes Line often referred to as the "Battle of Armentieres" that stretched from 13th October to 2nd November. Attacks and counter-attacks resolved into trench warfare and the pattern was set for the subsequent grinding years of attrition on land.*
In this battle, the 1st Battalion lost 24 men on 18th October and 50 on the 20th October, which explains the importance of the flow of new recruits that included Walter Smith on 9th November 1914.
On 18th October, the 3rd Corps (that contained the 16th Brigade that contained the 6th Division, which, in turn, included the 1st Battalion, the Buffs) was instructed to secure Perenchies Ridge. To achieve this, the Allies had to dislodge the German entrenchments on the low ridge between Lille and Armentieres marked by Fournes-Radinghem-La Valee-Perenchies-Verlinghem. General Keir sent the Buffs forward to probe German strength around a collection of houses in front of Radinghem and, by noon, they met no opposition (unlike their comrades on the same sector). That afternoon, after 14.30pm, the 16th Division moved to take part in a set-piece flanking movement, to wheel north-east from Radinghem and turn the enemy's flank from the south. Both the Buffs and the York & Lancaster troops were met by machine-gun and rifle fire that took a toll but ultimately the Allies succeeded in taking control of Radinghem. Conscious of the closeness of German reserves beyond a belt of woods and in the Chateau de Flandres (½ mile S.E. of the village) British troops were told to entrench. At first the Buffs were told to hand over to the French 1st Cavalry Corps but when only 150 men French troops arrived, the Buffs remained on station. The casualties fell mostly to the Buffs that day.
The next day saw no changes for the Buffs as reserves were moved up on both sides of a new front of 35 miles length. The weather was dull making aeroplane work and artillery observation difficult. But behind the scenes, the German forces were reorganised to be ready for an attack on British forces along the entire new front. On the morning of the 20th October, the British 3rd Corps found itself opposite nearly the whole of both the 19th and 13th German Corps. An unequal balance of forces.
20th October saw a clash and sustained fighting all along the line. In the 6th Division, holding the line Radinghem-Ennetieres-Premesques-Epinette, all three infantry brigades were attached. Between 7 and 8am the British trenches were heavily shelled by guns and howitzers followed by German infantry advances, in lines of men at several paces' interval, covered by machine-gun fire, the firing opening at eight hundred to one thousand yards.
Sir Thomas Marden's "History of the 6th Division" summarises the significance of the battle during 20th October - "The Buffs, after a splendid fight, were driven out of Radinghem, and by night the Division was practically back on the line which it was to hold for the next few months, and on which the German offensive of 1918 still found the British. Continuous unsuccessful attempts to break through occurred till 31st October, when trench warfare set in....Active fighting now died away on this front, but its place was taken by constant shelling and the deadly sniping which claimed so many victims at this time. The weather during November and December was truly appalling. All trenches were knee-deep and more in mud and water, and it is on record that the Brigadier General Commanding (B.G.C.), 19th Infantry Brigade, had his boots sucked off by the mud and went round trenches without them. Parapets would not stand and were so flimsy that many men were shot through them. But the weather eventually improved" .... but the stale-mate pattern of warfare in the clay-bound countryside around Ypres was now set.
By the time Walter Smith and his comrades arrived on 9th November, the casualties were few and far between. Walter's death through a ricochet off a range-finder held by another soldier was a tragically futile end to this experienced officer.
* THE BATTLES OF YPRES
According to the "Report of the Battles Nomenclature Committee, 9th July 1920". Four battles took place simultaneously during October-November 1914.
Boundary: the road Beuvry-Bethune.
- - - Battle of La Bassee, 10th October-2nd November 1914
Boundary: the line Estaires-Fournes.
- - - Battle of Armentieres, 13th October-2nd November 1914.
Boundary: the river Douve (which enter*s the Lys at Warneton).
- - - Battle of Messines, 12th October-2nd November 1914.
Boundary: the Comines-Ypres Canal.
- - - The Battle of Langemarch, 21st-24th October;
- - - The Battle of Gheluvelt, 29th-31st October;
- - - The Battle of Nonne Bosschen (4 miles east of Ypres), 11th November.
Boundary: Steenstraat (1 mile south-west of Bixschoote)-Bixschoote-southern edge of Houthulst Forest.