Sunday, April 26, 2015

1584 Cpl Henry G Smith DCM, 1/6th Northumberland Fusiliers

1584 Corporal Henry G Smith of the 6th Northumberland Fusiliers was a patient at Hickwells in 1915.  His entry in Nurse Oliver’s album was originally written in pencil but has been heavily overwritten in black ink at a later date.  It reads: 

Best respects to the Staff at Chailey Home
Wounded in Saint Julien Village on April 26th
Second Battle of Ypres 

Cpl. H.G Smith. D.C.M.
1st Line 6th Northumberland Fus
Better known as the Fighting Fifth

Saint George’s Drill Hall.

1584 Corporal Henry G Smith was born around 1892/1893.  He joined the territorial 6th Northumberland Fusiliers on 29th April 1912 and sailed with the battalion when it arrived in France as a complete unit on 21st April 1915.  Just five days after arriving, he was wounded at St Julien. 

On 23rd June 1915 his DCM award was noted on page 6136 of the supplement to the London Gazette reading:  DCM: 1584 Acting Corporal H Smith, 6th Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers, Territorial Force. One week later, on 30th June, his DCM citation was noted on page 6402 of the supplement to The London Gazette as follows: DCM: For conspicuous gallantry in action, and for his devotion to duty in finally assisting at the end of the engagement in carrying a wounded officer from the firing line, although wounded himself. 

Henry Smith was discharged on 10th July 1916 as no longer physically fit fro war service.  He was 24 years old and had served for around one week overseas. 

At the time war was declared, the 1/6th Northumberland Fusiliers found themselves in the Northumbrian Division, one of fourteen as yet unnamed territorial divisions.  When it arrived in France in April 1915 it became the eighth complete territorial division to sail abroad but it was not until the following month (by which time Smith had already been wounded and sent back home) that it got its official designation as the 50th (Northumbrian) Division. 

After a calm journey across the Channel, the 1/6th Northumberland Fusiliers spent their first night under canvas at a rest camp outside Boulogne.  The following morning they had a brisk three mile march to Pont du Briquet and then picked up a train which had deposited them at Cassel around midnight.  There they had de-trained and marched the five miles to Winnezeele, arriving there at 4.30am and immediately billeted in scattered farms north and south of the village.  They spent the rest of the day there.  The following day, St George’s Day, they left their billets at 9am and marched off towards  Brandhoek at 1.30pm, covering the eleven miles in four and a half hours.  There, with the rest of the brigade, they took over the GHQ 3rd line trenches either side of the Ypres - Poperinghe Road and remained there until 3.45pm on the 24th when they were ordered to move via Ypres to Potijze to form a Corps reserve.  At 10.30pm on the 25th the brigade arrived at Potijze cold and wet through from the rain.  They’d been shelled while passing through Ypres and had already suffered casualties.    

The following afternoon, the brigade having been placed under the command of the 1st Canadian Division, they received orders to attack St Julien village through the lines of trenches held by the 4th Division.  They would be accompanied by the Lahore Division and they would be the first Territorials to go into action as a Brigade.  At 2pm they attacked in two lines but the situation was hopeless.  As soon as they left the ruins of the village they were met by a hail of fire; shrapnel shells at first and then rifle and machine gun fire.  Extending into open order the men advanced in rushes as they had been trained in England.  But this wasn’t England and St Julien was an unforgiving training ground.  In England the men had trained in light battle order but here they were still in marching order with a heavy pack that included a greatcoat, full ammunition pouches and an extra bandolier.  Over-burdened, running as best they could over the shell pocked ground they made easy targets for the heavy artillery and machine guns situated in nearby Kitchener Wood and the casualties soon began to mount.  The men managed to advance about a mile but it was no good.  They got to within 500 yards of St Julien village and there they halted.  Without artillery support and with no prospect of reinforcement, further progress was impossible.  They were ordered to remain until dusk when they were withdrawn to the trenches held by the 4th Division.  

Later, as the war progressed, and drafts of replacements filled the gaps left by the original 1/6th Northumberland Fusiliers Territorials, the battalion war diarists would have neither the time or the inclination to list casualties sustained by other ranks.  In the early days though, it was different.  Smith gets a mention along with many of his comrades in a list that fills eleven foolscap pages of the battalion’s war diary: 

Seven officers and 114 men killed, seven officers and 492 men wounded; all within a week of being overseas and most of those in about one hour on the 26th April. 

The war diary for the 149th Brigade reads as follows:

20th April 1915 - BLYTH (HQ)
Left under orders to embark for France.  Arrived Boulogne @ 9:40pm and marched to ST MARTIN Rest Camp.
22nd April
6th & 7th NF arrive and billet at WINNEZEELE
5th NF arrive and billet at ST LAURENT
4th NF arrive and billet at OUDEZEELE
23rd April - 6:30am
Orders received from HQ Northern Division for the concentration of the Brigade at WINNEZEELE
Orders issued for the Brigade to move to BRANDHOEK via WATOU and POPERINGHE.
Brigade arrived at BRANDHOEK and took over GHQ 3rd line trenches astride YPRES-POPERINGHE road.  4th and 7th Battalions North of Road, 6th and 5th Battalions South of Road. HQ billeted at Farm House 3 miles east of POPERINGHE on the YPRES-POPERINGHE Road.
24th April - 3:45pm
Orders received from 5th Corps for Brigade to move via YPRES to POTIJZE where it will form a Corps reserve.
Orders issued for move to POTIJZE.  Movement to commence at 6pm.
Brigade arrived at POTIJZE being heavily shelled whilst passing through YPRES.  Several casualties - night rainy and cold.
25th April - POTIJZE
Brigade placed under the orders of GOC 10th Inf Bde and ordered to move to WIELTJE in support of 10th Bde.
Brigade arrived at WIELTJE.  Orders received to send one Battalion to GHQ line EAST of Farm in C22t
6th Bn NF ordered to proceed to GHQ line where they remained until dusk.
4th and 7th Battalions sent to FORTUIN under instruction from GHQ 10th Bde.  5th Battalion NF remained in reserve.
The Brigade was placed under the orders of the GOC 1st Canadian Division as Reserve.
Units ordered to leave their positions and bivouac for the night just south of WIELTJE.  No casualties occurred this day in the Brigade.  Weather fine.
26th April - WIELTJE
Report received from 10th Brigade that enemy were endeavouring to break through the line in D13 cd and ordering North.  Brigade to verify and counter attack with whatever force considered necessary.
5th Bn NF sent to verify report and to counter attack if necessary.  From information received, this BN reached FORTUIN but could get no further.  No signs of the enemy breaking through were observed.  The Battalion dug trenches in and remained in the trench until dusk when they were withdrawn by order of the Senior Officer in the trenches.
Orders received for the Northumberland Infantry Brigade to attack ST JULIEN in co-operation with LAHORE DIVISION
Orders issued for attack.  For detail of engagement see App V.
General Riddell killed at VANHULE FARM
Colonel Foster 4th Battalion NF, the Senior Officer present, assumed command.
Units commenced to retire from front line trenches being no longer required.

Appendix IV - Operation Order No 3 by Brigadier General J V Riddell, Commanding NORTHUMBERLAND INFANTRY BRIGADE.

26th April 1915 - WIELTJE

a) French troops strongly reinforced are attacking with their right on the YPRES-LANGEMARCK road.
b) The LAHORE division is attacking with its right on the wood in C10 R
c) The 5th Corps is co-operating in the attack.

2  The Northd Inf Bde will attack ST JULIEN advancing astride the WIELTJE-ST JULIEN road 

3 The 6th Bn NF will move off at once and advance with its right on the WIELTJE-ST JULIEN road.  The 4th Bn NF will move with its left on the WIELTJE-ST JULIEN road and will divert.  The 7th Bn will follow the 4th Bn NF.  The frontage of each battalion will be approximately 300x.  The 5th Bn NF will remain in their present position.  An artillery bombardment will commence at 1:20pm and be continued until 2pm during which time the Brigade will advance.  At 2pm rapid fire will begin and continue until 2:15pm after which the assault will take place. 

4          Dressing Station will be established SOUTH of WIELTJE village. 

5          Reports to support trench in C23a 

FH Moore Capt
Bde Major
Northd Inf Bde 

Issued verbally to OC Units at 1:40pm 

The War Diary of the 50th Northumbrian Division gives the following casualties:  

Sources and Acknowledgements

·       The National Archives: Medal Index Card
·       The National Archives: Silver War Badge Roll: O/1811/1: WO 329/3141
·       The National Archives: War Diary: 6th Battn Northumberland Fusiliers: WO95/2829
·       The National Archives: War Diary 149th Bde: WO95/2826
·       The National Archives: War Diary 50th Division: WO95/2807
·       The London Gazette.

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