William Henry Smith was born on 14th May 1887 and baptised 21st June in Hillmorton. His parents were John Henry Smith and Harriett (nee Kirby),who were married in 1884. John Henry was a builder’s labourer and the family lived in Upper Street, Hillmorton. By 1901 the family had moved to 5 Sun Street, Rugby. John & Harriett now had four sons – William Henry, at 13, was the second oldest. John was working as a bricklayer.
In September 1902, John Henry Smith, who was employed by Messrs Hollowell & Sons, was working in Clifton upon Dunsmore. He was in the process of demolishing a tall wall when it collapsed on top of him. He was severely injured and died in Rugby Hospital a few hours later. He was aged 37 and was buried in Clifton.
By 1911, Harriett, a 45 year old widow was still living in Sun Street. William Henry, aged 23, was living with her. He was an unemployed general labourer. In early 1914 Harriett married John Stemp.
William Henry joined up at the start of the war, on 6th August. Like his father, he had been working as a bricklayer. According to a report in the Rugby Advertiser he attended Cambridge Street Mission Church. He was keen player of football and cricket, and as a boxer he had won a silver cup in a competition. He was engaged to be married.
Private Smith joined the 1st Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment (regimental no. 1672), and arrived in France on 11th Nov 1914
“He passed through several actions without a scratch, but he had two rather extraordinary escapes. In one case Corpl Bunn (a member of the Birmingham Police Force) asked him to move out of the way and let him stand in his place. The two had only just exchanged places when Corpl Bunn was shot dead. [23 Mar 1915] The next occasion was when he changed places with Norman Fox, of Rugby, who immediately fell to a German sniper. [21 Mar 1915]”
(Rugby Advertiser 20 May 1915)
It was not to be third time lucky. William Henry was killed in action at Hill 60 on April 25th 1915. Hill 60 was a spoil heap, south of Ypres. It was the first British operation in which tunnels were dug and mines laid. 5,200 lbs (2, 340 kg) of explosives were detonated on 17th April and fighting continued for several days.
He was buried locally and his body reburied at Oosttaverne Wood Cemetery after the Armistice. Many of the surrounding graves are listed as “unknown soldier” but he was identified by a locket inscribed N. G. W. S.
Perhaps N.G. was his fiancée.
RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM