Smailes, Harold Wilfred. Died 4th Sep 1918

Harold Wilfred SMAILES was born in Rugby in 1898 and baptised on 26 April 1899 at St. Andrew’s church, Rugby, when the family were living at Clifton Road, Rugby and Harold’s father was a ‘Fireman, LNWR’.  In the register, their surname had been miss-spelled ‘Smiles’,

Harold was the son of George Southern Smailes who was born in about 1866 in Rugby, and Hannah Matilda, née King, Smailes, who was also born in about 1866, in Bilton.  They were married on Christmas Day 1890, after Banns were called earlier in December.  Both their fathers had been labourers.

In 1891, George and Hannah were living at 13 Sun Street, Rugby, and he was a ‘Rail Fireman’.  By 1901, the family was living at 12 Avon Street, Rugby and Harold’s father, George, was a ‘stationary engine driver’.  In 1911 the family was still living in the four room house at 12 Avon Street, Rugby.  George and Hannah had now been married for 20 years, and he was working as a ‘Fitters Labourer’.  Harold was eleven and still at school; his elder sister, Constance, was 17 and worked at the ‘Corset Factory’; and their two younger brothers, Laurence and Walter were eight and five.  Two of their siblings had already died.

There are no extant military Service Records for Harold Wilfred Smailes, except for his Medal Card and his listing in ‘Soldiers that Died in the War’,[1] but it seems that he joined up in Rugby,[2] and his Medal Card shows that he served as Private, No:45700, and was latterly in the 15th (Service) Battalion, the Hampshire Regiment.

The 15th (Service) Battalion (2nd Portsmouth) was formed at Portsmouth on 5 April 1915 by the Mayor and a local Committee.  It was adopted by the War Office on 30 May 1915.  In October 1915 it moved to Aldershot and came under orders of 122nd Brigade in 41st Division.  It moved to Marlborough Lines in February 1916 and they landed in France in early May 1916.  During 1916, they fought in the Battle of Flers-Courcelette; and the Battle of the Transloy Ridges.  Then during 1917 they were engaged in the Battle of Messines; the Battle of Pilkem Ridge; the Battle of the Menin Road; and in the Operations on the Flanders coast.

On 27 September 1917 the Battalion amalgamated at Caestre with the dismounted 1st/1st Hampshire Yeomanry and were renamed as the 15th (Hampshire Yeomanry) Battalion.  Then on 12 November 1917, they moved to Italy arriving at Mantua, to strengthen the Italian resistance.

In March 1918, the Battalion returned to France and was engaged almost immediately in actions on the Western Front including those to defend against the German assault of Operation Michael,[3] including: the Battle of St Quentin (21-23 March 1918); the Battle of Bapaume (24-25 March 1918); the Battle of Arras ((28 March 1918); and the Battles of the Lys (9 April-29 April 1918).[4]

Once the main assaults had been repulsed, there was a period of consolidation by the Allies but this did not mean fighting had stopped.  It was during this period that Harold was ‘presumed killed’ on 4 September 1918.

There is no date on his Medal Card for when Harold went to France, indicating that this was after the end of 1915, as there is no record of him receiving the 1915 Star, but it would probably have been some time after he joined up as he was unlikely to have been sufficiently trained – or indeed old enough, assuming he had declared his correct age – to serve overseas with his Battalion until sometime in mid-1917.

The 15th (Service) Battalion War Diaries are to be found with the within the records of the 41st Division at The National Archives and on-line.[5]  The events recorded in the Diary for the last few days before Harold was killed are summarised below.

On 28 August the Battalion was relieved and entrained at ABEELE station and arrived at LUMBRES at 7a.m. on 29 August and went into billets at SETQUES.  There was rest and cleaning the next day and on 31 August, a seven mile route march.  On 1 September, the battalion marched to SETQUES and entrained for ABEELE and was billeted.  On 2 September ‘Battalion left billets at 7.30pm and relieved 106 American Infantry Battalion in VIERSTRAAT-KEMMEL line.  On 3 September – VIERSTRAAT – ‘During the afternoon two patrols were sent out … but were seen by the enemy after proceeding about 60yds and held up by machine gun fire and forced to return having suffered a few casualties.  The actions on 4 September were described in a separate two page addendum.

4 September – The preliminary arrangements & assembling … were given at very short notice … The attacking Coys were in position … at the appointed time 4.30 a.m.  Artillery arrangements were not quite satisfactory … & left a number of enemy M.G. posts on the W. of the railway & able to fire unmolested on our advancing troops.  The Battn. in spite of being much disorganised by very heavy casualties by M.G. fire & enemy snipers, succeeded in reaching the line of the light railway, but were unable to hold it owing to the accuracy & strength of the enemy’s M.G. fire & shortage of men.  About dusk 2nd Lieut J J Potter, M.C. collected & reorganised all the men that remained of the Battalion and established a line … & during the night got in touch with the 12th KRRC … Casualties on this day were very heavy & included the C.O. and the Acting Adjutant.  Officer Casualties 16, Other Ranks 307, Total Casualties 323.’ 

These O.R. casualties were further classified on the next page.

‘Other Ranks – Killed 35, Died of Wounds 4, Missing 48, Wounded 170, Gassed 43, Shell-shock 4, Injured (not classified) 4.’

On 5 September there was ‘No further activity the Battalion was relieved …’

It seems that at sometime during that very costly assault on 4 September 1918, Harold Wilfred Smailes was ‘Killed in Action’.  He was 19 years old.

He was one of the many killed or reported ‘missing’ and his body was either never found or not identified.  He is remembered on one of the Panels 88 to 90 and 162 of the Tyne Cot Memorial.  The Tyne Cot Memorial is one of four memorials to the missing in Belgian Flanders which cover the area known as the Ypres Salient.  Whereas those who died before 16 August 1917 are remembered on the Menin Gate, the United Kingdom servicemen who died after that date are named on the memorial at Tyne Cot.

The register of Soldiers’ Effects showed that £11-14-8d, including a £6 War Gratuity, was paid on 22 November 1919 to ‘Fa[ther] George S’.  The Register also showed that Harold was ‘Presumed Dead’ on 4 September 1918.

Harold Wilfred Smailes was awarded the British War and Victory Medals; he is also commemorated on the Rugby Memorial Gates in Hillmorton Road, Rugby.



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This article on Harold Wilfred SMAILES was researched and written for the Rugby Family History Group [RFHG] project, by John P H Frearson and is © John P H Frearson and the RFHG, May 2018.

[1]      British and Irish Military Databases, The Naval and Military Press Ltd.  This database contains information extracted from 81 volumes of ‘Soldiers Died in World War I’.

[2]      Information from: UK, Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919.

[3]      See ‘Rugby Remembers’

[4]      Edited from:, also,,

[5]      UK, WWI War Diaries (France, Belgium and Germany), 1914-1920, Hampshire Regiment, 41st Division, Piece 2634/6: 15 Battalion Hampshire Regiment (1918 Mar – 1919 Mar).

Elson, Alfred William. Died 6th Apr 1918

Alfred William ELSON was born on 23 February 1890 in Rugby, and baptised on 13 April 1890, at St. Andrew’s church, Rugby.  He was the son of John Elson and Elizabeth née Clarke Elson whose births were both registered in early 1859 in Rugby.  The couple had married at St. Andrew’s church, Rugby, on 22 May 1879 when John was 19 and a labourer living at 34 Queen Street, Rugby, his father a bricklayer; and Elizabeth was 17, living at 19 Gas Street, Rugby; her father a labourer.

At the date of Alfred’s baptism the family were living at 56 Cambridge Street, Rugby and Alfred’s father was still a labourer but by 1891 with the family still living at the same address, John Elson was now a ‘coal carter’.  In 1891, Alfred had three elder siblings.

By 1901 the family had moved to 184 Lawford Road, Bilton, and Alfred now had an additional three younger siblings.  John Elson was now a ‘plasterer’s labourer’ and his two eldest sons were hairdressers.  Alfred was eleven and presumably still at school.  John Elson died aged only 42 later in 1901.

By 1911, Alfred’s widowed mother was living at 39 Pinfold Street, Rugby.  At this date six of her seven children were still alive, but she was living with two of her younger sons, one of whom, Ernest Thomas Elson, also served in WWI and it was possibly him who was listed, and if him, in error, as E. Elson, on the Rugby Memorial Gate – the story of the various E. Elsons was told in Rugby Remembers on 9 April  2017.[1]

In 1911 Alfred was working in London as a ‘Plasterer Builders’ and lodging – although enumerated as ‘Head’ – at 12 College Street, York Road, Lambeth S E.  He was still ‘Single’.  It may be that he had been following his father’s later trade of plastering.  However, he was to return to Rugby to work with BTH in their Winding Department.

Alfred married with Gertrude Ethel née Davies in 1914 and the marriage was registered in Q3 1914 in Rugby.  Gertrude’s family lived in Coventry

Alfred W Elson enlisted in Rugby.  He may be the ‘Elson’ from the BTH works who was listed in the Rugby Advertiser’s article ‘Rugby’s Magnificent Response’ in September 1914.[2]

He was recruited initially a Private No: 11877 in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.  He went to France on 2 June 1915.  He was later transferred and became Private No: 16413 in the 1st Battalion, the Hampshire Regiment.  It is uncertain whether this occurred before or after he went to France.  Certainly he was in action later with the 1st Hampshires and the Battalion War Diary can provide some information on the actions immediately prior to his death and suggest when he may have been wounded.

After June 1915, the 1st Battalion, the Hampshire Regiment were still in the 11th Brigade of the 4th Division.  It cannot be known in how many of their actions Alfred was involved, he would though have been in similar action if he was still in the ‘Ox and Bucks’.  In 1916, he could have fought in the Battle of Albert, and the Battle of Le Transloy, and then during 1917, the First and Third Battles of the Scarpe, the Battle of Polygon Wood, the Battle of Broodseinde, the Battle of Poelcapelle, and the First Battle of Passchendaele.

The front was quieter in early 1918 and for the first three weeks of March 1918, the War Diary of the 1st Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment notes that the Battalion was out of the line and involved in training and similar activities at Fosseux and then Warlus, moving to Arras on 19 March.  It relieved the 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards north of the Arras-Fampoux Road, on 20 March 1918.

Whilst the front had been comparatively quiet, an attack was anticipated and on 21 March 1918, the Germans launched a major offensive, Operation Michael, against the British Fifth Army and the right wing of the British Third Army.  However, the focus of the first attacks, the Battle of St. Quentin, from 21 to 23 March, was some 40 miles south of Arras and the 1st Hampshires, and the attacks were directed from St. Quentin towards Amiens.

The German artillery targeted command and communications; then, the destruction of artillery; and then the front-line infantry.  The artillery bombardment began at 4.40am on 21 March 1918, and hit targets over an area of 150 square miles, the biggest barrage of the entire war.  Over 1,100,000 shells were fired in five hours.

The 1st Hampshires although nearer to Arras, also experienced shelling on 21 March from 5am to 8am which was supporting the attacks to the south.  At 11pm the Battalion moved troops forward with only one man wounded.  This section remained fairly quiet over the next two or so days, but enemy movements were seen.  On 25 March the area was shelled and an attack was expected.  In the event the 26 March was fairly quiet, but on 27 March there was further shelling and a raid on the trenches which was repulsed.

On 28 March – ‘The enemy attacked our position…’.  Two officers and 33 Other Ranks were killed; one officer and 74 other ranks were wounded; three officers and seven other ranks were wounded and missing; 76 other ranks were missing; two officers and two other ranks were missing, believed killed; and one man died of wounds.  This action would be known as the Battle of Arras 1918.  On 29 and 30 March the Battalion went out of the front line into the Brigade reserve, and on 31 March had a ‘quiet day’.

The first few days in April were again fairly quiet for the Battalion and although there was some shelling on 5 April, no casualties were mentioned in the Diary

Alfred received severe gunshot wounds on 6 April.[3]  It seems most likely that he received the wounds during the Battle of Arras on 28 March 1918, when some 74 Other Ranks were wounded.

He would have then been passed down an extended chain of evacuation over a distance of some 60 miles, from the Arras area to Etaples.  This would typically have included various treatment as he was carried in turn to the Regimental Aid Post; an Advanced Dressing Station; the Field Ambulance; a Casualty Clearing Station; and then finally to a Stationary or General Hospital in the Base Area, in Alfred’s case around Etaples, before he died of his wounds on the 6 April 1918.

Alfred was buried in the nearby Etaples Military Cemetery which was used by the hospitals in the area.  His body was buried in grave ref: XXXII, B, 10.  Later, when a permanent gravestone replaced the temporary cross, his family’s message, ‘Gone from our Home but not from our Heart One of God’s Best,’ would be carved upon it.

The Etaples Military Cemetery is the largest CWGC cemetery in France, located on the former site of a large military hospital complex at Etaples, a town about 27 kilometres south of Boulogne.  The Military Cemetery is to the north of the town.  The nearby hospitals, which included eleven general, one stationary, four Red Cross hospitals and a convalescent depot, could deal with 22,000 wounded or sick.

Alfred’s death, aged 28, was announced in the Coventry Herald,[4] together with a very poor quality photograph which shows him earlier in the war wearing the cap badge of the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.

PRIVATE A. W. ELSON has been killed in action.  He married the only daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J. Davies, of 14, Stoney Stanton Road, Coventry.

Alfred William ELSON is also remembered on the Rugby Memorial Gates; on the list of BTH Employees who served in the War 1914 – 1918; on the BTH War Memorial;[5] and on the New Bilton War Memorial, by the chapel in Croop Hill Cemetery, Addison Road.

His Medal Card showed that he was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, and also the 1915 Star. 

Alfred’s widow Gertrude received his back pay of £16-16-2d on 15 July 1918 and his Gratuity of £17 on 2 January 1920.   Her address latterly was 14 Stoney Stanton Road, Coventry, she had returned to live with her parents.

His mother later remarried and as Mrs Anderson, 39 Pinfold Street, New Bilton, she was mentioned in Alfred’s death notice in the Rugby Advertiser on 20 April 1918.[6]   A further notice, more detailed notice, was published on 27 April 1918,

Pte Alfred Elson, Hampshire Regiment, who enlisted at the out break of the war, giving up a position at the B.T.H. works, Rugby, has died of wounds received in action.  He had been previously wounded, and returned to France last year.  He was again due for leave when the offensive started, in which he received severe gunshot wounds, from which he died on April 6.  He was of a bright and cheerful disposition, and will be missed by a large circle of friends.[7]




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This article on Alfred William ELSON was researched and written for a Rugby Family History Group [RFHG] project, by John P H Frearson and is © John P H Frearson and the RFHG, January 2018.



[2]      See: and Rugby Advertiser, 5 September 1914.

[3]      This date is given in the Rugby Advertiser, 12 April 1918, which is reproduced in Rugby Remembers, at

[4]      Coventry Herald, Saturday, 27 April 1918.

[5]      This is from a list of names on the BTH War Memorial when it was unveiled.  It is taken from the list published in the Rugby Advertiser, 4 November 1921 and given at

[6]      Rugby Advertiser, 12 April 1918, and

[7]      Rugby Advertiser, 27 April 1918, and


Ward, Thomas Walter. Died 6th Aug 1915

Private Thomas Walter Ward

Private Thomas Walter Ward, Service Number 17168 was killed in action 6th August 1915 at Gallipoli aged 24 years.

WARD,  Thomas Walter pic

Thomas Walter Ward was born in Sheffield, Yorkshire 1891 to Thomas and Anne Ward. They all appear on the census of 1891 with Thomas’s two elder sisters Anne and Beatrice.   By 1901 the family are living in Rugby at 63 New Street, New Bilton with 5 more children. By 1911, from the census, they are living at 170 Lawford Road New Bilton and Thomas Walter is working as a powder cleaner.   Thomas Walter Ward, according to The Rugby Advertiser above, 18th September 1915, was working for Messrs. Willans & Robinson as a coremaker. He was a fine athlete and played both cricket and rugby football. He played rugby football with New Bilton St. Oswald’s XV and played cricket with Messrs. Willans & Robinson and was a fine bowler, as in one match against New Bilton he bowled out 4 players and 5 others were bowled by him and caught by other members of the team.

He enlisted at Rugby and joined the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, 2nd September 1914 and was transferred to the 2nd Hampshire Regiment in June 1915 and taken to the Dardenelles. In August 1915 he wrote to his parents saying that he was well.



Leach, Percy John. Died 6th Aug 1915

Private Percy John Leach was killed 6th August 1915 in action at Gallipoli. He was with the Hampshire Regiment, 2nd Battalion. Service No. 17180.

LEACH, Percy John pic

Percy Leach was born Clifton on Dunsmore near Rugby 1897 and baptised 10th April 1897 at St. Mary’s Church Clifton on Dunsmore. His parents were George and Emma Leach. Percy’s father was an engine driver for the railway. He was the third child of eight children. Percy appears on the census on 1891 as a 4 year old, the family living at Cambridge Street Rugby. By the 1901 census Percy is 14 years old and a pupil teacher and his father, George is a railway locomotive engine driver, living at 96 Oxford Street Rugby. Ten years later, on the 1911 census, Percy is with his elder married sister, Emma Hewitt, in St. Albans, is 24 years of age, unmarried and a railway engine fitter.

When he enlisted, at Rugby, into the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, Service Number 13465, he was employed in the Turbine Department at the B.T.H.

He was an Old Murrayian and was engaged at that school as a pupil teacher after which he worked several years with the L. & N. W Railway in the engine shops.   At the time of his death the family were living at 53 Claremont Road Rugby.   He was transferred to the 2nd Battalion Hampshire Regiment in June 1915 and was posted as missing 7th August 1915. His family were asking if anyone had any knowledge of his fate to communicate with them.

In August 1921 his family put a memoriam to him in The Rugby Advertiser ‘In loving memory of Percy John Leach reported missing at Sulva Bay, August 6th 1915. Always in the thoughts of Father, Mother, Brothers and Sisters. “Thy will be done”.’