Joseph Charles SMITH was born in Crewe in 1897, his birth being registered at Nantwich in the 2nd Quarter of 1897.
He was the eldest son of Joseph Charles Smith [b.c.1876, Crewe] and his wife, Isobel [b.c.1873, Crewe]. They had married in 1896, and Joseph, their first child, was born in Crewe the next year. By 1899 they had moved to Rugby and two more boys and two girls were born there.
In 1901, Joseph was three and his father was a ‘steam engine maker – fitter’; they were living at 73 York Street, Rugby. By 1911, when Joseph was 13, he was already working as a ‘Tailor’s Errand Boy’ and by then the family had moved 6 King Edward Road, Rugby, probably a larger property to house an expanded family. His father was now described as an ‘engineering worker’.
Joseph’s Service Records survives among the ‘burnt records’, which are not all readily legible, but provide considerable details of his military service.
Joseph joined up at Rugby on 1 September 1914, as a Rifleman, No.Y/532 in the 5th Battalion [Bn.] of the Kings Royal Rifle Corps [KRRC]. He declared that he was aged 18 years 4 months. It appears that he was then working as a ‘Tinsmith’s Assistant’. He was 5ft 5⅛ inches tall, and weighed 128 lbs.
His service reckoned from 1 September 1914, and he ‘joined’ at Winchester on 2 September 1914, and was then posted to the 5th Bn. KRRC on 3 September and to the 14th Bn. on the 30 October and then to the 13th Bn. KRRC on 13 July 1915. It seems he was attended a Grenade course achieving a Class II on 1 September 1916, and then was posted to the ‘D’ [?Depot] 20 April 1917.
His service dates confirm that he was – ‘Home – 1 September 1914 to 29 July 1915 [282 days]’, and then, that he went to France, ‘BEF (France) – 30 July 1915 to 19 April 1917 [264 days]’.
It seems he was posted to ‘C’ Company 13th Bn. KRRC as there is a casualty form for him when he was serving with them.
The 13th (Service) Battalion KRRC was formed at Winchester on 7 October 1914 as part of K3 and attached as Army Troops to 21st Division. They moved to Halton Park, going on in November 1914 to billets in Amersham and Great Missenden, then moved to Windmill Hill (Salisbury Plain) in April 1915 and transferred to 111th Brigade in 37th Division. On 31 July 1915 they landed at Boulogne, which would agree with the date in Joseph’s Service Record.
He presumably served with them when they were in the reserve at the Battle of Loos on 26 September 1916, suffering heavy casualties, and later in the Battle of Somme in July 1916 and particularly in the Battle of Morval when the Battalion captured Geudecourt. In 1917 the Battalion was involved in the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg line and the Battalion Diary for 13th Bn. KRRC noted that in March 1917 the Division had spent ‘… nearly a month in training.’ The Battalion then moved towards Arras for the forthcoming actions.
On 9 April they moved to the German Front Line trenches which had been captured a few hours before. They later advanced further and came under fire – and snow fell that night. ‘A long and tiring day was succeeded by a cold wet night, with snow and frost and no shelter for officers or men.’ On 10 April they advanced on Monchy le Preux which as they expected was defended. After much fighting, the next day, with the help of some tanks, the village was taken, but then came under enemy bombardment. The Battalion was relieved on 11 April 1917, and returned to billets at Arras. It was probably during this action in the Arras area from 9 to 11 April 1917 that Joseph was wounded.
A 13th Bn. KRRC report dated 15 April 1917 recorded that he had been wounded, and an earlier report dated 14 April from 49 FA [Field Ambulance] noted that he had a ‘GSW’ [gun shot wound] to the right shoulder. The date of the occurrence is either missing or now illegible. However, an entry on 20 April, from 4 GH [General Hospital] appears to read ‘To England for …..’. Another entry suggests ‘Military Hospital’ ‘1/5/17’.
His Service Record confirmed his return to England for treatment: ‘Home – 20 April 1917 to 23 August 1917 [126 days].’ A later entry indicated that on 26 August 1917, he had ‘Arrived and Posted to 11th Bn.’, that is the 11th Bn. KRRC.
His new posting, the 11th Battalion KRRC, was in the 59th Brigade in the 20th Division. The Battalion Diary provides considerable detail as to the activities of the 11th Battalion during this later period in the Battle of 3rd Ypres.
On 14/15 August the Battalion had left the Canal Bank, and moved to bivouac camp at Wagram Farm, and then up to near Langemark where they were relieved on 17 August. From 18 to 27 August the Battalion was drawn back, received some replacement officers and six Military Medals were awarded to other ranks.
On 24 August, Joseph returned to France, but probably avoided the incident on the 27 August when, ‘A grenade accident caused us casualties of twenty other ranks wounded.’ On 3 September, the Battalion Diary noted ‘Reinforcements 23 O.R. received’ and this was possibly when Joseph actually reached his Battalion. In the next few days more reinforcements arrived, and training and various moves continued until the Battalion went back to the front line on 18 September, when ‘… ‘D’ Coy. came under heavy shell fire sustaining large losses’.
The action on the 19/20 September occupies several pages in the Battalion Diary, with action taking place around the Langenarck-Coedtervesten Road. The 20th Division was forming the northern defensive flank of the offensive, on a front of 1,400 yd (1,300 m) from the Poelcappelle spur to the Ypres–Staden railway flank for the Battle of the Menin Road Ridge.
‘… At 5.40 A.M the barrage opened & the front advanced to within 50 yards of the final objective and laid down until the barrage lifted when they advanced again … coming under heavy machine gun fire. … The advance was severely bombed under cover of machine & sniping fire thus holding up the line on the right … Our losses were heavy … The remnants of the Coy then got into shell holes & hung on till night fall when they withdrew … On the left the first wave reached its objective without opposition …’.
At 11p.m. after many separate smaller actions, the Battalion was withdrawn to the west of Steenbeek. The Diary entry concludes by noting that six officers were killed, with three wounded; 36 Other Ranks were killed; 43 were missing; and 127 were wounded.
Joseph was still serving with the 11th Bn. KRRC when he was posted ‘Missing’ on 20 September 1917, and later documents record, ‘Accepted for Official Purposes as having Died’ on that date. A later note on 9 July 1918, also stated ‘Regarded for Official Purposes as having Died on or since the date reported Missing’.
His record confirms his final service in Belgium: ‘ “France” – 24 August 1917 to 20 September 1917 [28 days] … [total service] … 3 years 20 days’.
Sometime, it is assumed during the assault on 20 September 1917, Joseph Charles Smith was deemed to have been ‘Killed in Action’.
His body was either never found or not identified. He is remembered on one of the Panels Panel 115 to 119 and 162A and 163A 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. Joseph Charles Smith is also commemorated on the Rugby Memorial Gates in Hillmorton Road, Rugby.
Joseph was awarded the British War and Victory Medals and the 1915 Star. His Medals were sent to his father at 6 King Edward Road, Rugby.
RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM
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This article on Joseph Charles SMITH 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, June 2017.
 The National Archives, UK, WWI War Diaries (France, Belgium and Germany), King´s Royal Rifle Corps, 37th Division, Piece 2533/1-4: 111 Infantry Brigade: 13 Battalion King´s Royal Rifle Corps (1914 Oct – 1919 Feb).