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).