George Smith

George Smith was born in 1894 at his parents house at 101 Dunnings Road, East Grinstead. His father, George Tilden Smith, worked as plumber and gas fitter and owned a shop in the High Street (now Broadley's clothing shop). George attended St. Peters Catholic School until the age of fourteen when he became an apprentice plumber with his father.

When war was declared Smith was twenty-years old. At first Smith considered joining the Royal Flying Corps but eventually he chose the Royal Engineers. After a few months training in England George Smith was sent to Ireland where he learnt to dig trenches, wiring, bridging and signaling.

Smith was sent to the Western Front in 1915. Soon after arriving in France George Smith took part in the British offensive at Loos on 25th September 1915. After the first day the British troops were on the outskirts of Lens. However, the German army counter-attacked and the British were forced to retreat. Further attacks took place in October but after heavy losses, the commander of the British troops, Sir John French, called off the offensive. In three weeks of fighting, the British Army lost over 50,000 men.

In 1916 Smith took part in the Battle of the Somme. Once again casualties were heavy and between 1st July and 13th November, the British and French forces lost 614,000 men. Once again Smith had survived a major offensive. His reward was to be promoted to the rank of lance corporal. In August 1917 George Smith was sent home to Britain to be trained as an officer.

In June 1918 Smith returned to France as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers. He arrived just in time to take part in the British offensive at Lille. This time the British held onto their gains and Smith was able to take part in the final advances that led to Germany's surrender. However, just before the fighting stopped, George heard the news that his younger brother, Leslie Smith, who was only nineteen, had been killed on the Western Front.

The marriage of Lieutenant George Smith and Lilian Evans
The marriage of Lieutenant George
Smith and Lilian Evans

Primary Sources

(1) George Smith kept a diary during the First World War.

4th September 1914: Went up to London to enlist in the RFC but changed my mind and enlisted in the Royal Engineers.

6th September1914: I go up to the front line trenches for the first time. Our work was deepening a communication trench.

20th July 1914: Catch train from Euston, Lily seeing me off. After a monotonous journey I reach Barrow about 6 in the evening, go to billet and find company on parade ready to move off en route to Ireland.

25th August 1915: Arrive at Havre early in the morning and unload our gear and march to camp.

7th September 1915: I have my first experience of shell fire. The Boches drop four or five shells just where we are working and Handcock got a nasty wound. Three of us get jammed in the door of the dugout in our hurry to get in.

25th September 1915: Battle of Loos. I am on guard and about three in the morning the artillery bombardment started and the Boches reply in earnest. The noise of firing guns and exploding shells become one continuous and deafening crash. At 10.15 we get the order to get on top and we scrambled out of the trench and moved forward. The battle is in full-swing. Some wounded tell us that five lines of trenches have been taken. We got well pass the German front line and then we saw the full horrors of war. We suddenly come under heavy machine gun fire. What a sight, dozens of men falling. Bob George was running beside me, and he suddenly goes over with a long drawn sigh. A Jock near me mutters "killed", but somehow I did not realise that my best chum had gone under. We wavered and the officer shouts "come on men" and we go on.

27th September 1915: The Germans were making a strong counter attack and to make things worse it has started raining. The C.O. calls for a cyclist and as I am nearest to him I tell him I am one. He gives me a message asking for reinforcements. I drag one of the cycles out of a hole and start off on my journey. It is pitch dark and raining, there are dead and dying all over the road. The dying and wounded crying and shouting for stretcher bearers.

21st October 1915: Ordered to move back to the trenches. Weather is awful, communication trenches are full of water and it is our job to get up them. Some of the daring ones don't trouble but go over the top.

23rd April 1916: Have a rotten night wiring in front of reserve trench. Raining in torrents and snipers were busy.

25th August 1916: We have been on active service for one year now. Major makes a short speech and asks all the men who came over to France with the original Company to fall out. There are only 54 of is left out of 200.