1918-2008: Ninety Years of Remembrance

Soldier Record

Frank Smith

Contributed by: Steve Smith, on 2008-11-10

Frank Smith
Rank
First Name Frank
Surname Smith
Year of Birth 1881
Year of Death 1918
Regiment Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment)
Place of Wartime Residence Ramsgate, Kent

Frank's Story

Private Frank Smith, G/5203, served in the 7th and 8th Battalion the Buffs (The East Kent Regiment). He also saw service in the Labour Corps. He was 34 when he joined up and could have stayed where he was as he was a farm labourer. However, he wanted to make his family proud and enlisted on 8th December 1914. He joined the 8th (Service) Battalion which was formed at Canterbury in September of 1914. They were then attached to the 72nd Brigade of the 24th Division.

Both the 24th and 21st Divisions went to France in August of 1915. We know that the 8th Battalion specifically landed in France on the 31st. Both of these divisions were New Army, meaning that they were virtually all volunteers who had never seen action before. They spent time in various army camps and only one officer from the 8th Buffs went to the front line in that time, his story alone is one of extreme bravery and tragedy. Then, on the 25th September, the Battle of Loos started. Initial moves on the part of the British were successful and gains were made, but the Germans recovered and the attack slowed down.

On the 21st September 1915 the 8th battalion received a movement order along with the rest of the 24th and 21st Division.

They had lost 24 officers and 530 men at Loos and the battalion was led out by a junior officer. Amazingly Frank Smith survived this.

For the next year the 24th Division did not see any offensive action having lost 8,000 officers and men at Loos. They spent most of their time around what is known a Ploegsteert wood, called 'Plugstreet' by our troops. In June of 1916 the 8th Battalion launched a trench raid on the Germans around Plugstreet, attacking a position called 'The Birdcage'. This raid was not very successful. They then moved back to France, this time to the Somme.

By the time they had got there the battle of the Somme had been going on for well over a month. The British were constantly putting pressure onto the Germans and at the time that the 24th Division went into the line the battle was concentrating around Delville Wood and Guillemont. The 24th Division attacked on the 18th August 1916, supporting two other divisions in an attack on the German lines to the southeast of Delville Wood. The 8th specifically had orders to attack and capture two German positions, called ZZ Trench and Machine Gun House. They were the only unit to capture and hold their objectives that day. Frank Smith was wounded in the advance. He wrote a letter to his beloved wife Edith on the 19th. It said of the battle.

'Been in a carry on the Guillemont Front, but didn't last more than an hour. Never saw anything like it, but the boys held on. Several wounds in the leg and foot from splinters.'

He spent well over a year recovering from those wounds, but he also spent time in the Labour Corps and when he was fit enough he went back to the Buffs in January of 1918, this time with the 7th Battalion.

He was killed in action on the 21st March 1918, aged 38, on the first day of the final German offensive of WWI. This was known as the Kaiser's Battle and he was killed whilst crossing a bridge at a small town called Vendeuil, which is south of St Quentin. His body fell into a tributary that feeds the St Quentin Canal and his body has never been found.

Frank left a wife and seven children, one of whom he never got to meet his father as he was born in February 1918. The letters we hold in the family tell the tale of a very sensitive and family orientated man. His family never recovered from his death and we still feel his loss now.

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