Contributed by: D J Smith, on 2008-11-07
|Year of Birth||1893|
|Year of Death||1956|
|Regiment||Somerset Light Infantry|
|Place of Wartime Residence||Bristol, Bristol|
Percy Smith served on the Western Front from September 1916 until March 1918. He first saw action on the Somme, in the Battle of Fleur, where he accompanied the first tanks to go into action. He was later stationed in Ypres and vividly remembered marching out through the Menin Gate on the way to a place called Passchendaele.
He was in the front line near St Quentin on 21 March 1918, when the Germans opened their great spring offensive. His unit, C Company, Somerset Light Infantry, was overwhelmed in the first attacks and the survivors forced back in total confusion. After two days retreating, he became part of a group, formed from survivors of various units, who were ordered to fight a rearguard action to cover the withdrawal. When their ammunition was exhausted, they tried to withdraw themselves but found they were cut off and came under heavy shellfire. Shortly after, they were surrounded by a large German force and the survivors captured: Percy said that, by then, he was one of only 11 men left alive.
He spent the remainder of the war as a POW in Germany. When the Armistice was signed on 11 November 1918 no one told the prisoners in his camp. They did not learn about it until some time afterwards: when the guards were confronted with this, they simply opened the gates and turned the POWs loose to fend for themselves. Percy and a friend decided not to wait for the British authorities to sort things out, but set off and walked all the way back to the Channel, where they stowed away on a ship to get back to Britain.