SAMUEL SMITH written by Linda Trim
Samuel signed up to the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, but found himself alongside other Navy recruits fighting on the Somme with the Army.
Deeside Advertiser February 2nd 1918
Samuel Smith was born on the 10th of September 1892, one of 9 children of Samuel Smith (1864 – ?) and Clara Louisa Smith neé Crawford (1869-1924). Only 6 children survived; Mary b 1889, Samuel b 1892, Nellie b 1894, John b 1897, Jessie b 1901 and Frank (Francis Joseph) born 1910. The Smiths lived in Greater Manchester and Samuel Sr. worked as a wheelwright. Clara had grown up in Hulme as one of the children of a house painter, and it was in this area that Samuel and Clara must have met, and where they married in 1889. By the time Jessie was born they had moved to West Kirby, which was becoming a very desirable place to live, and where, presumably, the older Samuel felt he could make a living and live in nicer surroundings.
At the 1901 and the 1911 Censuses the Smiths were living at 50 Birkett Road, and many lads from that street went off to war to fight; Samuel would have known them all as these were terraced houses on both sides of the street, and the street was not very long.
1911 Census for the Smith Family in West Kirby
In 1911, Samuel was working as a dairyman’s driver, but at the outbreak of war he had changed jobs and was working as a porter at the railway station in West Kirby. When he went to sign up with the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve on 18th November 1915, he would have heard of the deaths of David Hartness and Thomas Lunt as they both lived on Birkett Road. Several other young men who currently lived on Birkett Rd, or had previously lived there had already enlisted, and given the size of the local population it is very likely that Samuel knew most of the young men in his age group. In 1911 the population of Hoylake cum West Kirby was a little over 3000 people, not that large for two small villages with a social life that surely enabled the working class young men to meet and mingle with one another. It is possible that Samuel’s choice of the Navy Reserves was engendered by the deaths of the local lads and the news of the war in general. Not a cowardly act, but perhaps a more pragmatic one. In any event, Samuel joined up as an Able Seaman with a service number of MERSEY Z/800 and was assigned to the Nelson Battalion on 28th August 1916.
Cap Badge RND Nelson Battalion
I doubt that Samuel knew that due to far too many men signing up for the Navy and the Naval Reserves the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division was formed at the outset of war, and was initially formed from Royal Navy and Royal Marine Reservists who were not needed for service at sea. These men fought at various battles in 1914 and 1915, and in 1916 following heavy losses the division was transferred to the British Army as the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division. The number was reused from the disbanded 63rd 2nd Northumberland Division Territorial Force.
Recruitment Poster for RND
The Royal Naval Division (RND) was nicknamed “Winston’s Little Army” because it was founded by Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty. The RND was to consist of 8 Battalions, named for former Naval commanders; Drake, Benbow, Hawke, Collingwood, Nelson, Howe, Hood and Anson, and later numbered 1st to 8th. This newly formed Division was not provided with support arms and there were no medical, artillery or engineer units and consisted of lightly equipped military. When training had finished, the men were not equipped with khaki uniforms or field equipment before leaving for overseas service at the end of August 1914. At the end of September, rifles that were drawn from the Navy stockpile, and which were older charger-loading Lee Enfields were given to the men of the RND. These rifles took a .303 bullet, but this was not the same bullet that the new Lee Enfield rifles took, and at Gallipoli this proved to be a dangerous problem for the army soldiers and the RND soldiers.
After the evacuation of Gallipoli the RND moved to France where it participated in the final phase of the Battle of the Somme. They took part in the battle of Ancre and Battalions Nelson, Hawke and Howe suffered heavy casualties. Samuel was most likely there at that time and aware that two of three commanding officers were killed in the fighting to take the area around the remains of Beaucourt. Just prior to the start of the offensive, Nelson Battalion received a new commanding officer, Major General Cameron Shute, who was appointed on the 17th October 1916. This man had an intense dislike for the unconventional nautical traditions of the division and made quite a few unpopular attempts to stamp them out. After a particular critical inspection of the trenches by General Shute, an officer of the division, Sub-Lieutenant A.P. Herbert, who later went on to become a famous humorous writer, satirist and MP, wrote a popular poem that summed up the feelings of the men of the RND.
The General inspecting the trenches
Exclaimed with a horrified shout
‘I refuse to command a division
Which leaves its excreta about.’
But nobody took any notice
No one was prepared to refute,
That the presence of sh*t was congenial
Compared to the presence of Shute.
And certain responsible critics
Made haste to reply to his words
Observing that his staff advisors
Consisted entirely of turds.
For sh*t may be shot at odd corners
And paper supplied there to suit,
But a sh*t would be shot without mourners
If somebody shot that sh*t Shute.
The RND continued to fight in France and as the Naval aspect diminished they teamed up with various regular infantry battalions. An except from the war diaries of Nelson Division for January 1918 is shown below:
NELSON CAMP 11th The men busy cleaning clothes & equipment. The camp now occupied, named NELSON CAMP (Q.15.c.).
(HAVRINCOURT WOOD) 12th Improving of camp – drainage, duckboarding etc.
13th The camp inspected by the Corps General.
14th The battalion bathed in METZ.
16th) All officers reconnoitred the METZ defences.
17th Advanced & reconnoitring parties sent up the line.
In the line 18th The battn relieved the 4th Bedfords. Front line in very bad condition. Men busy building firing positions &
19th cleaning trenches. Up to the waist in mud & water at parts.
Four men of Nelson Battalion were killed on January 18th, but only one body recovered. The other three, which included Samuel, were most likely atomized by the shelling. His name is on the Thiepval Memorial as are many whose bodies were never found.
Thiepval Memorial to the missing of the Somme
By the time of his death, his family had moved to 8, Acacia Grove, West Kirby, and it would have been to that address that his medals were sent. The RND were awarded the same medals for the fighting on land as were the ordinary soldiers; the 1915 Star, Victory and British War Medals.
Birth: 10th September 1892 in Manchester, Lancashire
Death: 19th January 1918, Havrincourt, Pas de Calais, France
Addresses: 50, Birkett Road West Kirby (01) (11); 8a Acacia Grove West Kirby, Cheshire (18)
Occupation: Railway porter
Unit: Nelson Battalion Royal Naval Division
Number and Rank: MERSEY Z/800; Able Seaman
Medals: 14/15 Star, Victory & British War
Commemorated: Thiepval Memorial, Grange Hill War Memorial, St Bridget & St Andrew churches, West Kirby
Sources: CWGC, GH, WKBR, DA, SR, Census: 01, 11, jackclegg.com, UK Royal Navy & Royal Marines War Graves Roll 1914-1919