George Parkinson Smith (1887–1917)

Corporal

Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derby Regiment) 256 & 200017 1/5th Battalion

Photo courtesy Stan Smith
George Parkinson Smith

George was born in 1887 at Preston, the son of James and Jane Smith. His father was a navvy so they travelled around a little before settling in Fritchley. Before he joined the army George worked as a wood sawyer at Dawbarns in Whatstandwell and married Elizabeth Reed of Fritchley 14 June 1913. He was killed in action during an attack on Lens on 1 July 1917 when he was aged twenty-nine. He is remembered on the Arras Memorial.

Newspaper Report

Derbyshire Courier 11 August 1917

Newspper photo of George Parkinson Smith in WW1

Corpl. G,P, SMITH
Fritchley
Missing
FRITCHLEY N.C.O. MISSING
Mrs George P. Smith, of Fritchley, received an intimation from the War Office last week hat her husband, Corporal Geo P. Smith, Sherwood Foresters, was reported missing from 1 July. This information is confirmed by the fact that Mrs Smith has had no news from him since that time. Corporal Smith, who was in the Territorials at the outbreak of war, crossed over to France a year ago.Before the war he was employed at Messrs. Dawbarn's joinery works, Whatstandwell

Medal Roll Index Card

His Medal Card shows he was awarded the Victory and British War Medals.

A Sherwood Foresters' badge was created and placed above the door of the family home at Crich Carr, at the bottom of Shaws Hill.

Foresters plaque above a house door

Like many of the soldiers George sent back home beautifully embroidered cards and postcards. The cards were usually sentimental or amusing.

WW1 postcard from George P Smith
Sent to his wife Elizabeth in 1916
WW1 card from Georhe P Smith
Sent to his wife Elizabeth in 1916
WW1 card from george P Smith
To his son George, sent June 1917.
He was killed 24 days later.

Cards courtesy of Stan Smith.

Letters from the Front were frequently censored and the men knew they couldn’t give a full account of conditions or even their whereabouts.  At the November 2014 Crich Front Lines memorial event in the Glebe Field Centre an imaginary letter from George to his son was read by Stan Smith, grandson of George. This birthday card to his son, is based on a real situation and the content is authentic – it is what he might have said. Written two weeks before he was killed.

George Parkinson Smith  – A birthday card to his son

I am not allowed to say much – you will have to read between the lines, but everything is far from milk and honey.

I can tell you that my father worked on the new reservoir they were building at Chadwick Nick.  It will last a hundred years. My grandchildren might even see its replacement being built!
 
It was a good life running our little shop selling groceries and hardware, tobacco and snuff.  I could do with some of those things now here in northern France and am very grateful for the socks and butter, tins of meat and paste, pies, fruit and cakes and cigarettes we get sent – and the most useful thing of all – candles, just the thing we cannot do without.

What made me leave you and your mother and our little shop behind and say my last Goodbye to you when you were only 2?  Well we had a sense of duty and we loved our families and our country.

But I can’t tell you about the rough crossing in February 1916 over the English Channel and being sea-sick over the side.

And I can’t tell you about our journey here to Lens foot-slogging with our packs through the mud, passing vehicles and bicycles stuck up to their axles.

And the rail journey that took hours and hours, jerking to stops because of other trains in front in 1st Class cattle trucks. 

I won’t mention the training because in the reality of the fighting things didn’t always work out as planned.  We practiced advances behind creeping barrages marked with flags and drums and rehearsed tactical open warfare schemes to use against a retreating enemy.  Sadly I never got to pursue a retreating enemy.  No one ever taught us how to cope with what happened to us.

I won’t tell you about the march to the Front, the warnings to have our small box respirators at the ready and the tracks being laid over the ruts and mud.

Nor can I tell you about the bitter cold with everything frozen, when it was too cold to sit and write, when we all had perpetual coughs and colds, or about the constant rain and the lice and the rats and how when water was short we washed and shaved in tea.

And I’m not telling you about how the landscape reminded me of home – the mining villages or ‘Cites’ as they call them here, the slag-heaps, the rows of cottages and neat gardens containing asparagus and gooseberries, currants, strawberries and rhubarb.  I’m not telling you because I longed so much to pick our own strawberries in Fritchley and walk with you and your mother up towards Clay Cross.

I’ve never told you about the trenches we lived in, some so shallow we daren’t stand up in daytime.  They were named after letters of the alphabet.  Under E there was a very fine dugout called ‘Elveston Castle’.

I’m not supposed to tell you about the faulty intelligence that the Germans were preparing to abandon Lens and the various outposts, and were blowing up and burning everything in anticipation of withdrawal. So in April the Foresters were ordered to mount an ill-prepared attack on Hill 65, were surrounded and beaten back and the companies had to be re-organised from the survivors.

One survivor was Capt Hacking who was transferred to our brigade as second in command for the attack north of the Lens-Lievin Rd that would be part of the attack on Lens.  Command was still convinced the Germans were on the point of withdrawal. I wish I could tell you about how we attacked at 02.47 am, how we tried to hold the 6th Battalion Company front and how C Company were in support in Cowden Trench and how we attacked through gas and high explosive shells and trench mortars with much of our artillery wiped out, how the attack went on schedule and how we penetrated the German front line trenches, but how we were immediately counter-attacked and by 6.30 am, far from withdrawing, the Germans had been reinforced and tired and weak and cut to pieces we had to retreat from the positions we had won leaving 162 of our 278 men behind.  The second worst day in the Foresters’ History – the worst being a year to the day earlier on the Somme.

Above all I wish I could tell you how I died and where my remains lay.

I can tell you that I am named with 35,000 others in Bay 7 of the Arras memorial in the company with other Crich lads: Joseph Dawes, Christopher Durie, John Mellors, John Perry, Alexander Ross and Albert Whitehurst.

War Diary: 1/5th Bn The Sherwood Foresters (Notts & Derby Regt.)
[by kind permission of National Archives]

George was one of the 13 Foresters killed this day.

CITE ST. THEODORE
July 1st , 1917
At 2:47am the battalion with three Corps in line and one in support attacked the enemys positions west of LENS, having has the objective N 13 d 10 65 – 13 a 0 to 15. a 98 65 in cooperation with 2nd Battalion SF on right and 6th Bn SF on left. Left Company reached objective by 4.15am and Centre Company by 5.00am. Right Company failed to reach their objective. Little opposition was encountered.Enemy made several counter attacks over the open as soon as it became light all of which were repulsed with heavy loss by our Lewis Gun fire. After being reinforced the enemy launched a strong counter-attack at about 6:30am by bombing along main trench at N13a95 65 by advance over the open from the South in the neighbourhood of COTTON Trench. The counter-attacks across the open were all repulsed with but the success of the enemy was obtained by their bombers who drove wedges into our line at about N13a95 65 and at N13a02 15. The Southern party came actually behind our men in No Mans land, the first wave of which was accounted for to a man by our own Lewis Gun fire. The two wedges driven into our line by the enemy succeeded in cutting a Number of our men off. A number of men of this Battalion and of 2nd Bn SF who had every prospect of being cut off endeavoured to escape by crossing No Man land. Lack of bombs appears to have been the principal cause of the retirement. The 2 officers of the Support Company with about 40 men accomplished and held a position in ALARM Trench and finally consolidated at the Railway about M13c72 20 where they repulsed a counter attack later in the day.This position was handed over to the 8th Sherwood For. 139th Inf Bde on relief. The mixture of Units , the fact that at least one Coy of the Battn on the right (2nd Bn SF)had missed direction and the fact that both officers of our right Coy became casualties before reaching the enemy front line prevented that part of the attack from reaching their objective. The enemy appear to have counter attached both over the open and down trenches and reached the German front line at about N13c15 70 and in the railway cutting the North. It was from this direction that the counter attack in the right of my Centre Company developed. The lack of time for preparation and reconnaissance the length of my front and the depth of the objective having regard to the number of men at my disposal, the darkness of the night, which rendered it very easy for direction to be lost, were all factors which seemed to make the chances of a successful attack negligible, if, as proved to be the case, the enemy had any real intention of holding this position of the line Strength of Battalion who lined up to make the attacks 8 officers, 270 OR. Total casualties during this operation Officers 4 missing, 1 wdd, 1 acc. injured. Other ranks killed 13, missing 62, wounded 81.
[Thanks to Steve Morse]

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Name SMITH, GEORGE PARKINSON
Initials G P
Nationality United Kingdom
Rank Corporal
Regiment/Service Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derby Regiment)
Unit 1st/5th Bn.
Age 29
Date of Death 01/07/17
Additional Information Son of James and Janie Smith, of Fritchley husband of Elizabeth Julien (formerly Smith née Reed), of Hill Top, Fritchley, Ambergate, Derby
Casualty type Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference Bay 7.
Cemetery ARRAS MEMORIAL

NB George's widow Elizabeth re-married some years after his death and then became Elizabeth Julian (not Juilen as recorded). This record must have been recorded more than a decade after WW1 had finished.

WW1 War Graves Certificate for George P Smith

WW1 certificate for George P Smith
Courtesy of Stan Smith

Soldiers' Effects Book
George Parkinson Smith1/5th Bn Notts & Derby Regt; Acting Cpl 200017; killed 1.7.17 on or since; War Gratuity £14 10s 0d;
1.6.18 widow Elizabeth £7 0s 1d
16.8.18 widow Elizabeth £14 0s 0d benefit child
9.12.19 widow Elizabeth £4 16s 8d
5.2.20 widow Elizabeth £9 13s 4d

CENSUS INFORMATION

1901: Knighton

Forename Surname Relationship Age Occupation Where born
James Smith Head 42 Navvy Huddersfield
Jane Smith wife 32   Blackpool
George Smith son 13   Preston
James Smith son 9 Stone Mason Runcorn

RG13 piece 5181 folio 37 page 22

1911: Fritchley

Forename Surname Relationship Age Occupation Where born
Jane Smith wife (married) 40   Blackpool
George Smith son 22 Wood sawyer Runcorn
James Smith son 19 Wood sawyer Preston

RG14PN20983 RG78PN1251 RD436 SD4 ED12 SN165

Note that in 1911 the place of birth is incorrect for both George and his brother James. The 1901 census has this correct