680380 GNR. A. E. SMITH.  R.F.A. 

 

Albert Edward Smith was born in July 1889 in Burbage, Hinckley, Leicestershire.  His father was Reuben Smith (b. 1854 in Burbage), a mechanic in a hosiery factory.  His mother was Catherine Haddon (b. 1858 in Burbage).  Reuben and Catherine were married in 1888 and Albert was their only child.  However, both Reuben and Catherine had been married before.  In 1876, Reuben had married Ada Knight (b. 1855 in Burbage) and they had had 5 children: William (b. 1878), Eva (b. 1879), Percy James (b. 1880), Nellie (b. 1884), and Reuben (b. 1885).  Ada died in 1887.  Also in 1876, Catherine Haddon had married Samuel Martin (b. 1854 in Burbage) and they had a son, Alfred (b. 1881).  Samuel died in 1882.  So in 1891, the Smith household consisted of Reuben and Catherine, 5 of ‘his’ children’ one of ‘her’ children and one of ‘their’ children.  William had left by 1901, but the extended family was otherwise still together.  Catherine died in 1908 and in 1910 Reuben married for a third time.  His new wife was Florence Clarke (b. 1874 in Burbage).  In 1911, Reuben and Florence had Reuben’s two sons (Reuben and step-brother Albert Edward) living with them at 32 Victoria Road, Burbage.   Albert was working as a clerk in a dye works.

 

So how did Albert, from this Leicestershire family which had never moved from Burbage in over 70 years (and probably more) come to join the Royal Field Artillery in Preston?  The answer lies with Percy James Smith, Albert’s step-brother.  Percy was a professional footballer.  He played for Hinkley Town from 1895-1902, but then moved to Preston and played for North End from 1902-1910, and then for Blackburn Rovers from 1910-1920.  In 1911, Percy was living with his wife and two month old baby daughter at 4 Charlotte Street, Fulwood.  I don’t know if Albert moved to live permanently in Preston or whether he was just visiting but he enlisted when War broke out.  He was assigned service number 1509 (later changed to 680380) and posted to “B” Battery of 276 Brigade, which formed part of 55th (West Lancashire) Division.

 

55th (West Lancashire) Division fought at Guillemont and Ginchy (on the Somme) in September 1916, suffering severe losses especially at Guillemont.  They also fought at Flers-Courcelette and Morval later that month, and then in October 1916 they were moved to the Ypres Salient, at the time a relatively quieter part of the front.  Although there were no major engagements in early 1917, there was constant harassment, shelling and raids. 

 

1917: Third Battle of Ypres

From 55th Divisional History:  "The objective of what was called the Third Battle of Ypres was the capture of the enemy's Gheluvelt-Langemark system...  The weather during the whole of June and during the greater part of July had been ideal for campaigning purposes.  Unfortunately, on Sunday 29 July a particularly heavy thunderstorm filled up the shell holes and turned roads and tracks into a morass.  The succeeding days were dull and hazy, making the completion of the artillery preparation peculiarly difficult and typical Flanders weather conditions prevailed on the morning of the 31st - the moment chosen for the attack.  Low lying clouds which made aerial observation and cooperation as difficult as could be imagined; a dampness of atmosphere, threatening rain at any moment; a half sodden ground, greasy and depressing; such was the luck of the weather at 3.50am on 31 July 1917, when the barrage opened.  Not since the war began had so intense a barrage been put down, and of its wonderful effectiveness all ranks in the line bore eloquent testimony."

 

Albert Smith was killed on the opening day of the battle.  He was 28 years old.

 

Rank:  Gunner

Service No:  680380

Date of Death:  31/07/1917

Age:  28

Regiment/Service:  Royal Field Artillery, “B” Bty, 276th Bde.

Grave Reference:  D. 28.

Cemetery:  BUFFS ROAD CEMETERY

Additional Information:  Son of Reuben Smith, of 32 Victoria Road, Burbage, Hinckley, Leicestershire.

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