yeovil at War

Herbert Victor Smith

Died while in the Egyptian Expeditionary Force

 

Herbert Victor Smith, known as Victor, was born in Preston Plucknett in 1897 the son of glover Herbert Smith and his wife Mary Annie née Lawrence, known as Annie. Herbert and Annie were to have five children; Victor (b 1897), Alfred Edgar (b 1900), Kathleen (b 1905), Olive Vera (b 1907) and a fifth child who died in infancy. All the children except Victor were born in Yeovil. In the 1911 census the family were listed at 21 Sparrow Road and Victor, now aged 14, was working as a Reader in the printing section of the Western Gazette

Victor enlisted in the Army at Taunton at the outbreak of war and became a Private (Service No 241201) in the 1st/5th Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry.

The 1st/5th Battalion was a Territorial Battalion formed on 4 August 1914 at the County Territorial Hall, Taunton as part of the South-Western Brigade, Wessex Division. It was initially stationed at Plymouth for a few days and then proceeded to Salisbury Plain. On 9 October 1914 the Battalion sailed from Southampton and arrived at Bombay, India, on 9 November 1914. The battalion remained at Jubbulpore until December, when it proceeded to Ambala. Strenuous training began almost immediately and continued almost for the next year.  In May 1916 a large draft of nine officers and 449 other ranks arrived from England. The battalion was temporarily divided during the ensuing hot weather with some companies going to Chakrata and the remainder to Meerut. The following months were mainly occupied in training the draft but even in the hills little was done beyond this owing to the exceptionally wet season. The Battalion was reunited in October at Meerut. On 26 April 1917 17 officers and 838 other ranks of the Battalion sailed on HMT Chakdara from Bombay, landing at Suez, Egypt, on 11 May 1917, becoming part of 233rd Brigade, 75th Division - part of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force in Palestine.

Having spent an uneventful two and a half years in India it was now intended that the 1st/5th Battalion was to become involved in the attack on Gaza which had been ordered to take place on the morning of 2 November 1917 although 1st/5th Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry were ultimately not employed in the attack.

The Regimental History of the Somerset Light Infantry records "Several weeks training at El Arish and Rafa, where long route marches through the burning desert fitted the battalion for the part it was to play in the near future, followed on 28 August Nos 1 and 2 Companies of the Battalion went into the trenches in the Sheikh Abbas area, south of Gaza, and were attached to the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders for preliminary instruction in trench warfare.

On 12 September 1917 the Battalion took over the Apex right sub-sector of the Sheikh Abbas sector, three Companies in the front line and one in reserve. The front line taken over was approximately 2,000 yards in length. The remainder of September was uneventful, but the final entry in the Battalion Diary is of interest :-

"The health of the Battalion was not quite so good as previous month. Septic sores were very prevalent and 16 cases of dysentery occurred. The enemy's lines opposite Apex Right are nowhere near rather than 2,000 yards to our front-line trenches and the most important work done is by the night patrols. A considerable amount of work has been done on the trenches, 18 new dugouts have been constructed and additional trenches are being dug in our right subsector."

Following the attack on Gaza, the 1st/5th Battalion were next engaged in the Battle of Nebi Samwil, part of the Jerusalem Operations, from 17 to 24 November 1917. General Allenby had decided to attack the Turkish Seventh Army and occupied Jerusalem. This necessitated an advance through the difficult country of Judaea and Allenby's plan of attack was to move through the Judaean hills and break out onto the main Jerusalem-Nablus road, cutting off the Turks in Jerusalem. On 14 November the three brigades of the 75th Division were deployed, with the 1st/5th Somersets occupying the ridges west of El Kesman. They moved on 16 November to take up a line on a range of low, stony hills to the east of Junction Station and remained in this position throughout the 17th, when the operations began. The infantry advance began on 19 November with the 1st/5th Somersets concentrating on the Jerusalem Road, north of Junction station and then proceeding forward. The attack on Enab was carried out by the 1st/5th Somersets in front. According to the Regimental History "There was heavy driving rain as the troops moved forward and mist covered the battlefield, but with great dash the attacking waves advanced and completely drove the Turks from their positions in front of Enab.

For two hours during the early morning of 21 November the village of Enab was shelled heavily by the Turks and, owing to the congested state of the village -packed with troops and animals - casualties were heavy. On 23 November 1917 the 1st/5th Somersets of the 233rd Brigade had again become involved in stiff fighting with the enemy who was posted in strong positions at Nebi Samwil.

The Battalion, which had gone into action on the 22nd November about 450 strong, had suffered 221 casualties in the two day's fighting - 3 officers killed and 6 wounded, 51 other ranks killed or missing and 161 wounded. The 75th Division moved on 26th back to Junction Station, and it was time for, as one diary states: "many men having no soles to their boots: new boots had to be obtained before they could march." Victor, however, had been severely wounded on 24 November and was initially treated in a Dressing Station located in the monastery at Kuryet el Enab (photographed below) but was later transferred to a military hospital at Kantara, where he died of his wounds on 4 December 1917. He was just 20 years old.

On 14 December 1917 the Western Gazette reported "The sad news was received on Tuesday morning from the War Office, that Private Herbert Victor Smith, eldest son of Mr and Mrs Smith of 17 Sparrow Road, had been wounded in Palestine on November 24th, and died on the 4th of December. Private Smith, who was in a Territorial Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry, was 17 years of age when he joined at the outbreak of war, and volunteered from the Reading-room Department of the Western Gazette. Private Smith had been three years in the Army, and of that period, six months had been spent in Palestine, where he met his death. For several years he was a boy chorister at the Parish Church, and was a lad of great promise. Much sympathy is felt for the bereaved parents and family."

Herbert Victor Smith was interred in Kantara War Memorial Cemetery (Grave E.193) and his name is inscribed on the War Memorial in the Borough but since he was known by his second name it is inscribed Smith, V rather than the more correct Smith, HV.

 

gallery

 

Nabi Samwil, photographed in 1917.

 

View from the top of Nebi Samwil.

 

Wounded of the 5th Battalion Somerset Light Infantry and 4th Battalion Wiltshire Regiment in a Dressing Station located in the monastery at Kuryet el Enab which the 75th Division captured on 20 November 1917. Victor would have initially been treated here.

 

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission certificate in memory of Victor Smith.

 

Kantara War Memorial Cemetery, Egypt

In the early part of the First World War, Kantara was an important point in the defence of Suez against Turkish attacks and marked the starting point of the new railway east towards Sinai and Palestine, begun in January 1916. Kantara developed into a major base and hospital centre and the cemetery was begun in February 1916 for burials from the various hospitals, continuing in use until late 1920. After the Armistice, the cemetery was more than doubled in size when graves were brought in from other cemeteries and desert battlefields, notably those at Rumani, Qatia, El Arish and Rafa. Kantara War Memorial Cemetery now contains 1,562 Commonwealth burials of the First World War.