First World War Project

Percy Frederick SMITH (of Lynsted)

b. 1892
d. 10th October 1916. Aged 24.

Lance Corporal, Service Number G/22397
32nd (Service) Battalion
Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment)

A.I.F. Burial Ground, Flers, Somme
Grave Ref: XXI.C.1

Killed in Action

A.I.F. Burial Ground, Flers, Somme

Unfortunately, the Lynsted War Memorial incorrectly lists Percy Frederick as "Frederick Percy". The son of Martha Emma Smith, Percy was born in the summer of 1892 in Erriotwood. He was christened in Lynsted Church on 14 August the same year. In 1896, when Percy was 4 years old, Martha married Robert Morse Packham, the then licensee of The Foxhunters Public House in Erriotwood.

By the time of the 1911 Census Percy was living with his maternal Uncle Ernest, Aunt Mary and six cousins at Eynsford railway station. Ernest was the stationmaster and, along with one of his cousins, Percy was employed as a Railway Clerk. Shortly after the 1911 Census was undertaken, Percy's mother died aged 43.

Percy's service records are not available but it is known he was living in Herne Hill (South London) at the time of his enlistment in Whitehall. We also know that he served for less than a year. The regimental history of the 32nd (East Ham) Battalion, The Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment), tells us that it was formed in London on the 18th October 1915 by the Mayor and Borough of East Ham. They joined the 124th Brigade, 41st Division at Aldershot in November 1915, and then proceeded to France on the 5th May 1916 where they were based between Hazebrouck and Bailleul. In 1916, they saw action for the first time on the first day of The Battle of Flers-Courcelette. The following extract from "History of the Royal Fusiliers", by H.C. O'Neil details their baptism of fire on 15th September 1916, the first day of the battle:-

For the 26th and 32nd Battalions it was their first experience of battle. They had only been in France four months, but both of them created an excellent precedent in their first action. Each of them was in support, the 32nd on the right and the 26th on the left, following the 10th Queen's R.W.S. Regiment and the 21st K.R.R.C. Three tanks were allotted to the brigade.

At 6.20 a.m. the leading waves moved off. The 32nd, who had been assembled some fifty yards inside Delville Wood, advanced with the utmost precision with the 14th Division on their right. The barrage was followed very closely, and the battalion met with little resistance in Tea Support Trench and Switch Trench, halfway to Flers. They had been advancing in four waves originally, but at this point the fourth wave was left behind to consolidate, and the other three waves became mixed up with the survivors of the 10th Queen's and, on the flanks, with men of the 14th Division and of the 26th Battalion, who had lost direction. When Switch Trench had been won the battalion was reduced to two parties, under Captain H. A, Robinson and Lieutenant W. V. Aston respectively. Robinson pushed on with his party, about 80 strong, beyond Flers, capturing three field guns, five Bavarian officers and about 40 other ranks. The field guns were later destroyed by the Germans' concentrated artillery fire. Aston's party, after being held up some time by machine gun fire, advanced with a tank beyond Flers. The battalion in this very successful advance lost 10 officers (wounded) and 283 other ranks killed, wounded and missing.

The 26th Battalion advanced with the 32nd against little resistance, but in the early part of the action the left battalion passed through our own barrage. Captain Etchells was at this moment senior officer on the left of the brigade front, and he promptly and coolly reorganised the line. With this readjustment the troops were able to advance again. Later in the morning there was a check on the brigade front, but the same officer went forward to a tank lying south of Flers and arranged that the 26th would follow if the tank would lead. This arrangement was carried out. The tank moved along the south side of Flers, assisting the troops who were in the village by firing on the retreating enemy and also assisting the 26th to get well ahead. In the late afternoon the battalion were north and east of the village. In the battle the 26th lost 9 officers (5 of them killed) and 255 other ranks killed, wounded and missing. The losses of both battalions, though very heavy considering the numbers involved, were less than might have been expected, for the German artillery, though late in starting, was most skilfully handled. The smallest parties moving in the battle zone at once became a target. At times even a single stretcher party was marked down. It was for the greatest courage and devotion to duty under these conditions that the medical officer of the 26th, Lieutenant J. Mclntyre, R.A.M.C., was awarded the M.C. He was four times buried by shell explosions, but each time recommenced his work of attending to the wounded.

One of the singular points about this action is that the tanks impressed our own men more than the enemy, though at one point the Fusiliers were amused to see a panic among the enemy, who caught a drift of a tank's exhaust fumes. They imagined it a new form of gas, and attempted to adjust their gas helmets before retiring.

The 32nd Battalion were relieved on the morning of the 16th, but one company of the 26th remained at the front till night, when they followed the rest of the battalion and the 32nd to support positions.

The Battalion was kept very busy between battles taking part in daily working parties for wire-cutting and trench digging.

The circumstances and exact timing of Percy's death are unclear. Records show that he was, along with several of his comrades, originally recorded as having been killed in action during the Battle of Transloy Ridges at some time between 4 and 10 October 1916. Post war, his death was registered as being on 10 October. The Battalion's War Diary for this period show that it was not the easiest of situations to report:

Place Date Summary of Events and Information Casualties
Near Edge Hill Station Camp 1916
1 Oct
1.00 am: Winter time came into use. Watches moved back 1 hour.
2.30 pm: Conference of officers.
4 to 7 pm: Washing of clothes at Vivier Mill. Manning orders received.
ditto 2 Oct 7.30 am: Camp struck.
8.45 am: Battalion parade. C.O's inspection.
1.30 pm: Marched to camp at Pommiers Redoubt, arriving at 7.15pm.
9.30 pm: Bivouacs erected.
1 Other Ranks
Pommiers Redoubt 3 Oct 2 pm: Battalion marched to support trenches at Sunken Road arriving 9pm. Major M C Clark commanding and Capt M C B Smith adjutant. 2 OR
Support Trenches 4 Oct Under orders to move forward. Capt M C B Clark wounded at 12 noon by premature burst of our own high explosive shrapnel. Capt Cooper arrives about 9.30pm. Movement order suspended for 24 hours. 2 officers
38 OR
  5 Oct 6.30 pm: Enemy artillery very active both day & night. Large number of 5.9s searching for our batteries near Fish Alley etc. Strength going into battle was 14 officers, 393 other ranks.
Battalion relieved 11th Royal West Surreys. Battalion HQ at Factory Corner. Cellars fitted up by previous German owners with luxurious furniture. Including 4 poster & velvet covered chairs. Guides led Company to wrong trenches, but these were put right by Adjutant & 2nd Lt Edwards. Factory Corner was shelled incessantly day & night. Ground sound.
Gird Support & advanced trenches 6 Oct 11.30 pm: Enemy artillery very active during entire day. Battalion HQ moved to front line & scooped out temporary shelter. Whole Battalion worked all night in digging new trench which should have been done previous night but Royal Engineers lost way. Practically completed at daybreak. 3 OR
  7 Oct New trench was not occupied as it was found 26th Royal Fusiliers had not dug opposite their front to link up with ours. Our Heavy Artillery fired short for 5 hours & did great damage to our trenches. All four company commanders were evacuated with severe shell shock & but for wet soil, shells would have caused very heavy casualties. The Battalion attacked at 1.45pm but was unsuccessful. See special report attached. [An extract from this report can be seen below.] 1 officer
14 OR
  8 Oct Battalion HQ was established in old German dugout in Gird Trench. Commanding officer left to attend conference at Brigade HQ at 3pm. Enemy appeared massing for counter attack at 5pm. Intense hostile aeroplane activity. Our shrapnel probably prevented this. 2 OR
  9 Oct Draft of 3 officers & 19 other ranks arrived at Transport line. Day was spent consolidating front line. Enemy came out under Red Cross flag to collect wounded. We extemporised Red Cross flag with aid of facings from Hun officers tunic. Practically all dead & wounded recorded. 1 OR
  10 Oct 9.30 pm: 10 hostile planes very active flying over our front & support line. New communication trenches were dug & front line improved. Men very exhausted.
Battalion relieved at 9.30pm by 2nd Royal Scots. Casualties during tour: officers 11, other ranks 229. [From a starting point of 14 officers and 393 men on 5 October, by 10 October the Battalion numbered 3 officers killed, 8 officers wounded or missing, 78 other ranks killed, 151 other ranks wounded or missing.]
17 OR
Mametz Wood 11 Oct Battalion arrived at Mametz Wood at 5.30am. Proceeding by train to Becordal Camp at 10.00am. Day spent cleaning equipment and reorganising. 1 OR

From a starting point of 14 officers and 393 men on 5 October, by 10 October the Battalion suffered 3 officers killed, 8 officers wounded or missing, 78 other ranks killed, 151 other ranks wounded or missing.

The following extract from the official report by the 124th Infantry Brigade (of which Percy's Battalion was a part) of the action on 7 October 1916 shows how chaotic the situation became due to poor communication:

Preliminary bombardment
Constant reports were received from the front line that heavy shells from our own batteries were falling between Gird Support & the front line. Artillery Liaison Officers were informed, but complaints continued.
7th. Oct Attack
At the commencement of the action 32nd. Bn.R.Fusiliers were in touch with 8th.Bn.R.Fusiliers (36th.Inf.Bde.) on the right, and the 26th.Bn.R.Fuiliers were in touch with the 122nd.Inf.Bde. On the left.

At 1.45pm. The leading infantry advanced. They were throughout subjected to heavy M.G. fire both from the flanks and from the front, the fire from the flanks being at apparently close range and fire from the front more distant.

Enemy also opened a barrage but the greater number of casualties were due to M.G. fire.

A large number of conflicting reports were received during the course of action, but it appears to be clearly established that none of the Infantry reached the first objective but were held up about 200 yds. in front of it.

The 32nd.Bn.R.Fusiliers lost touch with the 8th.Bn.R.Fusiliers who appear to have left a gap across the road early in the action. 32nd.Bn.R.Fusiliers were ordered to get in touch with the 8th.Bn.R.Fulisliers as soon as possible but did not succeed in doing so until the morning of the 8th.

Touch appeared to have been maintained throughout with the 122nd.Inf.Bde.

Between 4pm. & 5pm. Messages were received from 26th.Bn.R.Fusiliers that reinforcements were urgently needed.

4pm. 21st.Bn.K.R.R.C. ordered to reinforce and 10th.Bn."Queens" were ordered to move their whole battalion into the Gird Support and new assembly trenches.

26th.Bn.R.Fusiliers warned of both these moves.
Message received 5.12pm. From 21st.Bn.K.R.R.C. reported that 15th.Hants on left of the 26th.Bn.R.Fusiliers had had very heavy casualties. In order to secure the left flank 1 Coy. of the 10th."Queens" were ordered to reinforce the 26th.Bn.R.Fusiliers.

5.50pm. Orders were issued to all units to dig in on their present positions and hold them at all costs.

The 4 Vickers Guns in reserve were moved up to the new front line.

AIF Burial Ground, Flers, Somme - entranceIt is therefore not surprising that on his burial records Percy is firstly registered as an "unknown British Soldier". Percy was originally interred in the Factory Corner Cemetery (map) which was situated close to where he fell. He was later exhumed and reinterred in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) Burial Ground in Flers, Grave Ref: XII.C.1. It may have been at this time his body's identity was confirmed.

Percy's step-father requested that his headstone be engraved with the words "God loved him best and took him back".

Though Percy served for less than a year, he had attained the rank of Lance Corporal. He was posthumously awarded the British War and Victory medals. [See Appendix 1]

In October 1917 Percy's stepfather received his owed money amounting to £5 1s 11d (£5.09½p). A year later he received a further £2 1s 6d (£2.07½p). He received his War Gratuity of £3 in October 1919. [See Appendix 2] Taken together these amount to roughly £670 in today's money.

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