Researched and written by Anne Wright
L/Cpl N Smithers
Died of wounds, 21.5.1916
Noah Smithers was one of 375 casualties suffered by the Military Police in the First World War. He had started his working life as an agricultural labourer, following in the footsteps of his father, and at least three of his brothers. Noah was born in Pyrford on 3 September 1884, the youngest of eleven children. His parents John and Emily (nee Snelling) had married at Pyrford Parish Church on 4 May 1867 and Noah was baptised in Wisley on 28 July 1889. In 1891 the family lived at Old Deers Farm on Wisley Lane when eight children were living at home. By 1901 they had moved to The Green in Ripley and Noah was now at work. Four years later on 26 June 1905 he joined Surrey Constabulary.
Noah was sworn in on 1 July 1905 at Guildford before Col Hadaway and Mr Alan Chandler; his appointment number was 1456 and his collar number was 160. He stood almost five feet eleven inches tall, had a dark complexion, dark brown hair and brown eyes. Noah had just left the employment of Mr Cleverley of Ripley. He was stationed at Frimley Green, Virginia Water, Addlestone and finally Limpsfield. Noah was promoted from 3rd Class to 1st Class Constable but was unable to escape strict police discipline when he was fined ten shillings on 6 September 1911 for spending just over two hours in a public house on his day off four days earlier. Apparently he did not have a ‘reasonable excuse’ for spending his time in this way! Noah enlisted for military service in August 1915 at Guildford.
He arrived in France on 18 September. The role of the Military Police was a varied one. As in civilian life they were responsible for the detection of crime and the arrest of the perpetrators as well as the control and protection of local populations which required great diplomacy in time of war. Traffic control became an essential part of their work to ensure that the military forces could move as freely and quickly as possible. Noah and his comrades also had control of Prisoners of War until they could be handed over to appropriate detention facilities. Battles could result in much confusion with men losing touch with their units, as happened in the retreat from Mons (1914) so the Military Police manned ‘stragglers posts’ to facilitate the reuniting of the lost with their battalions. This was also a way of identifying those who had gone ‘absent without leave.’
Much of this work was done behind the lines but not all. They could find themselves under heavy shellfire which may well have happened to Noah resulting in his death from wounds on 21 May 1916. He was laid to rest in Noeux-les-Mines Communal Cemetery, 6 km south of Bethune. The personal inscription on his gravestone is ‘Gone but not forgotten.’ He is also commemorated on the memorial at Surrey Police HQ, Mount Browne in Guildford.
Noah’s father predeceased him in 1908 and his mother died in 1924. She had spent her last years at Greenside in Ripley.
Bartlett, Robert, The Surrey Constabulary on the Home Front, https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/the-surrey-constabulary-on-the-home-front/
Surrey Policemen in the Military Police Corps, https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/surrey-constabulary-in-the-first-world-war/
British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920, www.ancestry.co.uk
Death Announcement, Surrey Advertiser, Monday, 5 June, 1916
Surrey, England, Church of England Baptisms, 1813-1912, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Church of England Marriages, 1754-1837, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Electoral Registers, 1832-1962, www.ancestry.co.uk
Constables for the Forces, Surrey Mirror, Friday, 30 July, 1915
UK, Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919, www.ancestry.co.uk