Second Lieutenant John Veere Smith

Researched and written by Anne Wright

2/Lt J V Smith
1/9th London Regiment, 4/8th Middlesex Regiment,
attd. 1st Hertfordshire Regiment
Died of wounds, 26.7.1916
Age, 21

John Veere Smith moved to Weybridge probably in about 1902 when his aunt, Annie Clarice Coker, who was his guardian, married Arthur Harry Arnold. He was a saddler and their home in 1903 was at the Reliance Stores in Baker Street; his ward became a pupil of St James’ School in the same street. John was the youngest of three brothers born to Henry and Helena (nee Coker) Smith. He was baptised on 13 January 1895 at Holy Innocents Church in Kingsbury, Middlesex; his birth was registered in Hendon in the first quarter of the year. John’s brothers Henry Edwin and Lionel were born in 1891 and 1893 respectively. When their oldest child was born Helena and Henry lived at Hendon, Middlesex where Henry was employed as a huntsman and groom. Helena died in 1898 and was buried on 24 October at Old St Andrew’s Church in Kingsbury, Brent. Henry died the following year. By 1901 the younger boys were living with their aunt in Bicester Road, Aylesbury which was the birthplace of their mother and her sister.

In 1911 the Arnold family had moved from their Baker Street home to Queens Road and included John’s young cousins Clarice aged seven and Herbert aged five. His eldest brother had joined the household and was employed as a butcher’s assistant. John was away from home at the time of the Census visiting Edith and John Coker in Catford; he was an apprentice in a drapery warehouse. By the time of John’s death Annie Arnold was a widow and had moved to Gladstone Villa in Oakdale Road.

John enlisted in August 1914; he was posted to the 1/9th London Regiment (1903) with whom he served until September 1915. They disembarked at Le Havre on 5 November. Their first experience of the trenches came on 29 November when they went into the line at Neuve Eglise in Belgium, 12 km south of Ypres. They spent the next three months in this sector but were billeted in the large French town of Bailleul from time to time. On 23 March 1915 John and his comrades arrived in Ypres. On 17 April, just five days before the Germans launched the Second Battle of Ypres, British forces took Hill 60, a spoil heap resting on the Passchendaele Ridge, created from the excavation of a railway cutting on the Ypres-Comines railway. Six mines had been exploded before the men advanced. Lt J A C Pennycuick of 59 Field Company, Royal Engineers arrived at the Hill on 18 April and recorded what he saw in his diary, ‘…….the scene was too awful for words. There were hundreds of our dead and dying thickly all over the place and in every conceivable attitude. Among them were many wounded……They moaned and cried out to us all the time for help…..’ The 1/9th London Battalion went into the trenches at Hill 60 on 20 April.

John and his comrades stayed for two days in which short time they sustained heavy casualties: 2 officers were killed, 2 wounded, 1 reported missing, 15 other ranks killed and 107 wounded. The battalion then moved to north of Ypres where they were involved in operations to the east of the Yser Canal and closer to the thrusting German attacks which came from the north and east of Ypres. Once more in the space of two days (23-25 April) they suffered heavily; 2 officers were wounded, 21 other ranks killed, 76 wounded, 5 reported missing and 6 died of wounds. The British held on to Hill 60 until they were driven out by gas on 5 May and they were forced to retire closer to Ypres thus ceding part of the Salient to the Germans, the battle coming to an end on 25 May. British casualties amounted to 59, 275, German casualties to 34,933, Belgian casualties to 10,000 and French casualties were estimated to be 10,000; during this battle Lt–Col John McCrae composed his now famous poem ‘In Flanders Fields.’

John’s battalion remained in the Ypres Salient for the next three months, mostly in and out of the trenches at Voormezeele, south of Ypres. On 5 August they arrived at Bray-sur-Somme. John left them at the end of September to join the 4/8th Middlesex Regiment, a reserve battalion based at home. He stayed with them until June 1916 when he was attached to the 1st Hertfordshire Battalion as a Second Lieutenant. They were based in the vicinity of Bethune (29 km north of Arras) away from the Somme battlefield. On 14 July they took over trenches at Festubert (east of Bethune) and five days later three officers and sixty other ranks raided an enemy trench at 10.40 pm. The trench had already been evacuated and the raiders were bombed from the German support line. Among the eighteen casualties were three wounded officers; John was highly likely to have been one of them. He died of his wounds a week later at the Casualty Clearing Station in Bethune.

John was laid to rest in Bethune Town Cemetery (IV.F.43). His is not the only headstone which commemorates him, that of his parents in the graveyard near Old St Andrew’s Church in Kingsbury, Brent bears the following inscription:

In Beloved / and Proud Memory / of their 3rd son / John Veere Smith / 2nd Lieut. of the 8th Middlesex Regt. / who died of wounds in France / July 26th 1916 / interred in Bethuen (sic) / “Thy Will Be Done.” © IWM (WMR – 60745)

His aunt remained in Weybridge before moving to Hersham in 1932. She died in 1969 aged 93 and returned to Weybridge to be buried in the local cemetery.

Sources:

Barton, Peter The Battlefields of the First World War, Imperial War Museum
British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920, www.ancestry.co.uk
The British Army in the Great War 1914-1918, The Long, Long Trail – London Regiment, www.longlongtrail.co.uk
England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915, www.ancestry.co.uk
England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1916-2007, 1916-2007, www.ancestry.co.uk
Web: Global Gravestone Photograph Index, 1265-2014, www.ancestry.co.uk
London, England, Births & Baptisms, 1813-1917, www.ancestry.co.uk
https://www.iwm.org.uk/memorials/item/memorial/60745

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