GEORGE ALFRED SMITH
Date of Death:15/02/1916
Panel Ref:Panel 33
George Smith was born on June 27th 1888 in Ashton-under-Lyne, his parents being Alfred & Sarah Jane. The next 23 years of his life are unfortunately something of a mystery although there's a fair chance he lived in Sheffield at some point. He appears in the 1911 census living at Lily Street in Royton with his widowed mother,younger sister Alice Emily & her husband Thomas Nolan.At that time he was a piecer in one of the local cotton mills but by the outbreak of war had become a baker. In 1912 George married Elizabeth Gillespie at St Mark's Church in Heyside. They had three children together all born in Royton, Arthur Vint in 1912, Robert Blakeney in 1913 & Sarah Jane in 1914. Either shortly after Sarah Jane's birth or once he had actually gone to war the family moved to Newark Street in Higginshaw.
It seems George joined up fairly early in the war and was with the 10th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers the day they landed in France from Folkestone on July 15th 1915. They went almost at once into the front line at Vierstraat, 3 miles from Ypres.
George was in A Company which suffered large casualties from a single shell on September 5th of that year. A group of men from another regiment marching along the skyline drew fire from a German artillery gun. A shell hit a barn where two platoons of the company were quartered. 14 men were killed outright, 6 mortally wounded with a further 27 wounded.
In February 1916, the 10th Lancashire Fusiliers found themselves manning positions near by 'The Bluff', near Ypres. This was a prominence about 30 feet above the surrounding ground which had been created from the spoil when a nearby canal had been cut. The position gave whoever controlled it an excellent observation post of the enemy positions. Most of the battalion - including George Smith's company - were south of the canal with a platoon of C Company on the other side on the edge of The Bluff itself, cut off from the remainder of the battalion except for a plank footbridge across the waterway some way back from the front line.
At 15:30 on February 14th, a heavy German artillery bombardment began on the positions around the canal. There were false reports that half of George's A Company had wiped out but reinforcements from C Company found this report to be erroneous. Between 17:30 & 18:00 the Germans blew several mines, one of which was under The Bluff. This buried most of the platoon from C Company present there and the Germans were able to walk into their position taking most of the men prisoners. It slowly became apparent to the British that the whole of the Bluff was now in German hands.
At 04:15 the following morning a counter attack was launched by the 10th Lancashire Fusiliers along with bombers from the 6th Dorsetshire Regiment and a company of men from the York & Lancasters.
The three groups of British soldiers reached the top of The Bluff and engaged the Germans there with grenades. Some men succeeded in getting into the German trench and hand to hand fighting ensued for nearly 45 minutes. The numbers of Germans were too great however and the attackers had to fall back - under attack from grenades and machine gun fire. It was apparent that the defenders were too well dug in for the size of the British force and also the attackers were hampered by a heavy snow fall that had begun. It was decided that any further counter attacks would be futile and the men withdrew.
In the fighting that morning George was killed along with 15 others from the battalion. A little over two weeks later the British retook the positions lost, a further 3 Royton men were amongst those killed.
A short while afterwards, Elizabeth Smith received a letter from a Private E.Leach from A Company that informed her that her husband had been killed. He assured her that he had suffered no pain. The Oldham Chronicle reported that George had been very well known in Royton.
The others from the 10th Lancashire Fusiliers to be killed that day were:
BINGHAM JOHN Private 13102 from Manchester
CLARKE HERBERT 30 Private 13183 from Bury
ELLISON ARTHUR Private 5217 from Oldham
FLETCHER ARTHUR Corporal 19372 born Liverpool,enlisted Manchester
GARSTANG JAMES 39 Private 4426 born Preston. Boer War veteran
GOULD JOHN 28 Lance Corporal 9512 from Whitworth
HIGGIN MILES 23 Private 5166 from Colne
HUDSON WILLIAM Corporal 13579 from Padiham
MURPHY JOHN Private 13578 from Salford
McLOUGHLIN LAWRENCE Private 4475 from Wigan
SERGEANT JOHN 37 Private 6170 born Preston, lived Bury
STREET JOSEPH 22 Private 4027 from Oldham
VALENTE FREDERICK 31 Private 5380 from Manchester
WINSER BASIL Captain from Kington-on-Thames
WOOD LEONARD 18 Private 5071 from Manchester