William Frank Smith (Lives profile) was born in 1889 in Reigate. He was the second child of Frank Smith and Clementina (nee Trumble). They had married at St George in the East on 20 November 1886, probably Clementina’s home parish as censuses describe her as being born in Wapping. Frank was Reigate born and bred (some censuses record his birthplace as Leigh, a small village south west of Reigate), so it’s not clear how they met, though perhaps Clementina had been working in Reigate. In 1881 she was a house maid in Kensington. The marriage record shows that Frank could only make his mark, not sign, in the register. The later correspondence with the army after William’s death also seems to have been carried out only by Clementina. Frank was the son of John Smith, they were both farm labourers, Frank’s address is given only as Reigate. Clementina was the daughter of John Thomas Trumble, Inspector of Nuisances (the final word is unclear), and living at 227 Cable Street.
Their first child, Dorothy Clementina, was born in in 1887, her birth was registered in the third quarter in the Reigate registration district, and she was baptised at St Mark’s, Reigate on 3 July 1887. The family were then living on Nutley Lane, Reigate. William followed in 1889, the brith was registered in the third quarter, again in Reigate registration district. He was baptised at St Mark’s on 1 September 1889, the family were still living on Nutley Lane. Frank’s occupation is now given as carter. The family were still in Nutley Lane, at No 44, at the 1891 census on 5 April. The family also had a lodger, William Comben (36, no occupation stated).
Arthur Christian Smith was born later in 1891, registered in the 4th quarter in the Reigate registration district. He was baptised at St Mark’s on 13 December, the family were still living at 44 Nutley Lane. Frank is now recorded as a labourer. Sadly Arthur died aged just 2, and was buried in St Mary’s Churchyard on 21 February 1894. The family’s address was still Nutley Lane. Later that year Charles Henry was born on 28 August 1894, registered in the 4th quarter 1894 in the Reigate registration district. He was baptised in the parish of “Nutley Lane, St Mark’s” on 18 November 1894. This indicates that Charles at least was baptised in what’s now called St Philip’s, Reigate, then a proprietary chapel within the parish of St Mark’s (it is still not a full parish in its own right). It’s possible that the other children were also actually baptised there as St Philip’s had opened in 1863. William’s obituary also tells us that sang in the choir there as boy. The family’s address was then given as 30 York Road (now Yorke Road).
By the 1901 census (31 March) the family were at 42 Yorke Road. Frank is now recorded as a bricklayer’s labourer. Dorothy (13) has been apprenticed to a tailor; William and Charles are presumably still at school. There are two visitors with the family: Ada Walker (17), a housemaid born in Headington, Oxfordshire, and Doris M Hind (6), born in Norwood.
Aged 13, so in late 1902 or early 1903, William went to work as gardener for Philip Woolley at Broke House in Reigate Hill. Over the next few years William also joined the local men’s British Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment. William’s obituary tells us he passed the certificate of proficiency seven times. He also joined the local miniature rifle club, apparently becoming a crack shot, and of course he also became a bellringer at the old parish church of St Mary’s.
It perhaps came as a bit of a surprise to the family when in early 1907 Clementina found she was pregnant again, 13 years after Charles Henry was born. Arnold John Victor was born on 26 September 1907, and baptised at St Mary’s on 10 November. The family were now living back on Nutley Lane, Frank is now recorded as a bricklayer.
The first definite record of William as a ringer is his first peal on 21 March 1908, when he rang the seventh to a peal of Grandsire Caters at St Mary’s. It is probable that he’d been ringing for some time before that. The following day he also rang in touches of Grandsire Triples and Caters for Sunday service. He also rang a quarter peal of Grandsire Triples on 16 November 1911, and another peal of Caters on 27 November 1909. The last of those was rung for the Sussex Association, he being one of three of the band proposed as members beforehand. He also went on the ringing outing to Hughenden and High Wycombe in July 1911. His obituary indicates he rang a total of four peals, but the other two have not yet been traced.
By the 1911 census on 2 April 1911 the family were living at 77 Nutley Lane. Frank (48) was a bricklayer’s labourer, Clementina (47) has no occupation given, so was presumably a housewife looking after Harold (3), Dorothy (23) was a ladies’ tailor, William (21) a gardener, Charles (16) was an errand boy for an ironmonger. They also had Sarah Mocock (11), a niece of the head of the household staying with them. As she was born in Wapping it seems likely she was the daughter of one of Clementina’s sisters.
On 2 July 1912 Dorothy Clementina married local policeman William Robert Prangnell at St Mary’s. Both were 25-years-old. Dorothy’s address was recorded as Holly Cottage, Nutley Lane, William’s as 14 South Albert Road, Reigate. William was the son of William Henry Prangnell (deceased), a maltster and brewer. A month later the newly-weds boarded the SS Corinthic in London, bound for Tasmania. William is recorded as a constable, so presumably he was going to join the force in Tasmania.
Alongside his main Red Cross work William also served as ambulance instructor to the Reigate Borough Fire Brigade (his father had been a fireman for some years). Over Whitsun 1914 (Whit Sunday – Pentecost was 31 May 1914) he travelled with a detachment from the brigade to Ivry-sur-Seine in France, and with his ambulance section took first place among the various fire brigades represented there following a display by the brigade under the command of Captain Rouse and Superintendent F Legg.
Just under a month later, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, and Europe spiralled into war. To start with William continued to work as a gardener, but later in 1914 The Ward Hospital opened as an auxiliary hospital on Reigate Hill and he took up a post as ward orderly. The hospital was named after Lt-Col John Ward, an MP and trade union leader (who had been a private soldier in his younger days), and run by his wife. Some sources suggest it had been a convalescent home for children before the war. Lt-Col Ward raised the 18th and 19th Battalions of the Middlesex Regiment (1st and 2nd Public Works Battalions) during the First World War.
Charles Henry, who was a motor driver, enlisted in the Army Service Corps in London on 10 February 1915, and arrived in France on 31 May 1915. The same day Charles enlisted William was presented with a clock by the members of the Voluntary Aid Detachment to mark his service with them. William carried on at the hospital, but the manpower situation was becoming acute and by the latter part of 1915 it was becoming increasingly clear that conscription would be introduced. William attested under the terms of the Derby Scheme in Reigate on 11 December 1915, and went onto Army Reserve B the following day, carrying on at the hospital for the time being. Meanwhile Charles was appointed acting lance corporal (unpaid) on 28 December 1915.
William was called up in February 1916 and reported to Regent’s Park Barracks on 9 February. After medicals and so on he was posted to the Royal Horse Guards on 11 February, becoming 2602 Trooper William Frank Smith. The ringers marked his departure (in absentia) by dedicating the service ringing on 17 February to himHe would then have trained at Windsor (where the depot of the Household Cavalry still is) and Knightsbridge Barracks. It was probably at some time during this phase of his training that the photo of him in uniform was taken.
Corpl W F Smith is pictured in the uniform of the Royal Horse Guards, complete with cuirass (breastplate), so this picture was probably taken on completion of his initial training, before he was transferred to the newly raised Household Battalion, an infantry unit formed from the reserves of the Household Cavalry not required for mounted duty in France
It was on 1 September 1916 that he was transferred to the newly raised Household Battalion, receiving the new regimental number 107. It was infantry that was needed on the Western Front, not heavy cavalry. The Household Cavalry had more than enough reserves, so some of the men were transferred to the infantry role, although by raising a new battalion, they maintained the traditions of the Household Cavalry (and the higher rate of pay that the cavalry received). This higher rate of pay seems to have been a bit of a bone of contention with the Foot Guards NCOs brought in to give them instruction in the finer points of infantry tactics, who gave the new battalion a bit of a rough time as they trained for their new role in Richmond Park.
The battalion was inspected by the King (who had had to approve all the details of the raising of the battalion) in Hyde Park on 2 November. This was preparation for their imminent departure for France. Members of the battalion attended a service at Brompton Parish Church on Sunday 5 November, then a route march in London on the Monday, photos in the barrack square on Tuesday, then to Southampton from Waterloo on 8 November, and thence overnight to Le Havre arriving early on 9 November. This first part of the battalion travelled on SS Mona’s Queen, while the remainder followed on SS Australind the following day. Once in France the battalion joined 10th Infantry Brigade in 4th Division. Initially they were some distance behind the lines in Abbeville, but in December they moved to the now quiet area of the Somme. Initially they were at the very southern end of the British Front, but in March moved a little further north. On 22 February 1917 Smith was promoted to Corporal. Given his leadership experience in the Red Cross, this is not surprising.
Although they had been in-and-out of the trenches throughout this time it was only in April 1917 when the battalion was committed to the Battle of Arras that received their real baptism of fire in large-scale actions. On 11 April 10th Brigade were tasked with taking Greenland Hill and Plouvain. Unfortunately they were spotted by German reconnaissance planes while forming up and heavily shelled. Nevertheless, the attack continued, but with little success, and heavy casualties. By the time they were pulled out of the line on 13 April the total casualties were 170. They had only a short respite before returning to the trenches on 16 April until relieved late on 20 April. For this period they were merely holding the line, rather than engaging in an attack, but still suffered further casualties. Then a slightly longer period out the line, but training for the next operation, before heading back to the trenches again on 30 April. The next attack came early on 3 May, with the German line between Roeux and the River Scarpe as their objective. Again there was little progress. A smaller scale operation was ordered for 6 May, which in the end was little more than a reconnaissance patrol, followed up by a grenade attack.
It was during this operation that Smith was killed in the early hours of 6 May 1917.
According to a letter written by a lieutenant of his company to Smith’s fiancée (who sadly is not named in the newspaper obituary which quotes the letter) he had been taking a message to the CO when he was shot by a sniper. The letter states:
He was a magnificent man, never flinching or wavering from any task, however difficult, and always performing it with willingness and patience.[…]He died as he would have wished, right up in the front line, and I can but offer my own sympathy and tell you how the regiment from the Colonel downwards feel his loss as a loss to the regiment and to himself. He was buried behind the lines and a cross put up over the grave, which is being tended with all possible care.
That grave is now II. C. 4. in Crump Trench British Cemetery, Fampoux. The battlefield cross has been replaced with a Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone, bearing the family inscription “Peace, Perfect Peace”.
Following Smith’s death the Town Council sent their sympathies to the family following a council meeting on 25 June 1917, this was due to his work with the Fire Brigade. His was also one of the first set of 56 names inscribed on the war memorial erected at St Mark’s Reigate in November 1917. Sadly there would be several more to add before the war was actually over. This was the first permanent memorial in Reigate, and one of the earliest in the country.
The war had not finished with the Smith family. William Prangnell enlisted in the Australian Field Artillery on 7 September 1916. He was killed in action in Belgium on 12 September 1917. By the time he joined up he and Dorothy and moved from Tasmania to Melbourne. He had left the police and was working for Victoria Railways. They do not seem to have had any children. After the war Dorothy took the offer of a free passage back to the UK from the Australian government and returned to Reigate. Charles Henry Smith developed valvular heart disease and a goitre during his service in the ASC, and was discharged as no longer fit for war service on 21 March 1918.