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William Gerald Smith

Date of birth: 1918
Date of death: 10.3.1941
Area: Brotherton
Regiment: York and Lancaster
Family information: Son of Philip Gerald and Edith Smith
Rank: Private
Service number: 2449738

War Service

Gerald was enlisted as a Private in the 1st Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment service number 2449738.
The following extracts are taken from or based on chapter 3 of the book ‘The Yorkshire Regiments in World War II – The Fighting Tykes’ by Charles Whiting & Eric Taylor and draw on the experiences of Sgt. Arthur Carr of the 1st Bat Y/L and would almost certainly have mirrored those of Gerald.
“Four weeks to the day after the announcement by Neville Chamberlain on the 3rd September 1939 that Britain was at war with Germany the Y/L sailed from Southampton for Cherbourg as part of the BEF. The BEF of 1939 was definitely not ready for conflict. The truth was that, when in September 1939, they were sent to France it was more as a gesture of Allied solidarity than as an efficient fighting force.
However the inadequacies of the weaponry supplied to the 1st Battalion Y/L did not matter at all during the autumn of 1939 simply because there was no fighting to be done. It was the time of the ‘Phoney War’ when the French had taken up defensive positions behind the ‘impregnable’ Maginot Line.
“For the Y/L the winter of 1939/40 was a trying time indeed. During the day they tried to dig anti-tank ditches in frozen earth and build concrete block houses. At times temperatures reached 36 degrees of frost.
“Then in early 1940 when the earth was thawing there came instructions posting the Y/L to an even colder place where the ground was still in the grip of snow and ice, Norway. They were packed in a train for Boulogne where a special ferry awaited. They were then transported by train to Dunfermline via York and embarked on HMS Sheffield bound for Norway.” Both the Allied and the German high commands came to look at Norway as an interesting area for operations. To the Allied because control of Norway would be a way to gain control of the iron ore fields in northern Sweden. To the Germans as a base for the German fleet. During the winter 39-40 advanced planning aimed at getting control of Norway was done in both German and Allied high commands.
The expected Allied help was late in coming though. The Allies had plans for their own invasion of Norway but when the Germans struck they were taken completely by surprise. This led to a confusion in the Allied Over Command, which delayed the intervention. The first Allied troops to land on Norwegian soil was a naval landing party, landing at Namsos on the evening the 14th April. On the following day British troops began to land at Namsos as well as Harstad (near Narvik). South of Trondheim no substantial troops arrived until the 17th April, when a detachment of Royal Marines landed in Ålesund and Åndalsnes. The 148th Infantry Brigade began landing in Andalsnes and Molde on the night of 18/19th April.
“Unfortunately for the young lads of the 1st Battalion Y/L the reality of war would soon be evident. Over 200 of the 800 would be lost in a campaign that was doomed to failure right from the beginning.
“The Battalion landed at Molde and advanced towards Lillehammer. They were badly harried by German aircraft and lacked air support themselves. The Y/L fought one bitter action after another with little to show for it until the end of May, with France on the verge of collapse, a decision was made to evacuate all British troops from Norway.
“Thus it was a weary and much battered battalion that sailed to Scotland to re-form and re-train.”
The 1st Battalion Y/L was under the command of Lt/Col A L Kent-Limon served in the 15th Infantry Brigade, part of the 5th Infantry Division. The force consisted of the 1st Green Howards the 1st Y/L and the 1st King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and the 148th Infantry Brigade which landed on 20 April.
The 1st Battalion was carried to and from Norway by HMS Sheffield. This led to a bond of friendship between the regiment and the ship, and meant that when the “Sheffield” was adopted by its namesake city, the Yorks and Lancs was awarded the freedom of Sheffield soon after.
Gerald died in England. His death was recorded in Ormskirk, Lancashire as being on the 10th March 1941. He was subsequently buried in Brotherton Cemetery on 15th March.
There were a number of Military hospitals but the main one in the area was the Ormskirk Military Hospital at Edgehill. This was an educational establishment requisitioned for the duration of the war.
The 1st Battalion was quartered in Blackburn prior to his death and in March 1941, the Battalion was part of 5 Division and in the process of moving to Northern Ireland where it stayed for over 12 months training in anti-invasion tactics in case the Germans invaded Eire.

Family Life

Although Gerald Smith is the name entered on the war memorial, and may have been the one preferred, his full name was William Gerald Smith.
There have been Smith’s in Brotherton for well over 200 years but the first definitive record of Gerald’s ancestors is in the 1841 census. His great great grandfather was William Wilks Smith, born in Heaton Moor in 1806. He was married about 1832 and his wife Sarah (?) was born in Brotherton. They were living in Rose Cottage, already had three children and William was self-employed as a ‘brewer and maltster’.
Frederick Smith was born in 1844. By 1851 William was a ‘general dealer and farmer’ employing two people. In 1861 William and Sarah were living near the Fox Inn - this could have been the cottage at the junction between Saddlers Lane and the North Road and he was still involved in farming and still employing a servant. Frederick was living with them.
In 1865 Frederick married Emma Johnson in Leeds and they had two sons – Lionel Percy born in Brotherton on 4th February 1867 and Frederick William (1870). Little is then known about the family until 1881 by which time Frederick had died and widow Emma was living in Sessions Yard, Pontefract with the two boys.
Lionel Percy was a ‘chemist’s apprentice’ at the time, a profession he would pursue throughout his life. In 1891 he was resident at 10 King’s Road, Headingley with his wife Minnie Kate Hart (born in Hertford) and working as a ‘manufacturing chemist’. They had married in Hertford in 1891 but it is not known why Lionel was in that area or for how long, though it could have been for training purposes.
By 1901 they had moved to Wakefield Road, Garforth where Lionel was a ‘chemist- drug’ working on his ‘own account’. They had 4 children including Phillip Gerald born in 1899.
In 1911 the family had moved again, closer to his birth place. They were living in Wentcliff Mill House, Ferrybridge. Philip Gerald was not with the family and could be found as a patient at the Yorkshire Cooperation for Nurses at Clarendon Road, Leeds. He may have suffered a long term illness for resident at the home address was a nurse.
Whatever the illness Phillip Gerald appears to have made a recovery as in 1917 he married Edith Rhodes.
Edith was born in Brotherton in 1898 and her family had a long connection with the village. Her g-g-g-grandfather was Christopher Rhodes (1746 – 1823) who married Margaret Smith (1752 - 1805) from Monk Fryston in 1775.
Their son was William (1780 – 1822) who married Mary Parker (1780) also from Brotherton in 1799.
Mary gave birth to Thomas, Edith’s g-grandfather, in 1802. He married Mary Wilkinson (1803) in Brotherton in 1823. Thomas was drowned in 1850.
Their son Abraham (1833 - 1907) was married in 1854 to Mary Milner (1834 – 1895). Abraham’s son John William was Edith’s father and was born in 1853.
In 1871 Abraham was living in Brown’s yard off the High Street and he was described as a ‘mariner’ - probably on a river boat. This seems to be confirmed by the description in the 1881 census of ‘water man’ then in 1891 as ‘waterman - barge’.
Meanwhile John William who was still living in the High Street with his parents in 1881 was a ‘’blacksmith’. About 1886 John William married Elizabeth Ann Morris Threadgold (b. 1864 in Ferrybridge). Elizabeth already had a son called Fred and went on to have more children with John Wm. - Alice (1887), Maria (1889), Pollie (1891), Abraham ( 1895), Elizabeth (1897), Edith (1898) and George (1900).
In 1901 John William and family were all living in the High Street, Brotherton but they had previously moved around with Alice and Maria being born in Birkin and Pollie in Castleford before moving back to Brotherton.
The family had further expanded by 1911 to include John William (1904), Doris (1908) and Elsie (1910).
Edith’s sister Pollie went on to marry Sydney Dudley who was killed near Cambrai, France on 24.10.1918.
After marrying Philip Gerald in 1917 Edith gave birth in 1918 to William Gerald Smith.
Lionel Percy Smith died on 13.11.1943. His death was registered in Tadcaster and according to the probate records was living at The Grange, Garforth. Having lived in Garforth some 40 years before his death he seems to have come full circle although his circumstances seemed much improved.
Before the war Gerald must have moved to Foxcliff as this is the address shown in the parish records when he died. It appears that Gerald did not marry and so it was probably his parents’ house at Foxcliff although this does seem incongruous given the circumstances of his grandfather Lionel Percy who’s will did not seem to include William or any of his family.

Brotherton Cemetery Brotherton Cemetery

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