Bert Smith, the son of a Malvern publican, was an old boy of Malvern Wells National School and Hanley Castle Grammar School. He was well known in Malvern and Pershore having been a clerk for sometime in the Recruiting Office there. Before joining up he was a clerk for the Great Western Railway Company, and before that a clerk in the Malvern UDC Gas Department on which body his father represented Wells Ward for some time.
Gallantry in the Field
Bert landed in France sometime during 1916 and by the following summer had been appointed a Lance Corporal in ‘A’ Company. He was awarded the Military Medal for gallantry during the 1/8th Worcesters’ during the attack on the Langemarck Line, north east of St Julien during the Battle of Passchendaele on 27th August 1917. His citation, which was published subsequently in the Upton on Severn Times read:
“His section commander having been killed he took charge of his section (on the left of his Company). When the centre of the Company was held up he continued to advance with his men until on reaching a point about 200 yards in front he was the only survivor of his section. He continued to fire upon the enemy until his platoon sergeant and two men joined him. As soon as it was dusk he went under fire to get in touch with the Company on his left. He returned afterwards and held the post for 30 hours until told to withdraw.”
Battle of Landrecies and its aftermath
Escaping this battle miraculously unscathed, Bert served with the 1/8th Battalion in Italy over 1917/18 and returned to France for the last Hundred Days Offensive of the War, by now a Sergeant.
During the last action of the war, the 1/8th Worcestershire Regiment took part in an attack to liberate the town of Landrecies on the Sambre-Oise Canal. Sgt Smith’s company, under Captain Leslie Raymond Bomford were in the centre of the attack.
Pushing forward through the mist, Captain Bomford found Gloucestershire Regiment platoons in front held up along a light railway by machine-gun fire from a ruined Chateau on the outskirts of Faubourg Soyeres. Sending one platoon of ‘A’ Company to reinforce the Gloucestershire, Captain Bomford went back quickly to find the supporting tanks. One tank was placed at his disposal, and he guided it personally to the Chateau. The rest of ‘A’ Company followed close behind the tank as it rumbled forward up to the ruined building, terrorising the defenders; who surrendered in a few minutes – four officers and 35 men, including a Battalion Commander.
Captain Bomford then redisposed his company and resumed the advance; but the delay caused by that fight had resulted in ‘A’ Company then being far behind the line of our barrage; and when the Railway Station was reached the German machine-guns could be heard firing rapidly from the further bank. Captain Bomford left his men under cover and went forward to reconnoitre the main bridge to Landrecies. That bridge was apparently intact, and he was sent back for the company to advance. But before the platoons could arrive the bridge was blown up – the mine being exploded by a brave German officer who galloped his horse down to the river’s edge. The enemy were in strength on the further bank; and for some little time ‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies were held up on the line of the river.
After an heroic river crossing on petrol tins led by ‘C’ Company, bridges were brought up by the Royal Engineers. ‘A’ Company, which had been engaged in a hot fire fight across the canal, then crossed these bridges; and ‘C’ and A’ Companies together advanced through the streets of Landrecies at about 12.30pm. There was little resistance, but many German stragglers gave themselves up. The two companies established a position on the further side of the houses; and ‘B’ Company came through to gain the heights beyond.
Bert Smith was badly wounded during this attack, probably at the canal bank where the fire was heaviest. He was treated in France for a month, before being transferred to UK on 5th December 1918. However this brave man never fully recovered, and despite being discharged from the Army in July 1919, succumbed to his wounds in January 1920.
Having died at Worcester Royal Infirmary on the 2nd, and his funeral took place at Welland Church on the 6th January 1920. His coffin was borne by four ex-servicemen; Messrs E Marsh, W Wood, C Spilsbury and J Butcher.
Malvern News 1/12/1917, 10/1/1920
Upton on Severn Times 1/12/1917
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