Lce.-Cpl. Signaller F. Smith (Rushden) 7th Northants, son of Mr. and Mrs. Jas. Smith, of 67 High-street South, Rushden, has been home on seven days’ leave after five months on the Western front.
He enlisted on Sept. 7th 1914, and up to the time of his enlistment was an employee of the Northants County Press, Kettering.
He was one of the promoters of the Rushden Troop of Boy Scouts, and up to the time of leaving Rushden took an active interest in that organisation, of which he was, assistant scoutmaster. The instruction in signalling he received whilst with the Rushden Boy Scouts has, he says, been of great value to him.
Lce-Cpl. Signaller F. Smith
Lce.-Cpl. Smith was formerly a member of the Rushden Town Male Choir
and since he has been at the front conducted a choir formed from members of his platoon. There were, he says, other male choirs in the company, and on one occasion a competition was held, the officers adjudicating. The competition was open only to the right half companies A and B and eight choirs entered.
Lce.-Cpl. Smith’s choir was awarded first prize, the piece they sang being “Way down yonder in the corn field.”
The man who took the solo part was Pte. F. Smeeton, of Northampton, who since the battle of Loos has been missing.
“Nearly all the members of the choir were found to be either wounded, killed, or missing, after the battle of Loos,” said Lce.-Cpl. Smith. “It broke the choir up. The late Harry Cowley, of Church-street, Rushden, used to sing second tenor in the choir, but, as has been reported in the ‘Rushden Echo’ he was killed at Loos. I didn’t actually see him fall, but he was in the same trench as I was, and his pals told me subsequently that he was struck in the back of the head by a bullet as he was passing a gap in the parapet.
“Before Loos we had been marching for three nights and had covered about 45 miles. We arrived on the scene of action about 5 o’clock on Saturday afternoon, and were sent straight into the trenches. We had orders to cut fire steps in the back of these trenches, as naturally these became our first line when we had captured them.
“All the time we were engaged in this work we were subject to a terrific bombardment, and many of our chaps were knocked out. On the Sunday the Germans brought up huge reserves, and delivered a counter-attack, but they never reached our line, as we directed a terrific machine gun and rifle fire at them and drove them off. As soon as they got back to their own trenches we got the order to advance.
“We charged in company with the Scottish regiment I have previously mentioned, but whilst extending got separated from our individual units. At that time we were occupying the Hohenzollern redoubt, and as a result of getting separated from my unit I remained in the trenches with the Scottish Regt. two days longer than my battalion.
“When I re-joined my unit I was surprised and sorry to find that only eight of my platoon remained, although some of those missing have since re-joined. The battalion, I found, had suffered nearly 500 casualties, these included the Colonel, the Adjutant, one Major and two Captains.
“I found to my grief that my friend, Harry Cowley was killed, and Jack Smith and Horace Britten, all of Rushden, were missing. Smith and Britten, we subsequently discovered, were prisoners of war.
“After we had refitted at a rest camp we were again moved to the trenches at a different part of the line. The longest spell I have had in the trenches so far is eight days. That time did us more good than anything else, as we gained experience and confidence.
“A fortnight before Christmas we were ordered back for a well-earned rest. However, we had to march back, and left the trenches on the Monday. We arrived in billets on the Friday, having covered, I should think, between forty and fifty miles.
“We remained in billets over Christmas and spent the happiest time we have had since leaving England. On Christmas Day we had a rattling good time. The headquarters signallers, to which I am attached, had the run of two houses in the village. We were billeted in a barn at the back of these dwellings, but the occupants, who were very hospitable people, allowed us to go in and out of their houses as we liked.
“On Christmas Day seven of us went to one house and seven to the other, and there was keen rivalry between us as to who could have the best feed.
“We won, I give you my word, as we had on the table’s two roast fowls, which had been stuffed by the good people, and eight plum puddings, including one my mother had sent me. There were also three or four large pork pies, and our signalling officer gave us a bottle of wine. The first course was French vegetable soup, and very nice, too. Then we started on the fowls, and made a poor mess of them. By the time we had finished dinner we had fairly cleared the tables.
“After dinner we attended a football match, Officers v Men. The men beat the officers 4-1. Major Mobbs captained his side and played centre forward for the officers. The rules of the game were that no fouls were to be given, and a good deal of fun resulted, as the majority of officers were well known Rugby players, and they kept collaring the men, shoving them in the back, etc. The chaps roared with laughter, and although it was a regular rough and tumble there were no casualties. Many of the villagers were present to see the play, although I don’t think they could make much of it.
“After the match we had a good singsong in billets and the officers allowed us much more freedom than usual. The Colonel (Col. Skinner), who is one of the best, presented all the men in the battalion with beer, cigars and oranges. He is a rare ‘Tommy’s’ man, and we all worship him.
“I omitted to mention on Christmas Eve a party of us went round the village singing carols, and I think we brought that village as near England as it ever will be. In fact, it was almost like an English village that night. The carols we sung included ‘The noble stem of Jesse,’ ‘While shepherd’s watch’ to the tune ‘Nativity,’ ‘The first Nowell,’ and all the best known carols. We went into the officers’ mess and sang to the officers whilst they were at dinner, and the wine freely flowed, but we managed to get back to billets all right.
“We had no further festivities until the night before we were leaving again for the trenches. As we were to move at 2 a.m. the following day, sleep was out of the question, so we indulged in singsongs.
“At a minute past twelve on Jan. 7th (the morning we were leaving), which heralded my 24th birthday, speeches were made congratulating me, and I responded to them. My pals then sang ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow,’ and I opened a parcel of good things I had had from home and shared them amongst them.
“We fell in at 2 a.m. for a ten mile march to the nearest station. We got on the train about 6.30 a.m. and arrived at our destination safely a few hours later. We were then billeted in a rest camp, and went into the reserved trenches on Saturday, Jan. 15th. When I left the trenches on Wednesday to prepare for coming home, the battalion was just moving up to the front line for a four days’ spell. During the four days I was in reserve we had to provide working parties every night to improve trenches, and build up parapets. We had one casualty each night, as the enemy can’t fail to see our chaps as they have to go over the top of the parapet, and the nights are very light now. It was there we got our first taste of the latest enemy device, ‘weeping gas.’
“At the time we had coke fires at the doors of our dug-outs, and we were all swearing at the chaps who had made them, and shouting at them to put them out, as tears were running down our faces and our eyes were smarting and we thought it was caused by the coke fumes. We didn’t discover our mistake until Major Morris ordered us to put our goggles on. So far as I know, this gas only affects the eyes and makes us jolly uncomfortable. The smell is not at all unpleasant but the pain it causes is decidedly so, as it makes your eyes smart something awful, and would, I think, in time have a serious effect on one’s eyesight, were it not for the protection provided by the goggles.
“I left the trenches at 4.30 p.m. on the Wednesday and had a nine miles’ walk to the rest camp, with full pack and rifle. After spending the night there I was fully occupied the whole of the next day in cleaning up and getting the mud off my clothes, as I was anxious to arrive in England as respectable as possible. I had another three miles’ walk to the station, and took the train at 4.30 a.m. and arrived at Boulogne at 11 a.m.
“I got on the boat at 12.30 and found the Channel remarkably rough. Every man on board was ordered to don a lifebelt, and a lot of chaps were sea-sick, but I managed to keep it down. The voyage took us an hour and three-quarters, and we landed at Folkestone. At Victoria we dispersed for our several destinations.
“As for myself, I made a bee line for the buffet, as I was hungry. All incoming troops are met at Victoria by V.T.C. men, who render valuable help in looking up trains and directing the men to the best stations. This is a jolly good work, and it is impossible for a chap to go wrong.
“I arrived in Rushden about 8.30 p.m. on Friday, and surprised my parents, as although I had written to them; my letter didn’t arrive until Saturday morning, as I lay in bed, enjoying home comforts that I had missed. It seemed funny to be in bed again, and for the first night I was too comfortable to sleep, and lay awake half the night wondering where I was.
“I return to the front on Friday next, and although I am not keen on going back after a taste of good old Rushden again, I don’t mind going as things out there are not so black as they are painted, at any rate, that has been my experience so far, although I dare say some chaps have found things pretty bad. The portion of the line we are now holding is considered very important, and we feel honoured that we have been chosen to occupy that position.
“The standing joke out there at the present time is’ If Kitchener’s Army can’t do the trick, we’ll put the Derby’s on.’ The point of the joke is that the word ‘Derbys’ is a vulgar term used denoting handcuffs. I should like to state that Lord Derby’s scheme has been very popular with the boys at the front. They think it should have been put into operation long ago. I have been pleased to come home, but disappointed and disgusted to find that some of my townsmen of military age have not offered themselves under the scheme.”