Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Ned Smith VC DCM from Maryport, Cumbria

North Quay, Maryport, Cumbria.
Where Edward Benn (‘Ned’) Smith VC DCM was raised
Ned Smith became one of the highest decorated soldiers during WW1, gaining firstly the Distinguished Conduct Medal and subsequently the Victoria Cross, both in 1918.

In WW2 Ned Smith was among the first contingent of the British Expeditionary Force to sail for France, and was one of that war’s earliest casualties. He was ‘Killed in Action’ on 12 January 1940 at the age of 41 and is buried at Bueuvry Communal Cemetery Extension, France. In 1940 very little specific information was published, in the local newspapers at least, about the action in which Ned Smith lost his life even though he was widely known because of being decorated in the Great War. Perhaps this article will mean others will learn of Ned Smith in the two World Wars.

Although there is no Memorial Plaque at North Quay, Maryport for Ned Smith, this is where he used to live with his parents. The photograph was taken in 2006. I do have a photograph of Ned Smith in his army uniform and wearing his medals, which was obtained from a newspaper print found in the local West Cumbria Records Office.

[For addtional details about Ned Smith in WW1 click on 'Comments' below].

5 Comments:

Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Introduction

One of the earliest casualties of the British Expeditionary Force to France during the Second World War, in January 1940, was Lieutenant-Quartermaster Edward Benn Smith VC DCM. Edward Benn Smith originally came from the small West Cumbrian coastal town of Maryport in the county then known as Cumberland (now Cumbria). Known to his family and many friends in his home town as ‘Ned’, Lieutenant-Quartermaster Smith incredibly gained both the Victoria Cross and Distinguished Conduct Medal for separate actions of bravery in a period of a few days in August 1918.

During Ned Smith's lifetime, the traditional commercial activities of Maryport included coal mining, sea fishing and manufacturing. Ned Smith was brought up in the family home beside Maryport harbour, on North Quay. In 1917 Ned left his job as a coal miner at the Oughterside Colliery joining the Lancashire Fusiliers at the age of 18. In little more than a year, Ned Smith had been promoted to the rank of Sergeant and been awarded the DCM and the VC.

After the Great War, Ned Smith served in the Army for a further 21 years before retiring with an Army pension in 1938 having attained the rank of Regimental Sergeant Major. He then joined the Corps of Commissionaires in London for about a year. With the inevitability of war becoming increasingly likely during the summer of 1939, Ned Smith re-enlisted with his former Regiment, the Lancashire Fusiliers. He was among the first contingent of the BEF to sail for France. He would never return to his native shore, dying a few short months later.

‘Killed in Action’ in WW2

Ned Smith never married so his parents, Mr and Mrs C Smith, were his ‘next of kin’ in both World Wars. While Ned’s parents were alive they lived at North Quay, Maryport, adjacent to the harbour. On Saturday 13 January 1940, Ned's parents received the dreaded official telegram informing them that their son had been 'killed in action'. He had died from injuries caused by a head wound the previous day, Friday 12 January 1940.

Referring to information obtainable in the Records Office of Cumbria Archives the exact details of the action in which Ned Smith lost his life never seem to have been disclosed either to his family or to the press at that time. During the war, many events were not fully reported to avoid aiding the enemy. The action in which Ned Smith VC DCM died seems to be one of those instances where few actual details were publicly released.

Looking at more recent publications about recipients of the Victoria Cross merely records that Ned Smith was 'killed in action'. Very little information is given about the action in which he died. However, reading the article in the local West Cumbrian newspaper ‘The Whitehaven News’ about Ned Smith’s death in January 1940 the way it has been written perhaps hints that it may have been caused by what would in later years become euphemistically known as ‘friendly fire’ rather than enemy fire. If this was the case, it is likely that the information would not be released.

In addition to the official telegram, Ned Smith's parents received the following letter from France written by their son's Colonel, which was published in the local press (the Colonels actual name is not given):

"13 January 1940

Dear Mr and Mrs Smith,

I have the dreadful task of informing you that your son Edward, passed away as a result of a bullet wound in the head and was buried with full military honours this afternoon. His death has stunned us all and we deeply feel the loss of a gallant officer. He was a tower of strength to the battalion and a friend of every officer and man. I can hardly express to you our profound grief and heartfelt sympathy. The sole comfort is that he died very soon after he received the fatal wound and suffered hardly any pain. God rest his soul and comfort you both."

Casualty and burial details

Losing Ned Smith early in the war was a sad end to a brave man. It believed Ned Smith was the youngest recipient of the Victoria Cross serving with the British Forces in the First World War. The action for which he won the VC took place on his 19th birthday. On the date of his death, 12 January 1940, Ned Smith was 41 years old. He was born on 21 August 1899.

In the Second World War Lieutenant (Quartermaster) Edward Benn Smith VC, DCM had Service No 107894 and was serving with the 2nd Battalion the Lancashire Fusiliers. He is buried at Bueuvry Communal Cemetery Extension, which has over 200 burials from both World Wars. The cemetery is maintained in perpetuity by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Ned Smith's grave reference is: Plot 1, Row B, Grave 7.

Heroic deeds in the First World War

Ned Smith's heroic deeds in the First World War led to promotion and to him becoming one of the highest decorated soldiers in the British Army. In West Cumberland, and his hometown of Maryport in particular, Ned Smith became a very popular and celebrated local hero. Below are given the reasons why Ned Smith was awarded the DCM and VC.

On 10 August 1918 Ned Smith, who at that time held the rank of Corporal with the Lancashire Fusiliers, was awarded the DCM for a great feat of leadership. This took place near Hebuteme in the Somme Area of France. Corporal Ned Smith was leading a daylight patrol to examine points in the German lines where information was required. As the patrol was about to retire, Ned Smith saw a party of about 40 Germans about to take up outpost duty. Despite being heavily outnumbered by the German soldiers, Corporal Smith led his small party of men and engaged the enemy, breaking up the German party and causing severe casualties. As well as receiving the DCM for this action, Ned Smith was promoted to the rank of Sergeant.

A mere 11 days later, on 21 August 1918, near the town of Serre, Sergeant Ned Smith was in command of a platoon. A German Machine Gun post was holding up a British attack and causing severe casualties. At this point, Ned Smith then single-handedly stormed the enemy machine gun post armed with rifle and bayonet, killing at least six of the enemy and captured the post, and despite the enemy throwing hand grenades at him, Ned Smith escaped unscathed in this action. Later, he led his men to the assistance of another platoon he saw in difficulties, took command, and captured the objective. During the German counter attack the next day Ned Smith led forward a section and restored a portion of the line.

According to the London Gazette Supplement of 18 October 1918:

"His personal bravery, skill and initiative were outstanding, and his conduct throughout an inspiring example to all."
.

Additionally, according to ‘The Whitehaven News’ a local West Cumbrian newspaper, when he returned to Maryport after the Great War in 1919, Ned Smith was greeted by a cheering crowd of 6000 people. At the time this was approximately equal to the total population of Maryport! Another local newspaper described Ned Smith in the following terms:

"Sergeant Smith is not only a VC but looks it. He is a British soldier every inch of him. He is an A1 man from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet. .... He has not only won the VC but he has a chest on which to display it."

A couple of years later, in 1921, King George V held a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace for Victoria Cross holders, with Ned Smith being the youngest VC holder present. During the inter-war years, Ned Smith served in China, Malalya and Ireland and was a noted rugby player and boxer. A photograph of Ned Smith wearing his medals was printed in ‘The Whitehaven News’ in January 1940.

Conclusion

It is very rare for a serviceman to receive the Victoria Cross for gallantry. Even rarer is a serviceman who has received both a Victoria Cross and a Distinguished Conduct Medal. Ned Smith from Maryport was one of the small number of individuals to have achieve the honour of gaining both these bravery awards.

Following the end of the Great War, Ned Smith was feted as a hero, both in his home area of West Cumberland and nationally. He then went on to have a distinguished career in the Army in the inter-war years before his death while serving with the B.E.F early in the Second World War.

Despite being a hero of the First World War and one of the first Cumbrian casualties of the Second World War, Ned Smith’s exploits are now little known in his home area . In 2006 enquiries made by the writer about Ned Smith in his hometown of Maryport revealed that few people seem to remember his feats.

Nevertheless, having found much of the information for this article in the West Cumbria Records Office of Cumbria County Council, a copy of this article has been donated to the Cumbria County Archives in honour of Ned Smith, one of West Cumbria’s most highly decorated servicemen.

J. Ritson
May 2006

Wednesday, 17 May, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

interesting that a nineteen year old should be awarded both a DCM and a VC. in the first war.
Don't know too much about that conflict as I should as my Father served in France and was wounded - then the Dardanelles and was wounded, and finally France once more where he was wounded for the last time, finishing up as a sergeant gas instructor for the rest of the war. Interspersed with service in Southern Ireland where he claimed that the Dublin Post Office had to be the biggest building in the Empire as if all the Irishmen he met had been inside, as they claimed - it would have had to be massive ! he had a very fine sense of humour !
The Friendly fire claim which finally killed Ned Smith - I always have trouble with that phrase - was at a time when there was little action going on this was during the "phoney war " prior to the break through in May 1940 and so it is more likely to have been "accidental fire" which killed him. Strange that there are no details of this death.

Wednesday, 17 May, 2006  
Blogger Tomcann said...

It is a sad commentary on to-day's life styles that we have a Cabinet Minister and a chairman of the Police Association calling for the award of the V.C. for a policeman who was stabbed to death in Manchester - while NOT wearing a protective vest - NOR waiting for support of his comrades.
This action assumes some form of gallantry but the V.C. is awarded FOR VALOUR in the face of the enemy, as we understand it from the reports of Ned Smith. V.C. D.C.M.
Possibly this is why the George Medal was instituted - to recognise gallantry in the civilian areas.
I would have thought that a Cabinet Minister would have somehow recognised the difference.

Wednesday, 17 May, 2006  
Anonymous DianeS said...

A long time since this was posted, I have just come across it.
There IS a plaque and it WAS on the house, it was removed by whoever and placed in the local downstreet Christ Church. I have petitioned the Town Council for the plaque to be reinstated. It have received no reply.
Now the Church is closed!!!! I assume all interior items have been removed to St Mary's Church, also in town.
Maybe YOU could inform the Town Council about the reinstatement of the plaque. They don't listen to me.
Diane Stevenson. (Maryport)
di.stevenson@btinternet.com

Friday, 12 April, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Could I please use the photo of Ned Smith in his army uniform for a book that will be published in the new year. How do I go about getting this photo?
tiktok1@sky.com

Monday, 21 July, 2014  

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