Friday, 3 April 2015

The Battle of Neuve Chapelle: Ernest Smith, 12 March 1915

The Devonshire Regiment cap badge

I’ve been preoccupied recently by the glorious but violent Elizabethan age of Sir Walter Ralegh in preparation for Fairlynch Museum’s ‘Beyond the Boyhood’ exhibition, opened last night by local resident Richard Champernowne as you can read elsewhere 

Amidst all the research that I’d been doing into East Devon’s best known historical figure I’d occasionally forgotten about the slaughter that was taking place on the Great War’s Western Front a century ago.

I’d hoped to devote a post to each of the casualties from the Lower Otter Valley at approximately 100 years after they were killed in action. 


I slipped up a little in the case of East Budleigh man Ernest Smith. But there’s his name recorded on the list in All Saints Church and on the village war memorial.  

Sadly we know little about him, except that according to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission records he was aged 21 when he died, was serving as a Private No. 11196  in the Second Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment,  and was the brother of Frederick W. Smith, of Cromley Cottage, East Budleigh.


Le Touret Military Cemetery
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In addition to the local records, his name, along with those of 13,393 other casualties, appears on the Le Touret Memorial, located near the former commune of Richebourg-l'Avoué, in the Pas-de-Calais region of Northern France.

If the date of his death is accurate, it is likely that he fell in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, which took place from 10-13 March 1915. This was a British offensive in the Artois region of France which initially had some success. More troops had arrived from Britain, including the Second Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment which had landed at Le Havre on 6 November 1914, having returned from Cairo, Egypt. They relieved some French troops in Flanders, which enabled a continuous British line to be formed, from Givenchy-lès-la-Bassée north to Langemarck.  

Primitive communications and artillery bombardment of the British telephone system meant that the British commanders had been unable to keep in touch with each other.  The battle thus became uncoordinated and this in turn disrupted the supply lines. On 12 March, German forces commanded by Crown Prince Rupprecht, launched a counter-attack which failed but forced the British to use most of their artillery ammunition. The British offensive was postponed on 13 March and abandoned two days later. 7,000 British troops were killed in the battle, along with 4,200 Indian soldiers; German losses amounted to approximately 10,000 men. 

‘The Great War at Fairlynch’ 2015 exhibition at Budleigh Salterton’s very special museum! Reviews included: “Wonderful display on WW1, informative, bright and relevant. Well done!! 

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