Sunday, 20 September 2015

The first of two Newton Poppleford brothers to die: Acting Staff Serjeant Dan Smale, 19 September 1915


The name of Dan Smale, Acting Staff Serjeant with the Army Service Corps, 50th Field Butchery Division, appears on the Helles Memorial which stands on the tip of the Gallipoli Peninsula. An obelisk over 30 metres high, it can be seen by ships passing through the Dardanelles.

Dan Smale and his brother Charles, who would die ten months later, were the children of Thomas and Sarah Ann Smale.  Their father described himself as a cattle dealer but was also involved in the slaughter and butchering of the beasts, and in White’s Gazetteer of Devon he is described as a butcher. In 1891 apart from himself, he also employed his four oldest children in the business.

Army meat supplies: a portrait of February 1917 of the 57th or 58th Battalion butchery, made by the Darge Photographic Company    Image credit: Australian War Memorial 

Dan is recorded as a resident of both Budleigh Salterton and Newton Poppleford. He joined the Regular Army in 1897, enlisting in the Royal Army Service Corps at Aldershot. No doubt because of his family background  he was attached to the 50th Field Butchery Division.  Soon after the outbreak of war in 1914 he was posted to Egypt where his work involved the provision of meat supplies.  

It is possible, thinks Newton Poppleford local historian John Hagger, that Dan’s death may have been due to his poor working conditions. “The conditions of slaughter houses in a country with very high temperatures and water available only for drinking, is not difficult to imagine.”

Disease was a significant killer during the Gallipoli campaign. Conditions on the peninsula deteriorated in the summer heat. Plagues of flies caused by the primitive sanitation led to outbreaks of typhoid, also known as enteric fever, and dysentery. Lice were a universal problem. Thousands of men were evacuated to hospital ships and back to base hospitals at Lemnos island, Egypt and Malta.

The SS Egypt was built in1897 by Caird & Co for P&O and served as a hospital ship during the Great War. In 1922 in fog in the English Channel she collided with the cargo vessel Seine and sank, killing 86 people. Her strong room contained more than £1 million in silver bullion and gold sovereigns. In the 1930s an Italian salvage company used explosives and a diver to open the strong room and recover most of the silver and gold.  Image credit: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland 

The P&O liner Egypt had been hired by the Admiralty as a Hospital Ship on 2 August 1915, and it was here that Dan succombed to dysentery like so many others during the Gallipoli campaign.     

Newton Poppleford's War Memorial, seen here and below, records the names of Dan and Charlie Smale

His wife, living at 9 Perriams Place off Chapel Street in Budleigh Salterton, wrote to the authorities on 28 October to ask for her husband’s possessions and these were returned to her along with his medals on 16 January 1916.  

Newton Poppleford War Memorial

Local resident John Hagger has done a tremendous job in presenting Newton Poppleford's casualties of the Great War at

‘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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