Second/Corporal Alfred Bennett Smith
439906 Royal Engineers 66th Div Sig Coy RFA
Died of Wounds 4th November 1918, aged 19
Lived at 20 Hollingreave Road
Buried in Busigny Communal Cemetery Extension, France
Burnley Grammar School Memorial
Burnley Express 20th November 1918 - 23rd November 1918

Burnleys Great War Centenary Sponsored by: Jane Lees

Son of Albert Dent Smith & Sarah Ann of 30 Hollingreave Rd


As announced in our Wednesday’s issue, a well known Burnley musician, Mr. A.D. Smith, who is one of the school attendance officers for Burnley, received word on Friday, at his home at 20 Hollingreave-road, that his son, Corpl. Alfred Bennett Smith, 439909, of the R.E. attached to the R.F.A., had died from wounds on his way to a hospital in France.
An officer, writing to notify the parents under date 8/11/1918, says “I have very sad news for you. In the recent fighting in which the ---- Brigade has taken part, your son and three other signallers were sent out on a very dangerous duty. They had to lay a telephone line in a forward position which was under very heavy shell fire. Whilst they were doing his a shell fell near them. Two signallers were killed instantaneously, and your son was very dangerously wounded. I have just received notification to-day that he died on the way to a rear hospital. I can say, without exception or qualification, that he was the finest fellow I have ever had under me. As an N.C.O. he was simply splendid. He had skill, knowledge, ability, and capacity for command to an exceptional degree and in time he would have risen to a much higher rank.”
Corpl. Smith was only 19 years of age at Christmas, and in charge of a signaling section of the Royal Engineers (Headquarters Staff). Formerly a member of the Burnley Town Clerk’s staff, he enlisted in April 1915, and went out in March of last year. He was a member of Fulledge Wesleyan Chapel, and “reporter” for the Sunday school. As a boy he attended Burnley Wood Council Schools, under Mr. A. R. Pickles, M.A., and was successful in winning a scholarship to the Grammar School in 1910. After leaving the Grammar School he was a student at the Technical School up to the time of joining the Army in 1915.


On 29th October 1918 he wrote to his parents in Burnley:

‘Dear Folks,
Here I am writing at last. I’ve had plenty of excuses for not writing though. I was delayed at both Dover and Calais on my way back and when I had just about had enough of train sidings I found our lot on the point of entraining and I had another long journey. Then I had the ‘flu’ but am quite alright now. It was rotten while it lasted as we were continually on the move, starting about 5am, every morning. So things didn’t go to help the ‘flu. Anyway I am absolutely alright now. I have just heard that Austria has chucked it in. Jolly well hope it’s true. I don’t think it will take us long to finish Germany in that case. I shall be home to Christmas dinner after all, I think...Did you know Sergeant Wakefield? He was a Burnley lad. He was in our ‘B’ Battery. He was killed yesterday. He was a fine lad, one of the best. How is everyone in Burnley? Is Albert on the mend? Hope so, anyway. Well, I don’t know of anything else to tell you and tea is ready so I’ll finish,
Hope you are all well,
Yours sincerely,
P.S. That £8 back pay came through and when I get a statement of account from the paymaster I will remit some money home.

Attached to the 330 Brigade RFA who were supporting 25th Division's attack on Landrecies. From the Brigade War Diary it looks as if the signallers were based at an OP which was hit by a shell. The officer in command and two men were wounded and four men were killed, including Smith. The other three are buried at Landrecies but Smith seems to have made it back to a Casualty Clearing station and is buried at Busigny near Le Cateau.

The above two images from a portrait in Burnley Town Hall, courtesy of Berenice Baynham


His great-great nephew, Chris Lees, a veteran of five school battlefield tours, was able to lay a wreath on the grave 90 years after Alf Smith's death on 4th November 1918. Chris read out his biography and an extract from his final letter home, in which he poignantly expects to be home for Christmas.




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