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Robert Smailes

Alnwick and County Gazette, June 30th, 1917.

Borden Dairy war memorial in Toronto, Canada
Borden Dairy war memorial in Toronto.

Private Robert Smailes  of the Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade, Eaton's Motor Machine Gun Battery, Service No. 172001, died in France on October 7th 1916, aged 24.

He is buried at the Warloy-Baillon Communal Cemetery Extension, 21km north-east of Amiens. As well as being remembered on the Craster war memorials in the Chapel and in St Peter's church, he is remembered on the Borden Company war memorial in Toronto, Canada.

Robert was born on December 8th 1891. He was the son of Robert and Jane Smailes of 18, South Craster. His father was a labourer in the Craster quarry owned by McLaren and Prowde. In 1911 three of the four surviving children were at home for the census: Mary, then aged 26, Luke Robson, 23 and Robert,19. Robert's brother Luke and cousin, John William Smailes were also killed in the war.

The 1911 census returns shows that Luke was a cartman. An additional note on the return says, 'stone to station and quay.' This suggests that Robert also worked at the quarry. Robert emigrated to Canada.

In Toronto he worked as a driver for Borden Co. Ltd at the City Dairy in Toronto. The same company employed his brother Luke Robson and cousin John William Smailes. His 'joining up' papers, known formally as an attestation paper was approved on March 29th 1916 in Toronto. This document included the information that Robert was still single and that he was a Methodist. He enlisted in the Canadian Over-seas Expeditionary Force.

Warloy-Baillon is a village about 21 kilometres north-east of Amiens along the D919 to Arras. The fighting from July to November 1916 on the northern part of the Somme front accounts for the majority of the burials in the extension.

Warloy-Baillon Communal Cemetery Extension

Robert's gravestone in Warloy Baillon Cemetery

Warloy Baillon Cemetery, Robert's gravestone is the first on the right.Warloy Baillon Cemetery, Robert's gravestone is the first on the right.

Robert's former headteacher wrote a warm tribute to him in the Alnwick and County Gazette on October 21st 1916:

Robert's former headteacher writing in the Alnwick Gazette, October 1st 1916.

The Somme Offensive - Battle for Ancre Heights

The War Diary of Eaton's Motor Machine Gun Battery, records the circumstances when Robert was wounded on September 25th 1917 at 2.00pm as follows:

Eaton's Motor Machine Gun Batter War Diary 25 09 16. To see a bigger image, click this photograph

The diary says that the Battery left Contay, west of Albert, on September 25th 1916 at 9.30am to move to a new gun position at 57d. SE R.34.a.8.2. This places the Battery roughly in the centre of a triangle made by Thiepval in the west, Courcelette in the East and Pozieres in the south. The Battery was to provide covering fire for the advance on the German positions at Zollern, Hessian and Regina trenches to the north east of Mouqet farm.

Thiepval Memorial, Mouqet Farm and the ground south of the Zollern, Hessian and Regina trenches.This photograph, taken May 2011, shows the Thiepval Memorial outlined in the stand of trees to the left, Mouqet Farm to the right and in the foreground the ground covered in the advance to the Zollern, Hessian and Regina trenches.

On the same day, at 2.00pm, the diary reads as, "When bringing up ammunition No. 172001, Pte. R. Smailes was wounded. No 911, Cpl. T.S. Clark dressed the wounds and while so doing was himself wounded. Pte. Smailes was carried to the Dressing Station and Cp;. Clark continued on duty at his own request, but was finally sent to Dressing Station." There is no further mention of Robert in the diary and it is possible that these were the wounds that led to his death nearly two weeks later.

It would appear that Corporal Clark survived the war as he cannot be found on the Commonwealth War Graves data base. Another Englishman, he was born in Portsmouth and served in the British Army before emigrating to Canada, where he enlisted in Niagara on the Lake.

An entry on the next page of the diary praises the effectiveness of the Battery's guns. “The guns worked splendidly – an average rate of 4,500 rounds per gun during the hour.” A sobering comment on the efficiency of industrial warfare.

The diary entries place the Battery at the Battle for Ancre Heights, part of the Somme offensive. This location is approximately three miles north of La Boiselle, the first objective of the Northumberland Fusiliers on July 1st, when the Battle of the Somme started, nearly three months earlier. The positions were eventually taken on November 11th, after several more weeks of bloody fighting.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission - Robert Smailes

Veterans' Affairs Canada - Robert Smailes

Library and Archives, Canada - Robert Smailes

Attestation Paper - Front

Attestation Paper - Back

Eaton Motor Machine Gun Battery, War Diary

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