Leonard Francis Smith
Leonard Francis Smith (1882-1917) is one of the eight Stoke men known to have died in World War One.
Leonard was the sixth of nine children of William and Fanny (née Mytton) Smith of Stoke. His father, William, had arrived in New Zealand as a four year old in the company of his stepfather and mother, William and Elizabeth Burton. As a result, family members often used the surname Burton(-)Smith.
Leonard, his father and brothers were all farmers. When war was declared in 1914, Len decided to enlist but, according to the Nelson Evening Mail of 25 April 1917, he was “unable to pass the doctor here so paid his passage Home from Nelson and joined the – Battalion Gordon Highlanders in England”. Given that Len later stated that he was a “Volunteer and belonged to a Rifle Club in NZ”, he would have found rejection hard to accept.
Len got to England by travelling 3rd class aboard the Corinthic along with well over a hundred other young British men described as “Reservists”. The ship left Wellington on 10 October and arrived in London on 20 November 1914.
Almost a year later, on 20 September 1915, Len enlisted in of the UK’s Territorial Force "for 4 years’ service in the United Kingdom" and was assigned to the 2/2 Lovat Scouts for home service. On his enlistment form Len stated that he was working as a farmer in Hillingdon, Uxbridge, on the western outskirts of London. The Lovat Scouts were at this time based in Grimsby and were responsible for the defence of the British coastline from Sutton-on-Sea to Skegness. On 19 January 1916, Len’s army records note that he had passed a course at Mildenhall in Trench Fighting and was classed as “Very Good”. From 9 September to 11 December 1916 Len was based at Thetford, where his medical examination describes him as being 5’ 10” in height, 11st 8lb in weight, and of “Good” physical development with chest measurements of 36-39”.
5830 Private L F Smith received two promotions to Lance Sergeant (a corporal acting in the rank of sergeant) during his service of just over a year with the Lovat Scouts. In this period the 2/1 and 2/2 Lovat Scouts were merged to form the 1st (Lovat Scouts) Yeomanry Cyclist Battalion and, as part of this latter unit, Len was based at Gorleston on the Norfolk coast. Throughout World War 1, the Lovat Scouts were drawn on heavily for drafts of overseas reinforcements and, on 11 December 1916, Len found himself heading for active service in France where, the next day, he was transferred to the 7th Battalion of the Cameron Highlanders and allocated service number S/27101. He was to "maintain his former rate of pay of 2/4d a day" - this would be the equivalent of roughly $70 in present day values.
On 19 March 1917 he had a further transfer, this time to the 1st/6th (Banff & Donside) Gordon Highlanders. He was allocated service number S/40905 and his ranking reverted to that of Private.
At the ensuing Battle of Arras, the 4th to 7th battalions of the Gordon Highlanders were in the 152nd Brigade as part of the 51st Division on the left wing of the of the British 3rd Army. The following are the entries from the 6th Gordon Highlanders’ War Diary for the period, which put Len and his battalion’s situation into context:
1st - ECOIVRES. In "X" Hutments.
2nd - 7th - BOIS de MAROEUIL. In tents. Training and Range Practice, Wire Cutting, Bomb Throwing. Lectures on the "Attack".
8th - 11th - ROCLINCOURT. Took over the trenches on the night of 7th/8th. The Battalion was 670 strong, and was accommodated in FISH TUNNEL and ROCLINCOURT. One company remained in huts at BOIS de MAROEUIL.
Click image to enlarge
On the 9th the BATTLE of ARRAS opened. The objective given the Battalion was the front line system of trenches, viz;- Firing Line, Support Line, and Reserve Line, known as the " Black" Line.
The Battalion assembled for the attack in three double waves, each wave consisting of five Platoons, while the remaining Platoon, organised as three Bombing Squads and one Lewis Gun Squad, was kept in FISH TUNNEL as a reserve. "D" Company and two platoons of "A" formed the right of the attack, "B" Coy the left. These companies formed the first two double waves. "C" Coy with one platoon of "A" Company formed the third double wave. The remaining platoon of "A" Company was the reserve in the hands of the Battalion Commander.
At ZERO the advance was promptly begun, and, immediately the barrage lifted, the objectives were assaulted and cleared up effectively. A good deal of hard fighting took place, but the men had been so thoroughly trained that they were prepared for all eventualities, and speedily got the better of all opposition, though not without heavy loss. One disconcerting incident happened - a minnenwerfer ( trench mortar ) ammunition dump was exploded, and formed a crater about 30 feet deep. Probably 20 casualties were caused by this explosion. About 100 prisoners were captured, as well as three machine guns and a number of trench mortars of varying sizes.
So Len took part in the Allied Forces’ opening attack on 9 April 1917 (6 G.H. on the map on the right) and was wounded. He was treated for gunshot wounds in his back at the no. 42 Casualty Clearing Station and died there on 12 April 1917. He was buried in the nearby Communal Cemetery extension at Aubigny-en-Artois.
As well as being remembered on the Stoke Memorial Gates, Len is also named (as L. F. Burton-Smith) on the Whangamomona, Kohuratahi and Tahora Memorial in Taranaki where his older brother Robert William Smith lived.
Updated May, 2020
Do you have a story about this subject? Find out how to add one here.
Further sources - Leonard Francis Smith
- Falls, C. (1958) The Gordon Highlanders in the First World War 1914-1919. Aberdeen : University Press
- War notes (1917, April 25) Nelson Evening Mail, p.4
- Births, Marriages and Death information from Department of Internal Affairs:
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Casualty details:
- The Battle of Arras: an overview. Retrieved from World War 1 Centenary: continuations and beginnings (University of Oxford)
- Diary of 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders 1914-1918. Retrieved 2 March 2015:
- First and second Lovat Scouts Yeomanry. Retrieved from the Long Long Trail:The British Army in the Great War of 1914-1918. Retrieved 2 March 2015
- Lovat Scouts. Retrieved from Wikipedia, 2 March 2015