WATKIN SMITH 18?? – 1916

24048 Private Watkin Smith, 9th Battalion, the Lancashire Fusiliers was killed in action 19 September 1916 and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, France. [1]  To date, a local commemoration to him has not been traced.

Family Details 

Unable to trace Watkin Smith but apparently he was born in Evenwood.[2]

Military Details

The service record of Private Watkin Smith has not been researched so the exact date he enlisted is unknown.  He enlisted at York but lived at Forest Hall, Newcastle upon Tyne at the time.  He had served with the 5th Cavalry Reserve, service number 15067 prior to being posted to the Lancashire Fusiliers.  He joined the 9th Battalion, the Lancashire Fusiliers and was given the regimental number 24048. [3]  He may have been a Reservist and at the outbreak of war, enlisted into the Lancashire Fusiliers.

The 9th [Service] Battalion was formed 21 August 1914 as part of K1 and attached to the 34th Brigade of the 11th Division.  Other battalions in the Brigade were:

  • 8th (Service) Bn., the Northumberland Fusiliers
  • 8th (Service) Bn., Duke of Wellington’s
  • 5th (Service) Bn., the Dorsets
  • 11th (Service) Bn., the Manchester Regiment

1 July 1915:  The Division sailed from Liverpool and via Alexandra and Mudros.

7 August:  Landed at Sulva Bay, Gallipoli.  Private W. Smith entered the Balkans in September 1915 so was a later draft.  [4]

21 December 1915:  The Division withdrew from Gallipoli.

July 1916:  the Division landed at Marseilles, France and spent the rest of the war on the Western Front being introduced to the Battle of the Somme at the Battle of Flers-Courcelette.

 The Battle of the Somme 1 July – 18 November 1916 [5]

 The Battle of the Somme was viewed as a breakthrough battle, as a means of getting through the formidable German trench lines and into a war of movement and decision.  Political considerations and the demands of the French High Command influenced the timing of the battle.  They demanded British diversionary action to occupy the German Army to relieve the hard pressed French troops at Verdun, to the south.

General Sir Douglas Haig, appointed Commander-in-Chief in December 1915, was responsible for the overall conduct of British Army operations in France and Belgium.  This action was to be the British Army’s first major offensive on the Western Front in 1916 and it was entrusted to General Rawlinson’s Fourth Army to deliver the resounding victory.  The British Army included thousands of citizen volunteers, keen to take part in what was expected to be a great victory.

The main line of assault ran nearly 14 miles from Maricourt in the south to Serre to the north, with a diversionary attack at Gommecourt 2 miles further to the north.  The first objective was to establish a new advanced line on the Montauban to Pozieres Ridge.

1 July:  the first day was preceded by a week long artillery bombardment of the German positions.  Just prior to zero-hour, the storm of British shells increased and merged with huge mine explosions to herald the infantry attack.  At 7.30am on a clear midsummer’s morning the British Infantry emerged from their trenches and advanced in extended lines at a slow steady pace over the grassy expanse of a No Man’s Land.  They were met with a hail of machine gun fire and rifle fire from the surviving German defenders.  Accurate German artillery barrages smashed into the infantry in No Man’s Land and the crowded assembly trenches.  The British suffered enormous casualties:

  • Officers killed 993
  • Other Ranks killed: 18,247
  • Total Killed: 19,240
  • Total casualties (killed, wounded and missing): 57,470

In popular imagination, the Battle of the Somme has become a byword for military disaster.  In the calamitous opening 24 hours the British Army suffered its highest number of casualties in a single day.  The loss of great numbers of men from the same towns and villages had a profound impact on those at home. The first day was an abject failure and the following weeks and months of conflict assumed the nature of wearing-down warfare, a war of attrition, by the end of which both the attackers and defenders were totally exhausted.

The Battle of the Somme can be broken down into 12 offensive operations:

  • Albert: 1 – 13 July
  • Bazantin Ridge: 14 – 17 July
  • Delville Wood: 15 July – 13 September
  • Pozieres Ridge: 15 July – 3 September
  • Guillemont: 23 July – 3 September
  • Ginchy: 9 September
  • Flers-Courcelette: 15 – 22 September
  • Morval: 25 – 28 September
  • Thiepval: 25 – 28 September
  • Le Transloy: 1 – 18 October
  • Ancre Heights: 1 October – 11 November
  • Ancre: 13 – 18 November

Adverse weather conditions i.e. the autumn rains and early winter sleet and snow turned the battlefield into morass of mud.  Such intolerable physical conditions helped to bring to an end Allied offensive operations after four and a half months of slaughter.  The fighting brought no significant breakthrough.  Territorial gain was a strip of land approximately 20 miles wide by 6 miles deep, at enormous cost. British and Commonwealth forces were calculated to have 419,654 casualties (dead, wounded and missing) of which some 131,000 were dead.  French casualties amounted to 204,253.  German casualties were estimated between 450,000 to 600,000. In the spring of 1917, the German forces fell back to their newly prepared defences, the Hindenburg Line, and there were no further significant engagements in the Somme sector until the Germans mounted their major offensive in March 1918.

The Battles of Flers-Courcelette, Morval & Thiepval Ridge:  an overview [6]

15 September:  The Battle of Flers-Courcelette commenced and is notable for the introduction of tanks.  This offensive employed 12 Divisions and 49 tanks.  They proved notoriously unreliable and only 15 rolled onto No Man’s Land at the start of the attack.  The BEF and Canadian Corps made initial gains of some 2 kilometres within the first 3 days including the capture of the ruined villages of Martinpuich, Flers and Courcelette and much of the sought after High Wood.  However a combination of poor weather and extensive German reinforcements halted the advance and the Allies again suffered high casualties.

22 September:  The attack was called off.  Haig renewed attacks in this area between 25 and 27 September in the Battle of Morval and the Battle of Thiepval Ridge.  Advances were limited but positions were consolidated. It was concluded:[7]

“The pattern of the fighting on the Somme had now been clearly established.  It was fundamentally a battle of artillery.  The British could not advance without it: the Germans could not defend without it.  The roar of guns was unceasing.  It could grind away and erode the courage of all but the bravest.”  

The 11th Division formed part of the II Corps together with the 18th Division alongside the Canadian Corps (1st and 2nd Canadian Divisions).  The Division was also involved in offensive action that followed at Thiepval Ridge.  The II Corps occupied positions to the north of the offensive line, to the immediate south of Thiepval.  The 32nd and 33rd Brigades were in the vicinity of Nab Valley facing Mouquet Farm on the 15th September 1916.[8]

Action around Mouquet Farm [9]

“No significant progress was made in the northern sector in the first few weeks of July. Ovillers, just north of the Albert-Bapaume road, was not captured until 16 July. Its capture, and the foothold the British had obtained in the German second position on 14 July, meant that the chance now existed for the German northern defences to be taken in the flank. The key to this was Pozières.

The village of Pozières lay on the Albert-Bapaume road at the crest of the ridge. Just behind (east) the village ran the trenches of the German second position. The Fourth Army made three attempts to seize the village between 14 July and 17 July before Haig relieved Rawlinson’s army of responsibility for its northern flank. The capture of Pozières became a task for Gough’s Reserve Army.

Going in shortly after midnight on 23 July, the attack on Pozières was a success, largely thanks to Walker’s insistence on careful preparation and an overwhelming supporting bombardment; however, an attempt to capture the neighbouring German second position failed, though two Australians were awarded the Victoria Cross in the attempt. The Germans, recognising the critical importance of the village to their defensive network, made three unsuccessful counter-attacks before beginning a prolonged and methodical bombardment of the village. The final German effort to reclaim Pozières came before dawn on 7 August following a particularly heavy bombardment. The Germans overran the forward Australian defences, but the Australians emerged victorious.

Gough planned to drive north along the ridge towards Mouquet Farm, allowing him to threaten the German bastion of Thiepval from the rear. However, the further the Australians advanced, the deeper was the salient they created such that the German artillery could concentrate on them from three directions.

On 8 August the Australians began pushing north along the ridge with the British II Corps advancing from Ovillers on their left. By 10 August a line had been established just south of the farm, which the Germans had turned into a fortress with deep dugouts and tunnels connecting to distant redoubts.

The Australians made numerous attempts to capture the farm between 12 August and 3 September, inching closer with each attempt; however, the German garrison held out. The Australians were relieved by the Canadian Corps, who would briefly capture Mouquet Farm on 16 September, the day after the next major British offensive.

The farm was finally overrun on 26 September, and the garrison surrendered the following day.
In the fighting at Pozières and Mouquet Farm, the three Australian divisions suffered over 23,000 casualties. If the losses from Fromelles on 19 July are included, Australia had sustained more casualties in six weeks in France than they had in the eight months of the Battle of Gallipoli.”

 “Saturday 16 September

Mouquet Farm

In 11th Division, the bombers of the 6th Bn. Lincolnshire Regt. secured all the Constance Trench as far as the Thiepval-Pozieres Road.  6th Bn. Border Regt. captured the western half of Danube Trench.  An attempt by the Germans to retake Constance Trench was beaten off.

Sunday 17 September

5 Canadian Bde. unsuccessfully attempted to clear the trenches east of Courcelette.”

 The 6/Lincolns and 6/Borders formed part of the 11th Division’s 33rd Brigade confirming that the area was subject to offensive actions.  The 9/Lancs may have been in reserve as warfare continued along the front to the south and there were also actions at Flers, Delville Wood and Ginchy.[10]

The War Diary of the 9th Lancashire Fusiliers records the following movements: [11]

“2nd — 3rd Sept 1916 train from Frevent to Acheux;

3rd–8th Puchevillers;

8th–16th Bouzincourt;

17th–18th Line, Mouquet Farm, Thiepval;

19th–21st Bouzincourt;

21st–22nd Ovillers-la-Boisselle;

22nd–25th Mailly-Maillet;

25th Crucifix Corner, Aveluy; trenches, Mouqet Farm, Thiepval;

26th Attack, Mouqet Farm, Thiepval;

27th–28th Zollern Trench, Thiepval;

29th Ovillers;

30th Varennes.”

 The 9/Lancs Fusiliers were in the line opposite Mouquet Farm near Thiepval and clearly there was significant action in the line.  Private Watkin Smith died 17 September 1916.  He has no known grave, the victim of the violence of warfare either machine gun fire, sniping or as most probable enemy artillery shelling.

Commemorations [12]

 Thiepval Memorial, the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme:  The Memorial bears the names of more than 72,000 officers and men of the UK and South African forces who died in the Somme sector before 20 March 1918 and have no known grave.  Over 90% of those commemorated died between July and November 1916.  24048 Private Watkin Smith is commemorated at Pier and Face 3C and 3D.


[1] CWGC

[2] SDGW

[3] SDGW

[4] Medal Roll

[5] Various sources

[6] “The Somme” Hart

[7] Hart

[8] Hart p.380



[11] “The History of the Lancashire Fusiliers 1914-1918 Volume II” Ralph

[12] CWGC




SMITH W Detail


SMITH W. Medal Roll

Medal Roll

Moquet Farm

Moquet Farm