George Henry SMILES 1920 – 1972

Family Details

George Henry Smiles was born 31 March 1920, the son of Thomas and Margaret Smiles[1] and brother of Thomas William “Billy”, Mary Jane “Polly” and Ellen “Nellie”.  In 1939, the family lived at 9 the Mill, Evenwood and Thomas [senior] worked as a “North Eastern Railway plate layer”, Thomas [junior] was recorded as, “colliery hewer”, George as, “colliery pony putter” and Mary as, “apprentice dress maker”.[2]

Service Details

The service details of George H. Smiles have not been researched.  It is known that he was a member of the Territorial Force being attached to his local battalion, the 6th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry, “A” Company.[3]  It is also known that he was seriously wounded during action in North Africa but the actual date is unknown.  An undated postcard sent home to his sisters which takes the form of a photograph shows George with 5 other soldiers, presumably in the NAAFI, enjoying a beer.  A cap with a DLI badge is clearly visible on the photo.  The reverse carries the following notation:

“Cpl. G. Smiles

“D” Coy 36 BRICK

B.L.A.”

I have no idea what the above notation refers to.

6/DLI came under the orders of 151st Infantry Brigade together with 8/DLI and 9/DLI, which was part of the 50th [Northumbrian] Division. 6/DLI Commanding Officer was Lt-Col. A.E. Green, Second in Command, Major G.L. Wood MC and Adjutant Captain R.S. Loveridge MC.  Whilst Corporal G.H. Smiles served with 6/DLI, the 50th Division fought with the British Expeditionary Force [BEF] in France which led to the evacuation at Dunkirk then in many North African campaigns. [4] 

1940: France

January 1940:  The 151st Brigade moved to France and was initially responsible for the southern sector of the line between Seclin and Wavrin near Loos-les-Lille. [5]

10 May 1940:   The German invasion of France started at 5.35am.  The 50th Division were involved in “a bewildering series of marches” but finally, by the 21 May, all battalions were assembled around Vimy.  The 151st Brigade was ordered to undertake a, “limited operation to relieve the pressure on Arras”.  The 6/DLI with the 4th Royal Tank Regiment was to move to Thelus by Les Tilleuls, Ecurie, Anzin-Saint-Aubin, Wagnonlieu, Dainville, Achicourt, Beaurains and Henin-sur-Cojeul.  By about 2.30 when approaching Wagnonlieu, the leading company of 6/DLI came under shell fire and pressed forward to Beaurains.  The Luftwaffe began dive-bombing around the villages of Achicourt, Beaurains and Agny.  At 8, the enemy began to shell the column and at about 10.15, tank, mortar and machine gun fire forced the column to withdraw to Achicourt.  There, 2 companies were subject to a heavy attack inflicting many casualties causing a further withdrawal to Ecurie.  Others lost their way, some ending up at Boulogne the next day where, having taken part in the defence of the port were evacuated to England on the 23 May. [6] The main body withdrew to Vimy Ridge occupying the Givenchy-en-Gohelle to Farbus sector on the 23rd May and by the 27th, the 151st Brigade including 6/DLI moved north to plug the gap between Comines and Ypres.  There was considerable enemy action along the front which increased at about 4 in the afternoon.  At midnight orders were received to form a line Poperinghe to Bikschote which was held until the 29th.  By 12.30am on the 30th May, the Division was across the Yser River and the bridge was blown.  Withdrawal to Dunkirk for evacuation on the 31st was the objective.  6/DLI was positioned on the Canal de Berues a Funes opposite Wulveringem.  At 9am on the 31st, the Germans broke through the 1/King’s Own Scottish Borderers which resulted in 6/DLI and 9/DLI mounting a counter-attack to restore the line. A severe enemy attack at 2pm forced a further withdrawal over the Canal du Ringloot.  A lull then ensued with little more than harassing fire as the Brigade withdrew to the beaches. 

1 June, at 2.30 in the afternoon, the battalion started to move down to the beaches for embarkation.  The 50th Division was the last to leave France.[7]

Between 10 May and 1 June 1940, 6/DLI lost 19 men killed in action or died of wounds and a further 14 men during the month of June.[8]  It is assumed that these men died of wounds either at home or as POWs.  The military cross [MC] was awarded to 3 officers and 6 military medals [MM] were awarded to NCOs and other ranks.[9]

1942-43: North Africa

January 1942:  The 50th Division arrived in North Africa.[10] The great German offensive commenced in May and June when Torbruk was captured and the British field army was thrown back to the Alamein Line.  The British offensive commenced in October, starting with the Battle of Alamein, which drove the Germans back into Tunisia, forcing it to surrender near Tunis in May 1943.[11]  This campaign cost 6/DLI 151 men, killed or died of wounds between 6 April 1942 and 15 April 1943 [12] including Evenwood men Corporal Thomas Snowdon [15 June 1942] and Private John Stephenson [28 June 1942].[13]  6/DLI was awarded 6 MCs, 1 bar to the MC, 2 Distinguished Conduct Medals and 11 MMs.[14]   

George Smiles received wounds while in action in North Africa, the details of which are unknown.[15]  The following text is an extract from an article appeared in the Northern Echo:[16]

“Later he [Private Fred Parkinson] was in action in North Africa when another soldier from Barnard Castle, George Smiles, was given up for dead.  Pte. Parkinson took a closer look, saw a slight movement and carried the wounded man to a jeep.  For years after that, Geordie told people at home that he owed his life to Mr. Parkinson.”

It is assumed that Private G. Smiles was treated in hospital, probably in North Africa since shipping in the Mediterranean Sea was dangerous.  There was always the possibility of attack from Italian or German naval or air forces.  The alternative route to the UK was via the Suez Canal, around east and south Africa via the Cape Good Hope and north through the Atlantic Ocean – a long, arduous and dangerous route still vulnerable to attack by ships of the German Navy, U-Boat or surface vessels of the Kriegsmarine.

Without additional information, it is impossible to provide further details on the service career of Corporal G. Smiles.[17]

Post War

1961: George H. Smiles married Dulcie Wallis.[18]

1972: George H. Smiles died 3 May, aged 52.[19]

Photographs

Corporal George H. Smiles second left

REFERENCES

[1] Nee Watson ref: England & Wales Birth Index Vol.10a p.707 Teesdale 1920 Q2

[2] 1939 England & Wales Register Note: Ellen’s record is “officially closed”.

[3] Family details – Religious book with notation – Pte. G. Smiles “A” Coy 6th Batt DLI

[4] “Monty’s Northern Legions 50th Northumbrian and 15th Scottish Divisions at War 1939-1945” Patrick Delaforce 2004 p.104

[5] “Faithful: The Story of the Durham Light Infantry” 1962 S.G.P. Ward p.469

[6] Ward p.475-476

[7] Ward p.480-481

[8] “The Faithful Sixth: A History of the Sixth Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry” 1995 Harry Moses p.349 Note: For anyone with an interest in 6/DLI, Harry’s book is the authoritative version.

[9] Moses P.346

[10] Ward p.481

[11] Ward p.482

[12] Moses p.349-351

[13] “Evenwood Remembers Once Again” 2011 Kevin Richardson p.248

[14] Moses p.346-348

[15] Family details Mary Vickers

[16] Northern Echo 23 September 2006, “Tributes to veteran who saved comrade” by Jim McTaggart

[17] We do not know when he was promoted to Corporal

[18] England & Wales Marriage Index 1916-2005 Vol.1a p.1400 Durham South Western 1961 Q2

[19] England & Wales Death Index Vol.1a p.1439 Durham South Western 1972 Q2 Note: His middle name is given as Henry. Family details Mary Vickers.