42178, Lance Corporal, Harold Geoffrey SMITHSON
Aged 22


17th Battalion, Manchester Regiment
(enlisted as No.T4/159833, Army Service Corps)
Killed in Action on Tuesday 31st July 1917

Born in Newmarket in Q3-1895 [Newmarket 3b:510] to Henry Geoffrey and Annie Louisa SMITHSON (née PRIMETT), of Doris Street, Newmarket.

1901 census...Harold [5] was with his grandparents Charles & Esther PRIMETT at Crescent Road, Hemel Hempstead, Herts. At Doris Street, Newmarket were his father Henry [39] assistant trainer, born Malton, Yorks., his mother Annie [30] born Hertford, brother Henry [8] and sister Henrietta [1], both born in Newmarket.

1911 census...Harold [15] was a messenger boy, living at 6 Doris Street with his widowed mother and sister Henrietta Valentina. His father had died in 1910. Brother Henry was at 198 Henley Road, Ilford with his uncle and aunt, Frederick and Sophie PRIMETT and their family.


His mother later moved to 5 Fern Villas, Mill Hill, Newmarket. His elder brother Henry was killed in 1918.. see here



His entry in "Our Exning Heroes" reads :
"Born in 1895, and educated at St Mary's School, he was apprenticed near Maidstone to learn butchering. Afterwards he went to London, and when war broke out he joined up in the 17th Manchester Regiment. After seven months training he went out to France and was made Corporal. He was in most of the engagements on the Somme and Ypres salient. He was killed on July 31st, 1917, at Zillebeke, near Ypres."


31st July 1917 was the 1st day of the 3rd battle for Ypres (Passchendaele). From www.themanchesters.org we have the following:
The 30th Divisionís objective on the 31st July was Polygon Wood. To reach this the four Pals Battalions of 90 Brigade the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th Battalions would attack together. The 16th and the 18th Battalions would initially assault their 1st Objectives and the 17th and 19th Battalions would move quickly through them and hopefully maintain the momentum. On the night of the 30th July the 17th Battalion made its way to the assembly trenches behind Sanctuary Wood . At 3.50am the advance started. The morning was misty, which hid their intentions from the German observers in Sanctuary Wood and as the men moved forward behind a terrific barrage, no enemy barrage was put up. The assault at this point was held up as the men came close to their own barrage and were forced to stop and take cover. The 18th Battalionís objective of Stirling Castle was taken. The 16th Battalionís objective was carried and the 17th Battalion quickly pushed through hoping to continue the momentum and push on towards Glencorse Wood. The attack began to falter as the men crossed the Ypres-Menin road under a hail of machine gun fire from the direction of Glencorse Wood. The men attempted to dig themselves in and from 5.00am onwards an intense German barrage began to fall over the whole of the area. Then the rain came.
The badly cratered battlefield and shell holes began to fill with water and the position became increasingly difficult as men clung to the sides of shell holes and hastily constructed trenches in an attempt not to drown. The assault quickly ran out of momentum. The 17th battalion were finally relieved on the morning of the 1st August and proceeded to Zillebeke where the roll was called. The Battalions casualties in the action were: 2 Officers killed and 8 wounded or missing and 19 Other ranks killed and 146 wounded or missing. The Battalion marched to Chateau Segard to reorganise.

CWGC shows the Manchesters had 214 killed that day, 33 of them from the 17th Battalion.



© Commonwealth War Graves Commission


No known grave - Harold is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, Belgium- Ref:panels 53 and 55
and is also commemorated on the Roll of Honour in St Philip & St Etheldreda's Church, Exning Road.

click here to go to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website for full cemetery/memorial details


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