12/44764, Lance Corporal, Henry Robinson SMITHSON
Aged 25

12th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles
(enlisted as No.1510, London Regiment)
Killed in Action on Thursday 21st March 1918

Born in Newmarket in Q3-1892 [Newmarket 3b:527] to Henry Geoffrey and Annie Louisa SMITHSON (née PRIMETT) of 6 Doris Street, Newmarket.

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

1911 census...Henry was a stockbrokers clerk, living with his uncle and aunt, Frederick and Sophie PRIMETT at 198 Henley Road, Ilford. Brother Harold was at Doris Street, Newmarket with his widowed mother and sister Henrietta.

His father had died in 1910. Mother later moved to 5 Fern Villas, Mill Hill, Newmarket. He enlisted in Fulham. Ireland's Memorial Records 1914-18 have his regimental number wrong and his place of birth.

His younger brother Harold was killed in 1917.. see here

His entry in "Our Exning Heroes" reads:
"Born in 1892, and educated at St.Mary's School, he went to London and was employed on the Stock Exchange. Soon after war broke out he joined up in the Royal Irish Rifles, 12th Battalion. He was in many of the big battles during the summer of 1917 and the spring of 1918. He was reported missing on the 21st March 1918 and no information could be secured by his parents until one of his comrades, who was taken prisoner, reported that he saw him killed by a detachment of Germans, who were sent to capture the machine gun he was using so effectively. He died thus doing his duty."

The Kaiserschlacht, 21st March 1918
The Irish Division's five kilometre front lent itself well to defence with a series of low ridges and valleys opposite St Quentin. On the first ridge behind the front line were three redoubts: Boadicea (on the left), Racecourse and Jeanne d'Arc. Behind them in the Battle Zone were three more: Ricardo, Quarry and Station. Like all of the Divisions that had been moved into the area there was a lot more work to do than simply build redoubts and dig trenches. Roads and communications systems had to be prepared or improved; munitions depots established; everything was labour intensive and the manpower was in short supply. On the opening day of the German offensive the Battle Zone trenches in some places were still only knee deep.
12th Royal Irish Rifles (C Coy)in the right Forward Zone, held the Germans in a constant succession of vicious hand to hand combats near the railway embankment at Grugies. At midday as the fog began to lift it could seen that far from holding the front line they were now an isolated pocket. Over a kilometre to their rear they could see the Germans swarming over the Jeanne d'Arc redoubt and the rest of the battalion. The Company commander could also see that he was well placed to machine gun German troops who seemed to be arriving nonchalantly up the main road from La Fère. Despite the fact that such an act would bring their position to the attention of the Germans the Lewis gunners decimated the arriving columns. Once, however, the redoubt had fallen the Germans were able to come back to deal with them. The first assaults though went badly for the Germans as they came on too confidently and were mown down for their lack of caution They fought on until 1600 hours. With hope of reinforcement gone and the position now hopeless they were ordered to surrender. A hundred, mostly wounded, soldiers would finish the war in captivity.

The Royal Irish Rifles lost over 200 killed that day, 34 from the 12th Battalion, of whom only one has an identified grave

No known grave - Henry is commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial, France- Ref:panels 74-76
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