Herbert Wilfred Smith was born in 1889, his birth being registered at Congleton. His mother was Sarah J. and his father, William James Smith. William was a farmer and in 1891 he and Sarah farmed at Park Farm, Biddulph Park. They still lived in the Biddulph Park area in 1901 when Herbert first appeared on the census of that year. The Smith family was large; the 1911 census records that his mother had given birth to ten children and that all were still alive. By 1911 Herbert had moved out of the family home (which had become Wright’s Farm) and was a farm servant for Thomas Cotterill at Hunt House, Horton.
At some time after the 1911 census, Herbert married Mary (maiden name unknown) and the couple moved to Sudbury in Derbyshire. At Uttoxeter on July 25th 1916 Herbert enlisted, joining the 2/5th Battalion Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Sherwood Foresters, a second line battalion. His regimental number was 5906. He was described as 26 years of age, 5ft 4in tall, 129 lbs and a farmer.
Although in poor condition his service records have survived and show that from the end of December 1916, Herbert spent two months in the 4th Northern General Hospital in Lincoln. Once recovered, his training continued until he was posted with a reinforcement draft to France.
Herbert crossed to Boulogne on July 19th 1917 and transferred to the 2/6th Battalion which was attached to the 176th Brigade, 59th Division (2nd North Midlands). He joined ‘C’ company on August 14th in the field. This battalion had trained in Watford and Dunstable and had been in France since February. The division was then ordered to Belgium to fight in what was to be the Third Battle of Ypres.
They travelled by train in the usual cattle trucks from Acheux, near Albert, to Winnezeele arriving on September 1st 1917. After assembly they marched into the salient where they then went into action in the battle at Menin Road on September 23rd. The Sherwood Foresters lost many of their brave men here. The battalion were soon in battle again on September 26th at Polygon Wood. Both British and Australian troops followed a creeping artillery barrage to attack the wood, but there were many enemy pillboxes untouched by our artillery fire. Herbert and his mates fought gallantly in the most appalling conditions in the mud of the salient. The action was successful in capturing the pill boxes, of which many still remain in the wood today.
Their actions sadly resulted in a high casualty rate. Private Herbert William Smith, on September 28th 1917 was lost aged 28. He is buried at the Tyne Cot Cemetery. The day after Herbert died the Sherwood Foresters were taken out of line and relieved by the New Zealand Division.
The Staffordshire Weekly Sentinel on November 24th 1917 reported on a joint memorial service held at Biddulph Moor for Private Herbert Smith and Gunner Nixon: “Long before the appointed hour for evensong practically all the available seating accommodation was taken up and a large number of people were unable to gain admittance. The mourners included Mr. Jonathan Nixon (Relieving Officer for Biddulph & District) and Mrs. Nixon, the parents of Gunner Nixon, Mrs. Wilfred Herbert Smith (widow) and Mr. and the Misses Smith, Wright’s Farm (father and sisters of Private Smith).
“The service which was of a most impressive and appropriate character, was conducted by the rector, the Reverend E. Wheeldon. At the conclusion of the service the Last Post was sounded by Mr. John Biddulph, followed by the Dead March from ‘Saul’, when the flag was unfurled and the National Anthem closed a memorable service”.
Private Smith is remembered locally on the Christ Church, Biddulph Moor, memorial and on the cenotaph in Albert Square.
Michael Turnock and Elaine Heathcote.