Drinkstone remembers fallen soldier 100 years after his death

Robin Sharp, vice chairman of the Drinkstone War Memorial Institute (Village Hall), at the exhibition
Robin Sharp, vice chairman of the Drinkstone War Memorial Institute (Village Hall), at the exhibition

A young Suffolk soldier, who died in action in Belgium 100 years ago, is being remembered in a special exhibition in Drinkstone, his home village.

Private Albert Smith was serving with the 1st Battalion Prince of Wales’s Own (West Yorkshire) Regiment in Ypres when he was killed by a shell, age 19. He is buried in the Potijze Burial Ground Cemetery, just outside Ypres.

Portrait of Albert Smith

Portrait of Albert Smith

An exhibition charting his life and military service has been compiled on behalf of the Drinkstone War Memorial Institute (Village Hall) by Robin Sharp, the vice chairman.

He said: “The exhibition is part of Drinkstone’s effort to remember all of the 15 men from the village who lost their lives during the First World War.

“We are focusing on each man in turn, as we reach the centenary of their deaths – Albert Smith is the fourth Drinkstone man to be commemorated in this way.

“We feel that this is a fitting way to mark the impact that their loss had on the village, to honour their lives and keep the solemn pledge ‘We will remember them’.”

The exhibition is free to view and will be on display at Drinkstone Village Hall until March 31.

Mr Sharp added: “We’re proud to be able to remember and honour Albert Smith and show that his life and sacrifice have not been forgotten by this generation of Drinkstonians.

“We were pleased to have found a photograph of Albert Smith, originally published in the Bury Free Press in July 1916, which is included in the exhibition.

“The stories of each man are, however, not ‘complete’ and we’d be delighted to receive any further information about Albert Smith, or of the other 14 men, to help us to celebrate their lives.”

What is known of Albert Smith:

Albert Smith was born in Felsham on December 17, 1896, third youngest of nine children of John and Ellen (née Pilbrow) Gill.

The Smith family moved to Drinkstone in 1905 and Albert was enrolled at Drinkstone School, age eight.

In the 1911 census, his age was recorded as 14, his occupation as farm labourer and he was living with an uncle and aunt in Thorpe Morieux.

He is next recorded as volunteering for the army in York aged 17¾, joining the 1st Battalion Prince of Wales’s (West Yorkshire) Regiment. We can only assume that he had travelled north, so far from home, looking for work.

As the legal age for service overseas was 19, Albert spent the next 15 months training and on home service, before landing in France on December 10, 1915, just one week short of his 19th birthday. He boarded a troop train to join his Regiment, which was serving in and around the Belgian city of Ypres.

The next three months of Albert’s service were a rather repetitive routine of duties between the trenches, the battered city and behind the lines. Typically, it was working parties at night (where the tasks were digging out and repairing trenches, dugouts, relief lines and billets) and carrying ammunition and other supplies to the front line.

Although Albert Smith probably did not take part in any actual fighting, he certainly experienced life ‘under fire’ with shelling, as well as enemy sniping and even one gas attack.

At the beginning of March, Albert was back in the trenches in the front line.

On Saturday March 4, the Regimental War Diary reads: “Trenches. Snow fell all morning after a wet night, enemy very quiet during night, ‘S’ Line shelled in afternoon …. Casualties: 1 killed – 4 wounded.”

The soldier killed was Private Albert Smith. He was aged 19.

Reports in the Bury Free press refer to ‘a gallant young Drinkstone soldier’ killed in action by a shell.

His death was all the more poignant since the Battalion left the trenches not much more than a week later and the following five weeks were spent resting, and training in a camp near Calais.

He now lies in the Potijze Burial Ground Cemetery, near the city of Ypres.

The sad news of Albert’s death was delivered to his parents John and Ellen back in Drinkstone.

In due course, his service medals – 1915 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal - as well as the Memorial Plaque (or ‘Dead Man’s Penny’) and Scroll would have been sent to his family.

It was his parents too who received his outstanding army pay of £5 16s. 1d (£5.80½p) on June 9, 1916, and a War Gratuity of £6 on August 16, 1919.

Albert Smith’s name is inscribed on the war memorial in All Saints Church, Drinkstone; it also appears on a memorial in Felsham School (now the Village Hall) in memory of former pupils.

However, although he and both his parents were born in Felsham, his name was not included on that village’s war memorial in St Peters Church.

But Albert Smith is still remembered in Drinkstone a century after his death – the fourth man on the village war memorial to have fallen in the First World War.