Remembering the First World War fallen
George Lumley, George Smith & Norman Smith.
In August 1915 no less than 3 soldiers with Embsay connections died in action during the First World War – George Lumley, George Smith, and Norman Smith.
George Lumley was born in 1895 while his parents were briefly living in Embsay – his younger sister Edith was also born in Embsay – but before he reached his 5th birthday, George’s family moved to Lancashire, and it is therefore in Burnley that he is commemorated on the local roll of honour. Unfortunately we have not been able to track down a photograph of him. George’s father was a driver of a steam road roller for the council’s highways department, but George was a factory worker in Lee’s cotton mill, Burnley, when he enlisted in the 6th Battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment as Private no. 11562. He was sent to Gallipoli, where his battalion was part of the third and final attempt to take the Sari Bair Ridge. Two companies launched their attack at 6 in the morning – they had to cross flat farmland, exposed to machine gun fire, not only in front of them, but also from the sides with enemy positions at their flanks. Casualties were high - only about 100 East Lancashire men survived that day. George’s body was never found – The Burnley Express reported that his parents desperately sought for news of him, but it was 6 months before his death was confirmed. He was 20 years old. He is commemorated on the Helles Memorial in Gallipoli.
In 1919 his father was granted a £3 war gratuity as compensation.
George Smith was born in Derbyshire, the son of a council gardener at Etwall. He came to Embsay to work as a porter on the railway. On 9th October 1914 The Craven Herald proudly reported that Embsay had set a fine example by sending so many of its young men to the war – George Smith was named among them – he had enlisted as a private (service no. 13127) in the 2nd Battalion of the Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment. He was 16 years old, 3 years under the official minimum age for recruitment.
On 18th August 1915, the Battalion war diary entry read: “In trenches N of Bray. One casualty. A noisy night, enemy exploded a mine on our left.” That one casualty was George Smith, as revealed in the Craven Herald newspaper, published on 3rd September 1915. George Smith had been shot through the head, and a memorial service had been held for him at Etwall Church where he had formerly been a choir boy. The newspaper reported that: “A comrade of the fallen has written, stating that the brave boy (who was only 17 years of age) … had always distinguished himself as a brave and daring soldier.” The newspaper made no comment on the tragic fact that the boy had been under-age for military service.
The teenager is commemorated at the Citadel New Military Cemetery at Fricourt in France, the memorial in Holy Trinity Church, Skipton, and on the village war memorial by Embsay Village Hall.
His half-brother Harry Hodge (who had served in the Boer War) died on the Somme in the following year.
Norman Smith was no relation to George. His father worked at Crown Spindle Mill, and Norman was born in Embsay in 1887. He had worked as an errand boy for the post office but when he was in his mid-teens the family moved to Skipton, where Norman became a tailor, working first for H. Watson of Caroline Square, and then for G. Leathley on Otley Street. He was a keen footballer, playing for the Niffany Rovers – at 5ft 9ins in height, he was a tall young man. His sister Alice returned to Embsay as Mrs Breakell, living at Millholme.
Norman was 27 years old (not 26 as stated in some sources) when he enlisted on 4th November 1914, joining the 6th Battalion of the Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment. After training for months in England, the battalion finally sailed for France on 14th April 1915. Norman was hospitalised with septic poisoning on 30th May, but returned to duty by the 6th June. He wrote cheerily to his parents that he was “in the pink” and expecting to be home on leave quite soon.
Within a week his parents received another letter. His commanding officer, Lt. Supple, wrote to his parents that Norman was “a trusty comrade – a man who always did his duty - a fine type of British manhood… Poor lad, his troubles are over, and yours is the burden”. It is significant that his parents received not just one, but two letters from a commanding officer – the second came from a Major Bateman, who wrote that “he was a splendid soldier, and always cheerful under the most trying circumstances.”
Norman had been killed on 5th August 1915 – the trench where he died was a mere 25 yards from the German line. The Battalion war diary noted that in the hope of demoralising the British in the trenches opposite them, the Germans had put up a notice facing across No-Man’s-Land, declaring that “Warsaw has been conquered.” it was a fine day, but the enemy were shelling the trenches, causing damage to communication trenches. There were 3 casualties that day, including Norman.
“No doubt you will have got word about Norman’s death, and I do not know how to express my deepest sympathy for you all at home.” wrote his friend, and fellow Skiptonian, Private Walton, “It cast a gloom over us all here for he was a favourite with us all. We were getting our rations for the day when the Germans sent over a big bomb which burst in the parapet where we were standing and killed him instantly… Before exploding the bomb rolled off the parapet on to F. Thornton’s back. We all scattered, but Norman, and though I shouted to him, he must not have heard me. We made a dash for him, but were not in time, and he got the full force of the bomb…. We were pals to the finish; always got our meals together, and stuck to one another as we did in civil life, so you can tell how much I shall miss him, as well as you at home.”
Norman was buried 20 yards behind the front line, and his friend made sure a cross was erected over him.
On the 15th August 1920 his personal belongings were finally returned to his father – only a few photographs and letters had been found. His half-brother John was a prisoner of war in Germany, and his brother, Noris, was with the Royal Engineers.
Norman is commemorated at the Colne Valley Cemetery at West-Vlaanderen, Belgium, and in Skipton on the war memorial in the High Street, and in Holy Trinity Church. He is also one of the 12 names on the roll of honour in Skipton’s Working Men’s Club.
For several years, on the anniversary of his death, his parents printed a memorial to him in the Craven Herald which read “In loving remembrance to our dear son and brother… Though lost to sight, to memory dear.”
If anyone has more information on George Lumley, George Smith, or Norman Smith, we would be very interested to hear from you.
Jane Lunnon, Embsay Research Group (part of Upper Wharfedale Heritage Group)