This story relates to the contributor's father, Thomas William Arthur Smart, always known as William or Will. He was born on October 11th, 1891 in Wigston near Leicester. It is not known exactly when he joined up, but he was certainly in the Army in 1916, as the contributor has a postcard with this date on it. It is known from the contributor's mother that William was vaccinated against small pox and had a bad reaction to it. He contracted peritonitis and was seriously ill, which delayed him going to the Front. In 1917 he had double pneumonia, sent to Rugeley Camp Military Hospital, and he was so ill that they sent for his sister, as they did not think that he would live. The contributor's mother said the fact that he was in a military hospital saved him, because he had 24 hour care. He was told that he didn't have to go to the Front and could have an office job instead, but he insisted that he wanted to go.
He went to the Front in 1918, reaching Boulogne on March 7th, 1918. He was in the Lincoln Regiment, Private W Smart, service number 43446. He had previously been in the South Staffordshire Regiment, but the contributor has a diary, in which he recorded his daily experiences, and on 7th March he records that he was drafted to the Lincolns. He then moved to the Front, and records his journey and subsequent experiences.
On the 14th April he moved up to the line and took over some hastily dug trenches from another company. They were told that "Jerry" was a mile away. He wrote and later talked about being surrounded under fire. They were captured on the 15th or 16th and then marched to Armentières. Their eventual destination was a French barracks in Lille. They were hungry and thirsty and had their pocket knives taken away. He records, sending a POW card to Lily, his sister, on 17th April, that there were 353 men all crowded into a small room, 20' x 50', with awful sanitary arrangements and alive with lice. His diary also records all kinds of details of what they had to eat, where they were moved to, the work they had to do, medical treatments, such as inoculations that he was given, female civilians being forced to work and so on. He also talks about stealing food when they were sent to work at a ration dump at the station. He was a prisoner for the rest of the war, in a variety of places in Belgium, and in October left for Bavaria. When the war finally ended he was in a camp at Hammelburg. On November 10th 1918 he notes that the "Jerries" were leaving the camp and heard about the general Armistice on the 12th. They remained at the camp and had a photograph taken in the village on 16th December. He travelled back to Switzerland, travelling through Germany on the 22nd December. He finally arrived home in England on 30th December on the "Caledonian" and back to his home near Leicester on 2nd January.
After the war he went back to his job in the Co-Operative offices in Wigston, Leicester. He married a Belgian girl, Helene Geens, in 1928, whom he had met on holiday. She had been a refugee in Prestatyn during the war; see story entitled: Belgian Refugees in North Wales.
Summary description of items
Two postcards sent to William Smart.
Photograph of staff and patients [?] taken at Rugeley Camp Military Hospital, April 1917.
Three photographs of William Smart, one with his mother and his sister, Lily.
Three postcards sent to Lily, William's sister.
Photograph of William Smart and four other POWs, Hammelburg, 1918. Taken just after Armistice.