William Smith

Name: William Smith
Royal Marines
Service Number
: PO/X/100217
Date of Death:
30 March 1941
Batley Cemetery

William Smith

William Smith was the youngest son of John Smith (or Smyth as the name was sometimes recorded) and Ellen McDonald (sometimes the spelling is MacDonald). He was born in Batley on 21 May 1917.

His parents married over twelve years earlier, at Batley St Mary of the Angels, in October 1902. It was the parish in which Ellen grew up. John too was local to the Batley/Dewsbury area. All the couple’s 10 children were born in Batley.

Eldest child John Edward arrived the year after their marriage. He was followed by James in 1904, Mary Elizabeth in 1905, Ellen (known as Nellie) in 1907, Annie in 1909, Catherine in 1910, Philip in 1913, Jane in 1915, then William, and finally Teresa in 1920.

The 1911 census records the family in Cobden Street, Batley with John working as a hewer in a coal mine. No employment is recorded for Ellen, who previously worked as a rag sorter. She would be fully occupied in the house with six children aged seven and under. The house was described as having two rooms – so cramped conditions for the growing young family.

By 1921 the Smiths were living at Victoria Street, Carlinghow. The house was still crowded with John, Ellen and their eight children now sharing three rooms. Two of the Smith girls died in infancy – Annie in 1911 and Jane in 1917. John’s place of employment is named as Crawshaw and Warburton’s colliery in Dewsbury. At this point William was at school, a pupil at St Mary’s.

William’s life dramatically changed in the 1920s. For some the Roaring Twenties proved a difficult decade, with recession and unemployment hitting hard in the years following the Great War. This was compounded for the Smith family, still living at Victoria Street. They were now devastated by a series of deaths. In January 1924 John died. Youngest child Teresa passed away in April 1925. Then in October 1928 Ellen died. William was orphaned whilst only 11 years old and still at school.

Ordnance Survey Maps – 25 inch England and Wales, 1841-1952, Yorkshire CCXXXII.11, Revised: 1931, Published: 1933 – National Library of Scotland, under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC-BY-NC-SA) licence

But the wider family stepped in. William’s unmarried maternal aunt, Katherine McDonald, took over the care of her younger nephews and nieces.1 She lived at Churchfield Street, and worked as a rag sorter.

William left school in the summer of 1932, and by 1939 was working as a piecener in a woollen mill. He was still living with his aunt Katherine, along with siblings James and Nellie. Before enlisting he worked at in Messrs. Joseph Newsome and Sons Batley Carr Mills.

Outside of work William was a member of the Batley Irish Democratic League Club – located on the same street as he now lived with his auntie Katherine. He also had sporting interests. These included being a keen Rugby footballer, assisting the Junior Elevens, and playing billiards – something for which he was well-known locally.

William enlisted with the Royal Marines in around June 1940. About three months prior to his death, whilst in the south of England, he sustained a shrapnel injury to the leg. However, he seemed to be recovering well.

Whilst home on sick leave for a month in the February-time of 1941 he was able to walk using crutches, and he expected to join a ship in the near future. There was certainly no indication of any serious health problem.

He returned back to his unit where, unbeknownst to his relatives, in late March 1941 he had to be re-admitted to the Royal Naval Hospital in Haslar, Hampshire. He died there on 30 March 1941.

His body was returned to Batley for a military burial which took place in Batley Cemetery on 5 April. He has a Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone, where the inscription also remembers his parents and sister Teresa.2 Flowers are still placed at the foot of the headstone.

William is also commemorated on Batley War Memorial.

Batley Cemetery CWGC Headstone for William Smith – Photo by Jane Roberts

1. Some records spell her name as Catherine.
2. The inscription incorrectly records the month of Teresa’s death as June 1925.

• 1911 Census.
• 1921 Census.
• 1939 Register.
• Batley News.
• Batley’s Roll of Honour.
• Cemetery Burial Registers.
• Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
• GRO Indexes.
• Parish Registers.