Private G/5203 Frank Smith
8th Battalion The Buffs (East Kent Regiment)
Today marks the 100th Anniversary of my Great Grandfather sailing to France to serve on the Western Front.
At the beginning of the 20th Century the 1901 Census records two individuals as being a married couple. They were Frank and Edith Smith (Her maiden name being Chittenden) who are recorded as living in the Parish of Lenham in Kent. They went on to have seven children and remained happily married, with evidence to suggest that they were both devoted to each other, but war would change all of that.
The Great War, as it became known, started on the 4th August 1914 when Britain declared war on Germany after it had refused to withdraw from neutral Belgium.
The 8th (Service) Battalion the Buffs (The East Kent Regiment) formed at Canterbury in September of 1914 and was then attached to the 72nd Brigade of the 24th Division. This is significant because this was a New Army Division which was made up entirely of volunteers from all walks of life.
‘In September 1914, when all the real manhood of England not already soldiers were crowding to the Colours, and when elderly men and young boys were so strangely forgetful as to the years of their birth, and when all birth certificates of gallant Englishmen at either end of what is called military age were so universally mislaid and lost, Colonel F. C. Romer, C.B., C.M.G., then in his sixty fourth year, was offered his choice of raising any one of the three specified Service Battalions, and he chose to raise the 8th Battalion of the Buffs.’
Romer spent time recruiting officers he knew from a club named ‘Boodles’ and two of the club waiters, who joined up as privates, also followed Romer. All of these men were all over 40 years of age. The rest of the officers and senior non commissioned officers for the 8/Buffs joined Romer at Shoreham. Here they formed up the battalion with 500 men from Canterbury.
Frank enlisted on the 8th December 1914, becoming Private, G/5203, Frank Smith. He was 34 when he joined up and could have stayed where he was as he was a farm labourer. However, he wanted to make his family proud, and he joined the army.
Their initial formation was one of confusion and lack of cohesion as the War Office tried to cope with the influx of new units who were being formed all over the country. But the 8th Battalion trained all through the beginning of 1915 and was considered ready by the summer of that year. On the 21st August their war diary notes they had been ordered to prepare for mobilization.
On the 21st August 1915 it stated,
‘8th Buffs order to be prepared forthwith for embarkation to France with the 24th Division.’
The preparations continued until the 29th August when they were given their orders to move. Frank noted in a letter on that date,
‘I think we are moving from here tomorrow, Monday, we don’t know where we sail from but I suppose it will be Folkestone.’
Frank was wrong on the port of embarkation and between the 30th and 31st August 30 Officers and 557 Other Ranks embarked on the S.S. St Seriol, sailing from Southampton at 11.15 p.m. They then landed at Boulogne and marched to Ostrohove where they rested overnight before moving by train to Montreuil. They then marched in the rain to a camp at Maninghem. Here they would stay for most of September.
It is tragic to note that only one member of the 8th Buffs saw a front line trench in this period. This one officer, Lieutenant Edward Thompson Smith, went to the front for one day and there is no mention that he passed on anything to the men. The rest of the battalion trained and then they were ordered to move on 21st September 1915.
Their destination would be Loos.
We will look at what happened to the 8th Buffs on 27th September 2015 on the 100th Anniversary of them going into action at the Battle of Loos.