The Reverend J. Jeremy Smith was a Wesleyan minister and together with his wife, Mary, and their 9 children, he lived the itinerant life demanded of such a vocation, moving between four counties and six different places during the 1880s. Yorke Smith was born in Yorkshire in 1888, the fourth of five sons and younger than all four of his sisters.
The two eldest Smith brothers were alumni of Durham University and Yorke conformed to family tradition when he became a foundation scholar at Bishop Hatfield’s Hall in 1906. He read classical and general literature along with Greek testament and theology and took his B.A. with 2nd class honours in 1908, followed by an M.A. in 1912/3.
He enjoyed the sporting aspects of Hatfield life, representing the University in both rugby football and fives and playing cricket for Hatfield against St Chad’s. He was also a participating member of the Debating Society. In one debate in 1907, around the time of the commissioning of H.M.S. Dreadnaught, he opposed the motion, “that sea-power has had a greater effect on the world’s history than land-power.” The motion was lost.
After University Smith became a teacher at Borden Grammar School, in Sittingbourne, Kent, a period of his life about which little is currently known. However, with the coming of the war perhaps his confidence in the Army, as demonstrated to that 1907 debate, together with his prowess on the sports field, contributed to his decision to enlist as a private in the 24th (2nd Sportsmen’s) Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers in 1914. Updates to the roll of honour published in the Durham University Journal record that he served in this capacity for the next two years.
The Battle of the Somme began on 1 July 1916 and ended on18 November, and although land changed hands from time to time, eventually there was very little territory gained by either side, despite catastrophic casualties. Yorke Smith was, by this time, acting as a signaller for his battalion. Signallers usually carried messages between company or platoon commanders and their superiors, which often entailed being a runner and actually carrying messages by hand. Bearing in mind the churned state of the terrain, the wintery weather and the ferocity of the artillery, life expectancy for signallers was particularly short.
A major push – the Battle of the Ancre – was planned for 13 November. The battalion left billets at Mailly-Maillet the previous day. At 05:15 on the morning of the battle the Royal Fusiliers advanced behind a creeping barrage. When the barrage was lifted, and in spite of fog and snow, the British front line walked into the enemy front trench where they found enemy soldiers emerging from their dugouts. These men were taken prisoner. In this section of the line, unlike some places, the barrage had completely destroyed the barbed wire barrier and the enemy had abandoned their forward emplacements, moving into the shelter of random shell holes. The Fusiliers attempted to consolidate their own position whilst holding off “desultory bombing attacks”. Nevertheless, casualty numbers were high that day: 33 men of the 24th Battalion were killed or died of wounds, 175 were wounded, and 52 were posted as missing. Among this last group was Private Yorke Smith.
Smith left few personal effects, but what remained was administered by his father, J. Jeffrey Smith. His last known address, stated at probate, was 1 Mount Pleasant, in Bishop Auckland, County Durham. Yorke Smith is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial, on a plaque at Hatfield College, and on the Royal Fusiliers war memorial at Holborn in London.