Joseph C. Smith
Private, Honourable Artillery Company
Joseph C. Smith, known to his friends and family as ‘Joe’, was a student at Alleyn’s until 1915 and lived with his parents, Joseph and Annie, at 30 Chesterfield Grove, East Dulwich. Joe was well liked at Alleyn’s and was known to be an excellent sportsman with a particular talent for football and cricket. This talent saw him often referred to as ‘Leggy’ Smith because of his skill on the pitch. After leaving school at the age of 16, Joe found work with Lloyd's Register as a Clerk. He carried on his love for sport during this time, becoming a member of the Register's Cricket XI. This athleticism would later serve him well when he decided to join the British Expeditionary Force after the outbreak of war in August 1914. After being found fit for service, Joe joined the Honourable Artillery Company as a Private and served overseas on the Western Front with 2nd Battalion. In the winter of 1916-17, Joe served in France with the HAC and was posted to the Somme where his battalion occupied the reserve trenches. He often wrote home during this time to his girlfriend, Dolly, and to his family. His letters mostly described the various football matches that he had helped to organise, referee and play in, in addition to asking his family if they could send over any food. After a short spell serving at the front in the harsh winter, Joe unfortunately developed frostbite and he was hospitalized for some time to recover. During his recovery, Joe wrote home and expressed his excitement at being able to enjoy the luxury of a fully cooked breakfast each morning at the Field Hospital as he steadily returned to full health. By 1917, Joe was fit to return to the front and he rejoined his battalion near Bullecourt, where the HAC would later take part in an attack that would attempt to breakthrough the Hindenburg Line. During this operation, which would later become known as the Battle of Bullecourt, Joe was in the Bombing Section of 11 Platoon C. Company and was part of the attacking forces on May 3rd 1917. Shortly before going over the top on this day, he wrote a postcard home that stated all was well, but unfortunately during the fierce fighting of the battle, Joe was shot as he attempted to advance towards the German positions. He later died of his injuries on May 5th 1917, at the age of 19. He is buried at Achiet-Le-Grand, a small communal cemetery established next to the Field Hospital where he was treated.
Joe's diary for 1914, as well as his letters and photographs, are held by the Honourable Artillery Company.