Walter SMITH
Rank: Sergeant
Number: 5316
Date of Death: 22 March 1918
Age: 28
Cemetery: Arras Memorial, Pas de Calais, France

Walter had been born in Disley in about 1890 but was living at 56 Stafford Street, Stockport when he enlisted into the army at Ashton under Lyne. His is a very low service number indicating he must have joined up very soon after War was declared in August 1914. It is even possible that he was pre-War regular soldier.

During mid-March 1918, Walter and his mates were in reserve positions near the village of Fremicourt and had been digging trenches for several days. The British commanders were aware that a major German attack was in the offing but, of course, it was not known when or where this would be launched. Preparations for defence were, however, well in hand. In the early hours of the 21st, the German artillery opened a massive bombardment of the British trenches along a 40 mile front. Just after 5am, the Fusiliers were ordered to "stand to" and have breakfast ready for an early move. At midday, the orders came for them to move forward and take up a defensive position south of the road between Bapaume and Cambrai and about 1000 yards north of Lebugquiere. It was becoming clear to the generals that the German assault was overwhelming the troops in the front line and the British army was already in retreat.

The Fusiliers dug themselves in by linking up shell holes and officers took out scouting patrols to see if they could establish what was happening in front. The Regimental History recounts that the night was uneventful as was the morning of 22 March.

"But after an unsuccessful attack on the 51st Division at 2.15pm, the Germans succeeded in breaking the Corps line east of Morchies and pressed forward up the Morchies valley until they reached the road. To meet the threat from Morchies and to cover the Battalion's left flank, "A" and "B" Companies were moved north of the main road and took up a position facing north, "A" on the right, "B" on the left with its outer flank at a beetroot factory which stood at the crossing of the main road and the Lebucquiere - Morchies road. During the night, "A" Company were swung round so as to face east with "D" Company in support behind them. That the enemy was close at hand is shown by the fact that a patrol under Lt J H Briffa captured a prisoner and that "A" Company captured a German officer and four men and inflicted a number of casualties on German patrols."

It cannot now be known if Walter was killed in the contacts with the German patrols or if he fell victim to enemy shelling. In the subsequent retreat, his body was never recovered and identified and he is now commemorated on the Memorial to the Missing at Arras.

Reporting his death, the local Stockport newspaper stated that, at some point during the War, Walter had been awarded the French Croix de Guerre. It has not been possible to verify this.

Walter is commemorated on the Stockport and Hazel Grove War Memorials and his story forms part of the book "Hazel Grove to Armageddon" by John Eaton.

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