Sergeant George Smith, Drum Major, 1 East Surrey Regiment

Discussion in '1940' started by PGWKATIE, Jun 10, 2014.


    PGWKATIE Member

    Hello Everyone

    I hope you don't mind me using your site to try and find out a little more about how and where my great uncle died, as no-one in my family has ever been able to give me any real information (although I do not think the family were able to find out very much at the time). I have been trawling various internet sites and managed to get some information from the Commonwealth War Graves site, but I would really be interested to know the circumstances of his death.

    My great uncle was Sgt George Smith (Drum Major) of the East Surrey Regiment, 1st Batallion - R2691540. He reportedly died on 21 May 1940 (at the age of 30), and I know he is commemorated at the Dunkirk Memorial. I assume that means there is no grave for him so his body may have been left where he lay.

    I know some of you on this forum have previously mentioned that you have more detailed information on the casualties from the East Surrey Regiment. Grim as it might be, I really would like to know if there is more known about his death, as our family really have is that he died somewhere between the Belgian border and Dunkirk.

    If anyone is able to help, I would be really grateful as it would be a missing piece of the jigsaw.

    Many thanks.
  2. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    I can tell you he was in the Regimental Aid Post when he was killed. The RAP received a direct hit from German Artillery that were registering on the battalion positions during the afternoon of the 21st May 1940.

    How's that ?

    Ps Is 7 minutes a records?
    Tullybrone, CL1 and dbf like this.
  3. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Seven minutes ? Dozed off at the pc, did you ? Are there any other casualties from the RAP with known graves ?
  4. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Nope - The RAP was a cottage and it collapsed killing and wounding all inside. Sgt Smith was in charge of the stretcher bearers.

    PGWKATIE Member

    Thank you Drew3233! I am very impressed to receive news so quickly about Great Uncle George.

    The direct hit certainly explains him not having a grave. Where was the RAP? I can't see your post now I have opened this window, and have forgotten exactly what you said about him being in the RAP. As he was a Drum Major, was he working with the injured there, rather than having been taken there wounded? Just out of interest, is there any account of how many men were lost?

    I cannot tell you how interesting it is to have just a bit of news, even though it was never exactly going to be pleasant. He was my maternal great aunt's husband, and they had no children, so I am not sure if any of us would qualify as next of kin if we wanted to try and get a copy of his service record. Rumour has it, he joined up as a boy soldier in the 1920s, so we are not quite sure how we would find out more about him.

    Thanks again for your help - I really appreciate the information you have given me.
  6. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    The British Army used bandsmen as stretcher-bearers so his presence there is entirely logical.

    It may be, if the location can be pinned-down a little closer, that there is a cemetery which includes one or more graves marked ' A soldier of the East Surrey Regiment'.This will however involve local research as the unknown graves are not listed on-line by CWGC.

    In view of the fact that his death occurred over 25 years ago, you do not have to be Next-of-Kin to apply for an extract from the service records.

    PGWKATIE Member

    Thank you Rich Payne and Drew5233 for the pointers. Like a twit, I had not picked up on the fact that if it was more than 25 years ago, anyone could apply for service records, so that is good news. I am so pleased to have just that bit more information about what happened to him, as I thought that bandsmen were involved in the medical stuff. It is quite overwhelming to see just how many cemeteries there are so, I agree, I have to narrow down the field in order to see if it is possible to work out if he has an unknown grave. But the information you have given me about how Sgt Smith died has solved a mystery, so I am very grateful.
  8. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    This may help you Rich. On the 19th May the Bn HQ moved forward 600x (Meters/Yards ?) from Kaster towards the R. Escaut.
  9. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member


    Would the War Diary for that day (or a few days before) tell roughly where the 'cottage' was, or was it that recording that type of info at that time was 'less important' - just a thought in trying to narrow down the search site :)

  10. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    Kaster is as good as it gets. 1940 diaries tend not to mention buildings by name or in any detail unless it was a Chateau that had a name.
  11. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    I've just found a sketch map with the Company positions on. It places Bn HQ on the NE edge of Kaster but I know from reading the diary and the regiments history they moved forward to be closer to the forward companies. I suspect this would put them on the N36 between Kaster and Kerkhove. There are some single dwellings along that road.
  12. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

  13. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    10 ORs and no officers listed by name killed on the 21st May in the appendices at the back of the diary
  14. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    However and this is where it gets a bit interesting - The actual war diary entry states 1 Officer (Liaison) and 7 ORs killed. There are 6 East Surrey's listed killed on the 21st May - Sergeant Smith would be the seventh if these records are accurate.

    PGWKATIE Member

    Thank you Drew 5233, Rich Payne and Tricky Dicky. Thanks to you, I have learnt more about this in under 24 hours than I had previously in my whole lifetime! You have told me so much more than I ever hoped, so it is fascinating stuff. From what you say, it does seem likely he would be buried at Kaster although, as you say, there is no real way of knowing absolutely. Unfortunately, my Great Aunt was only ever invited to go to the memorial at Dunkirk so it is nice to know that it is possible that there is a grave for him at Kaster. Thank you again for all your help.
  16. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    I think a bit more checking needs to be done. Boots on the ground at Kaster to see if the two unknowns have a date of death and if they mention a unit for either man. Also a search for all East Surrey men killed on the 21st May. Once both have been done it could be worth asking CWGC if they have any info on the two unknowns although they tend to be as much use as a chocolate fire guard.
  17. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    CWGC indicates six 1st Battalion men from 21st May at Kaster plus two on the Dunkirk Memorial.

    Although Heverlee was a post-war concentration cemetery, I'd suspect that those there died of wounds from earlier actions.

    Sayles and Constable are 1/6 Battalion.

    If we rule out the Heverlee casualties as not having been killed at Kaster, this gives us six known graves (all Kaster) and two possibles on the Dunkirk Memorial.

    Would a 'Liason Officer' who was with the East Surreys not be, by definition, from somewhere else ? Could he have been French ?

    I suspect that convincing proof will not be forthcoming, although stranger things have happened and local records of re-interments were sometimes quite detailed (perhaps too detailed to make comfortable reading).

    If it were me and I had the possibility to travel, I think that I would visit Kaster Churchyard for a quiet moment alongside those East Surrey and unknown graves in the awareness that I was probably as close as I was going to get.

    If losses at sea are exluded, there are not that many missing bodies from the 1940 campaign (Flanders was densly populated and houses were re-occupied), however, the nature of the subsequent conflict resulted in many identifications being lost.
  18. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    The LO was indeed French and his name was Lieutenant Maurice Fleg. I think the next step would be to see if there is any additional info on the unknown graves. Sometimes they give a date of death and even a unit identified by a cap badge etc and are still recorded as unknown on CWGC obviously because they don't have a name. A long way to go but that's the next step I'd take.

    PGWKATIE Member

    Thank you again Rich Payne and Drew5233. I think the best thing I can do is to conclude that Sgt Smith is very likely buried at Kaster. It really does sound the most likely scenario, and it is probably as close as I need to get in terms of evidence. One day I will go and see those graves and pay my respects to him and the other servicemen buried there. As you say, once I am there, small clues could be revealed, which could swing the evidence either way, but however it turned out, it would not matter as being there would still be a link to him.

    It was more than I could have hoped for that anyone would be able to help me narrow down where he might be buried - I really did not expect that at all! You have been beyond helpful, and I really appreciate the time and trouble you have gone to.
    Drew5233 and Rich Payne like this.
  20. doublegloster

    doublegloster New Member

    George was the only child of my great uncle Frederick Smith of Wotton Under Edge, Gloucestershire. Fred worked at Harrods and was killed in France in WW1 and is buried in Croisilles Cemetery, Pas De Calais around 65 miles from Kaster. George was sent to military school in Dover as a result of his father's death as he became difficult to handle. This info from a family biography which I have a copy of. George's Mother lived into her 90s. I have done much research on the family which I am willing to share. I am delighted to have more information on George and thank members for their help in trying to find his burial site.

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